This new process gives rise to a need for skilled clerks. Such a system accepts information at the point it is generated, moves it to the point of processing (computer), and then sends it to the point of use. For example, an airline reservation clerk at a remote point keys in a seat reservation to a central computer; while the customer is waiting, the clerk gets instantaneous confirmation in return. In another application, a branch office of an insurance company sends instructions about a claimant's policy to a computer at the main office that is 2,000 miles away. In these new communication services, the operator can also use a dial telephone to transmit and receive data by electronic means.
The clerk, like other office personnel, processes and communicates business information. The data transmitted eventually terminate in the hands of a person who will use the information; therefore, trained personnel are necessary to plan, organize, develop, and utilize such a system effectively. People, as well as machines, are vital in this communication process so that information that is processed by the computer can be "moved" to the proper place at a designated time and in the proper form. Clerical workers are essential in controlling the office function and must be skilled in handling the input and output of such systems.
In organizations with word processing centers, the flow of information begins with the word originator, who is typically the executive. This individual dictates reports, letters, or statistical information onto tapes, belts, or cassettes through an ordinary telephone or through a more sophisticated telephone system; a central recorder in the word processing center picks up the information and office personnel use text-editing typewriters to convert these communications into typewritten pages. Word processing systems may extend outside the firm to include the linking of dictation units and automatic typewriters at locations around the country, the use of facsimile equipment to send documents over ordinary phone lines, and electronic input to computerized data banks. Word processing specialists are needed to operate the system from origin of communication to printout, storage, and retrieval.
Trends in Office Environments
Technological progress has revolutionized information processing systems which incorporate many forms of office activities: word processing, data processing, telecommunications, photo-composition, and records management. Sophisticated systems to process and communicate information accurately and speedily are being integrated through similar electronic hardware. Information network systems that utilize data-entry terminals and mini-computers are also developing to facilitate resource sharing for users via host computers. The rate of growth is phenomenal and is opening up more and diversified career opportunities which require different attitudes, new technical skills, higher-level decision-making and problem-solving abilities, and new knowledge qualifications. A question pertaining to these new designs is: who will manage these systems? Undoubtedly, the person who will qualify will have to understand the broad concepts of office systems, management, and evaluation of productivity and personnel.
Another trend concerns today's workers who want more meaningful work experiences. John J. Connell, executive director of Office Technology Research Group, stresses the human factor by stating that while office processes may become automated, human intelligence will still be needed to communicate information. "If one thinks of technology in terms of augmenting human capabilities, not replacing them, then one can home-in on what future operations will be like and what the key management challenge will be, namely how to marshal the forces of technology to improve the effectiveness and expand the potential of office personnel.
A 1978 national study of office environments conducted by Louis Harris and Associates for Steelcase also supports the above trends. It found:
- Fifty-four percent of today's office workers use or operate data processing, word processing, telecommunications, or other electronic equipment.
- Over 33 percent of the 1,047 office workers interviewed indicated they aren't working to capacity. Seventy-four percent said they could probably do more work if they were given better working conditions.
- People look for the following in a job: clarity of scope and responsibility; interesting work; and access to tools, equipment, and materials needed to get their job done well.
- Seventy-three percent of the office workers surveyed have experienced changes in job tasks and responsibilities and have learned new skills due to job changes resulting from new and advanced technologies.
Another potential for employment that you should be aware of is the alternative to working in an office environment. Presently, limited opportunities via telecommuting exist for individuals who prefer working at home. Telecommuting has made it possible to establish work stations in the homes of clerical employees by the installation of a computer terminal hookup from office to home. Although a home environment would most likely never supplant the office, nevertheless business people anticipate that by the mid-1990s, up to 10 million workers will be telecommuting.