One of my favorite ways to find paper processes that are out of control is to take a walk around the office. Usually at some point in my workshops, I ask for a guided tour of the offices. I look for in-baskets, file cabinets, and closed doors that lead to file rooms. All of these are great signs and easy ones to find, when you’re looking. Just like you might have passed a store on your way to work a hundred times, you don’t realize it’s there until you’re looking for it.
As you walk through the office, count the number of drawers or cabinets. Note the locations of cabinets and file rooms. Are they in centralized locations? Are the drawers accessed often? If you’re not sure, stretch a piece of tape to seal a drawer or leave a note pad with a pen and ask people to note what they pulled from a drawer. Keep an eye open for in-baskets on employees’ desks. If you see a particularly full one, ask what it contains. Did you think your paper problem was this large?
The amount of space used by an organization to store paper can be quite large. Each file drawer holds an average of 2,500 pages of paper. The average four draw cabinet can hold 10,000 pages. The typical 10’x10’ office will hold 16 file cabinets. I’ve seen old file rooms converted into usable office and conference space.
Off-site storage can be an option, but usually once content is stored at one of these locations it’s often hard to get it out. If the documents were not organized when they were packed, it could be difficult and costly to request documents back from storage. Often the collection of documents in storage continues to grow over time, as does the expenses to store them. If that off-site storage is your own company’s space, are you losing valuable space that could be used in your business? I’ve seen distribution warehouses taken over by documents.
In-boxes and file cabinets not only represent wasted storage space but wasted time as well. Paper document processes are by nature slower than electronic document processes. Paper requires manual distribution, this means personnel to move documents around or waiting until it is convenient for the current holder of the document to move along. All of this costs time. Keep documents that are “born digital” in office applications as an electronic document and consider creating a digital mail room to convert paper documents into electronic ones to use in your organization.
The walk is even valuable for those processes that just “can’t be done electronically.” On a walk through of one county planning office, I asked what was stored in a particular set of file cabinets. I then asked the maintenance men that happened to be working right above these file cabinets if they were working on the air-conditioning systems drainage pan. Had that drain pan overflowed those valuable documents could have been destroyed. The file cabinets were moved later that week and copies of documents themselves were added to our digitization project.
So grab a cup of coffee and take a walk through your office with a new eye on the paper in your processes. It might just save you some money.