One office isn't necessarily all that different to another. The building might - sometimes - be a little more individual. The location may be different. The employees within should certainly be distinct. But the office itself doesn't tend towards much variety. Desks, chairs, the odd pile of paper, some pens scattered about, photocopier in the corner, perhaps a water cooler or coffee machine, and for every employee a PC running Windows and Microsoft Office software. You know the kind of software, I'm sure - we all do: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Outlook, the standards of all-purpose business applications for many a long year.

Yet millions of office workers know very little about how to use these programs. It's hard to imagine any other line of work in which there's a widespread expectation that everyone should use a tool without any concern for whether or not they know how to get the best out of it. Of course, many tools that might be used in other industries - practical tools and machines - would create a safety risk if used without appropriate training; nevertheless, organisations that have bespoke software for their own unique tasks would be expected to train staff to know their way around it, yet this rarely stretches to Microsoft applications.

Why? Familiarity may well be an issue, the notion that most of us have some idea of what to do, and if we don't, someone else in the office will. However, a greater cause may simply be a lack of awareness as to just what the software can do to benefit the company. All these programs have a wide range of tools that can benefit any business, yet users are often unaware of all but the most basic purpose (typing plain text in Word, storing numbers in Excel, etc).

There are clear benefits to be had in training employees to use tools that are already in the office, whether it be to gain a more perceptive and thorough analysis of the company's position and progress, to produce more effective and appealing presentations and documents, or just to simplify processes so that regular work takes less time.

There's no shortage of training providers who will offer to help your staff to make the most of the software. However, as with any service, you'll want to be sure that you're getting the highest quality without paying an extortionate price - after all, you'll be handing over some of the company's hard-earned money, so it's imperative that the benefits of the training are worth more than the trainings cost, that it's ultimately a profitable enterprise. To this end, a few moments considering what training companies are really offering can make a real difference to the end result for your business.

What should you look for in a training provider?

A good place to start is with the trainers themselves. Your company needs its staff to be trained to use Microsoft software - so surely it's a good idea to check that the trainers themselves are fully Microsoft-qualified; that way you can be confident that your staff are being trained by experts, rather than someone who's just a little more familiar with the software than they are.

Once you're certain that the training will be of high quality, it's time to look at the cost - and if you visit a training company's website, are you being shown the whole cost in one go? There's no need to keep paying a little extra here and there to providers who don't tell you the entire price up front, when there are alternatives out there who won't hide this information.

What about the course itself? Will the provider host the course when and where you want it, and can you be sure that it won't be cancelled? These issues can help you keep the cost to your business as low as possible, leading to more reliably profitable results.

Training your staff to make the very best use of the software you already have in your office can often prove to be a very simple, quick, affordable way to make your business more effective in its day-to-day operations. To gain the full advantage, you need to be certain that you're working with the highest quality and most cost-effective training provider. Get the right training from the right source, however, and you'll find that even if your office looks the same as any other, the work that goes on within it's walls is truly exceptional.