Workplace amenities used to be associated with tech start-ups – meals, game rooms, and bring-your-dog-to-work were some of the popular perks that kept tech workers in the office. Why go home when everything you want is there? Today’s newer office buildings are taking a page from the tech world, offering an array of amenities like gyms, concierge services, and lounges.
It’s all part of tenants’ commitment to hybrid offices, a staffing retain-and-return game plan for many companies. Survey after survey shows the same results: Employees do not want to go back to full-time in-office operations. And employers are discovering that the hybrid workstyle has benefits that they don’t want to give up, including greater productivity, lower real estate costs, and happy employees.
Employees are willing to trade space for the hybrid workstyle. More than half of law firm employees recently surveyed said they would trade assigned seating/offices for greater flexibility. That’s good news for employers, who can reduce their office footprint when they don’t have to find space for all their staff each and every day.
The amenities offered by first-class office buildings aren’t free, of course, and a prudent practice manager or facilities manager will try to balance that extra cost by reducing the amount of space in a new lease. The same law firm survey showed the average square feet per attorney has decreased from 760 s.f. to 625 s.f., and other industry sectors are making similar reductions.
But reducing personnel space can only go so far. For many professional practices, paper documents take up an outsize proportion of the office footprint. High density storage systems help reduce the space needed for document storage. Digitization goes even further.
Just one filing cabinet takes up 9 square feet, at an average real estate cost of $540 per year (and that’s before factoring in the higher price of amenity-rich buildings). Document conversion eliminates the need for that space, and the cost associated with it.
Digitization lets you have your cake (or gym or lounge) and eat it too. When employers can offer appealing amenities to encourage staff to return to the office, without increasing their real estate costs, it’s a win for everyone.
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The strange thing about our twenty-first century digital life: All our technology was supposed to give us more time – more leisure time, more family time, more creative time. Instead we’re exhausted, feeling pressured to deliver everything instantaneously.
We might call this the Amazon effect – the expectation of instant delivery. “Waiting is weakness,” says author Juliet Funt, reporting on the prevailing attitude in the workplace. In a discussion of what she calls “hallucinated urgency,” the never-ending need for speed causes us to race from one emergency to the next, constantly interrupted, never focusing deeply, and never doing our best work. It’s a feedback loop that guarantees burnout and failure.
Unless you work in an emergency room, this sense of constant urgency is an illusion, according to Funt. Technology can in fact give you more time if you use it to support the three assets everyone brings to the workplace: time, energy, and priorities. Some people swear by Google Calendar to keep daily “rinse and repeat” tasks from taking up mental space. Those who know the dangers of multi-tasking (reduced productivity and quality of work) use Zapier Chrome Extension to collect inbound information for later review.
Whatever organizational software you choose, experts recommend apps that minimize interruptions and contextual shifts. And managers should take a hard look at what tasks are truly urgent. An in-app completion-time/date will help everyone prioritize, as well as making your expectations more specific than “ASAP.”
However, there are times when information is needed urgently. Tech will deliver here, too. A prime technology for fast information delivery is digitization: converting paper documents to digital format. If your documents are digitized and someone has a time-sensitive need for information, staff can execute requests with electronic speed, without diverting much energy or rearranging priorities. Digitized documents are:
- Searchable on keywords
- Space-saving, reducing physical filing space
- Secure, unlike paper which is susceptible to loss or damage
- Accessible to remote staffers as well as in-house personnel
Recent studies show that productivity is higher in WFH and hybrid office settings, compared to traditional offices. However, some managers worry that productivity increases are the result of employees working extra hours. Like hallucinated urgency, overwork is a recipe for burnout. With proper training on organizational apps, supported by a database of digitized documents, you can use tech to manage time, set boundaries, and promote a healthy work/life balance. Make tech work for you, rather than letting it be the boss of you.
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“When would you like to come in to work?” In the pre-pandemic Before-Times, no one ever expected to hear that from their boss. Now in the new normal of hybrid offices, employees are getting exactly that question from HR managers, supervisors, and team leaders.
“What makes hybrid work kind of interesting is that it’s the only kind of work we don’t know how to do,” says Ethan Bernstein, associate professor of management at Harvard Business School. We’ve known for more than a century how to schedule in-office work, and we’ve quickly mastered WFH. But hybrid work has no rules. Everyone wants it, but it feels very chaotic to manage.
Part of the chaos can be resolved with scheduling. Too many choices can be overwhelming, as every parent knows. If staff have 100% flexibility – in-office or WFH – the office has to be ready for anything. It could be 100% full or 100% empty on any given day. A mandated schedule with some built-in flexibility is better than limitless choices.
A flexible but structured schedule lets real estate and facilities management departments predict space utilization. Right-sizing the office space saves real estate costs, and time-of-day utilization schedules save utility usage and costs.
Additionally, a flexible-but-mandated schedule gives employees a way to structure their time for a healthy work/life balance. Managers have begun polling staffers to ask when they’d like to come in to the office, building their schedules on the results. This would have seemed impossible a few years ago.
Document imaging tames another part of the hybrid-office chaos. If a staff member takes a document home for a few days, that document is no longer available to other team members. Sure, they can make copies (additional cost), or they can send photos of the documents to their co-workers (security risk). Or they can try to re-work the schedule so they’re all in the office at the same time, just to have access to the same document (frustrating and time-consuming, at best).
A database of imaged documents takes the documents’ physical location out of the scheduling equation. It gives access to WFH and in-office employees alike, at any time of day. It also keeps the information on the documents secure. With people coming and going on irregular schedules, it’s all too easy for documents to be lost or to fall into the hands of those who should not have access.
Chaos can be the birthplace of breakthrough creativity. The hybrid workplace itself is an example, growing from the upheaval of the pandemic. However, in the words of Karen Martin, “Chaos is the enemy of any organization that strives to be outstanding.” A work schedule that starts with employees’ preferences, and a digital document database that allows staffers access without regard to location or time of day, will keep chaos at bay.
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The great digital revolution gave businesses the ability to function during pandemic lockdowns. Revolution Part 2 is upon us now. Employees and employers alike discovered the benefits of remote work. Now that the hybrid office is here to stay, the secondary revolution is cultural as well as technological. How can traditional office culture accommodate the changes necessary for a successful hybrid operation?
Beliefs vs. reality – The traditional management style was one of synchronous work: everyone in the office at the same time on the same days. It was assumed that if workers were not closely monitored, in person, they would slack off.
The pandemic-dictated shift to remote work proved that off-site asynchronous workers were actually more productive than they had been under the synchronous regime. But now that offices are reopening, some managers cling to the old notion that in-person supervision is essential to productivity.
Formulating a new set of management beliefs requires a “trust walk” message from the C-suite. When top management signals that the flexible, asynchronous workstyle is the new normal — and they back it up with tangible support and rewards for making the shift – then team leaders can take that step of faith to trust their own team members in turn.
Supportive actions – It’s clear the hybrid workplace offers greater productivity, greater employee satisfaction, and lower overhead costs. To get the benefits, though, certain supports must be activated.
- Collaborative technology such as asynchronous apps (Slack, Outlook, etc.) keep teams organized and goal-focused without forcing individual tasks into a synchronous schedule. Well-connected virtual meeting spaces also support hybrid productivity, as long as each meeting is truly useful (a challenge that existed in the traditional office too).
- Technology for document accessibility is also essential. When paper documents are imaged (digitized), they become accessible to team members in and out of the office. Moreover, the data contained in the paper documents is made far more secure when it is stored digitally with access controls in place.
- Inclusion can be difficult in the hybrid office, but managers can draw from the social function of the traditional office. Richard R. Smith, Ph.D., of the Johns Hopkins Carey School of Business, suggests, “Arrange and encourage social interactions on the days that people are in the office—and potentially encourage common in-person office days.”
Change is almost always uncomfortable, but the rewards are worth the effort. Commit to the office of the future, put the supports in place, and see the benefits flow to the bottom line.
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Here at NOS we are big proponents of managing space by managing documents.
We’ve been talking about the benefits of document imaging for quite some time. Here’s a recap of our top stories from this year.
- Are Your Documents Future-Proof? Digital conversion of paper documents offers valuable cost-saving benefits, but it takes the right imaging tech to truly future-proof your documents.
When you digitize your documents, you will:
- Improve information security
- Enhance accessibility
- Simplify compliance
- Increase sustainability
- Save space
There’s really no downside. Talk to a document imaging expert and begin benefiting from better document management.
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No one wants their place of business to look like an episode of the television show “Hoarders.” However, the practice of managing records can reinforce tendencies to hold on to any and all documents. “You never know; we might need them some day.” By their very nature, many professions look to past events in order to determine relationships in the present and the future. Precedent is everything. And precedent relies on records, many of them on paper.
Lately, firms have been accelerating their transformation from paper-based to digital practices – electronic files, digital workflows, and online applications. They are working hard to reduce the amount of paper in their offices. But mass quantities of physical documents are still stored offsite.
And those archived paper records create unnecessary costs, in terms of time and storage space.
- How much time is required to search for documents in off-site storage?
- How much time is required to visually review and research the information in those documents?
- What percentage of overhead is spent on off-site storage?
When those stored documents are digitized, they become instantly searchable – no more digging through boxes and poring over multiple pages. And instead of taking up many bulky boxes, five million digitized pages fit on one small external hard drive.
This is not to say that every document should be imaged. Properly managed, the document conversion process includes a thorough document assessment. Certain documents should be retained as paper. Some should be scanned, then shredded. Still others don’t have enough value to warrant the cost of digitizing.
An assessment of stored documents lets records managers determine which documents should be digitized and which should be destroyed. Even digitized documents may be destroyed once their digital versions have been confirmed and backed up. The goal is to store paper versions of only those few documents that must be kept in their original medium.
It’s tempting to just hang on to every piece of paper that comes through the office, but a business full of hoarders is a really inefficient operation. Records managers that pride themselves on efficiency will find additional efficiencies when they digitize many of their stored documents.
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