Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Converting offices into Paperless zones

The concept of paperless offices eludes us but the initiative to create one still exists. Thankful as environmentalists are to businesses for pursuing the vision of a paperless office, this dream can only be fulfilled if there is an organisation-wide revolution. Strong the use of the word 'revolution'
is, but organisations must realise that nothing short of revolution is what they need to convert all their activities to a virtual medium. Also, since half-hearted employee participation derails most initiatives, the need to excite employees about a paperless office should become the focal point of the 'paperless' drive.

In short, ensuring a smooth and complete transformation to a paperless office would require employees to be excited about using paperless or online alternatives. This week's mailer suggests a few approaches to eliminating the use of paper.

*Failed efforts *

Committed to converting his office into a paperless retreat, the director of a mortgage unit installed the latest scanners to discourage documents being printed, photocopied and sent to clients. He also invested in state of the art systems to speed up online communication. Soon after the scanners and systems were commissioned he made an announcement in the cafeteria declaring the office as 'paper free from tomorrow'. In addition to the protests that followed his announcement, what came as a blow was when some employees threatened to quit. The lesson learnt was to be careful in introducing technology to employees.

A recent study confirms that 70 percent of IT initiatives have failed. New systems end up untouched or under-used because employees find either the hardware or the applications too confusing and even difficult to use. As a result, the old paper-centric ways remain popular. Also, as Moez Limayem, an IT professor says, *"IT projects fail not because of the technology but because human beings resist change and uncertainty." *Therefore, in introducing the concept of a paperless office, the first step should be to excite employees about it to ensure high buy-in. Here are a few initiatives to create the hype.

*Working towards the top *

Clich├ęd as it sounds, nothing gains momentum without top management buy-in.
But investing in technology based on top management inputs can be a big mistake. With employees as end-users, it is prudent to involve them in deciding on technologies to invest in.

While employees will 'in principle' agree to use what the management suggests `in principle', on-the-job usage is typically poor. As a technical executive says, *"Many users will nod their heads happily as the technology gets deployed. But within days, they have figured out ways around it so they can do their job the way they always did, which results in a big waste of time and money all around." *Therefore, it is a bad idea to introduce applications and systems without warming employee up to the idea of using them. The first step to this warm-up would be to conduct a survey to find out their choice. Next:

- Advertise the findings of the survey to convey the requirement of
- Highlight how new technology will enhance on-the-job productivity
- Share encouraging case studies and other success stories

This warming-up initiative should create a welcoming atmosphere for new technology. The next step of course is to make employees comfortable and conversant technologically.

*Training *

Seventy percent of fear of technology stems from unfamiliarity and only training helps de-demonise technology! Most companies put their employees through a short course on how to use a new application or system but such training has proved unhelpful in making those conversions. The better approach to training is to over-expose employees to new technology. The more training they receive the more comfortable they get.

Another approach to training is to get a handful of tech-savvy employees to master a particular application and make them subject matter experts. Other employees can then upgrade their knowledge gradually and use the technology under the tutelage of the experts. This informal approach to training has a better success rate.

*Motivators *

While it is the employee who gains the maximum from the use of technology, organisations still have to motivate them to use it. What works best are monetary incentives. A sales organisation encouraged the use of technology by tying commissions to sales generated by use of technology. A salesperson with maximum online clients and interactions took home the largest bonus. As the use of technologically-intensive processes continues to remain low, monetary incentives work well.

Converting an organisation or office into a paper-free place is not an overnight effort. But since paperless offices are the need of the hour, organisations must expedite their efforts towards it. The above- mentioned suggestions should help in that pursuit.


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