Originally Published November 2020
We have long maintained that the idea of a paperless office is a myth. Whilst technological advances may have helped us to communicate in a different way, and without needing to be face to face, we still invariably reach for pen and paper to take notes or print off documents to make them easier to absorb. For as long as this is the case there will be a need for some form of workplace storage, and consequently filing and storage audits.
However, the way in which we interact with our offices has changed since the pandemic. Hybrid working has become widely accepted and working from home is no longer unusual, in fact it is a regular occurrence several days a week for many people. But if we aren’t in the office so regularly then are traditional filing cabinets the right place to be storing records, or does it remain true that there is more evidence than ever of significant scope for reduction of paper and a move towards less paper-heavy processes?
Not only can this have an important impact on the environment [see our previous blog on The True Cost of Office Storage], but it also comes with a tremendous opportunity to reduce costs and free up space for better things such as creating social and collaboration spaces better suited to the way people work these days and hopefully attracting people to return to the office.
Many organisations are reviewing the space required for their people – particularly as workplaces are often very underutilised and the cost of living crisis continues to impact us all and bills keep rising, both for individuals and businesses – but not enough are taking the opportunity to review the space taken by their storage at the same time and to have a true picture of the business need.
Back in November 2020, we took a look at FileLOOK – Baker Stuart’s filing and storage toolkit – and spoke to Toby Godman, a key member of the team who is responsible for ensuring that clients have the right data to make evidence-based decisions. We’ve revisited the conversation with Toby and got his thoughts on the importance of filing and storage audits in 2023.
Time to Read: 5mins
How much storage do organisations really have? Is this really a significant cost to an organisation?
Toby: In a pre-agile office, pre-Covid, we generally assumed that each person would have 1lm (linear metre) of storage. Whilst this can vary dramatically from organisation to organisation this is the benchmark we used. This would mean that in an office of 100 people there would be a requirement for 33 filing cabinets (3 high 1000mm x 500mm) taking up approximately 40m2 of floor space (including an allowance to enable access).
In central Manchester, the average total occupancy cost (according to Lambeth Smith Hamptons’ Total Ocupancy Costs 2020) is £863 per year per square metre, meaning that 33 filing cabinets cost £34,520 per annum just to provide (and light and heat) the space for the filing for 100 people.
In London this figure is even higher with average total occupancy costs of £2,033 per year per square metre equating to a total occupancy cost of £81,320 for our 33 filing cabinets.
Although the pandemic is now hopefully in the past, we haven’t seen the reduction in storage that might have been expected given the different ways people are working. In a lot of instances, the reason we are now working with clients is because things have settled down, people – in general – aren’t in the office so frequently and yet they haven’t known how to address pre-pandemic storage. It’s a great time to take advantage of an opportunity to rationalise and reduce filing and to save money using a clear process to define what is needed and where it should be stored.
Up to date total occupancy costs (according to Lambeth Smith Hamptons’ Total Occupancy Costs 2022’) show that the average in Manchester is now £1,075 per year per square metre – giving a total cost for 33 filing cabinets of £43,000 – an increase of 25%. In London the figures have risen to £2,375 per year per square metre – a total of £95,000 – an increase of 17%.
With decarbonisation and net zero targets very much at the front of property managers and real estate executives minds, it is interesting to note that for an average air-conditioned office, each filing cabinet is responsible for the emission of up to 0.25 tonnes of CO2, purely to light, heat and air condition the space the filing is in – so for our 100 person office in our example above that’s a whopping 8 and a quarter tonnes of Co2 per annum!
Can you give examples of how much money could be saved with filing and storage audits?
Toby: It’s impossible to give an exact figure or percentage, but what we do see invariably is that a significant proportion isn’t required.
2020 examples –
Taking a council that we worked with as an example – they wanted to review their storage requirement as part of an opportunity to move towards more agile working methods. Our initial audit showed that there was 3,761lm of storage which equated to 2.1lm per FTE. Our recommendations showed that this could potentially be reduced to 1,633 lm of storage – less than half of that allocated. Using the lower Manchester figures from above, that would enable storage costs to be reduced from £1,082,202 to £469,472 per year – a cost saving of £335 per staff member per year!
Similarly, a beverage company that we worked with were looking at moving to more agile ways of working and wanted to have a holistic view of their position in terms of storage requirements as well as people requirements. Initial amounts of 1891lm of storage equated to £544,553 per year, and with reductions down to 975lm the potential cost saving for them was a huge £264,078 per year.
Finally, a shipping company who needed to move to smaller premises. Initial amounts of 302lm, 1.96lm per person were – on recommendation – able to be reduced to 84lm, only 0.55lm per person. Not only could the organisation be confident of fitting into their new premises, but it meant a cost saving of £62,999 per year, or £309 per staff member per year.
2023 updated –
The figures in the examples above can be translated to 2023 cost savings given the updated amounts. However, having done a number of these audits recently, we have created the following graphic to show just what the potential savings are – not just in financial terms, but also in CO2 savings. It should be noted that the below table is on a typical 1,000-person office.
It should be noted that the table below is in EUR as it was created specifically for a European client.
How do you conduct your filing and storage audits?
Toby: Before going on site, we will meet – face to face or virtually – with key departmental contacts to define work processes and storage requirements. We will also ensure that all plans are up to date so that nothing is missed.
During the survey itself, we use trained auditors to capture all filing and storage in the workplace using our purpose built FileLOOK app which links directly to our detailed reporting system.
Our experienced consultants will then review the findings alongside any retention and documentation policies that an organisation has. From this we can make recommendations for the amounts of filing that are required, and where there are opportunities for either reduction or digitisation.
All of the information that we gather can be shared in one of two ways; via a traditional, printable PDF report or – in line with the stated aim of reducing paper records! – as an interactive online report. This interactive report utilises our inhouse workplace portal and allows information to be viewed as required by different teams and at different levels within the organisation.
Has Covid-19 affected the way in which you carry out your filing and storage audits?
Toby: It’s actually a great opportunity to undertake Filing Audits during Covid-19 as offices are empty and so even minimal disruption is eliminated. However, it has meant changing our processes slightly to encompass Teams / Zoom calls after the audit in order to understand what filing is what, and why it’s currently held.
Although the pandemic has hopefully now passed, we have learnt from our experiences, and work with our clients in the way that suits them best – whether face to fae, virtually or as mix of both.
What considerations do people need to take into account?
Toby: It isn’t possible to get rid of all storage – certain documents need to be retained for either legal or commercial retention requirements, however it is important to think about where they are retained. If they are not to be accessed regularly, then they do not need to be stored on the office floor where the cost per square metre is at a premium. Instead, a more cost effective solution could be to either back scan the storage online, or place it into deep storage off site.
Organisations should also be mindful of how normal ways of working are continuing to change and the impact that this will have on storage moving forward. With work becoming much more flexible, staff may be in the office less which will mean that they won’t have access to their storage. Any filing that staff need on a daily basis will need to either fit in their backpack or be stored electronically to enable access from wherever they are working.
What kind of recommendations are you able to make?
Toby: There are 6 main recommendations that we make to organisations as a result of carrying out a filing audit;
- Deep storage
- Back scanning
- Scan on Demand
- Local off site storage, and
- On site storage
Additionally, where filing is to be kept on site we suggest reviewing the types of media used. We typically find that inefficient types of filing such as Box Files, Lever Arch files and Boxes / Archive account for between 20-30% of filing. This can usually be reduced by half if transferred to A4 lateral filing or other more efficient filing means.