Paper has been getting a bad rap lately. There’s no denying that it’s not the most sustainable product. Paper manufacturing contributes to deforestation and pollutes water and air. Too much paper ends up in landfills where it produces methane, a greenhouse gas.
However, the availability of recycling has improved the green rating of paper. The U.S. EPA reports that over 2/3 of paper and paperboard were recycled in recent years. Today, much of the paper made for office use is manufactured from recycled paper.
And some of that recycled paper is the result of digitization. As part of the document conversion process, many paper documents are designated for disposal – secure disposal that protects sensitive data – and those properly disposed papers can be recycled.
Digitization offers numerous benefits: reduced storage space, improved security, remote access, and improved sustainability. Nevertheless, paper still serves a valuable purpose, as recent studies have shown.
Writing and printing paper, in particular, are surprisingly important. Writing by hand involves many parts of the brain and sensory system: tactile, spatial, and linguistic. That complexity helps fix the written word in the memory. One University of Tokyo study showed that students’ handwritten note-taking produced better recall an hour later. One example: If you’ve ever written a grocery list and left it at home, you probably found you could still remember a good number of the list’s items.
Books and paper documents, too, showed enhanced recall in comparison to digital documents. Often, book readers can recall the specific location on a page where an important fact was stated.
- Information that needs to be remembered should be delivered on paper, and handwritten notes should be taken.
- Information that doesn’t need to be recalled in detail, but quickly and accurately searched and accessed as needed, is ideally stored in digital format.
Many, many business documents fit that latter description, which is one of the reasons digitization is a good business practice. As noted above, the benefits have a positive effect on your bottom line.
And now, if you want to remember what you’ve just read here, print it out and take some notes!
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Food producers are careful to include a conservative sell-by date on the products they sell. Everyone benefits; consumers aren’t disappointed or harmed by spoiled foods, and producers ensure their products live up to their brand.
The sell-by date isn’t confined to groceries, however. Every business has assets that eventually hit a critical date. Locating those assets and taking action by those dates can be labor-intensive and costly.
Labor-intensive and costly, that is, unless your business uses RFID for asset management. RFID technology is much more than a fancy inventory identification system. RFID chips can be programmed to contain all kinds of data about an object: when it was made, when it was put into service, when it needs maintenance, what kind of service it needs, when it should be replaced, and much more.
When queried, RFID software can generate a report about upcoming critical dates, sorted by asset type, or location, or required action. Imagine the amount of time and money saved by automatically tracking an asset’s location and critical dates.
This benefit applies in dozens of industry sectors. A few examples:
- Food service – suppliers add RFID tags to boxes of perishables, so distributors and restaurants stay on top of freshness deadlines. Chipotle Restaurants is testing this technique in their Chicago restaurants’ supply chain.
- Pharmaceuticals – RFID tags prevent the use of expired drugs. Pennsylvania’s Reading Hospital is tracking Covid vaccine expiration dates and times with RFID technology, to prevent waste of the vital and costly medication.
- Business electronic devices – RFID tags attached to laptops, mobile phones, tablets, and copiers are routinely queried by the IT department to determine when they are due for maintenance. An additional query signals each device’s location, on site or off. The U.S. Army is using RFID to track the whereabouts of their office electronic devices and provide routine updates and maintenance.
Almost every business asset has a “sell-by” date of some kind. Furnishings eventually have to be replaced. Outdated computers have to be disposed of. Obsolete law books, old patient files, tax returns from the time of the dinosaurs – whatever they are, they have to go sooner or later. Know where they are, and know when their time is up, with RFID.
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ESG – Environmental, Social, and Governance – stands for the three components of a business’s sustainability performance. Three out of four consumers change their purchase preferences based on ESG factors, according to a CapGemini report. How well does ESG integrate into the new hybrid workplace?
There’s good news: Hybrid offices are a natural choice for boosting your organization’s ESG.
- Zoned space utilization systems automatically group hot desks and office reservations into energy-saving zones
- Smart building systems reduce lighting and HVAC consumption during unoccupied hours
Fun fact: One degree change in indoor temperature means thousands fewer kilowatt hours, and thousands of dollars in savings over the course of one year.
- Fewer trips to the office equals fewer commuting miles per week.
- Smart buildings’ reduced energy use results in less emission-producing energy generation.
- More meals at home means less lunch take-out waste
- Offices produce less paper waste if document conversion (digitization) is in place.
This last topic, digitization, deserves additional discussion. Almost all businesses generate paper documents. Those records are important to business operations, and they should be retained as long as necessary.
But paper documents tend to beget more paper – distribution copies, unnecessary printouts, backup copies, etc. The cost to manufacture, transport, and print of all that paper adds up. And an estimated 45% of that paper ends up in the trash at the end of each work day.
Moreover, all that paper takes up an inordinate amount of room, an average of 9 square feet per file cabinet. Hybrid offices typically need less office space than traditional full-time offices, but they still need storage space.
After converting paper documents to digital ones, much of the document storage area can be put to better use. For example, management consultants recommend creating lounge spaces for those invaluable “water cooler moments.” By reducing your storage space, you support hybrid-office creativity and culture without additional real estate costs.
And of course a database of digitized documents allows hybrid staffers to access necessary documents wherever they are working – in the office, at home, or in a co-working space.
Digitization is the perfect complement to your other ESG efforts. Create a “virtual filing room” and boost your sustainability rating.
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Workplace amenities used to be associated with tech start-ups – meals, game rooms, and bring-your-dog-to-work were some of the popular perks that kept tech workers in the office. Why go home when everything you want is there? Today’s newer office buildings are taking a page from the tech world, offering an array of amenities like gyms, concierge services, and lounges.
It’s all part of tenants’ commitment to hybrid offices, a staffing retain-and-return game plan for many companies. Survey after survey shows the same results: Employees do not want to go back to full-time in-office operations. And employers are discovering that the hybrid workstyle has benefits that they don’t want to give up, including greater productivity, lower real estate costs, and happy employees.
Employees are willing to trade space for the hybrid workstyle. More than half of law firm employees recently surveyed said they would trade assigned seating/offices for greater flexibility. That’s good news for employers, who can reduce their office footprint when they don’t have to find space for all their staff each and every day.
The amenities offered by first-class office buildings aren’t free, of course, and a prudent practice manager or facilities manager will try to balance that extra cost by reducing the amount of space in a new lease. The same law firm survey showed the average square feet per attorney has decreased from 760 s.f. to 625 s.f., and other industry sectors are making similar reductions.
But reducing personnel space can only go so far. For many professional practices, paper documents take up an outsize proportion of the office footprint. High density storage systems help reduce the space needed for document storage. Digitization goes even further.
Just one filing cabinet takes up 9 square feet, at an average real estate cost of $540 per year (and that’s before factoring in the higher price of amenity-rich buildings). Document conversion eliminates the need for that space, and the cost associated with it.
Digitization lets you have your cake (or gym or lounge) and eat it too. When employers can offer appealing amenities to encourage staff to return to the office, without increasing their real estate costs, it’s a win for everyone.
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