The paperless office is a work-in–progress. Today’s worker is performing more tasks on the computer, and storing more information in the cloud. The growth in data centers in the past decade offers some insight. According to the EPA, “The energy use of the nation’s servers and data centers in 2006 is estimated to be more than double the electricity that was consumed for this purpose in 2000.” So, the migration toward a paperless office is about increasing efficiency and effectiveness of content generation and exploitation, as well as reducing paper usage and preserving natural resources.
The trend has affected the way we work. Worker mobility has increased, desks have shrunk, cables have all but disappeared, and filing paper seems like a lost art. According to “Benchmarking Your Collaboration Strategy” from Forrester Research, there is a distinct “need to manage the unstructured content artifacts” produced by workers. This means that every stitch of digital material can and should be coded and organized so all corporate knowledge is optimized for the benefit of the enterprise. But what about content on paper?
Scanning documents into a digital format is a popular method, but this process works primarily for record-keeping and storage purposes. We’re still left with two forms of corporate knowledge at our fingertips, tangible and intangible. We can do more to optimize the tangible knowledge that crowds our desktops and sits patiently in our inboxes.
Whether we generate the material ourselves or receive and process material, managing our physical workflow is an important part of controlling the flow of knowledge in the organization. If physical material is poorly dealt with, bottlenecks emerge or knowledge is lost.
With a shrinking workspace and rapidly expanding online space, chances are good that you are surrounded by disorganized stacks of physical material or banks of filing cabinets that are collecting dust. Is filing a lost art? Compared to the sophistication of digitized knowledge, paper is treated like a second class citizen. But this doesn’t have to be the case; in fact, the way we handle paper is more important than ever.
Although we may not need to store as much paper nowadays, some workers still prefer to work on paper rather than on a screen. This may depend on your generation, or job function. Therefore, we are doing a disservice to workers by advocating [expensive] storage files and cabinets. The key to reducing paper usage, and optimizing project-critical material and knowledge-transfer, is educating workers on the type of work they do and opportunities to streamline their unique workflow pattern.
Paper piles need to be monitored visually, but are useless when stacked two feet deep on a worksurface. If horizontal and vertical storage space is available, employ a customizable kit of worktools to optimize both areas. Work surfaces can be layered and work tools can be suspended. Cubbies hold related data. Pull out trays display the next major project.
The law of diminishing returns occurs when employees communicate the need for more surface space, and organizations respond with additional cabinets, cubbies, bins, and files. There are two opportunities to avoid this trap.
One, facilitate a regular purge exercise so workers are free to review material they’ve retained. Often, the sheer volume of material creates a productivity bottleneck.
Two, educate on the types of storage methods:
- Active [what you are doing right now]
- Anticipated [the piles of material]
- Archival [The stuff we might need in a year, or stuff pending transfer to a document storage facility]
If the available storage space does not match the type of storage method needed, workers will still benefit from the knowledge because most standard workspaces will accommodate active and anticipated. It’s the archival that builds up quickly and creeps into vital active space.
Modern office furniture will accommodate a variety of storage needs, and is often flexible enough to adapt to changing storage needs over time. This is an important aspect as organizations increase the pace of change to stay competitive, job requirements change, and thus workflow will change. Providing a highly flexible, customizable work environment will allow workers to adapt and maintain a high level of productivity regardless of the direction or pace of change.