Most offices have a range of people, with a range of abilities in different areas, doing a range of jobs. There are, however, staples that run through the entire team and one of those is Microsoft Excel. Regardless of the job being done, the chances are that Excel will be a viable tool for your employee.

But what happens if some people are experienced Excel wizards, while others are barely able to perform simple tasks? The experienced employee will complete an enormous amount of work to a high standard from a sheet of data. The inexperienced employee will, at worse, spend hours doing things manually and make mistakes, while at best go and bother your wizard with questions. This means the entire team lacks efficiency and productivity will suffer. This is a great shame considering it is so easy to upgrade Excel skills and increase productivity and morale. Have a look at our intermediate Microsoft Excel courses.

It is worth taking a little time to assess, (in as non-threatening a way as possible,) the abilities of your team members. The first thing to check is who has a calculator in their desk! Are employees performing manual calculations with the data because they are unaware of the mathematical functionality in Excel? Are those people that can use basic functions such as SUM, still using manual calculations for more complicated sums? Are they taking figures and manually typing them into a calculator? How long are they spending on that? Did they mistype a digit? Are they sending an incorrect figure to management who will decide the fate of the company based on the data? Embarrassing! That wouldn't happen if they knew how to use the SUM and various other mathematical functionality correctly.

It is often the case that comparisons must be made between two sets of data. This could be necessary to avoid putting duplicates into a database of to compare sets of data which will compile a mailing list. Comparing information manually can be a slow process littered with human error. Using Vlookup for comparing data can help complete the process efficiently and more accurately. You could be paying an employee for hours of work that could be done in minutes.

As well as comparing data, employees will often need to locate specific data in a set. Filters can be used to filter out irrelevant information or find a particular record. Searching for specific data can be time consuming and therefore costly. How much time is your employee spending scrolling through a spreadsheet looking for particular record that they might blink and miss anyway?

It is also worth considering how your employees are changing the data. Searching and filtering is only one side of the coin when it comes to data, since at some point they will need to make updates. Imagine you have given an employee a data sheet to make a mail merge. The data is all in capitals or lower case depending on who entered which names. For the mail merge a capital letter must be at the start of each name with everything else in lower case. Employee A will spend three monotonous days trawling through the records updating them manually. He/she will miss six names and will make a couple of typos making your company look unprofessional. However, Employee B knows how to use the PROPER function which can change the names to proper case automatically in a few moments.

When given a new spreadsheet that has many records and functionality, some employees will spend a long time trying to find out where the formulas are and which cells feed them. An experienced employee will use the Trace Precedents button to show what cells are delivering data to which formula result rather than having to manually find it. When new users of a spreadsheet are asked to start working on it, this button can immediately and visibly show them how a spreadsheet works. This will rapidly reduce the time they spend trundling through the sheet trying to highlight cells to understand the formula. It also makes it easier for different employees to work on different data which is helpful if you have to deal with staff holidays or sickness.

Once all the data has been checked and modified, employees often need to analyse the data. In this country alone, tons of paper are wasted each year from needless printing. This is like burning money for a business. An employee who is aware of the charting functionality of Excel could save valuable resources by analysing the data on screen rather than printing out the records. Excel has a wide variety of charting capabilities to suit most data analysis.

In the modern economic climate it is unrealistic to assume that the minority with expert level Excel skills will be able to train the rest up. On a day to day basis they would be hounded with questions and unable to complete their own tasks. It is far better to accurately assess the levels of knowledge and then implement some form of solid training programme. There is nothing wrong with colleagues helping each other out, but it should not be the sole method of training. The skills they learn are transferable to most other positions and job roles so you are investing in your employees which will attract a better class of employees and allow them to keep up with your ever changing and developing business.

In conclusion, if you were to suddenly transport someone from 1656 to 2012, present them with a horse and a car and ask them to travel to the other side of the country, they would of course choose the horse. They would choose the only thing they are familiar with because they do not know how to drive a car. In comparison to the car, the horse is slow and expensive, but they would know no other way. In a similar way, upgrading Excel skills in your team will give them the opportunity to choose the efficient, cost effective and speedy way of achieving their goals. And it doesn't have to take a long time or a lot of your budget. A short training course suited to their level could improve their skills enough to significantly boost productivity.