Friday, January 18, 2008

The Office and Long-Term Change

I work in a very small non-profit organization with a relatively high number of part-time employees (myself included), and I've been thinking about how to make the office function more smoothly, as I sometimes have an administrative role, or just a free couple of hours. For those of you in small offices, I'd be really interested to hear about how you work to make the office a simpler place.

I think one major challenge is that we work primarily with people-- rather than ideas, things, numbers or words-- and so our major tools are our voices, our language skills, and our connections to communities and state agencies. Unfortunately, although we work mainly with people we have to somehow convey what we do to funders, and keep tabs on what we do.

Thus one main reason I think this is important is that streamlining-- having a simple, accessible filing system, simple e-mail, and standardized labelling system would help people who are new to the office, and help people who are just around for a short time better slot in and be useful. And I think it would also significantly reduce waste if we could link our computers together and have access to electronic files rather than having to print out all the time. The challenge is everyone really needs to be on board with anything new, and so change has to be gradual to be sustainable.

Simplifying the office should not be about looking good or about being part of a trend, but about what works in a particular context so that people can do the job that matters most well. I've been struggling to figure out what exactly this means in the context of our NGO. So, I will let you know how introducing recycling to the office goes.

The first two steps I'm beginning with are standardizing our labelling of files (I bought a label maker today!) and learning how to recycle paper. That's my goal for January. In February I'd like to think more about computers. I know that most offices have really simple networking systems, and I'd like to learn more. It seems so basic but if you're in an office that doesn't use a lot of e-mail communication or filesharing, it is pretty daunting.

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