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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Tuesday Twat(s)

No. 53. The creators of pointless paperwork.

As you have probably guessed from previous posts, I loathe repetitive and pointless paperwork. However, I am a realist. I understand that some paperwork is essential and I don't begrudge that. What annoys me is repetitve and inefficient paperwork that could be easily automated. Whilst I have railed against COSHH forms in the past (the Control Of Substances Hazardous to Health - there is one for water) and other lab necessities, the sport centre has raised this to new levels. I've already mentioned that certain people, after typing a long list of customer names in to Excel, simply hit print and don't bother to also hit save, requiring me to type the bloody things again from scratch to modify the list. Recently, I and another receptionist, spent 2 days re-typing a 50 page procedures document (complete with flowcharts) that had been "lost". All they had was a master document which they would photocopy and post to anyone requesting it. Finally, someone called the muppet responsible's bluff and demanded the original Word file so that they could ammend it for use at another sport centre. Hence us wasting hours retyping pages of desperately dull SOPs.

Another example. The education department still uses faxes to communicate with the outside world. They (ie the Education officer) don't believe in email. Just because he can't work out how to use MS Outlook properly, he assumes that the highly trained secretaries in the one hundred or so local schools also can't use email. The other night, a four page document was handed to me. "Sane, this is urgent. It needs to be faxed to every school in the vicinity tonight. Here is a list of numbers."
My first suggestion was "wouldn't it be quicker to use email, since you already created these documents in Word?".
"No. Nobody checks their email" (Translation - email scares me).
My second suggestion, after calculating how long it would take to send these four pages by hand, then reading the fax machine's instruction manual, was
"Can I programme these numbers into the fax machine's memory and do an automated broadcast?"
"No - I don't want you messing up the fax machine"
Moral of the story - better to ask forgiveness than ask permission.
After 2 hours of solid faxing, it was 6 pm. I had gotten as far as the letter G, when I started getting dial tones. For reasons known only to themselves, it seems that the last thing school secretaries do before leaving the office at home-time is unplug the fax machine...
Result - less than a third of the local schools got their "urgent" fax.

Another example doesn't concern me directly but adds to the workload of our over-stretched sports coaches. Before each coaching session, each coach is required to fill-in, sign and date, an A4 questionnaire about health and safety. Even if they have been on that badminton court all day without a break, they have to fill in a form confirming that the court is safe with no obstacles and that they are licensed and also that (named) first-aiders are present. Since all coaches are, by default, first-aiders, they simply have to write their own name (again). Furthermore, the forms are entirely generic. To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever drowned on a badminton court. Last week, I filed over 1,000 of these identical reports for the preceding couple of months.

I understand why they are done, and why they are kept - it's just to cover our arses in case someone has an attack of the clumsies and tries to sue - but they are incredibly innefficient. So last week, I put my money where my mouth is so to speak, and made a master copy for each coach, with all of their unchaninging personal details and the generic crap like the sport centre's address etc filled in already. I decided not to remove the irrelevant questions, such as the need for a lifeguard on the basketball courts, to avoid messing up the format, but wrote n/a in the boxes. At least half of the form is now filled in already. I distributed blank copies to everyone and the response was tremendous. I may only be saving the coaches 30 seconds or so each time, but that is 30 seconds that the coach can spend talking to pupils or parents or gulping down a cup of coffee before going back on court.

It took me about 30 minutes, but has earned me the promise of half a dozen pints next time we all go out. For my next trick, I will be setting up distribution lists in Outlook for every school in the region, and showing the education officer how to use the fucking thing... I can hardly wait.

So to all those pen-pusher's too lazy to use the simple tools at their disposal to save them and their workmates time and effort - I award this week's Tuesday Twat. Now, instead of displaying it prominently on a shelf or emailing colleagues to tell them about it, why not lock it in a filing cabinet, and ring and invite people over, one at a time, to come and see it.




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