Even the federal government is getting in on the hybrid office trend. There are many good reasons to continue the combination of in-office work and remote work: high productivity, happy employees, and lower facilities overhead.
But there’s a security downside. It’s easy to lose track of the whereabouts of assets. Workers move documents, office equipment, even furnishings between home and office. Without a comprehensive check-out check-in system, business assets can fall through the cracks.
And missing assets are costly. Currently, the average office chair is $400. The average laptop computer is $1600. A single missing document is valued at an average of $120, and the cost could be far higher if the data contained in that document cannot be replicated. The cost of lost assets can easily outweigh the cost savings of a hybrid workplace.
This is where RFID can make a difference. You may think of RFID as a tool to manage your product inventory or secure your building’s entrances. In fact, the technology can be extended into other areas of asset management:
- Office furnishings – Doorway-mounted RFID readers monitor the movements of furniture in and out of a room, or out of the building if you’re supplying furniture for your employees’ home offices.
- Office equipment – The same doorway readers track RFID-tagged laptops, tablets, and cell phones. Paired with RFID personnel tags, you’ll know which employee has which electronic equipment.
- Documents – Sensitive documents can be printed on paper with embedded RFID, and file folders can be RFID-tagged. Like furnishings and equipment, the documents are monitored as they are moved around the office, and tracked if they are taken out of the office.
Can you manually track the ins and outs of assets between home and office, the way it’s always been done? Of course. But a paper and pencil sign-out system is astonishingly error-prone.
RFID is accurate. It doesn’t count on people remembering to sign out a file folder or a computer. It doesn’t mistakenly transpose a chair’s asset management ID number. You can rely on the asset data an RFID system delivers.
The hybrid office trend is here to stay. Manage your office assets with RFID and ensure your operation is getting all the benefits of the hybrid workplace.
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We’ve all been told about the benefits of RFID – accurate data, collected and delivered at electronic speed, for real-time decision-making. But does it really make a difference in our day-to-day work lives?
Let’s take a look at two imaginary individuals leading parallel lives. RFID Ray and Non-RFID Ned are operations managers at companies that manufacture, let’s say, turbo-charged self-navigating riding mowers.
- They both get up at 6:30 a.m. and get ready for work. Ray can’t find his keys, but an RFID app on his cell phone quickly locates them. He leaves home in time to miss the worst of the morning traffic.
- Ned, too, has misplaced his keys. He loses 10 minutes looking for them, then he loses another 15 minutes in heavy traffic.
- Ray arrives in the office a few minutes early. He enjoys a cup of coffee and catches up with a colleague, then he opens the RFID-controlled materials inventory on his computer. He sees that the supply of a critical part (we’ll call it a widget) is dangerously low; bad weather has delayed a supplier’s delivery. Ray places a call to another supplier, whose RFID inventory system says he has a 5-day supply in stock. Ray says, “I’ll take them all.”
- When Ned finally arrives at the office 25 minutes late, there’s no time for coffee and team-building chitchat. Like Ray, Ned checks his materials inventory report. It’s a paper document showing a manual count of parts. It took two precious work days to do the inventory nearly a month ago. The report shows that he has plenty of widgets to continue operations for another week. Suddenly the line supervisor rushes in to Ned’s office. “Boss, we’re nearly out of widgets, and the bad weather had delayed the shipment we expected. We’ll have to shut the line down tomorrow if we don’t get more.” Ned gets on the phone to the other nearby supplier, who gives Ned the bad news that Ray bought the last widgets an hour ago.
- Back at Ray’s office, the accountant asks Ray if he has the hard copy of a customer’s purchasing contract. It’s not on Ray’s desk. He checks the RFID document-tracking system, and it shows the contract is on the CFO’s desk. The accountant heads to the CFO’s office and locates the missing document.
- Ned, meanwhile, cannot find the purchasing document the accountant needs. He has no idea where it has gone or who took it off his desk. He stops trying to find a widget supplier and starts looking for the document. After 20 minutes, he locates it in the CFO’s office, then he gets back to widget-hunting.
- When Ray comes back from lunch, he gets a call from a parts manufacturer. The manufacturer’s RFID tracking system shows that a crate of defective jackson rods was sent to Ray. Ray checks his own RFID system and sees that some of the defective parts have just entered the assembly line. He contacts the line supervisor to tell him where the defective parts are on the line; the supervisor removes them. Ray then sends a message to his warehouse: Query the RFID system for the location of the crate of defective parts, and prepare it for return to the manufacturer. Total time required – 5 minutes.
- Ned has no time for lunch. He’s still searching for widgets. Late in the day, his QC manager tells him that some of the finished riding mowers failed QC due to defective jackson rods. Ned shuts down the line while the crew pulls the defective parts. The warehouse manager walks up and down the shelving aisles looking for the crate of defective parts. “I know it was here somewhere,” he says. Ned complains bitterly to the jackson rod manufacturer. Total time required – 4 hours.
- Ray leaves work right on time, his RFID badge recording his exit from the building. He works out at the gym, has a quick bite, and goes to his daughter’s school play. She’s the star of his life.
- Ned gives up the search for widgets and reluctantly lets his boss know the line won’t be operating tomorrow. Ned’s crew is still pulling the defective jackson rods off the line. The crew is being paid overtime, so they don’t mind too much, except the ones whose children are in the school play. Ned, exhausted, tries to sign out on the security log book. His pen runs out of ink. When he gets to his car, he can’t find his keys.
- Just about the same time, Ray is applauding his daughter with a standing ovation.
The story is hypothetical, but the RFID technology is quite real: There is an RFID application for almost every aspect of your work life, and many for your personal life. Whether it’s the time needed to make a well-informed` decision, time to locate something essential, or time to focus on family and self, the most valuable thing RFID gives you is time.
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FAIR has many meanings, but in the digital world it is an acronym. It stands for Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable – principles that make data truly useful. FAIR principles are often applied to scientific research data, but they apply equally to healthcare, government agencies, and legal and judicial systems. When your organization images its paper documents, the resulting data is FAIR.
- Findable – Locating specific data in paper documents is a slow manual process. Finding it in a digital document is as fast as the speed of electricity.
- Accessible – Paper documents take time to pull from files, time to copy, time to distribute. They’re easy to damage and easy to lose. But once a paper document is imaged, it is safe and secure; access is managed and tracked; and distribution takes just moments.
- Interoperable – Unstructured data is the greatest obstacle to interoperability, and paper is the ultimate unstructured data (affecting Findability and Accessibility as well). In contrast, the structured data of imaged documents is usable by different systems in different organizations. For example, doctors’ offices, hospitals, and pharmacies can send and utilize patient data across systems.
- Reusable – When data is “trapped” on paper, it’s time-consuming to find and extract it for re-using in combination with other data. But the data in imaged documents can be extracted instantaneously and re-used with other data sets to gain new insights and increase the data’s ROI.
When paper documents are converted to digital data, the usefulness of the data is multiplied. Make data FAIR, and make it an even more valuable asset.
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As some non-essential workers begin to return to the workplace after a year of working from home, they are discovering a museum-like scene: offices frozen in time. As reported in this Washington Post story, some offices look a bit like Pompeii after the Vesuvius eruption. Dusty post-it notes and coffee cups sit on desks where they were left a year ago. Break-room refrigerators hold months-old food. Calendars still show March 2020 appointments.
And yet, through the weeks and then the months that piled up into a year or more of office absence, we somehow continued with the work we were doing when we were all sent home. How is it possible that businesses kept functioning productively, remotely, while their offices became dioramas of The Early-2020 Workplace?
Information technology is the answer, of course. When a business has converted from paper-based operations to digital format, work from home (WFH) isn’t just possible, it’s practical. A remotely-accessible database of imaged documents keeps the wheels of business moving.
Employees have discovered the benefits of WFH and they’re unwilling to give them up. The scheduling flexibility of WFH has improved staffers’ work-life balance even as their productivity has increased. Nevertheless, in-person collaboration and culture are sorely missed, and valuable professional relationships are suffering. The hybrid office is predicted to become the dominant workstyle as we move toward a post-pandemic world.
McKinsey researcher Dr. Susan Lund, quoted in Fast Company, states that the return to work will emphasize the kind of social interaction that supports collaborative work. Face-to-face team projects will happen in business offices. Individual tasks or extended heads-down work will be done at home.
With 68% of CEOs planning to downsize office space, design and FM professionals have an opportunity to reshape offices into updated team-supportive offices. IT, too, is part of the design picture; with IT imaging a business’s paper documents to a digital data source, less filing space is needed, making room for more teamwork in less total area.
Tomorrow’s hybrid-office-space design will emphasize togetherness, encouraging what the Harvard Business Review terms “unstructured collaboration:” those water-cooler moments that lead to fruitful connections and breakthroughs. The new offices will probably look rather different than the work spaces we walked away from a year ago. Will anyone preserve a piece of the museum-quality time capsule of the old offices? If you are returning to work in old Pompeii, we’d like to hear from you.
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Businesses pay high prices for marketing data. Mailing lists, for example, cost anywhere from $3 to more than $1000 per thousand. List provider Click2Mail starts their pricing for a consumer list at $33.66 CPM (cost per thousand). If you want a tightly targeted list, and you want to use it more than once, the price only goes up.
Yet many organizations have a ready-made source of marketing data in their client files – if they have imaged their documents.
A couple of examples:
1. Marketing data for external sales: A large law firm provided services in multiple specialties, including intellectual property (IP), family law, and estate law. The firm’s IP clients were becoming wealthy thanks to the efforts of their attorneys. Other clients had successfully adopted children through the work of their family law attorneys. Both groups of clients needed estate services to organize their wills and trusts for the benefit of their dependents.
But the estate lawyers didn’t know these clients needed their services. Busy attorneys don’t have time to extract marketing intel from client files.
Then the law firm imaged their client files, creating a searchable, sortable database. The firm’s marketing manager can now query the client database for existing clients that fit the profile for estate services. The firm can serve their clients better and generate additional revenues – a win for everyone.
2. Marketing data for internal sales: A major corporation established a business travel and commuting office for its employees. This office was tasked with assisting employees in making reservations, finding the best travel value for the dollar, and distributing reimbursement for certain commuting modes. Management’s expectation was that the travel office should deliver a quick ROI in order to justify its existence.
Prior to imaging the accounting department’s travel reimbursement forms, the travel office had to examine the individual paper forms to determine employees’ travel and commuting habits – an error-prone and time-consuming process. Now the travel office pulls internal marketing lists from the imaged reimbursement forms, with electronic speed. They can target specific groups of employees to alert them to travel savings that dovetail with customer locations, and they can keep commuters up to date on opportunities like new bus routes and carpools.
is the business principle that every employee encounters chances to sell their company’s products or services. It’s a low-cost way of bringing in more business. Your client data can sell too, if it’s not locked up on paper. A database of imaged documents will provide actionable marketing intel, without the high price of outsourced marketing data.
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The pandemic has been a change accelerator in many ways, but few areas have seen more rapid revisions than the workplace. Two trends were already gaining traction before 2020: the open office plan was being reworked to include some private spaces, and work-from-home (formerly termed telework) was spreading beyond a few narrow industry sectors.
Now these trends are rapidly becoming the norm, and they are bringing with them a host of design, operations, and corporate-culture questions.
The End of the Open Plan Office?
A recent survey of tech companies with open plan offices found that fewer than half expected to stick with their open-plan layouts after the pandemic. Yet even with the additional space requirements of private or semi-private workspaces, more than 80% of these companies expected to need less office space in the next 18 months. More than half anticipated entirely eliminating some of their office space.
For designers and facilities managers, these forecasts require a re-working of office space. Reduced storage space calls for space-saving high density storage systems. The noise reduction and privacy of semi-enclosed spaces call for dividing structures like touchless locker systems. Moves to smaller spaces call for office relocation services.
Is WFH is Here to Stay?
Work-from-home (WFH) is now a permanent fixture in workplace operations. Numerous surveys and metrics have shown the productivity advantages of WFH, and businesses are adopting technology such as document imaging, video conferencing, and digital whiteboarding that makes WFH practical.
With the success of WFH, managers and designers are now beginning to ask the big corporate culture question: What is the purpose of an office?
What About Corporate Culture?
As John Seabrook (New Yorker Magazine) writes, this question brings up other questions: “Is [the office] a place for newbies to learn from experienced colleagues? A way for bosses to oversee shirkers? A platform for collaboration? A source of friends and social life? A respite from the family? A reason to leave the house?” The answer, to one degree or another, is “Yes.”
The hybrid office, combining WFH with flexible in-office time, is right on trend. Hybrid workspaces help businesses reduce their office space footprint while giving WFH staff a needed dose of in-person interaction.
However, for a hybrid office to function well, corporate culture has to change many of its former patterns. Many employees worry that decreased “face time” will damage their peer and mentor relationships and diminish their opportunities for advancement. Improved transparency, communication, training, and especially diversity and inclusion policies will build employees’ trust that they are visible, supported, and recognized for their contributions.
Taken together, the trends of the Covid change accelerator can seem overwhelming. National Office Systems is a strategic partner helping you plan and implement workplace designs and technology to adapt to the changes.
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