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Can't It Wait Till Monday?

Catching up on the workweek e-mail deluge has become a dreaded weekend rite. But at least one company is discouraging such off-the-clock correspondence.

Since late 2006, PricewaterhouseCoopers employees logging on to work e-mail on Saturdays and Sundays have been greeted with a pop-up window that says: "It's the weekend. Help reduce weekend e-mail overload for both you and your colleagues by working offline." The alert adds that workers who want to get a head start on writing messages should hold off sending them until Monday unless urgent. "By sending an e-mail," says human resources communications director Genevieve Girault, "you're encouraging...people to respond."

PwC's weekend e-mail warning isn't all-encompassing. The notice isn't on BlackBerrys, one of the prime enablers of off-hours work. And this year, it didn't appear during the busy season for PwC's auditors, either. "It was more of an annoyance," Girault says. The alert returned in April after tax season ended.

Mining the Office Chatter

What if managers and employees could listen in on any gripe fests and hallway brainstorms taking place at the office, all at one time? That's the concept, in digital form, behind Hewlett-Packard's (HPQ) WaterCooler, a new tool from its research labs that indexes what employees say on their internal and external blogs.

Workers can opt in or out of the index, but many—about 11,000 at HP—choose to let their musings on everything from iPhone rumors to speculation about HP unit reorgs be aggregated on the site. Users can click on a "zeitgeist" link to see what's hot each week (among HP's techies, "Server Automation" ranked tops recently) or over time (e-mail and management are two of the top issues).

HP is pitching WaterCooler to other outfits—it says several government agencies are interested, as are a few companies. HP has an army of bloggers, though. The tool may be less useful in places where office chitchat still only occurs around a five-gallon bottle of Poland Spring.

Hasta la Vista, Password Hell

Can't remember the password for that corporate benefits site you last logged onto six months ago? Fret not. New technologies could soon alleviate what is one of the most vexing office frustrations.

Programs that purport to harmonize all your passwords—so-called single-sign-on software—have been around for years. But they have rarely worked with all the systems employees use, from T&E accounting to 401(k) tracking. Newer technology gets closer: Software now being used by the likes of HSBC (HBC) and Chevron (CVX) is compatible with 90% of applications, according to researcher Gartner (IT). Plus, vendors are rolling out everything from log-in cards that are swiped in a reader to voice-activated sign-ons that could one day replace passwords altogether.

The most tantalizing technologies take little human memory at all. IBM (IBM) Tivoli, a software arm of Big Blue, has set up Indiana's Marion General Hospital with building access cards that double as log-ins to computers. Workers tap their IDs on a reader attached to a USB port and then enter one password. And to replace cards that generate rotating pin numbers, IBM has software that will send a worker's cell phone a log-in number via text message.

For companies, escaping password hell is a bottom-line issue: 30% to 50% of help desk calls are to reset passwords. The cost of such forgetfulness, says Forrester Research (FORR)? $10 a call.


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