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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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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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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