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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This is the second 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 health and economic challenges, and for successful endeavors in the future.
For years, fitness experts have been telling us that stressing our muscles makes them stronger. When we hit a fitness plateau, we’re told to challenge ourselves. Run a little farther, lift a little more weight, change our routine. That change is inevitably painful, but our bodies adapt. And after the discomfort, they are improved – faster, stronger, more resilient.
The same principle applies to the “fitness” of a business. A successful enterprise often falls into routine habits of doing business, just like a fitness plateau. Innovation and creativity are set aside in favor of “business as usual.”
Today’s economic challenges can seem like a too-heavy lift, unless we think of them as an opportunity for improvement. We have a chance to break out of the routine, dust off our creativity, and invent new strategies for business success. Consider some of the new ways you might do business:
- Make telecommuting a permanent part of your operations. Support teleworkers with electronics and remotely-accessed imaged documents. You’ll reduce the number of workers in the office and keep that ideal 6-foot separation.
- Re-shape your facility’s interior to accommodate social distancing.Condense your documents and supplies into a high-density storage system that reduces storage space and provides more area for personal space.
- Establish additional services or products to bolt on to your current ones. For example, add delivery to manufacturing, as many restaurants have. Or add installation to design, as some interior-fixtures companies are planning.
This period in our history may feel like an enforced “time-out.” But like switching up our fitness routines, today we have an opportunity to apply our innovative instincts, do something different, make a change, and grow stronger. Break out your business imagination!
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Until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine, social distancing is the new workplace normal – either you’ll have fewer people in the office, or your office space will have to be increased to achieve a less dense workplace.
Now that businesses are looking at ways to open up again, maintaining social distancing in the workplace is a top priority. Densely populated open plan layouts were the norm before COVID-19 struck. But open plan workstations of 60-70 square feet per person are far too small to maintain 6-ft distancing. Bringing everyone back into an old-style open plan office is simply not workable.
De-densifying the office is vital. Clustered workspaces have to be spread out. Separation structures have to be put in place. In-office traffic routes have to be re-arranged to preserve distancing.
All of this adds up to a larger office footprint. But even if additional space is available, increased real estate costs are something every organization wants to avoid in the current economic climate.
Telework is the answer: With fewer staffers in the office, it’s easy to decrease density without increasing the office footprint.
Telework has become a way of life for many of us during the past months, and we’ve learned some valuable management lessons. One is disaster planning; our companies’ emergency plans have been tested in this crisis, and we’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. Another lesson is telework capacity; many businesses or departments may have done some limited telecommuting prior to the pandemic, but were not prepared for a full-scale switch to 100% remote working.
As many of us discovered, access to documents was an ongoing obstacle to getting work done remotely. Paper documents are easy to share in an office, but hard to share remotely. Document conversion is essential to productive telework. Imaged documents are accessible to everyone who needs them, regardless of location. And they have the advantages of findability and searchability: Documents can be found in seconds, far faster than searching in file cabinets, and key words or phrases can be searched for and located with digital speed.
The new workplace normal doesn’t have to mean new real estate costs. Take the lessons we’ve learned from these challenging months, and translate them into action – support telework with document conversion, and de-densify your offices without expanding your footprint.
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Many of us are working from home these days (kudos to the heroic first responders, healthcare workers, and essential-business employees keeping us safe, secure, and supplied!). It has been a disruptive transition for the many enterprises unprepared for telework. Even businesses that already had telecommuting policies and procedures in place have found their remote-work systems stretched beyond capacity. If you’re new to telework, your staff may be scrambling to stay productive while setting up alternatives to face-to-face collaboration – building the ship while you’re sailing it.
Despite all the disruption and anxiety, there’s a silver lining. On the upside: Businesses with established telecommuting routines are learning where the weak points in their systems are. Now they have an opportunity to fix the shortcomings of outdated VPNs and low-capacity internal apps.
A second positive consequence: Businesses that were previously reluctant to adopt telecommuting are now discovering that their organizations may actually benefit from remote work. One study in the Harvard Business Review found that telecommuting employees start work earlier, take fewer breaks (no “cake in the break room”), and work more diligently, as much as an extra day per week.
To make telecommuting work, however, the right infrastructure needs to be in place. As some organizations have discovered, there are plenty of productivity tools they can quickly adopt to support telework. Zoom, for video conferencing, and Slack, for remote collaboration, are two of the most popular.
But what about all the paper documents in file cabinets back at the office, the ones that need to be accessed routinely by teams? Companies in the finance, insurance, legal, and government sectors are especially paper-reliant. Telework is a challenge when the nature of the work requires paper documents.
That’s where document imaging fits in to the productivity picture. Digital versions of paper documents, stored on secure internal servers or cloud servers, can be accessed and shared among remote workers. In combination with other collaboration tools, imaging gives teleworkers the infrastructure to be even more productive than they were in the office.
Telework is upon us, like it or not. With the right tools and systems we can make it work to the benefit of our individual businesses, and the economy as a whole. And when the current crisis ends, telework will have proven itself to be the work style of the future.
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Telework has unquestionable benefits – employee satisfaction, health, and productivity are often cited – but without easy access to business documents, those benefits may not be realized.
Forbes reports telework savings averaging $11,000 per employee per year, including the value of healthy, productive employees and the cost savings of reduced real estate and other facilities expenses.
But teleworkers need access to information in order to work efficiently, and that includes access to data which may currently be available only in paper form. Remote sharing of physical documents is obviously unwieldy. Teleworkers must to come to the documents’ location or the documents must be delivered to the remote workers. And if teleworking team members all need the same documents, the logistics get even more complicated and expensive.
All the teleworking productivity gains are wiped out by the paper document bottleneck.
You might think that a simple PDF of a physical document would be easy to share with any teleworker who needs it. That’s true. But what if there are hundreds or thousands of pages that teleworkers need to access? Further, what if they need to search for specific individual elements within those many documents?
That’s where enterprise-level imaging becomes a vital component of teleworking productivity. Imaging, also termed document conversion, creates “smart” digital documents – secure, searchable, and shareable via cloud computing. When paper documents are converted to a smart digital format, teleworkers’ productivity is preserved. Digital documents remain secure (have paper documents ever been lost or destroyed in your business?). And managers can monitor staffers’ work and support their collaborations remotely.
Some businesses have the time, expertise, and resources in-house to plan and execute a comprehensive imaging program. For many, however, an experienced outside vendor saves them the time and cost of a long learning curve and the personnel to administer an imaging program. If your business is making a move to telework, and time is of the essence, talk to a trusted imaging vendor about the best way to convert your paper documents and avoid the information bottleneck.
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Research firm Gartner estimates that as much as 3% of a company’s revenue is spent on business paper. Copy paper, note paper, invoices, letters, file folders…it all adds up, and it’s easy to quantify. But that’s just the hard costs. What is rarely calculated are the hidden costs all that paper generates.
A few statistics from a PriceWaterhouseCoopers study:
- 8 hours– the amount of time an employee spends managing paper documents each week
- $122– the cost of finding a single lost document
- 750– the number of lost paper documents per year, per mid-size business
There’s a dollar figure attached to this kind of lost productivity. Even though the math may not show up on a spreadsheet, lost documents alone can be calculated to cost the average mid-size business $91,500 per year.
And that’s before calculating the cost of office space to store all those documents. Paper is undeniably bulky. Just 250 standard file cabinets take up 2,500 square feet. That adds up to a significant sum, too: $135,000 per year, on average.
Knowing those costs could make you think twice about using – and retaining – all that paper. But do you have a choice?
Imaging is the alternative. Converting paper documents to digital documents saves businesses the cost of all that storage space for physical documents. The contents of those 250 file cabinets, after conversion, will fit onto a single hard drive. With imaged documents safely stored on a drive, lost documents are a thing of the past, as is the cost of finding those lost documents.
Even better, businesses can take advantage of the cost savings of a remote workforce. Digital documents, unlike paper documents, can be shared readily with members of a distributed team. And remote teams require less office space, adding to the cost savings.
Of course paper still provides a valuable function even in the digital era. People have a positive response to information presented on paper, and they absorb and retain that information longer. Sales and marketing materials, for example, have a greater impact if they’re presented on paper.
But for many other areas of business operations, imaged documents present a significant value in the form of reduced real estate costs and improved productivity. Take a look at how your enterprise uses paper, uncover the hidden costs, and make a profitable move to imaging.
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