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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This is the fifth in a series exploring Dr. Kristen Lee’s (Northwestern University) nine lessons in personal and collective fortitude. Seen through the lens of a business operation, each lesson has application in the current national health and economic challenges, and for successful endeavors in the future.
Adversity introduces us to ourselves, as the saying goes. Adversity is actually an opportunity. We discover unexpected strengths and resources when we’re faced with difficulties. This is true in business just as it is in our personal lives.
The pandemic is unquestionably adverse for business. Writing in Forbes, Dana Gerdman recommends examining business adversity from these points of view:
- Identify those areas where you and your team can have an influence. Can you revise your business model to fit within the new community health parameters? Can you put modified workflows in place to promote safety? Control what you’re able to control, and don’t waste resources on things you can’t control.
- Think about how you can step up to address the problem, and what encouragement and support you can give to others so the entire team is involved. Communication is vital during adversity. Make sure everyone understands their part in meeting the challenge, and use technology (Zoom, etc.) to promote team cohesion.
- Look at the size of the problem, and what steps you can take – even if they’re small ones – that will make a difference. Curing a pandemic may not be practical for your business, but you can certainly move to ensure your staff’s safety. WFH (work from home) has suddenly become the standard for many in the service sector. Support WFH by providing document imaging and home office equipment – a useful step to keep staff healthy and help end the pandemic.
- Every problem has an end. We may not know when a cure or a vaccine will be discovered, but we can make accommodations to remain productive in the interim. Now is the time to make sure your business has productivity tools for the present, and for the future. Asset management systems like RFID support productivity with social distancing tools for the short term, and inventory and process management both now and in the long term. Invest in systems that can take you through the current adversity and remain useful long after the problem is solved.
When we face adversity, we have a chance to be our best. Historians point to World War II as a time when America faced tremendous adversity, and we discovered how great our collective strength was – the Greatest Generation. Take on the current adverse conditions and discover the greatness within yourself and your business.
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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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Business owners and managers seem to be in constant disaster recovery mode these days. A perfect storm of catastrophes is pushing many companies’ disaster plans far beyond their original parameters, but there are technology tools that can help your organization weather the effects of the next emergency.
To bring the right technology to bear, first look at your business model. Ideally, it was designed with resilience in mind, adaptable to sudden change. Then identify the elements – human, physical, and digital – that are vital for the business to continue.
- Physical assets– paper documents and records, communications and IT equipment, inventory, operational facilities, manufacturing equipment
- Digital assets– Broad informational resources, from accounting and customer data to inventory and logistics information
- Human resources– Department heads and key teams with intimate operational knowledge; line workers with specialized training or experience
Once you know what’s essential, take a look at the technologies that support those vital elements you’ve identified. Is your business taking advantage of all the available technology? Here are three ways to apply existing technology to bridge asset-management gaps:
- Paper documents– Institute an imaging program to convert documents from physical assets to digital assets, stored safely on off-site servers. Remote access to imaged documents lets knowledge workers remain productive if the workplace is off-limits during a disaster.
- Communications and IT– Provide portable IT and telecom resource centers in safe zones. Employees can access and recharge work-related electronic devices at off-site locations, continuing their work even in the event of power cuts.
- Employees– Utilize RFID-equipped wearables in the workplace to maintain social distance and preserve employee health. And in emergency situations, these same wearables will help locate workers for evacuation or rescue.
The above technologies don’t necessarily require complete new systems to be put in place. Depending on how you do business, you may only need to expand what you’re already doing. For example, if you’re already providing electronic devices to your employees, it’s quite simple to have several portable charging and storage stations on hand as part of a readiness plan. Or if you’re already providing work uniforms to workers, RFID wearables are easy to bolt on to your current program.
If this year has taught us anything, it’s to be prepared for the unexpected. Emergencies of all kinds, whether natural or human-caused, can wipe out the unready. If technology can keep your business assets safe and keep your business operations productive, shouldn’t it be part of your disaster plan?
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