For years, experts have been saying that telecommuting—otherwise known as working from home—would be the “wave of the future.” However, few predicted the wave would rapidly crash into the real world so quickly to become the “new normal.”
A recent study showed about 20% of people said they worked from home prior to the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. As of late 2021, 71% of workers were reportedly working from home. Another 54% said they would prefer to continue to work remotely after the pandemic recedes to an endemic. For most companies, this paradigm shift represents a challenge in terms of building a new tech infrastructure that evenly facilitates at least three modes of work—in-office, hybrid, and remote.
Of key importance is the role of information management platforms that leverage a new-normal sense of collaboration and communication—especially in companies with workers spread across far-flung nations and time zones. Steve Jobs once said, “Great things in business are never done by one person; they’re done by a team of people.” But, to do “great things,” an organization requires “greater” communication and collaboration tools.
Facing the “anywhere/anytime” challenge
As American workers continue to spread out into remote teams, the importance and value of project collaboration can’t be overstated. Knowledge workers must be able to work together anywhere, anytime, and from virtually any device. A 2021 Gartner study estimated nearly 80% of workers used collaboration tools—an increase of more than 40% since Q1, 2020.
Along with this shift came new and daunting challenges. For example, workers reported being unable to access key documents due to a lack of collaborative, accessible document management systems. Not only were workers scattered, so were their documents and data. Or worse, workers were using the wrong versions of documents that could often be lost in a swamp of email attachments.
Addressing collaboration frustration
So, how do forward-facing companies address these challenges and get the best out of their remote and in-office workers? The answer begins with a superior information management platform.
Workers must be empowered to share information easily and securely, as well as to work together more productively. They can’t do that if crucial information is still trapped in data silos or sitting on a hard drive in an office somewhere.
The good news? Document management solutions like M-Files face and defeats new-normal challenges for remote workers. No matter where or what your team focuses their resources and time, all crucial data is stored in one centralized repository, so everyone has access to exactly what they need. The result? Improved communication with clients and each other.
Keeping clients in the know
The digital-first experience has long presented an opportunity for organizations to create more personalized client experiences. For example, if a client needs a document, your team must have a streamlined system in place to make retrieval simple and secure. Solutions like M-Files mitigate issues in these areas by making content available internally and externally—but only to those who need access. Advances like these are ultimately why collaboration has continued to rise over the previous two years, despite the massive disruption brought on by COVID-19. When you give people the resources they need to perform at their best, they will.
“Cloud, collaboration, and connectivity: How can seamless communication be delivered?“, M-Files CEO Antti Nivala took on some of the toughest issues facing businesses in our time of digital transformation.
For many, the new ways of working are freeing, but there are unanswered questions: How do businesses communicate seamlessly in a work-from-anywhere world? What does a good office environment look like in the cloud era? How can you empower your employees when they’re working in drastically different time zones?
According to Antti, getting employees on the same page is about more than just sending them a laptop. “Even in places where the technological gaps have been filled, there needs to be a cultural change,” he said. “Now that many people, especially those at knowledge work companies are independently working at a time and place of their choosing, we have to make information available in a self-serve, on-demand way.”
Collaboration off the clock
The best workplace for your business may not be a physical place at all. You may not even work at the same time. “When we free people from the limits or restrictions of a place, they also begin making choices of when they work. Synchronous ways of communication and collaboration don’t necessarily work anymore,” Antti said. “We have to accept new ways of asynchronous collaboration and work together differently than when we were all gathering together in a meeting room.”
One way that companies can get more done in an “always-on” world is by unlocking information and empowering their employees to access it when they need it.
“Maybe it’s a cultural thing that companies, managers, and leaders tend to keep information to themselves,” Antti said. “Unless there is a very specific confidentiality reason why it shouldn’t be, I’m an advocate of the thinking that most of the information should be available and accessible, from a technical and access rights point of view to pretty much every employee in the company.”
Another way to optimize processes and make your business more dynamic is to provide access to learning possibilities. “For us as leaders, it’s about enabling and empowering employees to be successful.” According to Antti, “our role is to provide ways for them to develop their skills.”
During the panel, Antti explained that existing platforms like LinkedIn Learning offer a lot of value to your employees’ skill set. However, you know your business best. Beyond creating comprehensive onboarding processes and information libraries, companies should offer their team members in-house learning and self-development courses that can be taken when and where they want.
“If you can provide extensive learning and self-development opportunities, I think you are doing a great job in enabling your employees to not only do what you hired them to do but to elevate themselves to the next level.”
Over the last decade, virtually all industries have been altered and improved by the growth of artificial intelligence. However, one area that has changed radically, but many might not think of, has been the document management ecosystem.
Information-rich tasks have benefited from AI enormously, particularly in terms of knowledge management, business process management, security, and compliance. All these applications allow employees to work smarter, not harder ? freeing up their valuable time so they can focus on big ideas and long-term goals.
Every day, businesses create and process massive amounts of information – contained within it is the insight they need to better understand their market, better understand their customers, and create more effective products and services. By making sure that key personnel has access to the right data at the right time, AI assistance can mean the difference between success and failure.
An award-winning, AI-driven platform like M-Files is designed to give organizations of all sizes the ability to become more efficient without forcing employees to rely on siloed, manual tasks. It can help people spend less time finding the information they need so that they can spend more time acting on it.
Encouraging collaboration and strengthening security
When data is siloed off and essentially trapped in one department, it’s not able to get into the hands of ALL the people who need it. It’s essentially locked off by whoever created it, inaccessible to those others who may benefit from it as well. This is especially true with things like reports, or information pertaining to specific clients. Something that is valuable to the marketing department may be important to sales, too – but the latter may not know it exists.
“If you don’t know what kind of information you have, the only way to mitigate all risk and ensure that it’s kept safe is to lock it all down,” says Jayson deVries, Senior Product Manager at M-Files.
“Of course, that’s not conducive to knowledge sharing within an organization,” he adds. “So, AI can help you understand which information needs special for data protection treatments, and which can be shared with applicable groups.”
Unlike other information management solutions on the market, AI is embedded at the core of M-Files and pervasive throughout the entire platform, including external repositories. M-Files’ native AI capabilities enable improved visibility, security, and processing of information. With a self-learning mechanism incorporated across AI components, M-Files removes the burden from users, as learning happens behind the scenes with no extensive, upfront manual-dataset training.
What if you could do something good for the planet and make your workday easier? It sounds crazy in our digital era, but the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper annually. In the last 20 years, the usage of paper products in the US reached 208 million tons (up from 92 million) ? a growth of 126%.
It’d be one thing if all that paper served an important purpose, but according to one recent study, it’s estimated that about 45% of all paper documents that are printed in offices end up in the garbage by the end of the day. The same study estimates that companies spend more than $120 billion per year — every year — on printed forms. Luckily, there’s a more ecological and economical choice.
By digitizing your paper-centric documentation processes, and automating them, you can unlock powerful efficiency and productivity. M-Files partners with services that help analyze and scan your company’s physical documents, so you can securely digitize your data. Once it’s entered in M-Files, everyone on your team can instantly access the most up-to-date version of a document and share it in milliseconds. No printers, fax machines, or copiers are needed.
Green looks good on you
Deploying a document management solution as part of your business’ green policy won’t just eliminate large amounts of wasted paper, it can also spruce up your image. It shows customers and partners that your company is striving to be more environmentally conscious while potentially creating a more satisfying workplace for employees.
According to a study by Neilsen, corporate sustainability is important to a majority of people ? 85% of millennials and 79% of Gen X say it is “extremely or very important that companies implement programs to improve the environment.”
Many consumers around the world are adjusting their shopping habits to align with their values. For earth-conscious consumers, your business’ ecological actions truly matter.
Going paperless saves time
Organizations with an overarching system in place to handle all their information electronically not only reduce their impact on the environment but also operate at a vastly superior level of efficiency compared to those that still rely on paper files and folders. Given the large expense and inconvenience of paper documents, maintaining them in an electronic document management system leads to a substantial increase in efficiency and a decrease in operational costs.
Fighting climate change has undoubtedly become, and rightly so, one of the major drivers of people’s behavior in recent years. At the same time, the importance of sustainability to business has grown too. Whilst companies have to a large extent realized their responsibility on sustainability, the ability to find ways to become ever more environmentally healthy remains a challenge.
Many companies have or are initiating their environmental policies, aligned with an increasing amount of similar requirements from their trading partners, which places demands upon their own internal processes. Thus, sustainability has become a clear factor on B2B sales, not only B2C, As people are placing more and more importance on these topics in their personal lives, green values have become an important factor. Employee demands for sustainability change are becoming selection criteria when applying for a new job. This places far more emphasis on a prospective employer to show a progressive approach to these demands if they are to persuade new talent to join.
Challenges for sustainability in Information Management
The role of Information Management is often not the most obvious when it comes to a sustainable way of working. The most notable effect of modern IT systems is clearly their ability to support collaboration over vast distances, i.e., as an enabler of remote work and avoiding unnecessary travel to business meetings. The COVID-19 epidemic has quite naturally sped up the transformation towards remote work, so communications over remote meetings with Teams, Zoom, etc., have pretty much become the norm.
Even though modern remote meeting systems enable communications over remote connections, they are not very good for non-formal communications that we tend to do while in the office or meeting clients or partners on site. The lack of such non-formal communication places even more importance in information management processes, including tools for employees to easily carry out their responsibilities.
Traditionally, managing the company’s business critical documents has been especially reliant on the non-formal communications taking place in the workplace and physical meetings. Finding the correct documents or previous work has been done by asking around in the office. A lot of documentation is simply replicated, with approval processes largely completed by signing paper copies in the office. Thus, better means for document & content management are certainly one challenge that companies need to address, allowing operations with reduced overheads.
Besides providing means for remote work, there are other factors in Information Management systems that affect the total CO2 footprint of a company. As these systems consume substantial amounts of energy, optimizing their usage of computing resources and digital storage would result in a more sustainable workplace. Unfortunately, such issues were largely overlooked when companies initially set up their information management systems and, therefore, offer considerable room for sustainability enhancement.
How to make content management an asset for sustainability
State-of-the-art information management usually relies upon Enterprise Content Management (ECM), i.e., managing a company’s documents and the information related to them. The question is: How can a company become more sustainable by improving the way they are using and managing their documentation?
Reflecting the challenges outlined above, the benefits of an ECM system for a company from the sustainability viewpoint can be summarized by the following three points:
A common system for accessing documents and supporting digitized processes. This approach enables effective collaboration on the documents, typically involving review & approval processes, even when working remotely. Thus, an ECM system can act as an important enabler for remote work, avoiding travel to meet clients and partners whilst enhancing customer service.
Avoiding document copies. Document version management in ECM systems and the ability to use document links instead of email attachments, reduce storage requirements, thus saving energy required for maintaining multiple document repositories. In practice, this means that the companies can reduce the amount of network drives & other repositories by utilizing modern ECM systems.
Cloud environments enable computing resources to be securely shared. A cloud-based solution is a collaborative resource distributed among many users / clients, thus using processing power much more efficiently than systems relying on the processors in each users’ PCs or company servers. In this manner, using cloud-based ECM solutions can drastically reduce the overall computing power needed for document management.
Improving a company’s sustainability can be seen as a ripple effect: changes that by themselves seem small but combined together make a real difference. Applying modern ECM technology to enable intelligent information management is an important part of striving towards more environmentally healthy way of working.
It’s no secret that telecommuting or working from home has been on the rise over the last ten years, particularly as high-speed Internet connections have become a ubiquitous part of our lives. Everyone knew that this was the way of the future – thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, “the future” arrived quite a bit faster than most people probably expected.
According to one recent study, at the highest point of the pandemic in May of 2020 roughly 35% of people found themselves working from home indefinitely. A significant percentage of them are expected to continue to do so long after the pandemic has passed us by.
Of course, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Another study estimated that working from home has the potential to increase productivity by as much as 13%. About 77% of respondents to one Stanford study said that working from home at least a few times per month increased their productivity, allowing them to do more work in less time. It also improved employee satisfaction, while cutting attrition rates by as much as 50%.
Working from home does bring with it its fair share of challenges, too – especially for organizations dealing with inherently sensitive information like accounting firms. All the productivity and performance benefits in the world ultimately won’t mean a thing if employees are suddenly sharing and working with confidential information in an insecure environment.
Recently, the team at M-Files did a survey with Accountancy Age on data security-related issues that accounting firms in particular face when having employees work remotely. The survey’s findings paint a vivid and important picture about how far telecommuting has come, where it all might be headed, and the challenges we’ll need to face along the way.
The Issue With the “Old School” Methods of Communication and Collaboration
Obviously, it’s critically important that accounting professionals have the ability to create, share and collaborate on data with one another – regardless of where they happen to be. When everything shut down and people suddenly found themselves working from home indefinitely during the onset of the pandemic, firms turned to a number of “solutions” to help make this possible – with mixed results along the way.
According to the aforementioned study, some firms took to sending important documents and other pieces of information through the postal service to get it all into the hands of the people who needed it the most. The issue here is that it simply takes too long to get items to employees who depend on it to do their jobs – to say nothing of how this method makes collaboration essentially impossible.
Not only that, but a sudden delay in postal deliveries – like the ones experienced during the last half of 2020 – could grind productivity to a stop. Early on in 2020, three-day USPS mail service was already taking an additional four or five days to reach 99% of recipients. Flash forward to the end of the year, and it was taking an extra 14 days. This, coupled with the potential that a sensitive item could always be lost in the mail with no way to recover it, make this method essentially a non-starter.
Other firms turned to email – a tool that they’ve used successfully in the past. This, too, brings with it a number of issues – chief among them being confidentiality. It’s simply far too easy to click one wrong button or mistype a character and send sensitive client information to the wrong person.
If you’re trying to collaborate on a project with other employees, this too is less than ideal because it creates too many unnecessary steps. If three people need to sign off on a document before it can be approved, Person A has to send it to Person B – at which point the waiting begins. Maybe Person B gets to it today, maybe they don’t. Regardless, Person C literally can’t do anything because they’re waiting on someone to act on an item that this individual may or may not have even seen yet.
On top of it all, emails are inherently insecure. Unless you can guarantee that all remote employees are using advanced security methods like two-factor authentication – which you can’t – there is always the potential for an email account to be compromised, exposing all of the proprietary and sensitive information that has ever passed through it at the same time.
Finally, the working from home revolution has exposed a major issue at the very core of many accounting firms – namely that they’re using far too many applications or systems to manage and share business and client documents to begin with. According to the M-Files study, 23% of firms use at least three such systems on a daily basis. This can include things like email folders, files and folders across shared network drives, CRM and ERP systems, a dedicated accounting solution, file sharing applications like Dropbox and more.
At that point, simply knowing where to find an essential document becomes a uphill battle. Likewise, if something important is stored on a local shared network drive and you’re now working from home, how do you access it? The answer is clear:
Tearing Down the Old School to Build the New One
Thankfully, there are modern solutions built with this type of data security – not to mention communication and collaboration – in mind. It’s simply up for accounting firms to embrace them.
A document management solution like M-Files, for example, can consolidate all data across an enterprise into a single, easy-to-use system. It allows accounting firms to organize information based not on where it is, but on what it is – all while giving people the chance to access it through a single view without needing any expensive or time-consuming data migration.
Keep in mind that if information is being shared among employees with a private tool like Dropbox, firm leadership suddenly has no control over what it is and what is being done to it. It can easily be lost or compromised in some way and this is actually a major source of duplication and version issues. But with M-Files, you can leverage features like dynamic organizational permissions and permissions-based content and context to secure documents and folders based on who needs access to them to do their jobs. For the right person, that information is easier to find than ever. For the “wrong” person, they’re totally cut off from it – exactly as it should be.
In the end, working from home isn’t going away anytime soon – and that can very much be a good thing under the right conditions. Trying to manage sensitive accounting firm information using methods that were designed for a time when everyone was still in the office is only inviting disaster. Instead, true document and content management is needed and tools like M-Files can help bring it to accounting firms everywhere in the easiest and most cost-effective way possible.