We’ve been dependent on paper for over 2000 years so it isn’t hard to understand why “breaking up” with it is hard to do. But for organizations, public or private, big or small, there are proven advantages for transferring dependency to electronic formats, primarily to enhance productivity, accessibility and compliance. And, the emergence of data analytics to derive competitive advantage (the PwC Seizing Information Advantage report) makes the business case for “going digital” even more compelling.
The recent AIIM Paper-Free Progress research and associated report highlights many lingering impediments for weeding paper out of daily work routines. Some are technical and process-oriented while others are more nuanced with cultural or emotional overtones. Whatever the reason, the results show:
- Only 17% of respondents work in what could be described as a paper-free office
- 31% admit their office is piled high with paper documents and paper processes
- 40% still use paper for filing “important stuff”
- 56% are wed to signatures on paper for contracts and order forms.
So how do we make the break up with paper easier and less stressful? We all know that it’s not easy letting go of something with which we’ve become comfortable. But it can be done – I’ve seen it in action.
I recently visited three newly occupied, architecturally stunning, paper-free corporate headquarters in the UK and the U.S. These structures and office spaces were designed from day 1 with no paper in mind. Remarkably, the respective global records and information managers were part of the process from ideation/innovation through implementation. So what did they do?
As always, any successful change is accompanied by executive sponsorship. Since the decision to go paper-free was made by senior leadership, this tackled the lack of management initiatives which AIIM reports is 49% of the reason paper still abounds. Executive backing was supplemented by an oversight committee, a strategy and detailed roadmap. According to the report respondents, “the biggest lesson learned was to establish executive buy-in and to gather input from all stakeholders in advance,” which these successful organizations were able to accomplish.
The front-runners also established paper-free options to counter the problem that 39% of respondents do not understand options for paper reduction. This didn’t happen overnight: work processes were analyzed and paper wrung out of the flow. Arguments for wet signatures were listened to and dealt with on an exception basis. Investments were made in technology to enable tagging, access and retrieval of electronic content in parallel with enhanced mobile usage.
Change management was instrumental in getting to paper-free. In the many months leading up to relocating to the new locations, employees were coached to clean up their current work environments: they learned to do with less space before the move. Employees were also encouraged to take advantage of mobile work force opportunities. In more than one instance, there are more employees than available work spaces in the office – typically a ratio of 10 employees to six on-site shared spaces.
The companies I’ve written about have made substantial efforts in time and money to achieve a paper-free environment. They enjoy many of the results reported by AIIM: “59% achieved a payback in less than 12 months from their paper-free projects, including 26% in 6 months or less. 84% achieved payback in less than 18 months – the highest we have ever recorded.”
While change doesn’t come easy, nothing is permanent but change. And I know from experience, a “break-up” can often lead to new and exciting outcomes.
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