Thursday, 10 May 2012

Operations: The paper free office – possible or not?

Once upon a time people thought that with the advent of computers and all manner of useful programs people began to dream of a paper free office. The concept is already fast becoming a fairytale belonging more to the realms of fantasy than reality, but why?

Ask just about anyone who works in an office environment today who has seen the transition from pre-digital to digital and they are likely to tell you that far from reducing the amount of paperwork, the arrival of the computer age has resulted in more being generated. Thoughts on why this might be the case include:

· Offices are genuinely overall more efficient, productive and therefore busier
· Computers have provided more ways to gather information more easily
· People still prefer to have hard copy that read off a screen
· People fear computer systems crashing and feel safer if there’s always a hard copy
· There’s more red-tape these days to store
· Archives in hard copy are essential for litigation procedures

The theory behind being paper free is sound enough, so much so that it should be possible to achieve a 90-99% paper free office. The exceptions include original documents needed for auditors such as receipts, insurances, certification and any document requiring an original signature including contracts and some personnel files.

With facilities such as scanning and back-up hard drives and remote servers the majority of documents ought to be able to be stored electronically alone. In the event of accident, theft, fire, flood or ‘Act of God’ the use of such devices should enable any company to survive with minimal disruption to the services and/or manufacturing processes provided. And in an age when we are all being urge to ‘go green’ it makes sense to minimise the amount of hard copy produced.

In the experience of Mel Dixon, WildeHeads founder, the extent to which companies have adopted a paper free policy varies enormously from organisation to organisation. Whereas some have worked hard to embrace it, others seem to prefer to take the opposite route of using new technology as little as possible. There have even been a couple of examples when the introduction of some computer systems being introduced for archiving records when none had been used.

The truth is that electronic documentation simply doesn’t appeal to some people and this usually (but not always) stems from a fear of change and new technology being too complicated to learn. The “we’ve always done it that way, so why change” would be fine if the world of business stayed static and didn’t evolve. To survive, and particularly in such times as these, it is necessary to adapt and evolve quickly before you organisation runs the risk of turning into little more than a living museum example of how things were done in years of yore.

This might sound that WildeHeads is firmly in favour of transforming every office into a paper free, clean desk operation, but it is not. Far from it.

Which type of person are you?
Are you the sort of person that likes to print-out a file you are working on at regular intervals so you can scribble notes or a person who prefers to wait until you feel the document is as complete as possible before you hit ‘print’?

Is this your way of working on all types of documents, files and processes or only some? Does it depend on the program used or the type of task undertaken?

Interestingly WildeHeads has worked recently in a office in which different staff were at opposite ends of the spectrum in their approach to paper free working. On one side of the office sat a desk barely visible for the amount of files stacked up on it and on the floor beside it including copies of emails which merely said “Thank-you” and the return “You’re welcome”; on the other a seemingly clear desk with hardly any paper on it and on the computer itself as few files as folders as possible.

Not only are individuals often inconsistent about when we decide to print a document, but often inconsistent with regard to what is deemed worthy of keeping on file. More than this, as the above example shows, within any organisation you can find people operating quite successfully at the opposite extremes.

Much can depend on the policy of the company and different organisations have very different approaches to hierarchy over such matters (subject for one of next month’s articles). Some company managers and even chief executives and directors can be extremely firm about being paper free or conversely about having absolutely everything printed and both stances stem from very logical reasons. To an employee moving from one extreme to the other through changing employer the change can be quite a challenge.

WildeHeads believes that both ways have their merits and pitfalls but that ultimately the reason why we are unlikely to ever realise that dream of a world of paper free offices is the human factor. For maximum productivity from any individual in any company staff at all levels need to feel they have some degree of control in how they work in order to be able to work efficiently. This does not preclude learning new techniques and organisational systems to improve efficiency, but being too prescriptive can result in leading to a serious problem with morale.

A last observation and thought... how many half empty and untouched filing cabinets and cupboards do you have in your office and why?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.