Culture is important in any organization, but none more so than the culture of an association. By its very nature, an association is people-oriented, and the field of association management attracts “people persons” who thrive in the company of others.
The necessity for remote work during the pandemic was especially hard for association staffers. Within a short time these people-persons felt isolated and unproductive, even as many of the industries they served were reporting greater than normal productivity from their WFH teams.
The hybrid workplace was already beginning to be established prior to the pandemic. But when offices sent employees home, the hybrid office really came into its own. Existing technology, from imaged documents to Zoom meetings, made it possible for remote workers to access people and information resources. When non-digital resources or in-person meetings were necessary, the office was still available.
For associations, the hybrid workplace solves a number of problems:
- By preserving a certain amount of in-person time, the association’s vision and team cohesion is reinforced. On-boarding and mentoring can function easily, and serendipitous “water cooler moments” continue to provide creativity boosts. The organization’s culture can continue to thrive.
- By reducing the head count present in the office at any given time, the organization can reduce its office space, and its real estate and overhead costs – something any association’s finance director can appreciate.
- By adding or enhancing various technologies, the association can support its staff with better data. Document imaging, in particular, creates a searchable database that provides better data understanding, goal-setting, and action plans. Moreover, it makes the data accessible from office or home.
This last point is particularly important for associations. As Mark Athetakis writes in Associations Now, information silos stifle collaboration. Collaboration is at the heart of associations – collaboration between associations and members as well as within then associations themselves. A database of imaged documents breaks down the information silos, making collaborative data available across departments.
Hybrid offices can be the best of all worlds for associations, supporting and preserving their culture through the use of data technology. When technology supports the free flow of information, associations can create actionable goals for the benefit of their members.
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The federal government, like many public and private organizations, sent employees home at the onset of the Covid pandemic. Now that people are beginning to cautiously return to their offices, the Washington Post reports that policy-makers plan to make many work-from-home government jobs permanently WFH. This major policy shift affects agency cultures, procedures, and job opportunities.
Unpacking the story:
- “The shift across the government, whose details are still being finalized, comes after the risk-averse federal bureaucracy had fallen behind private companies when it came to embracing telework — a posture driven by a perception that employees would slack off unless they were tethered to their office cubicles.”
The perception that employees are less productive if they’re working at home is a notion that has been thoroughly disproven. Forbes.com cites studies showing 35-45% increases in productivity, with 4.4% output increase.
- “…the administration is set to release long-awaited guidance to agencies about when and how many federal employees can return to the office — likely in hybrid workplaces that combine in-person and at-home options…”
Some forward-thinking businesses had already established hybrid workplaces prior to the pandemic. Now every private and public organization can benefit from those early-adopters’ experiences: increasing supportive remote-work tech; reducing physical office space; and preserving corporate culture with in-person onboarding, mentoring, and “water cooler moments.”
- “Some federal workers who now work remotely cannot fully perform their duties, some lawmakers have complained — saying their constituents still cannot get through to a live IRS representative on the phone because a limited number of employees are reporting to the office…There’s also bipartisan concern about thin in-person staffing levels at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, an arm of the National Archives that provides veterans with vital paper records they need to obtain benefits, access to health care and burials at veterans cemeteries.”
In defense of the government agencies, many were not technologically prepared for the sudden shift to remote work. However, there are solid tech solutions for the challenge of in-person short staffing. Secure distributed call systems and database access keep phones fully manned and customers fully served. Imaged documents in a digital database give remote workers the necessary access to agency information on everything from veterans’ personnel records to historical agricultural records.
- “Despite the challenges, a broad rethinking of the federal workplace to include remote and virtual options brings big positives, economists and personnel experts say, by appealing to younger workers in particular and helping employers expand their talent pool.”
The pandemic workstyle, whether hybrid or 100% remote, has turned out to be beneficial for many private-sector organizations. Employees like the flexibility, and employers like the improved productivity and lower overhead. Government HR offices will have to compete with private-sector recruiters who are including a WFH option as a hiring incentive.
The federal government is a big ship, and it doesn’t change course as fast as some of the more agile private enterprises. Nevertheless, given a little more time and the right technology, the new workstyle can be beneficial for agencies and taxpayers alike.
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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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“Return to work.” Many organizations are struggling to define what that will mean for physical space, for productivity, and for corporate culture in the post-pandemic world.
When office-based operations were forced to pivot to work-from-home (WFH) at the beginning of 2020, the hybrid workplace was in its infancy. It quickly became the preferred workstyle, balancing WFH and in-person office time. Offices were safer because there were fewer occupants at any given time, and social distancing was easy to maintain. WFH proved its value with increased productivity and employee satisfaction.
The hybrid office gives workers a welcome degree of flexibility they didn’t have in a traditional office setting. And yet it is an imperfect solution. Employees without assigned workspaces report feeling disconnected from the team and the organization. WFH requires technology and furnishings that may not be readily available in some workers’ homes. Less in-person time may have a negative effect on performance evaluations.
What are some of the options for space utilization and technology that will make the office workspace and the home workspace function smoothly together?
- High speed internet: Many employers are paying directly for their WFH workers’ high speed internet service. It goes without saying that productivity, whether in the office or at home, relies on fast internet speeds.
- Information accessibility: Especially in document-heavy industries, information in paper documents is less accessible than the data in digital documents. A database of searchable imaged documents provides WFH accessibility without the security risk of removing documents from the office. When workers are scheduled to be in the office, that same information is available without any time wasted searching through paper files.
- Productivity apps: From screen-break reminders, to instant-join shortcuts for virtual meetings, a host of new apps deliver productivity support for WFH and hybrid workplaces. There’s even an app that converts WFH “virtual commute time” into an opportunity for exercise or meditation, promoting employee wellness.
Physical space options:
- Smart lockers: Hybrid office workers arrive in the office with a lot of stuff, from laptops to lunches. Without assigned workspaces, they need secure personal storage. A smart locker gives them the storage they need, and it can be reserved remotely. An extra bonus: The customizable exteriors of lockers makes them an attractive design option.
- Mobile furnishings: Hybrid workers often need to collaborate with different groups on different days. With no fixed “address” in the office, collaboration or heads-down work becomes simple with modular mobile workstations which the user can wheel to the appropriate location. Some of these mobile workstations fit into home-office settings, too, for use by remote workers.
Flexible work spaces and flexible schedules are intrinsic to the hybrid workplace and a successful return to work. With such an array of technology options and office space options, hybrid offices can become the perfect solution for the post-pandemic world.
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It took 41 years and a pandemic in order to make working from home (WFH) catch on. In 1979, a scholar named Frank Schiff wrote a feature for The Washington Post, eloquently making the case for “working at home one or two days a week.” Schiff, at that time the vice president and chief economist of the Committee for Economic Development, was not a futurist. Nevertheless he envisioned a future in which technology would support more WFH, reducing stressful commutes and gas consumption – economic pressures which have not diminished much in the intervening years.
Schiff described what we now call a hybrid office, and he predicted that the possibilities for WFH would grow as service sector “information jobs” increased. Schiff’s 1979 technology is amusingly obsolete today – he refers to handheld scientific calculators, dial-up modems, and libraries on microfiche – but he was not far off the mark in what the future would bring: “A growing number of homes is likely to become equipped with machines that combine the functions of television sets, videophones, computer terminals, electronic files and word and data processing systems and that can be directly connected with offices and other homes.”
Moreover, Schiff recognized the need for converting printed documents into a format that could be used by remote workers. He recommended the use of microfiche, a technology widely used by libraries at the time. Today, as beneficiaries of the Digital Revolution, we would recommend imaging to accomplish the same goal of providing remote access to printed documents.
Schiff pointed out another benefit of document conversion: compactness. He wrote, “A microfiche stack an inch high can incorporate the contents of as many as 20,000 pages of printed material.”
Nowadays, a portable drive an inch high can hold 5 million pages. That’s equal to 4,500 square feet of storage space that is no longer necessary – a significant cost savings for years to come, especially when combined with the hybrid office’s reduced space requirements.
It has been said that there is nothing new under the sun. Schiff’s 1979 prediction proves the point, in general terms. However, the particulars have evolved far beyond Schiff’s vision. Document imaging is a key component in today’s reality of WFH and the hybrid workplace.
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