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Making Your Policies Work in a Digital World

August 31, 2001
Related Topics: Policies and Procedures, Featured Article
If you are one of the many millions of employers who are deciding that the technologyage will benefit your company, or are a seasoned veteran in the push towards aplugged-in, paperless world, don't forget to put your policies and proceduresin lock step with your laptops, Web browsers, and information systems.

A common mistake with moving to new technologies is trying to adapt the systemsto accommodate out-of-date policies. The unfortunate result is that a lot ofmoney can be spent on custom programming that shoehorns a policy into a systemthat wasn't designed to handle it in the first place.

Here's your first lesson: Don't fight the system.

The greatest benefit of new technologies is that they tend to focus more onprocess rather than programming. The ultimate goal is to streamline yourcorporate functions into an efficient, well-oiled machine. That means you mightjust have to evaluate some of those long-held policies and see if they reallyare contributing to your bottom-line.

The second simple lesson is that technology should make your life and the livesof your employees simpler. This means better access to information, easier abilityto make decisions, and less time spent manually performing routine tasks. Somecommon areas that you see this happening today are:

  • Home-based telecommuting.

  • Online, video or telephone meeting/conferencing.

  • Web or telephone-enabled information systems (e.g.,benefits enrollments,corporate intranets).

  • Mobile information sharing (e.g., laptops, PDAs)

Therefore, here are areas that you'll need to focus on when doing any technologyimplementation and policies that may help get you there:

  • Have a plan. Look at technology in the same strategic sense as theproduct or service you sell. It can end up affecting every part of yourorganization, including your customer. Have a strategic plan that guidesall levels of and types of technology, from your overall system backbone(i.e., network) to how e-mails should be addressed. This strategic planshould be as much about culture as it is about process.

    Sample Policies/Tools to Consider:

    • Strategic technology mission statement/goals.

    • E-mail and Internet usage policies.

    • Evaluation plan for the addition of new technologies.

    • Crisis/disaster management plan.

    • Training and development plan.

  • Bring employees up to a comfortable speed. Invest some timeand dollars in assessing your employees' readiness for the technologicalchange you're proposing. For instance, if you will want employees to doWeb-enabled benefits enrollments, make sure they are comfortable with usinga Web browser. This evaluation will also keep the end-user in mind whenthe vendor throws out those "bells and whistles" in front of you.

    Sample Policies/Tools to Consider:

    • Basic computer/Internet training for all employees.

    • Competency requirements built into job descriptions that include baseknowledge levels in technologies the company may be using.

    • Top-level support and usage of the technology.

  • Evaluate the way people work. In this age of the "virtual office"and the ability to work almost anywhere except the home office with a laptopand cell phone, you can realize some great benefits by having employeeswork in non-traditional settings. For example, if you can identify individualswhose job can be done from their home, there are "wins" on bothsides. As an employer, you can save on office space.

    For the employee, work/life issues may be better managed without the constraintsof the typical 8 to 5 workday. Of course, not all companies or specificpositions within companies can utilize the benefits of the "virtualoffice," but for those that can, it can make your company more nimblein terms of staffing, organizational design and communications.

    Sample Policies/Tools to Consider:

    • E-mail/phone etiquette.

    • Flexible schedules.

    • Telecommuting (include workers' compensation and OSHA issues).

    • Evaluate issues of meeting in person versus via conference or onlinemeetings.

    • Time and project management training.

    • Flexible compensation programs (project or volume-based versus hoursworked.

    • Organizational/workforce planning.

In all of this, consider foremost how your customer will be impacted by yourtechnological moves. You may even want to involve your customers in the planningprocess. Changes in corporate policies and procedures can sometimes mean changesin the way business is done. If it makes sense for your customers, then it'smore likely to be a winning proposition.

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