REDMOND, Wash., June 14 2006 — A 2004 study from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics determined that workers who use a computer in their jobs typically earn more than those without – nearly 17 percent more.
According to another study that same year by the Bureau’s Office of Productivity and Technology, “it is not merely the employee having a computer on his desk, but rather having complementary computer skills that causes wages to increase.”
With information workers around the world using Microsoft Office tools such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint on a daily basis, the company’s software is an integral part of workplace success for many, and Microsoft is doing its part to help them.
The Microsoft Office Work Essentials program is part of Microsoft’s effort to connect workers with skills training that can help them excel in their jobs by highlighting and training them on the powerful features that can provide real benefits to workers in specific roles.
Rather than treating technology as a one-size-fits-all solution, the Work Essentials team researches the challenges and tasks that professionals in finance, marketing, human resources and many other fields face every day. The team then designs Office-based templates, tools, and other resources to help workers tackle their jobs and get the most of their software. The site includes hundreds of items, from how-to guides to templates to articles from industry experts.
The Microsoft Work Essentials site provides Office-based templates, tools, and other resources to help workers tackle their jobs and get the most of their software.
“The real key for us that we focus very specifically on the use of the Office system in the context of one’s job role or occupation,” says John Smithwick, group product manager for Microsoft’s Work Essentials team. “Work Essentials has approximately 600 templates, tools, articles, simulations and videos designed for the information worker, and each is designed specially to meet the key needs of specific job roles or industries. We’ve worked very closely with industry experts over the past several years to ensure that the solutions we develop are genuinely useful to customers, whether they work in finance, sales, marketing, etc.”
Finding Time to Learn to be More Productive
According to Smithwick, most information workers are being asked to do more with less as companies try to manage their costs and get products and services out the door more quickly. And so, ironically, while workers could become more productive by using advanced features and templates in their desktop software to meet these challenges, they often aren’t able to invest the time up front in determining how to apply the software to their everyday functions, tasks, processes or business needs.
“One of the biggest challenges information workers face is just being able to take the time to think through how the technology tools they have on their desktop can help them address those everyday needs,” Smithwick says. “We’re trying to save them that time.”
Given its focus on enabling information workers across specific job roles, the Work Essentials team recently invested time and resources on trying to assist those segments of the population that may find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to desktop productivity software, such as economically disadvantaged or minority communities. Research from the Bureau and other sources shows that, even when the job market is hot, members of minority communities typically face higher unemployment rates, and lower wages.
Bridging the Digital Divide via Work Essentials
As a corollary, these communities are additionally hampered by lower levels of technology access. Often referred to as the “Digital Divide,” a recent report by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund showed that four in 10 African-American and Hispanic children have Internet access at home, while eight in 10 white children have home access.
In part because of statistics like these, the Work Essentials team participated this year in a series of NAACP-certified Executive Diversity Job Fairs hosted by Personnel Strategies Inc. to contribute their solutions and hopefully make a difference in advancing the cause of more underserved segments of the work force.
“If success in the workplace is based in part on an information worker’s ability to deploy technology effectively, and if Work Essentials can help sponsor these job fairs and put those tools in the hands of those underserved segments, then we absolutely want to do that,” Smithwick says.
Work Essentials sponsored a series of training sessions at several of this year’s EDJFs to reach out to workers who may not have the same access to technology. The team sent representatives to the fairs to walk participants through the free resources offered by Work Essentials and to get them started on the path to increasing their technology skills and enhancing their career prospects.
“Beyond technology instruction, we’ve got all sorts of industry related articles written by experts from different job families that could inform candidates as they go into interviews and talk to different companies,” says Smithwick. “But of equal importance is that once they get jobs, Work Essentials can provide tools and resource that will be useful to them. So if someone is making a transition from a sales role to a finance role, we want to provide the free tools and templates that can help them do their jobs even better.”
And according to Smithwick, Work Essentials works. For individuals who use Work Essentials, the increased computer skills they gain can help them get ahead by performing better and even landing better jobs down the line.
Star Workers, Early Adopters
The team’s own research with information workers and business decision makers across small, medium and large organizations has validated the idea that workers who are considered to be stars in their companies or on an accelerated career path also tend to be early adopters of the technologies that make them more productive and the people who use these technologies most effectively.
“Both the business decision makers and the information workers themselves noted that there were a number of individuals in their companies who were considered influential because they were perceived to be very effective at their jobs,” Smithwick says. “Building on the fact that these individuals almost universally are early and effective technology adopters, our goal is to help more people become star performers in their companies.”
In carrying out that mission, the Work Essentials site can benefit companies and employees equally. For employees, the correlation has been well established between increased computer skills and workplace success.
And on the organizational level, the site can generate cost savings in training employees and making them more productive with the software tools on their desktops.
Case Study: Reduced Training Costs
This was the approach taken by Dan Jones, lead trainer for Converium, a multinational reinsurance company that employs more than 600 people in 18 offices around the globe.
Jones needed to reduce the costs associated with technology training for employees in conjunction with the company’s broader cutbacks and North American restructuring in 2004. Any alternative form of training needed to be flexible enough to fit into employees’ busy work schedules and not require much administrative oversight.
Jones replaced Converium’s subscription-based training with online tutorials and other resources offered at no charge on the Microsoft Office Work Essentials Web site. The result was a training solution that required little or no additional corporate administration — no registration, pass codes or additional technology to assign or maintain.
Still using Work Essentials today, Converium continues to save US$300 annually per employee over the training service it formerly used, while the content on Work Essentials has actually been deemed superior.
“When employees want to learn how to perform a specific task with Office, all I need to do is direct them to the Work Essentials, where they can find a training module, see how long it lasts and fit the training into their schedule,” says Jones. “They can learn when and where they want to. Everything is just a few clicks away.”
For Smithwick, whether it’s a large multinational insurance company or a new college graduate trying to get his or her first job, the ultimate goal of Work Essentials is the same.
“Unleashing people’s potential is what Microsoft is all about,” he says. “Work Essentials is yet another way that Microsoft is using technology to help people live better and work smarter.”