Annik Stahl’s guide book, The Microsoft Crabby Office Lady Tells it Like it Is: Secrets to Surviving Office Life would be a tremendous help to the right Microsoft Office user. It is not a beginner’s guide but it does give the sort of basic guidance that helps a new user build confidence. The later part of the book is excellent as a fast brush-up for most users and the section for telecommuters was a great addition.

Why do you think your column has become so successful?

It’s been my experience, having written the column for more than 4.5 years, that computer users – Microsoft Office users or otherwise – had been craving someone on the inside who could do more than just explain how to do something (“On the View menu, click . . . ”). I wanted to give them more in-depth information regarding why they need to do it, when they might need to do it, and the different ways they can do it to get their point across. But more importantly, Crabby is an advocate for readers; she isn’t just a marketing mouthpiece.

In the book you list eight types of emotions that should not be sent via e-mail. These include something highly personal, sad, angry or shocking. Why should they not be included in an office e-mail? What if a co-worker is a friend or someone who works in another location?

A friend is one thing; a co-worker is quite another (even if they overlap). In recent years, certain workplaces – including Microsoft – have become much more relaxed. And while free soft drinks, no (or limited) dress codes, and flexible working hours can be effective at keeping employees happy (and thereby increasing their productivity), some of us have become a bit too casual – and even sloppy – and have forgotten that we’re at work. This can manifest itself particularly in e-mail: bad punctuation, no subject line, personal stories that don’t belong on the company’s server . . .

When it comes to meetings and Microsoft Office what tools are most underutilized?

Agendas sent out ahead of time, so people come prepared, are good (and we have templates for that, to make it simple). As well, NetMeeting and Live Meeting are great ways to hold group meetings with people who both are and aren’t in the same room. You can share documents, collaborate, view the presentations (if there are any), hear the audio, and also be a part of the conversation by being able to ask questions of the meeting holder through the interface.

What tools do you recommend people use when going on vacation to help them get out of the office and make the return less stressful?

Two of the most useful tools are templates (for trip planning, list making, photo management and so on) and the Out of Office Assistant. The former is a great way to help plan a vacation ahead of time with the least stress possible, and the latter lets people know that you are gone. Regarding the Out of Office (OOF) Assistant, it’s a great tool to let people know that you’re out, when you’re due back, and also to offer information in it about who can help them out in your absence.

But also, when you return, change that OOF – don’t turn it off yet – to say that you’re back but still getting into the swing of things and will get back to folks just as soon as you can. Note: if you’re not using Outlook with Exchange Server, there is no Out of Office Assistant, but you can create a rule to do the same thing.

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