The term paperwork may survive the digital age, but those who actually keep records and write reports only using paper are in greater danger.
Businesses today have to deal with large and varied amounts of “paperwork” in the form of documents received either in paper form or digitally.
Some have maintained a paper-based approach, printing out email attachments for example, whilst others have chosen to scan from paper to digital. Many have a hybrid approach maintaining both digital and paper records.
They often have one thing in common: they get extremely frustrated by the time they spend searching for information contained within documents.
It can be particularly annoying to realise, after an exhaustive search, that a document is lost.
This then causes even more work retrieving or rewriting the valuable data. Finding a misplaced document may deliver a small sense of purpose, but the time wasted in the search outweighs this.
Organising and controlling the storage and use of documents is known as document management. Unless we adopt some of the principles of document management, we are unlikely to be more organised. Therefore the cycle of frustration over lost or misplaced documents will come to haunt us again in the future.
For a business, the requirement to maintain documents is at a minimum a “legal thing”.
But document retention periods can be variable for non-statutory reasons dependent on the type of document or internal policy on storing documents for a certain period.
For example, keeping records of expenditure to support tax returns (up to seven years) or storing certain records concerning employment, which might be kept for longer for non-statutory reasons (up to when the employee reaches age 100).
Features of manual document management systems are filing cabinets and offsite storage. I’m always impressed in crime drama’s where UK companies can produce records of employees who worked for them twenty years ago within minutes, and without going offsite.
In reality, the space consumed by current documents held in filing cabinets can typically be as much as one-third of the office space rented.
The balance of records is kept offsite, where the cost per square foot of storage is lower. The skills and workload required to be organised and in control of your documents in this environment are significant.
The hybrid approach maintains all the features of the manual approach.
However, documents are also stored in many electronic repositories attached to different systems, a particular favourite being email. A new frustration is born if you discover a final version of a contract is stored in a colleague’s email.
Worse still is if the employee in question has since left and you have to recover the file from a back-up or face the embarrassment of asking the other party for a copy.
The skills and workload required to be organised and in control of your documents in this environment are beyond challenging.
Management and control
The digital approach, known as electronic document management (eDM), features a central store with access rights for those who have the approval to view particular documents.
Access to the documents is rapid and can be based on metadata (indexing of the documents) or document content using optical character recognition (OCR). This store can include documents that are received in paper form, which are then scanned, or in digital form.
Documents can be “captured” as email attachments or through integrations with other systems.
The skills and workload required to be organised and in control of documents in this environment are a lighter touch.
An eDM can make filing a part of the process rather than a separate activity or afterthought. The term “paperwork” may survive the digital age but there’s a chance, using an eDM, that its association with job dissatisfaction will decline.