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The Covid-19 impact on our working culture
For years organisations in the public and private sector have struggled to remove paper from the office environment, instead settling for less paper rather than committing to paperless initiatives.
With millions of us working from home full time for the first time, suddenly many have managed paperless working in a matter of weeks.
So, can this be maintained? Many of the quick fixes are less than perfect and as some people slowly return to offices the temptation will be to return to the old ways.
By far the best way to stop paper is through channel shift, migrating customers and staff to on-line transactions, with built in workflow that can automate the process from end to end. This, however, takes a cohesive strategy, a digital platform to build your on-line processes and a good deal of work to ensure that the processes you are digitising are the right ones for the customer and the organisation.
All this takes time, so in this article I look instead at 3 very practical steps that organisations are doing now so that they don’t just return to a paper fuelled offices.
1. Reducing Incoming Post
Despite a ‘digital by default’ mantra of pushing transactions on-line for nearly 10 years now, many post rooms still receive their daily influx of correspondence that has to be handled, opened, sorted and distributed. With most office workers at home, those that haven’t already adopted a digital mailroom approach, where mail is scanned, indexed and immediately available for processing, have either left large volumes to build up, put in rudimentary scanning processes or outsourced to a third party to handle for them.
A few quick win suggestions:
2. Outgoing correspondence
When you can’t communicate electronically, and documentation still has to be posted then Hybrid Mail solutions offer a quick and often cheaper alternative. Staff can press print from home select a print queue set up for Hybrid Mail and your document gets sent to a third party to print, envelope and dispatch.
Some organisations are addressing this by:
3. What about your internal paper shuffling?
Not so long ago I worked with an organisation that was printing an incredible 40 million pages per year through their office printers for nothing but internal use, reports, internal forms, photocopying etc. Until a review was done of usage, printing wasn’t monitored, and all printing costs were centralised so there were no implications on individual department budgets. With the leasing costs of the printers, software, paper and toner etc the annual cost to the organisation was over £800,000!
Rather than just tell people to stop printing (this had already been tried) or financially penalise them through budgets (this means nothing to most staff), we instead harnessed the climate emergency as the driver for change. Conservation groups estimate that an average tree makes 8,300 sheets A4 paper therefore a communication campaign was started to save the 5000 plus trees that were being chopped down each year to feed the paper culture. By tapping into peoples’ core values of protecting the environment, an immediate decrease in printing was achieved, budgets were reduced and targets were set and tracked for the number of trees saved.
Using this example, ask yourself:
The largest cultural shift event in recent history is happening before our eyes, removing paper may seem trivial at this time of national emergency but it is a good example of opportunities that organisations now have, that previously seemed too difficult. Make sure it is part of your post Covid-19 planning.
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Benjamin Franklin once said ‘Out of adversity comes opportunity’, well out of the current national emergency, we are seeing what can be achieved where there is a clarity of focus, a clear end objective and a desire to move at pace. In my current role at Somerset West and Taunton Council, we have just delivered a project to deploy Microsoft Teams across a 400 strong workforce in less than 4 weeks. This is something that would have taken many months in normal times.
When the announcement was made that all offices were shutting and staff would be working from home, it became apparent very quickly that even though the Council had the infrastructure that enabled people to log on, access what they needed and communicate through email and conference calls, this wasn’t going to provide the level of collaboration and productivity needed for the essential work that the Council provides.
Though there were already plans to roll out Office 365, nothing had started so we knew we had to act fast to prevent staff trying to fill the void themselves with products on the market offering video conferencing and social media style chat. So the usual project planning, preparation work, pilot groups, communication planning etc., were replaced by a rapid technical workshop with help from the Microsoft FastTrack Service to get the configuration sorted. Then a quick test of the technology by a select few and straight into deployment for our Covid-19 response group, all within days. Over the next 3 weeks over 400 users received a 30 minute remote set up and user training session from a group of incredibly enthusiastic and quick talking project team. User guides were produced, regular communication sent and support always available. Thankfully one the benefits of Microsoft Teams is its ease of use so generally people were immediately up and running.
This extremely rapid implementation may have been a little rough round the edges, but removed large amounts of unnecessary work and instead just focussed on the minimum viable product. It is already bringing benefits to the organisation as colleagues feel more connected through Teams calls and chat. Remote sharing and joint working on documents and whiteboards has enabled teams to work very effectively and I feel it will permanently change the way meetings are conducted for the better. In fact the whole nature of work should be challenged following this pandemic. Why not use this situation as a catalyst to drive through digital transformation and new ways of working?
This crisis has brought out the best in people, cut through the bureaucracy and shown what is possible. Organisations that can harness that momentum and desire for change have the opportunity for a fundamental shift in direction, culture and results.
I am very proud to be working with such a committed, hardworking and enthusiastic group of people at an organisation that is delivering such valuable services at this critical time.