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What is possible when paper is out of the question

What is possible when paper is out of the question

In your current, largely paper-based, business, forms, records and files dominate your world. You have to have your filing up-to-date, otherwise you drown. You have significant compliance requirements for equipment and safety, and a growing team. The idea of a paperless office is, to you, a dream come true, because it would free you from a whole lot of meaningless work.

In this article we gave you a step-by-step method for reducing your reliance on paper. Part of it comes down to knowing the psychology that causes us to cling to paper, but a large part is about knowing what is realistic in your business.


It was all very functional. It didn’t look at the extended possibilities of what being cloud-based opens up to you.

Without paper, the very idea of a ‘workplace’ is up for grabs

Once you no longer need paper files, many more opportunities open themselves up to you. It lets you reconsider the very concept of a ‘workplace’. It’s an exciting question, because it can ignite your most innovative thinking.

The author of A More Beautiful Question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas, business journalist Warren Berger, explained to Inc. magazine how great questions can unlock significant innovations.

His example was how the polaroid photograph began.

Berger said:

A beautiful question reframes an issue and forces you to look at it in a different way. It challenges assumptions and is really ambitious. Often, these questions begin with the phrase “How might we…” They have a magnetic quality that makes people want to answer them, to talk about them, to work on them. They make the imagination race. The Polaroid camera came out of a 3-year-old girl’s asking, “Why do we have to wait for the picture?” That’s a beautiful question. (Inc.)

Asking, Why do we have an office? challenges our assumptions not just about how you have built your business, but also what is important to you. An office is a status symbol to some people, and an expensive liability to others.

Many companies have gotten rid of their offices completely

In the technology industries, companies that are already cloud-based and use online communications and workflow have started getting rid of their offices completely.

In 2017, Forbes magazine profiled one of them. The discovery that Forbes made was that because the team didn’t want to benefit either the office or remote teams unfairly, the team eventually became completely remote.

Wondering why? It came down to how the culture was created. The team’s culture lead dismissed the suggestion that not all roles can be remote, commenting that, ‘There are so many tools these days that allow you to feel like you’re working beside one another. Even when you’re in the same room, you’re still chatting on Slack anyway.’ (Forbes.)

Field service teams are ‘remote first’, which is an indication that you might be able to remove your office

What is the difference between a remote-friendly office, and a remote-first office? Your company has a team of field staff. Their primary workplace is outside of an office: That’s where they do their work. With the right systems in place, they can start work as soon as they leave home, and they never have to go to the office. A workflow that suits a field service team needs to be remote first. It creates a method of keeping them connected, communicative, and updated in real time, no matter where they are.

In contrast, a ‘remote friendly’ office implies that the office is still a requirement. It’s just that you don’t have to be there if you choose.

Field-service businesses don’t have that choice. Your most important people are out in the field, delivering your service. In fact, it may prove to be more productive and more effective if you create a system that means they never have to come in.

But what about your sales, marketing and administration teams?

Having a completely remote sales, marketing or administration team isn’t a new concept, even if it is in your specific industry. You can achieve this kind of company by designing the right workflow, and by making sure that none of your team members gets greater benefits simply because of how or where they work.

As Melanie Pinola, who herself works in a remote team, reminds us, ‘Companies that offer remote work care most about what team members produce – not whether they’re in the same room together.’

So long as the teams who need to work together can still do so, and you are tracking the right metrics to determine productivity, there may be fewer barriers than you imagine.

However, whether or not having a completely distributed team is right for you will depend on your business, and your culture.

Cloud-based businesses give you more possibilities than just a remote team

The possibilities open to you when paper is out of the equation relate directly to good management.

With the right system and workflows in place, you:

  • can access the latest MSDS (material safety data sheets), and other important information instantly, no matter where you are
  • won’t see administration as the ‘additional drag’, because it’s part of the workflow. This has the huge benefit of making sure it’s always done
  • can rethink how best to place your people, to really make use of their knowledge and skills
  • will have unprecedented access to reports about your business’s performance
  • can more easily move locations, without worrying about loss of files or information
  • can spot patterns in your business that you haven’t seen before
  • can discover who your best customers really are, and see why.

There are many other benefits, too, related to security and compliance, quality control and disaster recovery.

Andrew McAfee, co-director of the Initiative on the Digital Economy at MIT Sloan in the US, wrote about the pros and cons of being cloud-based for the Harvard Business Review. Importantly, he notes that the unforeseen benefits of moving to cloud technology tend to outweigh the known benefits.

He wrote:

On each job, Balfour employees need to share documents with an ever-shifting mix of customers, contractors, inspectors, and so on. This is easy to do when they can administer their own accounts, and hard to do in the pre-cloud world. Cloud-based file management was initiated to make individuals more productive but ended up delivering group-level benefits as well. (HBR.)

The benefits at an individual level, which include more autonomy with greater management oversight, can have an expontential effect when multiplied across a team. We’ve seen this with our clients, too: Some of the long-term benefits are outcomes they never predicted. Read this case study to see just one example.

What it suggests is that, even when we brainstorm all of the possibilities of what we can achieve with cloud-based systems, it’s likely that we won’t unearth all of them.

What might be possible in your business?

For you to know what is possible for your business, you need to talk to someone who can help you to think through the pros and cons, benefits and risks.

Our experts have been helping organisations like yours to work through these issues to find a solution for many years. For a confidential discussion about how we can help your team, give us a call on 1300 78 46 60.


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