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Getting to a Paperless Workplace Without Stunting Growth

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Most offices are driven by paper. One document management expert, however, wanted to know what it will take to get paper out of the workplace entirely.

Daniel Chalef, writing for Knowledge Tree blog, reviewed a report from the Association for Information and Image Management:

[What stood out to me is] that people are predominantly scanning documents to get rid of paper file cabinets and archives – they’re scanning documents that are already “dead.”

Unfortunately, the real value from document scanning comes from those documents that are very much “alive” and that require action. About 57% of respondents identified “improve process throughput (productivity)” as an important business driver for document capture.

Yet, in reality only 37% of survey respondents are scanning over half of their inbound documents. Of those scanned documents, 57% are passed to archive rather than a business process.

Chalef is correct in that the advantages of digitizing paper is far greater with documents you are actually using. After all, if you’re scanning documents just to place them in an archive, you probably hope to never have to retrieve that data.

productivity growth stunted in the office

© Flickr user nerdcoregirl

However, taking an active business process paperless can be incredibly difficult.  That’s because you’re asking stakeholders to make as many as three changes:

  1. Acknowledge that the way you are working now can be characterized as a rigorous, well-defined procedure.
  2. Trust that the proposed system will work at least as well as the way you are doing it now.
  3. Learn and utilize the new approach and deal with any eccentricities that appear.

Unfortunately, many  improvement efforts try to force all three at the same time by issuing an order from above. What often happens, as Daniel Chalef noted, is a compromise. Instead of implementing a comprehensive document management system and resulting in dramatic productivity increases, the company ends up with a small change that is largely ignored.

Fortunately, when it comes to paperless offices, many workplaces have moved in that direction. You can choose paperless billing statements for almost every regular payment you have. More and more employers are accepting online applications. The act of physically posting memos is basically a thing of the past. But that doesn’t mean this issue can’t be used to illustrate the large challenges facing change.

Perhaps you think it would be more efficient for errors to be fixed by the person who made them instead of by management who runs the quality control check. Before putting that change in place, you need to evaluate all potential outcomes. Are people going to resist the change just for the sake of resisting change? Then they probably aren’t the sort who you want around. But, have you given them reason to believe at the the new system will work better than the current one? Are you giving them time to learn the new process? Without going through the proper steps, then a successful transition is going to be much harder to come by.

But back to a paperless system. Why is it that archival documents are usually the first to go? Odds are, it has something to do with the fact that no one is going to miss them. Changing up the way you manage documents that no one looks at is one thing. Changing someone’s day to day process is a whole other ballgame. Know that with major change, there are going to be some difficulties. But if the gained efficiency is great enough, then the difficulties are going to be well worth it.

These concepts don’t just apply to scanning systems. The reason business improvement is hard is because we often start with technology instead of with people. We should begin by empowering stakeholders, not forcing them to change. To learn more, contact us today to learn more about our business improvement services.

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