Saturday, January 19, 2019

Notes on A Paperless Real Estate Office

I have been giving a lot of thought lately to the idea of a paperless office.  If you go online, you can find many helpful articles on How To Go Completely Paperless.  These usually involve varying degrees of technology, hardware and software, and how to implement these technologies across an organization.  The goal most often seems to be:  To eliminate paper from the business workflow.

But there are a couple of things I noticed about these articles.  One, they assume that everyone in an organization conducts business in the same way.  Or, that this can be mandated from on high.  Perhaps this is true in other industries, but it is certainly not true in the business of real estate brokerage.  And two, that everyone in an organization has the same comfort level with technology, and willingness to use and master new technologies.  This is also not true for real estate, where agents’ attitudes toward technology vary from the enthusiastic user to the entrenched Luddite.

Even with those agents who are enthusiastic new technology users, they often vary widely in terms of which systems they use.  So is it a good idea for the firm to mandate the technology choices of its agents?  Perhaps for some.  And what about those agents who are less than enthusiastic?  Join our paperless crusade or go elsewhere?  Remember, the learning curves here can be quite high.  A fair number of agents will make the entirely rational decision that their time is better spent working with clients and on transactions than with management’s shiny new toys.

Fear Not The Paper

So is there a way to go paperless AND let agents work as they like?  Can we go paperless with enthusiastic agents using any number of systems?  And can we go paperless with agents who remain firmly entrenched in paper?

Well if the goal is “to eliminate paper from the business workflow” then is answer is most certainly no.  While there may be advantages to this goal, I would like to propose an alternative definition of the paperless office.  Rather than eliminate paper, our goal is to eliminate stored paper.  And no, I do not mean the unused paper reams stored under the Xerox machine.  But I do mean everything else.

So if an agent wants to conduct business with pen and paper, no problem.  When paperwork is turned in, it is immediately scanned, and the originals hit the shredder box.  We carefully title these scanned files with the date and document type.  Then we store the file in the appropriate transaction folder.  We can sort the folder to view the documents chronologically.  Finally, the transaction folder is, of course, stored in the appropriate client folder.  At the same time, if an agent with a team wants to use a paperless document management system, guess what?  The files end up in the same place.

Here’s the point:  The extent to which an agent conducts business with or without paper has NO impact on our paperless office goal.

So we have gotten rid of all of our banker boxes full of old files.  Everything is digitized, online, secured, backed up, and is available and searchable at our fingertips.  Where paper used to “cross my desk,” now paper simply dies on my desk.  Our printing bill has gone down and our shredding bill has gone up.  We pay for digitized file storage, but we no longer pay for physical paper storage.  And our agents?  Well, they just keep doing their thing.