Here’s yet another important reason for converting your paper documents to digital imaged documents: the global pandemic. Whether you have switched to a hybrid office, or your business is classified as essential, your staff is touching paper documents every day. Those documents can be a transmission point, not just for the coronavirus, but for a host of other infectious agents as well.
The National Institutes of Health, UCLA, and Princeton University tested the longevity of covid-19 on various surfaces. They found that, in general, the smoother the surface, the longer the virus could live. Cardboard, rough and uncoated, was less likely to transmit the virus. Other forms of paper – smooth, coated printer paper of the type used in many business operations – provide a somewhat friendlier surface for the virus. The science is far from conclusive, and research is ongoing, but any reduction in risk is beneficial to everyone.
Paper is a high-touch element in any business. A few examples:
- Order forms– touched by the sales rep, the customer, the sales manager, the order filler, the file clerk
- Patient forms– touched by the desk personnel, the patient, the nurse, the physician, the lab, the accounting clerk, the file clerk
- Sales brochures– touched by the marketing coordinator, the sales rep, the customer, and (in the case of displayed brochures) the general public
It’s easy to see how viruses and bacteria can get passed around on paper, despite having all the recommended contagion measures in place. But when a document is imaged, it’s removed from the touch chain, and from the chain of potential contagion.
And in addition to breaking the contagion chain, you get all the other benefits of imaging, too. Imaged documents are readily accessible via electronic devices, speeding the flow of information. They are secure from loss, accidental damage, and unauthorized access. And they take up a fraction of the space of paper documents, reducing your storage footprint and your real estate costs.
We have advocated touchless technology for quite a while, not just for health reasons but for cost efficiency and for connectedness to the IoT. Imaging your paper documents is part of the wave of touchless tech that does more than just improve your business operations. It’s a risk management tool, keeping your staff and your community safer during and after the pandemic.
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Everyone is discovering the benefits of working from home (WFH), yet 94% of employees want the option of returning to their offices at least some of the time. How are businesses redesigning their offices to get the best of both worlds?
WFH really came into its own in 2020. Organizations with pre-existing telework policies and infrastructure were well-positioned to expand WFH when the pandemic hit. Others were able to pivot quickly to WFH, and they discovered the valuable benefits: Reduced office space requirements and increased employee productivity. Those benefits, along with greater employee satisfaction, translated into lower costs.
But 100% WFH isn’t practical for every business, nor is it practical for every employee.
A hybrid workstyle balances WFH and office time. Many businesses are downsizing their old offices to a central hub office, where teams meet on a rotating schedule – marketing on Monday, product design on Wednesday. Heads-down work remains WFH, without the interruptions and distractions of day-to-day office life.
To create this hybrid workstyle, prominent businesses like Deloitte, KPMG, and the Bank of Montreal are redesigning their offices into a hub-and-spokes form. A downsized central office serves larger group meetings, and houses centralized functions like IT and document storage. Smaller teams meet at satellite offices or co-working spaces, giving them a shorter commute as well as cheaper office space. With a small hub in the expensive downtown real estate market, and less costly spokes in outlying areas, these organizations are seeing valuable cost savings.
However, hybrid offices do not relieve businesses of the need to build WFH infrastructure. To realize the full value of the hybrid workstyle, WFH must be supported with e-devices, software, and most important, data access. Sharing physical documents is relatively easy in an office, but often the information in those documents is needed during heads-down WFH. Document imaging is an essential part of a hybrid office. With imaging, the data contained in physical documents becomes accessible to all team members, searchable for greater efficiency, and secure through multiple layers of redundancy and permissions.
“The office will shift to become less about sitting in a desk all day and more so as a safe place for colleagues to collaborate, engage and interact,” says Todd Burns, President, Project and Development Services, JLL Americas. The hybrid office offers the best of both worlds – the productivity and employee satisfaction of WFH, and the cost savings of downsized offices. But only if the WFH infrastructure, including document imaging, is supported and maintained.
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Paper is still the gold standard for many types of documents. Major personal events – marriages, wills, deeds, birth certificates – are still memorialized on paper. Such documents are typically filed away, and rarely accessed again. They’re a passive form of media.
But in business, paper documents operate differently. Paper is a highly active medium in any paper-reliant organization, going in and out of file cabinets, across desks, through many hands.
The more times a document is touched, the greater the loss of productivity.
Paper-based processes kill productivity in three ways:
- Movement– Inputting information by hand (a form, for example), and walking a document from one place to another (an approval process , for example), all happen at human speed. And if the recipient isn’t present to immediately handle the document, or the document travels via the USPS or another carrier, the process becomes even slower.
- Loss– DeLoitte & Touche have calculated that the average U.S. manager spends 3 hours per week looking for lost documents. That’s roughly 150 hours per year, per person, in lost productivity.
- Security – It is estimated that 70% of businesses would fail within 3 weeks in the event of a catastrophic loss of paper records due to fire or flood.
The explosive growth in work-from-home (WFH) adds a fourth productivity challenge. WFH staffers need access to papers locked away in the office. When staffers travel to the office, the commute time translates to lost productivity. And when documents are taken out of the office, there’s an increased security risk. 61% of data breaches in small businesses involve paper. Productivity plummets while damage is assessed and repaired.
The solution to paper’s productivity-killing tendencies is digital:
- Imaging (document conversion) of paper documents creates secure, accessible, searchable digital documents. Instead of moving at human speed from one desk to another, imaged documents move at near-instantaneous internet speeds. Imaged documents never get lost under a bookshelf or left in the copier. Usage authorization is managed and monitored for improved security, giving remote workers the access they need to be productive.
- Enterprise content management (ECM) software helps businesses move many of their paper-based processes to a digital format. Documents originate digitally, and remain in that medium throughout all operational processes. Errors are reduced, and, like imaged documents, these digital-origin documents move quickly and safely through the pipeline.
Even when businesses convert to ECM, however, paper is still generated. Signatures may be added, hand-written revisions can be made, notes may be added. An imaging program works alongside an ECM system to preserve a record of those document outputs, in digital format. Can your business gain efficiency and productivity by going digital? If you have paper-based processes, the answer is Yes.
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Like the business sectors they serve, associations are facing sudden unexpected challenges. Association revenues are down as conferences are canceled, advertisers pull back, and associations’ members deal with their own budgetary stresses. Many associations have had to do a quick pivot to work-from-home (WFH), roughly akin to building the ship while sailing it. Association executives have scrambled to re-arrange workflows, while reconfiguring budgets to accommodate the new processes.
There’s a surprising silver lining, however: For associations that have some flexibility in their real estate leases, the new WFH workstyle means the need for large offices – and their high-priced rent – can be eliminated. Writing in CEO Update, Kathryn Walson reports on the decision of Denver-based Obesity Management Association to move out of their large offices and move into full-time WFH. With a few co-working offices reserved for in-person work, OMA expects to save $52,000 in the first year.
WFH necessitates remote access to work materials – everything from organization documents to marketing brochures and member information. Paper documents, especially those containing confidential information, should be converted to digital format via imaging. This process makes the documents accessible remotely to WFH staffers, without the security risk of removing the original papers from the office. And if an association outsources some operational functions – accounting, for example – the vendor’s access is easy to monitor and control.
It’s true that not every association can switch over to completely virtual offices. Many need to maintain a physical presence for team collaboration and meetings with vendors and member groups; after all, visibility is a key part of an association’s work. Nevertheless, a combination of WFH and physical offices gives associations a way to reduce their real estate footprint and their real estate costs.
Now is a good time for CEO’s to analyze their association’s space needs, financial condition, and lease agreements. Opportunities for reducing office space may be readily available: an expiring lease, a termination option, a sublet offer. With digital support for WFH, associations can discover valuable budget benefits.
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Safety is on everyone’s mind these days. The same forces which have disrupted daily life is also disrupting the way facilities are designed, utilized, and maintained. Fast Company is forecasting that the hottest new job in commercial real estate and facilities management is the director of environmental health– a medical expert, preferably with expertise in infectious diseases.
The director of environmental health will be tasked with assessing the health risks posed by current operational systems and policies, and making recommendations for facility-wide changes that reduce health risks. However, individual landlords and tenants are going to be responsible to some degree for including health and safety elements within their own spaces.
Every office uses space differently. High-touch surfaces, traffic patterns, and distancing policies will have be designed to fit each tenant’s needs. Touchless technologyis already available for doors, electronic devices, and personal storage lockers. Touchless lockers with attractive design-friendly finishes can also be used as a separation structure to guide internal traffic, maintain social distance, and reduce contagion.
Also useful in social distancing are RFID wearables that alert staffers when they are too close to each other. RFID(radio frequency identification) is a mature, proven technology for asset management, from inventory control to document tracking to process management. It’s a simple matter to add RFID proximity wearables.
Angelo Bianco of Crocker Partners, a commercial real estate owner with 11 million square feet of office space, predicts that many commercial office space organizations will hire environmental health directors. A focus on enhanced health and safety systems could be a strong marketing advantage in the highly competitive commercial real estate industry. Additionally, having a medical expert on staff is a risk management strategy; owners and operators of commercial properties are protected from claims of health-related negligence.
Tenants, too, can derive some risk management benefits by installing hardware and furnishings specifically designed for workplace well-being. Although many businesses have learned that work-from-home is a productive and cost-effective workstyle, a hybrid of WFH and office is emerging as the new normal. As offices are repopulated, either part-time or full-time, health-oriented designs and policies are going to be the new future of facilities management.
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WFH (work-from-home) was an unwelcome mandate for many businesses until they began to see the reduction in operating costs. Global Workplace Analytics estimates savings of $11,000 per year, per employee, just for part-time work-from-home. Full-time WFH represents even greater savings. It’s no surprise that Facebook, Twitter, Morgan Stanley, and other major companies are opting to keep WFH in place permanently.
But are these businesses going overboard with the WFH perks? Many are providing computers, tablets, telephones, and broadband service to their work-from-home staffers. Some are providing office furniture. Google, for example, gives its WFH employees $1,000 for home-office setups. Others even offer meal deliveries for lunch meetings that used to take place in person but are now on Zoom. The employer-hosted Zoom “happy hour” is widespread.
It all sounds like an overly generous perks package. When you look a little closer, however, those so-called perks are almost no different than the standard productivity tools which businesses would provide in an office setting. In fact, some organizations are sending complete workstations from their offices to employees’ homes. This could be an asset-management nightmare if not for RFID tags which track each electronic device, each chair, and each desk that leaves the office. These businesses can then reduce their office size, and the overhead that goes with it, without disposing of excess furnishings.
Most important, organizations successfully making the change to WFH are ensuring that their employees have remote access to paper documents stored in the business’s offices. Retrieving the paper documents would create an unacceptable security risk. Instead, these businesses have imaged their paper documents, creating a secure digital database of informational assets.
Imaging converts paper documents into secure, searchable digital documents. Remote workers access the digital documents from their home offices via employer-provided high-speed data connections, on their employer-provided laptop, seated in their employer-provided chairs at their employer-provided desk.
It’s a win for everyone: WFH staffers have the tools to get the job done, and businesses continue to be productive while enjoying the benefit of lower operating costs.
Studies have already shown increased productivity rates achieved by WFH. Forbes cites several reports of 35-40% productivity improvement, with an output increase of 4.4%. Engagement and retention are also improved – another cost savings. WFH may have started out as an imposition, but with the right productivity tools, its benefits are here to stay.
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