Computers can now be found in almost every office; fax machines are commonplace; methods of communication have been transformed; goals and attitudes of office staff have changed; and technology, such as modems and cellular phones, has turned every environment into workspace.
Spiraling costs, automation, society, and the economy make it hard to conceive that any business could continue to function as it did in past decades without considerable revamping of its operations. Jobs are changing. Retraining at all office occupational levels, as well as continuing education, is necessary to be able to cope successfully with the changing complexion of the office and to develop the ability to identify and solve problems arising from differences in the work force.
The secretarial body of knowledge has expanded tremendously, and more broadly educated employees are needed. Secretaries today expect more job responsibility, greater challenges, and increased opportunities for upward mobility.
Word processing was the prime factor in the development of the automated office, and IBM was the forerunner in establishing the systems concept for specialization of secretarial duties. There is great diversity within each system depending on the basic needs of the company and the staff receiving support. The definitions of terms that follow should help you in understanding these structures.
Database, A collection of systematically organized data or information that is stored and retrieved for various purposes.
Desktop publishing: The ability to combine text and graphics to produce reports, brochures, newsletters, and other publications of nearly the same quality as those produced by commercial print shops.
Microprocessor: A silicon chip that gives a machine intelligence similar to that of a computer.
Network: Integration of communication channels.
Principal: An individual who originates work.
Spreadsheet: An intersecting grid of rows and columns for the purpose of presenting numerical information and formulas in a matrix of cells. The electronic spreadsheet that is used with personal computers resembles the accountant's worksheet.
Telecommunication: An electronic method for communicating messages over telephone lines.
Text-editing: An application of magnetic media typewriters for keyboarding insertions on documents, deleting unwanted words and phrases, and rearranging text.
Traditional: The typical office environment in which secretaries work for executives and perform all typing and administrative duties.
Word processing: A managed office system that utilizes electronic equipment, people, procedures, and space planning to produce business communications rapidly and accurately at a lower cost.
Offices run the gamut from those with traditional, unstructured arrangements to systems that utilize only electronic equipment or combinations of the traditional one-to-one ratio and centralized systems. These modem environments are structured, supervised, and measured. Ultimately, no matter what the design is, the goal is to unify equipment, procedures, and personnel to achieve company objectives.
Large corporations have moved ahead at dizzying speeds to link this modem equipment into sophisticated, integrated, networked office systems that incorporate telecommunications, records management, desktop publishing, and graphics via computer technology.
What are management's options in restructuring? What is the role of the secretary? Not only does the work flow vary in companies, but so do the tasks and documents that are processed. Based on a company's need to smooth out its procedures, improve its communications, and increase productivity, configurations are designed, some of which are described in the paragraphs that follow.
- Traditional one-to-one relationship in which the secretary handles all typing and administrative tasks for the employer.
- Centralized structure in which a word processing center produces work for the entire firm. This may be purely a correspondence center where word processing secretaries, also known as operators and specialists, keyboard documents that are returned to the principal or originator for signature before distribution. This center is strategically located in the firm away from the principals served. The centralized structure is illustrated in Figure 2.1.
- Decentralized arrangements, also referred to as satellite stations, work groups, clusters, and mini-centers, are established to support either a department, a specific division, or selected principals. Personnel are located close to principals, which encourages more interaction between secretaries and originators. In specialized departments, such as law, secretaries become familiar with legal terminology and procedures. The decentralized structure, as used in a legal department, is illustrated in Figure 2.2.
- Hybrid systems combine centralized and decentralized structures. The company might have a word processing center and several satellite centers.
- One-machine centers, which are generally found in small firms, are made available to potential users. This machine might be a simple electronic typewriter or a personal computer. Other secretarial and executive workstations may be equipped with terminals for accessing information.
A survey of office personnel supports this statement, Organizations are rapidly moving to the increasingly accepted standard of one personal computer for each office employee." Support staff indicated that they are dependent on office automation to perform their tasks and that their responsibilities have expanded. The professional staff, including managers, composes at the keyboard, gather information by accessing databases, and send and receive electronic mail?
Titles of Secretarial Personnel
When you are ready to search for a secretarial job, you should look under the various classifications in the newspaper ads. You will realize that the titles clearly reflect a lack of uniformity in identifying positions that require similar responsibilities. For example, although many of the jobs require secretarial skills and knowledge, the ads do not include the word secretary. Administrative assistant and executive assistant are classic examples. However, ads frequently designate a particular department in which the individual will be working, such as legal secretary, secretary/personnel, and medical secretary.
In word processing environments, the author of this text found that individuals who operate equipment are identified as correspondence secretary, word processing secretary, word processing operator, word processing proofreader, and secretary specialist. Positions with supervisory responsibilities used titles such as lead secretary, group coordinator, assistant supervisor, word processing administrative assistant, and secretarial supervisor.
- Elizabeth A. Goodrich, *'The Impact of Office Automation on the Roles and Staffing Patterns of Office Employees: A Case Study," The Delta Pi Epsilon Journal, Spring 1989, pp. 68-80.
- As you look for a job, evaluate the skills required. Frequently a firm asks for a secretary when the duties more closely resemble those of a stenographer or general clerical employee. Titles that include the word administrative generally reflect positions that entail decision-making responsibilities, organizational ability, communication skills, and editing capabilities.
Technology has led to many changes in the office environment. New machines and systems to increase productivity have been introduced, new services and strategies have been developed, new positions have evolved, and a reorganization of work has occurred. The driving forces behind most of these changes are the computer, the ever-increasing power of the microchip, and telecommunications, you need to be knowledgeable about the equipment, procedures, and office environment as you plan your secretarial career in information processing. You should also be aware of predictions for office systems and management techniques that will further alter secretarial careers. The way in which you will perform duties will change, and technology will be the tool. An information revolution has impacted the U.S. economy. Electronics has been and will continue to be the key factor in the creation of such a mind-boggling environment, which only yesterday was regarded as fantasy.
The 1980s were known as the decade of information processing, and by 1990, more than 40 million people were operating VDTs on their jobs. Experts believe that by the year 2000, there will be a great leap in computing power, resulting from advances in semiconductor chips. ''Desktop workstations will pack the power of what we now know as supercomputers . . . which will do at least four trillion complex calculations a second." Hundreds or even thousands of individual computers, running in parallel, will be needed to operate these supercomputers. Imagine the impact of new technology on the growth potential of the automated office and the radical changes that are yet to come! The categories of modem equipment found in the office which impact secretarial positions are described as follows:
Electronic typewriters, which have replaced electric type writers for several reasons:
- Their price is within reach of small business firms.
- They have the appropriate ease of operation, size, and automated features, including some sophisticated word processing capabilities-automatic error correction, underscoring, centering, tabulating, carrier return, storing on removable disks, moving and copying blocks of text, and searching and replacing.
- Limited display screens are available.
- Type fonts can be switched.
- Special interfaces can be installed so that the typewriter serves as a computer printer.
- Fewer breakdowns occur because the mechanical parts of the electric machine have been replaced with non-moving, solid-state circuitry.
- They are a useful alternative for the executive who doesn't want to give up a secretary, yet needs more efficient production.
- They save time by making the keyboarding job easier and by getting work out faster,
- Stand-alone word processors, also known as dedicated word processors, which are used for document production. This equipment consists of a keyboard, a video display terminal (VDT), disk drives and processing unit, and a printer. It is independent of other office systems and is generally used for high-volume production. In addition to the basic automated features, this equipment has global search and replace, which enables the user to replace words or phrases automatically throughout the text with other words; justification, which automatically produces an even right margin; and automatic hyphenation. Merging information is possible on word processors with dual disk drives.
- Communicating stand alone, which have the ability to play out to another machine on a different floor or to another city.
- Shared-logic text-editors, which are computer-based equipment. Terminals at individual working areas share a central computer for memory and logic. They may have a printer, too.
- Dictating equipment, which consists of two types:
- Discrete media, which uses separate units of recording medium, such as a cassette, that are removable for storage, mailing, or switching to a machine for transcription. This dictating equipment may be either a desktop or portable unit.
- Endless loop systems, where magnetic tape is housed in a tank, and tape heads in the tank record the dictation.
This system enables many principals to use one central recorder either through a telephone or microphone.
- Transcribing machines that are used by secretaries for transcribing recorded dictation. Some of these units have electronic features that enable the secretary to hear recorded instructions before beginning to transcribe, know the length of each item dictated, and determine where corrections or changes have been made in the dictation.
Although dictation systems were introduced many decades ago, their use began to develop in the 1960s. End users gradually are becoming more comfortable talking to machines. A recent study predicted increasing unit sales from 726,000 to 900,000 in 1993.
- Computer-aided transcription equipment (CAT), which makes possible automatic transcription or machine short-hand notes (words) that were recorded on magnetic tape. The secretary who may have had to take extensive notes in a long meeting might now be relieved of the burden to transcribe these data, which may be several days' work. (Shorthand machines were once reserved exclusively for court reporters.)
- Reprographic equipment, commonly referred to as duplicating and copying equipment, is now an important component of office automation. Reprographics technology includes duplexing, or copying on both sides of a sheet of paper; reductions and enlargements; image editing, which permits alterations on the image of the document without changing the original document; and electronic printing.
Microcomputers (personal computers): Computer technology has already moved to the secretary's desk as well as the executive's. In the near future, one out of every two office workers will have a computer terminal. Software packages give these machines information processing capabilities, such as word processing, accounting spreadsheets, graphic designs, databases, and telecommunications. There were 23 million personal computers in the United States in 1988 with increases expected as high as 25 percent for the following years. Tasks being performed by a secretary no longer have to be physically delivered to the executive; the information can be called up on the screen. For example, a secretary maintains a calendar of activities which can be accessed on the executive's terminal. Appointments keyed in by the secretary for executives can be seen on their terminals when clearing dates to schedule meetings. Electronic dictionaries that check spelling of words are software available for personal computers as well as word processors.
Executive workstations are now becoming a reality. Executives will be performing clerical tasks, too, on their micro computers. According to Amy Wohl, an office automation consultant, the trend is toward a ''computers-for-everyone" concept.
- Laptop computers are now becoming part of the American scene-perhaps because they can be equated to desktop PCs in terms of electronic capabilities. The growth rate is so great that by the mid-1990s, they will account for more than half of all personal computers sold, according to the March 1991 issue of Business Week. Some exciting things are happening with laptops. Newer versions will read handwriting, which will be transformed into letters on the screen and then stored. The machines will be notebook size; thus, it will not be uncommon to see lawyers in court tapping into databases or checking depositions, recorders taking minutes, or police officers filing accident reports-all on laptops.
- Optical character recognition (OCR) readers scan pages of documents, which may be rough draft, and either copy these documents on magnetic media, send them to a computer, or direct them to photo typesetters. These readers can recognize alpha-numeric symbols from a variety of typewriter fonts.
- Electronic systems now used in offices include teleconferencing, telecommunications, electronic mail, and electronic storage and retrieval systems. In one large corporation, for example, every office worker has access to a video screen so that teleconferencing can be used as a substitute for face-to-face meetings. As participants converse with a group of individuals in another part of the country by telephone, their pictures appear on a screen. Secretaries who work at home use electronic mail and within seconds can send to the home office correspondence transcribed on the terminal.
- Multi functional terminal systems are networked so that office machines can communicate and exchange information with one another. Networks permit all types of input and output devices, such as printers, terminals, fax machines, and copiers, to share information. Multi functional machines can be used for everything: typesetting, text-editing, records processing, keyboarding, data processing, and telecommunications.
- Telephone systems that can be programmed so that people who are called frequently can be reached by the touch of a single button.
As technology invaded the office, changes occurred in the way in which work was done, who did the work, and the kinds of work. Computerization was the major thrust for these changes. Although initially it was the large corporations, financial institutions, and government that became involved in office automation, gradually, as equipment costs came down, it became affordable for small firms. The amount of information that is now accessible and the way in which information is used to manage business is impressive.
New procedures for work flow and completion of tasks are created and constantly revised. Goals are set, productivity is logged in and out, production is measured, formats are standardized, and secretaries are accountable. The secretaries who work in an automated environment must understand the pattern of work flow so that they can understand relationships. Experts state that automation doesn't occur unless every person at every level, everything, and every piece of equipment is integrated.
The phrase ''just a secretary"-an individual who types correspondence and reports, who handles the telephone and clients, and who files and maintains a daily calendar-is a misnomer today. Secretaries are assuming more administrative responsibilities and are performing a variety of functions, previously under taken by lower-level managers. Secretaries now have an opportunity to be recognized for their special abilities and contributions to the management team. In essence, the new managerial attitude is that technology should lead to an extension of the capabilities of secretaries, not to the loss of jobs. Instead of just keying correspondence and reports, a secretary may now compose letters and memorandums, may use a spreadsheet software program to produce statistical reports, may access information from on-line databases, or may design an in-house newsletter using desktop publishing. According to a 1989 study conducted by Louis Harris and Associates, Inc., for Steelcase, Inc., computer usage has become more intense; and 32 percent of the office worker respondents reported that they use a terminal or PC five or more hours per average workday.
If you are interested in a secretarial career, you must accept the fact that change is constant in automated offices and that all levels of personnel are affected. For example, more and more executives can be seen using the computer for inputting as well as for decision making. What you must realize is that computer systems are just tools for office personnel to use in performing their duties. Yes, you need to become computer literate to be able to operate equipment and use a variety of software packages; but more important are your knowledge of how computers work, your ability to analyze and solve a problem, your understanding of the ways in which new technology can be used, and your willingness to continue to learn and to adapt to changes.
Competencies For Secretarial/Administrative Support Positions
Data gathered in a survey of approximately 162 administrative support personnel in 74 firms in New York and New Jersey substantiate the need for language and human relations skills; conceptual understanding of automated environments; hands-on experience with a PC; and a knowledge of word processing, spreadsheets, and database management. The charts below specify competencies, other than the usual and keyboarding, telephone, and general clerical skills, deemed essential or important by a large percentage of respondents.
Tips For Success
If you want things to happen, then you must work to make them happen. You must learn as much as you can about yourself, your needs, and your career goals, both short- and long-range. Advice from professionals in the field may give you some insight about the secretarial career path. Below are some comments;
A survey of 22 chief executive officers revealed the following views about secretaries. They are currently receiving greater respect than ever before; organizations are relying more on secretaries' management skills; secretaries are participating as full-fledged members of the management team; they are contributing to the planning process; and managers are delegating more managerial duties to their secretaries. Some suggestions these CEOs give to secretaries to open doors are: focus on the group's goals and objectives, play the role of an administrative colleague, think, use initiative, be self-reliant, be in control of your own career development, adopt a management frame of mind, and maintain a positive image.
Secretaries say: "Well-trained secretaries who take their career seriously can reach for the stars.'' "Being a secretary is a dynamic career." "Practice being a 'people' person." Others agree on the importance of a positive attitude, building a good rapport with the employer, polishing language skills, continuing one's education, adapting to change, and being willing to accept challenges.