By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
My journalism career began in the 1970s, sandwiched a couple of years before Anderson Cooper entered junior high and a few years after Woodward and Bernstein made the profession a rage.
It was an incredible time to be a newspaperman, but in terms of technology it was far from modern. At my first job, I cranked out copy on what we called “second sheets” — unbleached paper rolled in and out of typewriters. Someone else had to then retype what I produced as a reporter and convert it for press use.
Just as I started, so, too, came the advent of “cold type.” The century old standard of hot metal was giving way to computer-produced paper that could be waxed and pasted into the form of a page, photographed into a negative and converted to a metal plate with the image of the page.
It was all very technical stuff — books have been written about the conversion — but it’s easier to say that from those days forward, the production process has been nonstop change.
So, too, has the news-gathering process. Now, any Joe or Jane with a blog can produce words and call it news. Regardless of truth, regardless of the writer’s credentials, the web makes such content accessible to all.
Welcome to the Digital Age, which gives us equal doses of the best and worst journalism ever produced. Faster than ever.
Welcome as well to modern electronic conveniences that are making our work lives easier than ever. Supposedly.
Many people my age would sooner quit doing what they’re doing and retire early, rather than give in to the likes of smartphone aps, text messaging, Apple watches and search engine optimization. Not me. I’m a neophyte in all this cyber sea change, but I’ll be darned if I’m going to sink without a fight. The more I understand it, the better off I am. It’s not just about how we work. It’s also about how we live.
I read an excellent essay recently by a corporate communications guru, Benoit Gruber, who says technology is slowing down the efficiency of businessmen everywhere, simply because they haven’t taken the time to learn to use it to their advantage. That means tasks, including electronic communications, are taking the same amount of time or sometimes longer to complete. Too many devices are making the work overwhelming and difficult to manage.
Shut some of them down, he said, and arrange specific times during the day to handle certain tasks, like returning phone messages and answering emails. Don’t succumb to the distractions. Get organized.
Also significant, he says, is to get the business software, training and support network you need to make sure the system works efficiently. Not just for you as a boss, but for all of your employees.
That sounds pretty common-sensible, but how often today do employees still stumble on easily answered tech mysteries? I remember a few years back when a colleague clued me in about a keyboard search feature on Microsoft Word.
“Use ‘Control F’ to find things,’” she told me. “Remember, ‘Find’ is your friend.”
I felt a little stupid, but I never forgot the lesson. Even the simplest features on supposedly user-friendly equipment can elude us without the right training.
I reflect on the business world with the insight of a newspaperman, so my view is a narrow one in some ways. But I would guess that almost every workplace could be improved overnight if the staffs had the proper training to use the tools that are suppose to make their work easier. The computers. The phones. The operations in general.
Bosses, do yourselves a favor and survey your employees about their understanding of their workplace technology. You may be surprised to hear the response.
Dennis Grubaugh is editor and partner of the Illinois Business Journal.