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Benefits of workplace technology — 8 out of 10 agree

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Managing Workplace Technology, a study conducted by the William Olsten Center for Workforce Strategies, reports that eight out of ten executives agree that technology is having a profound and positive effect on workplace productivity.

Many companies rely on technologies employed in ``e-work''--that portion of a worker's activities carried out while telecommuting or using desktop productivity applications, intranets, or the Internet--to generate more interactions with customers and business partners.

Commissioned by Olsten Corporation, a world leader of staffing services, this is the sixth in a series of surveys exploring the impact of information technologies on productivity, training, and the workplace. The study surveyed high-ranking human resources executives, vice presidents, and directors from a wide range of North American businesses.

Among the study's major findings is that almost half (49%) of respondents say that use of the Internet/World Wide Web increases productivity. This number represents a dramatic upward trend, in that only 19% of respondents held that opinion in 1997, the last year this study was performed. In particular, businesses cite e-mail and spreadsheet programs as the applications with the greatest impact on productivity.

"Many administrative functions--billing, policy maintenance, claims -- are now transitioning to the Internet," notes the human resources manager for a major insurance company.

The survey discovered that Internet use has grown in two major areas:

1. Recruiting qualified employees. Recruitment via the Internet is the third leading method of recruiting skilled employees, behind traditional newspaper classifieds and employee referrals. The survey shows that Internet recruiting has close to doubled since
1997, and is now being used by 64% of companies responding, up from 38% two years ago. Also, both college placement offices and temporary staffing services have made sizeable leaps as sourcing venues, increasing from 34% to 55% and 43% to 53%, respectively. In fact, each vehicle explored is used more aggressively today than it was in 1997.

2. E-commerce. Many companies are just starting to explore this tool, which allows the selling and purchasing of goods over the Internet. Others are well on their way. The human resources manager for a Mid-Atlantic retail business states, "Our business has moved from [traditional] wholesale/retail to exclusively [conducting] e-commerce." Many companies, though, express concern about confidentiality and/or specifically criticize e-commerce for its lack of personal contact and face-to-face interaction.
Others simply describe it as ``less customer friendly.''

In another significant development noted by the survey, Internet technology has spurred a rise in corporate intranets. This increase is quite pronounced, with almost two-thirds of companies (63%) connecting employees through internal networks and standard browsers connected to central servers. Another 21% of companies are considering establishing intranets.

Companies making use of an intranet find it to be an essential human resource and employee communications tool that has evolved into a central repository for key information such as training materials, sales and operation data, and employee newsletters. Of those responding, 61% credit corporate intranets with enhancing the speed at which communications are delivered. Not only that, 49% report that their intranet has reduced costs such as printing, mailing and faxing, and 46% of companies report reductions in other administrative costs. The human resources manager for a Georgia-based high-tech firm notes that her company uses its intranet for publication of sales forecasts, real-time sales results, and orders invoiced.

Intranet ownership tends to differ depending on the organization. Corporate communication departments run about 25% of these systems, while HR departments own about 20%. Information system departments, however, maintain almost half of corporate intranets. In any case, the IS department typically operates the system, posting contact provided by individual departments.

A further finding shows that the percentage of companies offering remote work sites or telecommuting arrangements continues to climb. A majority of these businesses have some type of telecommuting initiative in place, an increase from 42% in 1996 to 51% in 1997 and 66% in the most recent survey. Among companies that offer telecommuting, an average of 8% of the workforce engages in remote work. Slightly more than half (52%) of companies who have instituted telecommuting did so in order to increase employee productivity; in the 1997 survey, 45% stated this as a reason for initiating telecommuting. A majority of respondents (60%) intend to augment their employees' ability to telecommute over the next year.

The William Olsten Center for Workforce Strategies is an U.S.-based organization generating research and analysis on issues affecting workforce management and employees. It is affiliated with Olsten Corporation, a world leader in staffing services and North America's largest provider of home health care and related services.

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