Magazine article Communication World

As Easy as 123

Magazine article Communication World

As Easy as 123

Article excerpt

When Lotus Development Corporation conducted its first worldwide employee survey in four years, it planned and executed the exercise wholly electronically. Not surprising, you might say, given that the company -- originally best known for its 1-2-3 spreadsheet product -- is in the computer industry and has been one of the leading players in the software business since the IBM PC came out in 1981. Yet the survey, conducted in April 1994, was the first time the company had eschewed traditional paper-based and face-to-face survey mechanisms, using instead an electronic document distributed to all employees via the company's global electronic database, document-sharing and electronic mail network.

Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., Lotus has around 5,000 employees. Nearly three-quarters are in the U.S. The remainder are spread across every market in which it operates, over 80 offices in some 40 countries. With such geographical diversity, the true feasibility of carrying out a worldwide survey simultaneously in each country was made possible by employing Lotus' own information-sharing software technology, Lotus Notes. This is one of a growing range of programs offered by a number of software companies known as 'groupware applications,' designed to facilitate the use and sharing of documents across computer networks by many people, often at the same time, wherever they are, and using different types of computers.

"The survey document comprised 14 sections, with about 10 questions per section," says Andrew Strathdee, compensation and benefits manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Lotus Development European Corporation in Staines, England. "It was sent electronically to each employee worldwide in the last week of April." The software program allowed employees to respond anonymously if they wished. Once an employee had filled in his or her individual survey, one mouse click or key press then completed the process by automatically sending the response by E-mail directly to Towers Perrin, the external consulting firm connected to the computer network that analysed the survey results, in Boston. "We had a response rate of over 56 percent," Strathdee states. "We regard this as very satisfactory for this type of survey method, especially as it was our first attempt to use it."

The electronic survey is a good example of how computers and networkings combine to give organisations the power to manage and share information with employees more quickly and effectively than ever before.

WIRING THE CHANNELS WORLDWIDE

Strathdee's responsibilities include developing salary and benefits packages for employees throughout Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Even though technology tools such as computer networks and E-mail increasingly make his work a lot easier, "you still can't set up pension plans over the phone or by E-mail," he says.

Setting up communication infrastructures at new office locations can present some unique issues, Strathdee says. In some cases, the poor quality of the actual telephone network in a particular country means that data communication via the phone lines is, at best, unreliable. In other cases, getting new employees accustomed to the open, instant form of communicating with other people requires patient efforts in education of how the technology works. …

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