Productivity tools are used by all users. Most users spend 30-80
percent of their time working on such tools. Surprisingly, most
organizations do not have much standardization of how work happens
on products like Excel, Word, PowerPoint, e-mail client or similar
This article discusses various facilities available to provide
standardization across the organization.
The drawback of
Standardization is a good thing. But it does have a potential
negative impact. If too much standardization is attempted,
usability of products may reduce thereby declining productivity.
Users then become resistant to excessive standardization and find
their own ways of bypassing the standardization process. In the
process the very purpose of standardization is defeated. You must
avoid this situation by involving end users in the standardization
process, and testing the impact before rolling it out on a larger
There are lots of features and
technologies available for standardization. There are various
approaches available for standardization. Some of these can work at
an organizational level, while others may be specific to a
department or even a project. The granularity will depend on the
The list given below is by no means complete. But it does cover
commonly available and easy-to-implement approaches.
1. Templates: This is a well known feature.
However it is not used in a standardized way. Creating templates is
easy. Most products offer a ‘Save as Template’
functionality. The problem is that these templates are stored in a
local user profile and thus not available for organizational
The solution is to create a centralized repository of templates.
You can group these by departments, roles or type of work. MS
Office provides a way by which you can set the Workgroup Templates
path to a centralized server share. Using Group Policy you can map
the server templates very easily across all users. Going further,
you can also map specific departments to different template stores
if required. UNC path like \\server\templateshare can be configured
for Workgroup Templates.
One feature which is commonly not known is that Outlook can also
have templates. This is very useful for standardizing formal e-mail
replies for customer handling, helpdesk, sales management,
procurement, HR, etc.
If you have Exchange server, e-mail templates can be stored
centrally and made available automatically to all Outlook
2. Macros: Macros are typically created by
specific users. Usually, macros are not shared between users.
However, you will be surprised to know that many macros are
actually reusable by many users across the organization. If you do
a quick inventory of all macros across users, you can easily find
common ones and store them in central templates. Once stored in
templates, these can be shared and standardized like any other
One related and important aspect of macros is that all useful
macros should be digitally signed. Using Group Policy, you should
set the security in such a way that only signed macros are run, and
the rest are disabled. This way macro virus threats are instantly
3. Custom dictionaries: Most individuals use
the ‘Add to Dictionary’ feature while performing
spelling check. But again, custom dictionaries are used locally.
There is absolutely no sharing of these dictionaries. Like
templates, custom dictionaries can also be stored centrally. Office
applications can have multiple custom dictionaries mapped,
including those from server locations. This setting again can be
managed using Group Policy.
4. Reference documents: Often users require
reference documents such as policies, price lists, SKU lists,
service center lists, etc. Typically, these documents are scattered
all over different desktops. As there are multiple copies of such
documents, you cannot ensure that everyone is using the latest copy
of these reference documents.
The correct way of using such documents is to create either a
file share or better still a SharePoint document library and store
such documents in a Read-Only format there. This way, everyone
knows that there is a single, predictable, always updated location
for referring to these documents.
The problem with the SharePoint approach seems to be that users
have to use a browser and navigate to the desired document library.
This is a multi-step process and hence it puts off users. The
solution is simple. Using Group Policy, it is possible to map even
SharePoint locations to File Favorites in File Open dialog.
5. Autocorrect entries: Commonly used
abbreviations or small snippets of reusable text are often stored
in AutoCorrect entries. These entries are user specific. But like
templates, these can also be centralized. In fact, these entries
are stored in the default template. If you map the default template
to a server-based location, you automatically achieve
standardization and centralization.
6. Building Blocks: Office 2007 introduced a
more powerful concept which takes AutoCorrect to a new level. It is
called Building Blocks. This is also a repository of reusable
snippets like standard headers, table styles, page numbering
styles, custom text boxes, cover pages etc. These are stored in a
separate file (not inside the base template). Thus, this file can
be stored centrally to provide standardized building blocks for all
users. This way you can increase the productivity of all users
across the organization very quickly.
7. Themes: This is another very powerful
feature which is used to standardize the look and feel of documents
across document types. Let me explain.
Templates are stored for each document type. For example, a Word
template would typically have some reusable text and formatting.
When you create a new document from the template, instead of a
blank document, the base content is automatically inserted. This
saves time and promotes standardization. But how do you standardize
the look and feel of documents of spreadsheets, documents and
presentations? How do you make sure that a table created in Word,
Excel and PowerPoint has the same, standard, professional look and
This is where Themes come into picture. Themes do not provide
any content. That is best done using Templates. But Themes provide
three things—colors, fonts, and shape effects.
You can create a theme using Theme Builder (free download) and use
these with Office 2007. The Corporate Communication department
usually defines the guidelines for the font, color and graphics
usage for an organization. They can now use Themes to enforce these
Each document uses the default theme called ‘Office.’
But you can change the theme of the document to instantly change
its look and feel.
What’s more, the same Theme can be used to control the look
and feel of all Office documents like Word, Excel, and
8. File Dialogs: Finally, the File Open and
Save Dialogs can also be standardized. What can be customized here?
If you are using Windows XP, you can add specific server folder
shortcuts to the left pane of the dialog called My Places. In
Vista, the left pane is called File Favorites. You can use Group
Policy to configure the links in these dialogs.
Templates, departmental file storage locations and SharePoint
libraries can be mapped to these locations to provide an easy to
use way of standardizing storage locations. This can be done for
all users or customized further for each department.
There are many ways in which end-user productivity can be
standardized by using available features. Using these features
effectively can minimize errors, increase efficiency and maximize
the benefits from technology investments.