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Covid-19: The End Of Our Love Affair With Paper?

A world in which Covid-19 may rear its head at any time poses serious health and safety implications for employers and staff who continue to use paper and cardboard in the workplace.

The CEO of Australian founded international software and app development company Formitize, Matthew Burge, says employers should be planning now to keep staff safe from viruses in the workplace because anything else is putting the health of their employees, and their business, at risk.

“Paper and cardboard should be classified as hazardous materials. According to New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) and Lancet*, Covid-19 is more stable on smooth surfaces. While some strains of coronavirus live for just a few seconds on a piece of paper, others can last for four or five days. Cardboard harbours living coronavirus for up to 24 hours.

“Everybody is talking about wiping down surfaces, doorknobs and the like, but paper is integral to workflow. Paper and cardboard pass through multiple hands in a short space of time – it’s not called a paper trail for nothing.”

Burge said he was hopeful that Covid-19 would encourage employers and their employees to fast track the shift to a paperless office.

“Meeting minutes, inspection reports, health and safety forms, sign-in forms, post-it notes and checklists, carry viruses. More people working from home may accelerate the paperless office, but as workplace processes return to the new normal we really want to avoid all the shuffling of paper again.

“An electronic form or document facilitates not only the instant transfer of information, but also the ability to extract meta data. Digital is also traceable, but somehow, we have to bring our love affair with that silent spreader – paper - to an end. Perhaps the dangers posed by Covid-19 and other viruses will accelerate that.”

Burge offers the following advice for businesses considering the shift to paperless:

1. Keep it simple

“Adopt a digital solution that is easy to use and intuitive, and which is capable of integrating workflows,” says Burge.

2. Segment your workflow

A typical paperless system consists of three parts which must be identified and addressed:

  1. Internal company communications and paper flow
  2. External company communications and workflow e.g. quotations and receipts
  3. High contact points in a business, e.g. paper, goods receivable and dispatch etc.

3. Systemise your end-to-end touch points

Workflow will normally follow an end-to-end process. If you can identify what those are, you can create a system to manage each one. It will not only minimise transmission of viruses and bacteria, but will make your business more efficient.

For example, a contractor arrives on site and has to sign-in (usually in a paper book). He or she must complete an induction process (usually paper based) and finally, they complete the paperwork pertinent to their task, like checklists and reports. The entire process can be paperless to minimise contact.

“Going paperless is contactless, which makes it both healthy and safe,” says Burge. “This isn’t about creating a world that is faceless and cold - it simply makes it difficult for viruses to spread.

“Bear in mind that paper also increases the risk of contact exponentially. I believe it will help employers reduce sick leave and improve productivity, efficiency, health and communication.”

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