De-Densify the Workplace Without Expanding the Footprint

De-Densify the Workplace Without Expanding the Footprint

Until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine, social distancing is the new workplace normal – either you’ll have fewer people in the office, or your office space will have to be increased to achieve a less dense workplace.

Now that businesses are looking at ways to open up again, maintaining social distancing in the workplace is a top priority. Densely populated open plan layouts were the norm before COVID-19 struck. But open plan workstations of 60-70 square feet per person are far too small to maintain 6-ft distancing. Bringing everyone back into an old-style open plan office is simply not workable.

De-densifying the office is vital. Clustered workspaces have to be spread out. Separation structures have to be put in place. In-office traffic routes have to be re-arranged to preserve distancing.

All of this adds up to a larger office footprint. But even if additional space is available, increased real estate costs are something every organization wants to avoid in the current economic climate.

Telework is the answer: With fewer staffers in the office, it’s easy to decrease density without increasing the office footprint.

Telework has become a way of life for many of us during the past months, and we’ve learned some valuable management lessons. One is disaster planning; our companies’ emergency plans have been tested in this crisis, and we’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. Another lesson is telework capacity; many businesses or departments may have done some limited telecommuting prior to the pandemic, but were not prepared for a full-scale switch to 100% remote working.

As many of us discovered, access to documents was an ongoing obstacle to getting work done remotely. Paper documents are easy to share in an office, but hard to share remotely. Document conversion is essential to productive telework. Imaged documents are accessible to everyone who needs them, regardless of location. And they have the advantages of findability and searchability: Documents can be found in seconds, far faster than searching in file cabinets, and key words or phrases can be searched for and located with digital speed.

The new workplace normal doesn’t have to mean new real estate costs. Take the lessons we’ve learned from these challenging months, and translate them into action – support telework with document conversion, and de-densify your offices without expanding your footprint.

 

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Lesson One: Intellectual Humility

Lesson One: Intellectual Humility

This is the first in a series exploring Dr. Kristen Lee’s (Northwestern University) lessons in personal and collective fortitude. Seen through the lens of a business operation, each example has application in the current national health and economic challenges, and for successful endeavors in the future.

Business leaders often find themselves having to venture beyond their fields of expertise in order to make management decisions. These decisions have far-reaching impact, negative or positive, upon an organization’s future success, and there’s usually little time to research all the available data. The stakes are high, and as business leaders, we are expected to know everything. But that’s an unreasonable expectation.

Isaac Newton said, “What we know is a drop, what we don’t know is an ocean.” Say, for example, your organization is shifting to remote working. What you know is this: Your remote staff will need access to information currently contained in paper documents. Therefore you plan to convert paper documents into searchable digital documents.

What you don’t know is this: What conversion software should you use? What metadata fields? What file format? How many levels of security? How is the imaging actually done? Exactly what is “imaging” anyway?

It can feel humiliating to say, “I don’t know.” But there is no shame in calling upon experts when faced with a decision that is outside our training and experience. In fact, it’s the smart thing to do. Great leaders recognize their weaknesses as well as their strengths. They reach out to others to fill in the gaps in their knowledge.

We are comfortable with calling upon doctors, lawyers, and accountants to advise us, because they are experts in those fields, and we are not. Other operational areas should be no different. Consider how you chose your business’s law firm or accounting firm – most likely, through your spheres of social and business influence. If these challenging times are pushing you to make decisions far outside your comfort zone, reach out to a colleague who can steer you toward an expert.

 

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