Getting sorted



A recent research report has confirmed what many of us have always suspected as we struggle with crammed filing cabinets and overflowing inboxes. Up to 80 percent of everything we keep is never actually used. And yet we’re producing more documentation – to be stored in one form or another – than ever before.


It is accepted that 85 percent of the information that businesses rely upon to operate is not accessible in structured formats of automated spreadsheets or databases. Analysts believe the data exists in a wide range of unstructured content such as email, graphics or video.


With so many diverse depositories of information, employees spend roughly 25 to 30 percent of their time looking for the information they need to do their jobs. This inefficiency is likely to increase by 200 percent per year as it is predicted that over the next three years businesses will create more information than has previously been produced in all of history.


And despite the volume of material stored on hard drives, servers, CDs and other media, the paper trail continues to grow. According to a study conducted by Xerox, there is now 50 percent more paper in offices than there was in 1995. It is also estimated that 95 percent of information is stored on paper, and the average worker prints out 45 sheets of paper per day. Tellingly, there were about 24 document shredding companies in 1982 compared to between 700 and 800 today.


PricewaterhouseCoopers calculates that a typical organisation makes 19 copies of each document, and spends $20 in labour to file them and a further $120 searching for any misfiled papers. It takes 25 hours to recreate each lost document. In addition, it costs $25,000 to fill a four-drawer filing cabinet, with the capacity to hold over 18,000 sheets, and over $2,100 a year to maintain it.


Of the average eight hours wasted per week in paper document management, an office worker typically spends about an hour finding documents, an hour trying to share documents, a further hour in distribution and storage and approximately 30 minutes in archiving and retrieval.


Clearly the need for office organisation is greater than it has ever been before. And with technology developing and work patterns changing, the industry is also required to offer increasingly diverse and flexible solutions.


The bottom line


Companies should be willing to invest in organisational tools because poor management in this area could, in many cases, be costing them a considerable amount of money on a daily basis.


The average employee today has about 37 hours of unfinished work on his or her desk at any one time. An enterprise employing 1,000 knowledge workers wastes $48,000 per week, or nearly $2.5 million a year, due to an inability to locate and retrieve information. A typical US executive wastes six weeks every year searching for important documents lost in clutter. For an employee who earns an annual salary of $60,000, that works out as a loss of $6,290.


"Unfortunately, people often don’t realise how fiscally damaging disorganisation can be," says Sharon Mann, an organisational expert at Esselte. "A cluttered workplace is not only aesthetically unappealing, it is also an element that sucks up company time and money. On any given day, American workers spend nine million hours collectively searching for misplaced information."


The story is no better on this side of the Atlantic. "Over €1.4 million ($1.76 million) per day is lost by UK businesses searching for missing files and 7.5 percent of documents are irretrievably lost," reveals Andy Page, who runs ACCO Brands’ European Storage & Organisation Business unit.


Mr Muddle


A chaotic workspace won’t be doing your reputation any favours with clients, colleagues or your boss either. More than 48 percent of American executives, although acknowledging their desks are messy, claim to know exactly where everything is – but in one study, 73 percent of businesspeople questioned said that their impressions of colleagues were influenced by the way their work area is organised. Nearly 70 percent believed that fellow workers with cluttered desks were perceived as less career-driven than their more fastidious counterparts.


Ironically, 12 percent of US executives say that although their desks appear neat and tidy, they have no idea where to lay their hands on anything.


Mess = stress


Of course, a towering in-tray and teetering piles of unsorted paperwork are in many cases symptoms of poor time management and/or an impossible workload – and that has repercussions not just for profits and productivity, but personal wellbeing as well. The health implications of the current open-all-hours work culture are becoming very well documented.


In one medical survey, more than 90 percent of workers interviewed declared they had an overwhelming sense of "time poverty". The report, published in the Psychology Today health journal, said the results confirmed an epidemic of anxiety and pressure in today’s workplace.


"The problem is with the human condition," states Barry Izsak, president of the National Association of Professional Organisers (NAPO), which last year served over 90,000 clients. "It’s just like dieting and keep-fit, and with lives becoming more and more complex, we’re becoming increasingly challenged, trying to do more for less and be more productive in less time. Unless the world and everything in it begins to slow down, this problem is not going to go away."


A magic cure?


So the need for help is pressing, but how easy is it to provide answers?


Izsak told OPI: "We tell people who want to get their lives organised that it’s not all about buying products. People have a mistaken notion that a few products will make everything ok, but it’s way more complicated than that. When we are ill we don’t just take an aspirin and hope that it works. It’s very important to get to the root of the problem.


"It’s crucial to understand why people are becoming disorganised and then strive to change their behaviour. Products are tools but they are not the fix. It’s all about behaviour modification. What we do is we teach the skills to get organised and stay organised, and develop systems that will work for each individual."


A 2003 University of South Alabama study on the cost effectiveness of time management for low- and mid-level managers in a corporate setting showed an 18 percent improvement in productivity following formal time management training.


Izsak warned that the products often being hailed as solutions can actually add to the problem if they are not properly used and understood by workers.


"Our industry is growing like crazy. The need for our services continues to rise as people are having to do more with less and things are being added to their to-do lists much faster than they are being crossed off," he acknowledged. "However, the technology that is supposed to be saving them is actually contributing to helping these people drown, because they really don’t have a clue about how to apply it.


"They are looking to professional organisers to help them integrate the technology effectively into their lives without it adding to the existing clutter like the pasta machine and breadmakers in the kitchen."


Office organisers


"There are very few organisations today that are not challenging the way in which they work and the processes they use in order to improve efficiency," ACCO’s Andy Page comments. "It is perceived that ‘efficiency’ will in itself drive speed-to-market, lower cost platforms, competitive advantage and thus better returns."


But Izsak is adamant that such clients need guidance from insiders, and it is up to the industry to help the disorganised masses. He said he would ask manufacturers to examine how they could properly train their customers on how to gain the maximum benefit from their products.


"The consumer has to be better educated and the manufacturers should work with professional organisers," he suggested. "Never mislead the consumer by claiming the product is the fix – it should always be a tool and if it isn’t utilised properly, then it will only sabotage the efforts to get better organised."


In terms of office supplies designed to help companies and workers get sorted, functionality is no longer the only consideration. In keeping with overall trends, there is a shift away from the standard corporate essentials towards more stylish customised solutions.


Smead Manufacturing worked with a team of designers with combined expertise in graphic design, architectural design and office product development to develop MO Inc – a groundbreaking range awarded ‘Best Business Product Award’ at the 2006 National NAPO Conference & Expo.


"The organisation market is extremely important to MO," Chad Lindholm, new markets manager for Smead, told OPI. "It seems organisers really appreciate the ‘best of both worlds’ approach the MO collection offers; functionality and its new sense of office style. In many cases, professional organisers are working with small offices or home-based businesses, to which the MO products were specifically designed to appeal."


On the move


Smead is not the only company tapping into the burgeoning SoHo sector and the rising popularity of flexible working.


"There are some astonishing facts emerging about mobile working practices," says Page. "For example, in Europe alone it is estimated that there are 10 million remote workers (ITAC) and a Department of Trade & Industry 2004 report states that home working has almost doubled from 16 percent to 28 percent.


"This has become clear to companies like ACCO Brands, and its new Mobility range addresses a requirement for a fully integrated filing and archiving system that one can actually move with."


MO – similarly designed in response to the incredible growth of SoHo firms in the US – was created with exactly the same principle in mind.


"As far as the work style of today goes, its most important characteristic is the fact that it is very mobile," Lindholm points out. "Many SoHoers work part-time at coffee houses, work flexible hours (part-time at the office, part-time at home), and many travel a lot. One of the reasons that MO has been so successful with this audience was that it really was designed with mobility in mind – the office of today increasingly needs to be something that is portable."


Smead has also found that this is an audience particularly receptive to innovation and individuality.


"The majority of the SoHo audience are culture creatives who are early adaptors, trendsetters, and always on the lookout for products and brands that are designed with greater functionality and style in mind," Lindholm explains.


And it’s a mindset that is spreading, he adds. "The SoHo contingency of the US workforce is growing in leaps and bounds; in fact, there are over 34 million home offices in the US. Chances are on any given day that up to 40 percent of employees are not in the office, but working off-site. A recent Boston Consulting Group study found that 85 percent of corporate executives expect a big rise in the number of location-agnostic workers in the next five years. The global mobile working force is expected to grow by more than 20 percent in the next four years.


"We believe this growing SoHo sector and the bent towards off-site work will also start to affect more traditional corporate work life. Factors that have always been touchstones of the SoHo work style (mobility and off-site workspace) are becoming realities in corporate life as well."


Taking it home


If organisational tools designed with the SoHo market in mind are spreading into more corporate areas, they are also filtering from the home office into the living room.


Page insists ACCO’s range has had "an immediate connection with the consumer" and that the reason is two-fold.


Firstly, consumers face similar problems to businesses; what they expect from an efficiency and organisational product is liberation from home and family ‘maintenance’, freeing them up for extended leisure time.


Secondly, home life is now inherently more complex. As companies and institutions climb on the ‘communication ladder’, the sheer volume of information that any home has to store, accumulate and retrieve naturally increases. What’s more, as any parent doing the school run will verify, this information frequently has to travel with you. Banks, schools, dentists, doctors, hobbies, holidays, cars – they all produce paperwork that must move with you.


As Page explains: "Don’t think that personal efficiency is just a business mantra. This is as much an issue for consumers and they will happily use what works well in the office and put it straight into the living room. At home and at work, organisation is freedom."