HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, has come to mean one thing to the average consumer: healthcare privacy. Medical information is kept strictly private, far from the prying eyes of journalists, employers, and neighborhood gossips. Many healthcare providers have come close to eliminating paper documents in their practices. Even if they use paper forms, the forms are imaged into an electronic healthcare record (EHR) with advanced crypto-security.
Healthcare facilities managers are concerned with HIPAA only insofar as they need to ensure sufficient storage space for paper documents, and adequate operational resources for the organization’s IT needs. But facilities managers, like healthcare professionals, generate a sizeable number of paper documents even when a building’s design originated on computers. And those documents have risk management implications just like patients’ documents.
Unlike patient documents, FM documents are generally very public. Drawings, permits, project schedules, punch lists – all are public, and subject to a legal doctrine called the Statute of Repose. The statute of repose is similar to the statute of limitations; it sets a limit on the amount of time a design client can hold a design/construction professional liable for errors. If there are any complaints or legal actions, all the supporting documents will be needed.
As a facilities manager (i.e., the client), you’ll want to retain all construction-related documents for at least the duration of the statute of repose, if not for several years beyond, as required by risk management policies. That’s a lot of paper, and it takes up a lot of storage space for a number of years. Plus, the paper documents have all the usual vulnerabilities of paper: fire, floods, pests, and pilferage, as well as loss or misfiling.
Imaging a healthcare facility’s documents offers the same advantages that come with imaged patient documents: compact storage, security, and information accessibility including authorized search and sharing. If there is a need to refer to any of these documents, they can be retrieved with electronic speed, much faster than a laborious hunt through numerous flat files.
Healthcare facilities managers are focused on the needs of their healthcare organization and the patients it serves. But when they include their own document conversion needs along with those of the other departments, they will gain efficiency and effectiveness that makes them even better at their work. And they are managing risks during the period of the statute of repose.
“There is no one-size-fits-all,” says Gensler Research, regarding lab design and adaptive reuse. Like people, each lab has its own unique purpose and form. A lab, unlike typical office space, may have to take into account ventilation, vibration, volatile chemicals, greater-than-usual utilities requirements, or dangers to workers and the general public, to name just a few of their special challenges.
But no matter what type of lab yours may be, from analytics and QC to biohazard or R&D, these three operational elements help any lab fulfill its mission.
Storage cabinets and casework – Cluttered labs are unsafe labs. Whatever the science specialty, whatever the experimental design, every lab needs to protect items from contamination, damage, loss, or degradation:
- Test and experimental supplies
- Researchers’ personal items
Your current lab storage may be perfect for your processes today. But once a research phase comes to an end, the layout and type of storage may not fit the next phase. Labs outfitted with modular casework can reconfigure their storage to suit the new functions, rather than scrapping the existing storage – a benefit to the budget and the environment.
Data management – The essence of scientific investigation is the collection and management of data. Paper documents may be the only option in some labs, especially if electronics interfere with experimental processes. But data on paper takes time to access and analyze, and paper itself is a fragile medium. Document imaging converts paper-based data to electronic data for fast, easy use. Moreover, it preserves the data in a secure form, controlling accessibility and preventing the loss of invaluable information.
Equipment and materials management – Labs’ budgets can skyrocket when expensive equipment is lost. Time-dependent research can be wasted when materials can’t be located in inventory. And hand-written inventories are notoriously error-prone, not to mention an expensive use of researchers’ time. RFID asset management systems take the burden off researchers by automatically tracking quantities and whereabouts of these vital components. Equipment is easy to find, and there’s never a shortage of essential elements.
All three of these design and operations technologies contribute to safe and efficient lab functionality. Just as important, they have a positive effect on your lab’s bottom line, saving time and money. It’s not theoretical; it’s proven. Talk to a storage and organization consultant and review the options.
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The ways we were accustomed to work were blown up by Covid-19 and the ensuing economic disruption. The 9-to-5 forty-hour work week now is the self-scheduled WFH get-the-job-done week. Surprisingly, productivity and employee satisfaction have risen dramatically in response.
However, corporate culture may be suffering. Businesses in which mentorship and hands-on training are particularly affected. From construction trades to consulting and sales organization, corporate culture relies on in-person interactions. Executives are announcing return to the office policies effective in the near future.
Still, concerns about surging Covid variants are making staffers reluctant to spend much, if any, time in the office. Facilities managers are asking if there’s a way to protect employees in the office setting without adding costly space to accommodate health protocols.
Here are three ways to help keep in-office teams safe without expanding the office footprint:
- Convert paper documents to digital documents via imaging, and reduce your document storage area. Imaged documents are productivity boosters, whether staffers are in the office or working remotely. And many of the imaged documents do not need to be retained as paper, freeing up room for social distancing and proximity barriers.
- Exchange traditional filing cabinets for a high-density filing system, and save as much as 50% of your storage floor area. While imaging will reduce the need for much document storage, some paper docs need to be retained. Keep them in a high-density filing system and save even more space.
- Add touchless smart lockers that guide in-office traffic while enhancing design aesthetics. Employees need secure storage for personal items in the office, and smart lockers provide touchless operation. Their customizable finishes make them a design feature, and they can be set up in work areas to provide separation and guide traffic without requiring additional space.
Security experts Kastle Systems report fewer than 28% of employees in the office in the first week of January 2022, in 10 major U.S. markets. Morning Consult’s survey shows 55% of employees being unwilling to return to the office if they felt unsafe. With the above ways to provide worker safety, your business can encourage a return to work without the added overhead of increased real estate costs.
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Yes, the hybrid office is here to stay, and with it comes an opportunity to do a beneficial redesign of the workplace. The soulless twentieth century “cube farms” were dehumanizing, but so were the noisy, crowded open-plan offices that replaced the cubicles. Now designers have a chance to create the perfect balance between too claustrophobic and too unstructured. With some thoughtful innovations, the hybrid office can be the happy medium, like Baby Bear’s oatmeal.
Successful hybrid offices counteract the oversharing open office by providing defined work areas for individual heads-down tasks, and for collaborative team projects. But defined, enclosed areas don’t have to make a space feel crowded. Architectural glass walls and partitions retain an open feel while mitigating the noise interference of open office plans. Additionally, they maintain separation to reduce the potential for infections.
Lockers, too, provide attractive space-defining structures that complement other design choices. Like work spaces, lockers can be reserved for use when teams are in the office, and released for others to use later. Touchless locking mechanisms enhance health protocols, too.
A hybrid redesign is about more than the physical space, of course. Emotional welfare is a significant component of the new workplace. People crave sociability, and working in an office is fundamentally a social activity. When staffers are not in the office, they become anxious about their place in the social order. Providing support for the WFH component of a hybrid office demonstrates management’s trust in employees who aren’t routinely present.
And that support is often in the form of technology. Businesses are providing electronic devices – computers, wifi, cell phones – to employees for their WFH days. Just as important are the digital data resources. Paper-intensive work is now being converted to digital formats. Document conversion, or imaging, gives staff access to information no matter where they are physically located. An additional benefit: With fewer documents to store, storage space can be converted to work spaces, without expanding the office footprint.
The Great Resignation of 2021 has spurred much soul-searching at the C-level. The conclusion of many managers: Make the office a place where people want to spend time, make WFH a valued part of the hybrid workplace, and show support by providing productivity tools. A redesign to achieve these goals is a win for workers and financial stakeholders alike.
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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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2020 was an experiment in necessity – how to shape or reshape the workplace, whether vacant, partially occupied, or fully occupied. As we move into the post-pandemic world, what are the workplace changes that look like they’re here to stay?
As we now know, mandated work-from-home (WFH) turned out to be far more productive than expected. The results of a recent survey by Upwork echoed an earlier Stanford study that showed increased productivity and job satisfaction among WFH employees. At the height of WFH in 2020, nearly two-thirds of staffers were working remotely, but Upwork estimates that the number of WFH employees will settle in the 20- 25% range in coming years.
The benefits of productivity, employee satisfaction, and real estate savings are solidifying the value of the hybrid workplace. Although a few organizations were experimenting with hybrid-style offices before the pandemic, it has now become the standard for many businesses.
With the establishment of the hybrid office come challenges and opportunities.
A significant challenge in the hybrid workplace: information access. Employees still need access to office-located documents on the days they are working remotely. Removing paper documents from the office means the risk of damage or loss. But without access to the information in the documents, workers lose all their WFH productivity gains. Imaging overcomes the challenge of data access; imaged documents, and the data they contain, are accessed securely from anywhere.
The hybrid workplace offers an opportunity to re-fashion the function and design of the office. The soul-crushing mid-century-modern cubicle farm is out. The much-despised open office plan is also out, due to productivity and health concerns. In its place is, appropriately, a hybrid design that offers some separation and privacy but also includes large spaces for collaboration. Hoteling will still be part of the picture, but staffers will reserve workspaces based on activity rather than mere available space.
Interior structures such as smart lockers will furnish separation and traffic routing. At the same time, they will provide an essential storage function for staffers who split their time between the office and WFH. Other structures like the prototype sound reduction panels from the University of Washington and architecture firm NBBJ also offer privacy and a visually interesting design.
Scientist Jonathan Schattke said, “Necessity is the mother of invention, but its father is creativity.” The hybrid workplace may have come into its own out of necessity, but its form and function reflect creative solutions, supporting workers with appropriate technology. The new hybrid worklife is here to stay.
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