Seventy percent of employers anticipate downsizing their office space, according to a KPMG survey of CEOs. Pandemic-enforced work-from-home (WFH) has evolved into widespread adoption of the hybrid work style, a flexible combination of time in the office and time working remotely. Some businesses are going near-100% remote, reducing their footprint to a single small office. Many others are shifting to hub-and-spokes offices for their hybrid operations, letting employees put in their office hours in smaller “spokes” offices close to home, and reserving a downsized downtown “hub” office for central administration, IT, and major meetings.
The shift to smaller spaces inspires fear and loathing in facilities managers and operations administrators everywhere. The design phase alone is a daunting challenge; every department has to weigh in with their different, and sometimes conflicting, needs and wants. And then there’s the relocation logistics – what to move, when and how to move it, and where to put it all when it arrives at its new home.
It’s the stuff of nightmares.
It’s also a great opportunity to review office operations and make positive, profitable changes.
- Convert your documents to digital format via imaging
- Save the cost of moving all that paper, not to mention all the filing cabinets to house it. Retain only the necessary paper documents, and shred the rest.
- Support your “spokes” offices and WFH workers with an accessible, searchable database of imaged documents. Keep them on-task instead of spending time searching through folders in filing cabinets.
- Boost your community goodwill (and your bragging rights) by reducing paper consumption and increasing your sustainability rating.
- Convert to an RFID asset management system
- Save the cost of replacing lost furnishings. Tag furnishings to create a locational database, tracking items from office to office, and from room to room.
- Keep track of electronic devices that move from business office to home office and back again.
- Save the time and labor costs of a manual inventory that requires visual identification of assets. Output an accurate report of the business’s assets automatically.
Incorporate these upgrades into your office relocation plan, and you’ll begin reaping the benefits before your move as well as after. The right technology will banish those downsizing nightmares and set you up for hybrid workplace success.
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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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Like many familiar aspects of business life, the form and function of offices are undergoing rapid change to fit the new reality. Today’s challenges have been an opportunity for reflection and reinvention, in business as well as in our personal lives. As our business operations adapt to the new normal, office designs are shifting to accommodate new workstyles.
Hybrid offices are one example of a pre-Covid trend accelerated by the pandemic. WFH has been far more productive than expected, but teams still feel the need for face-to-face collaboration for certain tasks. Consulting firm Gensler describes the hybrid workplace as promoting collaboration through activity-based design, using advanced technology and unassigned seating within a hospitality-driven atmosphere. Teams work remotely, coming together in a hybrid office as required.
A few major organizations have been test-driving the hybrid office in a hub-and-spokes design. A centrally hub office in the city center provides room for larger group activities, while smaller outlying offices give support to WFH staff living nearby. Hybrid offices reduce office space in the expensive city center, while preserving a visible presence.
Repurposing office buildings’ lobbies is another new-normal trend. In a hub-and-spokes office, the spokes facilities can be integrated into the surrounding community, creating connections among WFH staffers, clients, and the neighborhood. Buildings’ public spaces offer a branding opportunity for tenants to underscore their community involvement, as well as a meeting destination for workers and visitors.
To ensure that these new workplaces function well, designers and office managers are applying the latest in digital technology.
WFH staff need access to project materials whether they’re at home, at a spoke office, or at the central hub. In the hybrid office, paper documents may be stored at the hub, with limited access. But imaged documents are accessible to remote workers no matter where they are. The paper originals remain safely stored in the hub office.
Touchless technology is another asset for the reshaped office. RFID-based apps enable safe touchless entry to secure areas. Touchless lockers provide personal storage for WFH workers traveling to spoke or hub offices. Designers can even use touchless lockers as a physical divider to guide foot traffic and maintain safe social distancing.
Gensler predicts that the new style of office building will be far less insular and self-contained, and far more responsible to its community through creating public spaces, support businesses, and a live-work-play environment. Technology that supports human capital will be the key to successful office design in the new reality.
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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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