Paper is so 2019. It’s seriously time your teams embraced living in a paperless workplace.
Just to make sure we are all starting on the same page (get it… same page?), let’s define what “paperless” means.
When speaking of a paperless workplace, we don’t necessarily mean your office will not use ANY paper at all. That would be extremely difficult to do, and in our line of work, counterproductive in many respects. But, for our purposes, paperless means utilizing paper-free practices. This will include your team converting documents into digital formats and utilizing things such as automated communications, electronic signatures, and online record-keeping systems.
It’s true, for some the thought of getting started can give off concerns of an organizational and logistical nightmare. But rest easy, paperless formats come with incredible benefits. For many organizations, it saves money, increases productivity, streamlines processes, and allows for increased access for your teams and your participants.
The number one most important thing to remember when getting started is to choose solutions that meet the abilities of your staff.
You could try to implement all sorts of fancy strategies that sound good and make sense on paper, no pun intended, but if your staff can’t keep up it will backfire on you. Listen, there are a lot of really great software options and solutions out there. They are all going to sound like they hold the key to your success, but realistically, you have to take into account what is going to work for your agency, both financially and with the staff and resources you have. The truth is some options just aren’t going to be a good fit. Mixing something that is overly complex with too much too soon is going to be counterproductive at best.
As you’re walking through these steps, please remember… Every PHA is different. Each agency has different resources available. There is no one size fits all for PHAs. Not ever. So, get creative with how you can implement these changes at your agency. And of course, if you need assistance, reach out.
Now for the fun part… the how-to of it all!
You cannot go all willy-nilly and just start cleaning out filing cabinets. Your agency needs a plan.
1. Conduct a Digital Readiness Assessment
The very first step is for you to identify the current state of your agency, both digitally and where you are dependent on paper:
- Who is printing what and how often?
- What processes require the most paperwork?
- How is it all being stored and organized?
- What are the associated costs of all the paper-related processes in your agency?
- What digital resources (systems, software, processes) do you currently have? And are they useful, helpful, affordable?
- What is the digital readiness of your staff and what capacity do they have to learn and take on new processes?
Once you have that information, you can identify where going paperless will provide you with the greatest benefit. There are lots of great assessment tools out there that can help you target this information within your agency… including ours!
Keep in mind, unless you have a very small agency, going completely paperless is likely not practical, and certainly not all at once. And that leads us to the next step…
2. Set Goals and Prioritize
What are you wanting to achieve by going paperless? Do you want to improve service or delivery, enhance communication, or streamline administrative tasks?
Once you have identified the areas that would benefit the most from this transition, you can narrow those choices down even further by adding your goals to the equation.
Once you have chosen your starting point, set clearly defined and clearly communicated achievable goals for your team. These goals should include a timeframe for the transition to take place, each step needed to accomplish the goal, what tools will be implemented, and what each person’s responsibilities are. Don’t leave out any details.
3. Go Shopping
Time to choose your shiny new toys!
The key is to evaluate not just what you need, but what you can handle both financially and logistically, and then go from there.
Step 1 should give you a good idea of what kind of solutions you need to look for, but almost every agency will need to consider cloud-based software for managing tenant information, online portals for rent payments and maintenance requests, digital communication tools for staff and tenants, and data analysis tools to improve decision-making.
There are so many great options out there. Everything from full-blown all-inclusive suites to apps that can handle smaller pieces. There are even companies and contractors who can do the work for you. Shop around, read user reviews, sign up for demos of some of your top picks. Find a neighboring agency or community organization who has had success making this transition and tap into their experience and expertise. Then, choose wisely.
No matter what you choose, be sure to prioritize privacy, security, and compliance.
4. Training, Training, Training
Our last blog in this series was on training for excellence and ALL OF THAT applies here. So, if you didn’t read it (insert side eye), we would highly recommend doing that. And not just because we wrote it. It has some really great strategies for ensuring that your training efforts will pay off.
When implementing a new format, new software, new ideas, etc., you need to do your due diligence. Our suggestion here is for you to have an in-house expert. Whether that would be you, someone else on staff, or a contractor… SOMEBODY has to know what the heck they are doing and then help everyone else do it too.
Be informed of every benefit that comes with the tools you choose. Do they offer training courses or materials? Live demonstrations or someone who can come on site to get you integrated? If they do, take advantage of it.
This is also the perfect time to cultivate some partnerships. Remember that neighboring PHA we mentioned in step 3? What if you bring them in to help train your team?
If they have already been through this whole process and lived to talk about it, WHY NOT take advantage of all of their experience? Who else would know exactly what you are facing day in and day out and be able to advise you on all the things to do and avoid? And this option comes with a gift that keeps on giving… an invaluable partnership for future endeavors.
Regardless of how you go about it, making sure your staff is fully trained and ready is going to help make this transition as smooth as possible. We all know change can be challenging. For agencies who have been doing things pretty much the same way forever, the learning curve can be steep. This is one reason we recommend prioritizing where you want to transition and making these changes gradually over the course of time.
You need to let your participants know you are making a change. This is extremely important in our business and has to be given special attention that it is done correctly. Take into account what will change for them and be sure to address those things specifically in your communications. From our experience, these should include the following:
- What security measures will there be in place to protect their sensitive information?
- Will there be any change in access points?
- Can they still use regular mail to submit paperwork?
- Is everyone required to utilize an online portal?
- Any change in communications.
- Will they receive paper mail any longer?
- Will all communications be either through email or phone call?
- How does this change affect how they make appointments or submit documents and how do they do that if there is a change?
If possible, have a few computer stations on-site for residents who might need a little more assistance acclimating to the new formats.
We recommend a 6-month lead time, if possible, on this type of change, especially if it will have a significant impact on how your agency conducts business going forward.
Flexibility prevents brokenness.
We should never be so wrapped up in an idea that it makes us unable to bend to the needs of our environment. No matter what changes you make, you need to be able to adapt and adjust.
As you go through each step of the process, make sure to factor in feedback from your staff about what is working and what isn’t and make adjustments as needed to ensure success. Be prepared to offer additional training and resources to better equip your team and your participants.
Keep your endgame in sight. You are leveling up and pursuing excellence and that doesn’t come easy.