Like many familiar aspects of business life, the form and function of offices are undergoing rapid change to fit the new reality. Today’s challenges have been an opportunity for reflection and reinvention, in business as well as in our personal lives. As our business operations adapt to the new normal, office designs are shifting to accommodate new workstyles.
Hybrid offices are one example of a pre-Covid trend accelerated by the pandemic. WFH has been far more productive than expected, but teams still feel the need for face-to-face collaboration for certain tasks. Consulting firm Gensler describes the hybrid workplace as promoting collaboration through activity-based design, using advanced technology and unassigned seating within a hospitality-driven atmosphere. Teams work remotely, coming together in a hybrid office as required.
A few major organizations have been test-driving the hybrid office in a hub-and-spokes design. A centrally hub office in the city center provides room for larger group activities, while smaller outlying offices give support to WFH staff living nearby. Hybrid offices reduce office space in the expensive city center, while preserving a visible presence.
Repurposing office buildings’ lobbies is another new-normal trend. In a hub-and-spokes office, the spokes facilities can be integrated into the surrounding community, creating connections among WFH staffers, clients, and the neighborhood. Buildings’ public spaces offer a branding opportunity for tenants to underscore their community involvement, as well as a meeting destination for workers and visitors.
To ensure that these new workplaces function well, designers and office managers are applying the latest in digital technology.
WFH staff need access to project materials whether they’re at home, at a spoke office, or at the central hub. In the hybrid office, paper documents may be stored at the hub, with limited access. But imaged documents are accessible to remote workers no matter where they are. The paper originals remain safely stored in the hub office.
Touchless technology is another asset for the reshaped office. RFID-based apps enable safe touchless entry to secure areas. Touchless lockers provide personal storage for WFH workers traveling to spoke or hub offices. Designers can even use touchless lockers as a physical divider to guide foot traffic and maintain safe social distancing.
Gensler predicts that the new style of office building will be far less insular and self-contained, and far more responsible to its community through creating public spaces, support businesses, and a live-work-play environment. Technology that supports human capital will be the key to successful office design in the new reality.
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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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Research firm Gartner estimates that as much as 3% of a company’s revenue is spent on business paper. Copy paper, note paper, invoices, letters, file folders…it all adds up, and it’s easy to quantify. But that’s just the hard costs. What is rarely calculated are the hidden costs all that paper generates.
A few statistics from a PriceWaterhouseCoopers study:
- 8 hours– the amount of time an employee spends managing paper documents each week
- $122– the cost of finding a single lost document
- 750– the number of lost paper documents per year, per mid-size business
There’s a dollar figure attached to this kind of lost productivity. Even though the math may not show up on a spreadsheet, lost documents alone can be calculated to cost the average mid-size business $91,500 per year.
And that’s before calculating the cost of office space to store all those documents. Paper is undeniably bulky. Just 250 standard file cabinets take up 2,500 square feet. That adds up to a significant sum, too: $135,000 per year, on average.
Knowing those costs could make you think twice about using – and retaining – all that paper. But do you have a choice?
Imaging is the alternative. Converting paper documents to digital documents saves businesses the cost of all that storage space for physical documents. The contents of those 250 file cabinets, after conversion, will fit onto a single hard drive. With imaged documents safely stored on a drive, lost documents are a thing of the past, as is the cost of finding those lost documents.
Even better, businesses can take advantage of the cost savings of a remote workforce. Digital documents, unlike paper documents, can be shared readily with members of a distributed team. And remote teams require less office space, adding to the cost savings.
Of course paper still provides a valuable function even in the digital era. People have a positive response to information presented on paper, and they absorb and retain that information longer. Sales and marketing materials, for example, have a greater impact if they’re presented on paper.
But for many other areas of business operations, imaged documents present a significant value in the form of reduced real estate costs and improved productivity. Take a look at how your enterprise uses paper, uncover the hidden costs, and make a profitable move to imaging.
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Organizational apps have proliferated right along with apps of every other kind. If your business has started converting paper documents to digital documents, you can use a digital asset management (DAM) collaboration app to give your remote teams anywhere-anytime access to the documents they need. But if you still rely on paper documents alone, your remote workers are going to struggle to stay productive.
Remote work has grown over 91% in the past 10 years. Some companies have even gone entirely virtual. The staff of business-finance services company Guidant Financial, for example, works wherever they have a good internet connection. Guidant assists small-business owners with financing options, including retirement account franchise purchases, ROBS, and SBA loans. Business financing generates large volumes of loan and compliance documents for the SBA, the SEC, and the IRS.
Guidant uses a custom portal and app to electronically manage documents, including those which originate on paper.With all their clients’ documents accessible to Guidant’s finance teams, in servers that act as secure virtual “file cabinets,” Guidant’s staff can collaborate to complete and file all the documents their clients need for compliance or loan applications.
Employee satisfaction and retention are big benefits of Guidant’s virtual operations. An even bigger benefit is the company’s ultra-low real estate budget.With few documents to store, and most staffers working remotely, Guidant’s office space is far smaller than the average financial-services company.
Companies like Guidant commission custom software, but for many businesses, an off-the-shelf app provides all the digital asset management functionality their organizations need. Tadesite.com reviews 10 of the top rated off-the-shelf DAM apps with cataloging and search capabilities; some even have a search-within-document feature that is especially useful for collaborative teams.
But to get the best from your remote teams, you have to provide them with digital documents. And that requires converting your paper documents to digital format via a comprehensive imaging program. Imaging is a good bit more complex than simply scanning to a PDF. Properly executed, imaging creates “smart documents” that a DAM app can store, organize, and deliver to your remote workers with electronic speed. Paper documents are easily damaged, lost, or destroyed, but imaging adds a layer of security that controls accessibility and monitors usage.
Talk to an imaging expert and get your business ready for the latest productivity apps.
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You’ve worked hard to make your offices attractive to millennials – open sight lines, “water cooler” collaborative centers, glass-box conference rooms, and hot-desking. Now Gen Z is about to move into the business world in large numbers. Will the wide-open constant-collaboration millennial style help to recruit and retain the top Gen Z employees?
Gen Z-ers are accustomed to living online – learning, socializing, shopping, communicating with parents. They are team players, but their teams rarely have face-to-face conversations. In BizNow.com, HOK’s Director of Workplace Practice Kay Sargent states that these new workers are overloaded with information. To function at their best, their work environment should be visually uncluttered and should be structured for working individually as well as collaboratively.
The shift toward balancing collaborative spaces with individual workspaces has already begun in some offices where staff were frustrated with the distractions of their open office plans. That’s good news for Gen Z, but bad news for business owners and facilities managers. Open office plans require less square footage per employee compared to traditional office designs, and increasing the number of individual workspaces also increases real estate costs. That’s not a welcome prospect.
However, there are several steps office and facilities managers can take now to prepare their workplace designs for the coming influx of Gen Z workers, and simultaneously keep their real estate costs stable.
- Use modular casework to increase spatial flexibility. These “building blocks” of high-quality cabinetry can be re-configured and re-used when open spaces are changed to enclosed spaces, lowering build-out costs while increasing sustainability ratings – something Gen Z appreciates.
- Add high-density mobile shelving systems for files, media, and inventory. These space-saving storage systems reduce storage area by 50%, creating the extra room needed for individual workspaces without expanding the existing footprint.
- Plan and execute a comprehensive document conversion program. Although we live in a digital age, paper documents still seem to accumulate in the workplace and take up valuable (and expensive) space. Creating digital versions of documents preserves the information and makes it accessible to tech-savvy Gen Z staff while freeing up useful work space.
Age diversity is standard now in the 21stcentury, with Baby Boomers to Gen Z-ers each bringing their unique perspectives to the workplace. Organizations stand to gain greatly from the combination of wise experience and youthful new ways of thinking, and the cost savings of efficient storage systems make it possible and practical to accommodate everyone.
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Telework has multiple benefits for many organizations. It increases employee satisfaction and productivity, reduces office space requirements, and even improves sustainability by reducing automobile commuting – all good for the bottom line. But it has some drawbacks too, particularly for offices such as law practices, healthcare administration, and many governmental agencies, where the work involves paper documents. When workers need access to paper documents, they have to be physically present in the office, and all the benefits of telecommuting are lost.
The solution: Document conversion. Far more than a simple PDF scan, a well-designed document conversion plan:
- creates “smart” documents with searchable contents, accessible from multiple points;
- reduces loss or unauthorized use of documents;
- sets guidelines for physical document retention and weeds out unnecessary papers.
The first two points above have a direct bearing on telework.
- Collaboration: Teams working collaboratively frequently need to review the same document, often at the same time. A digitally-converted document can be accessed remotely by multiple team members, allowing some or all of them to work from home or a remote office. The team stays productive even though they’re not co-located.
- Searchability: If a teleworker needs to refer to archived paper documents in multiple folders or file cabinets, the research requires a visit to the office and a labor-intensive and error-prone manual search. A searchable database of digitally-converted documents can deliver the answers to the remote workplace in a matter of seconds, enhancing productivity.
- Security: A database of digitally-converted documents allows different degrees of access for various personnel – something that can’t be done with a standard file cabinet – as well as a digital “trail” of usage. Teleworkers can be assigned the appropriate level of access for their tasks without concerns regarding unauthorized access.
Easy collaboration, fast searches, and solid security all add up to improved productivity, and in turn, they support the productivity gains of telecommuting. Planning and executing a document conversion and management plan is a complex undertaking, but an experienced document conversion provider will make the process easy. The benefits are well worth the effort.
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