As the workplace accelerates into a more flexible and agile environment, so storage needs and records provision have been dragged along kicking and screaming,  forced to keep up with the new trends in ways of working and technology as well as the increasing focus on reducing space and property costs.

Storage and records management practices have often been left in the “cellular era”, when people had their own allocated desk, cocooned and enclosed by the comfort of numerous filing cabinets and cupboards – containing records and stationary largely untouched for years – further supported by trusty pedestals, housing half chewed pens, magazines and a secure area for handbags, valuables and other personal items. 

Modern images of clean, crisp, minimalist offices are appearing everywhere; but where is the storage? Is there really a paperless office !  It is true that technology has provided different storage opportunities with scanning and online digital media and these are diminishing the need for paper records. However, the reality is that organisations and people still keep records in paper format not only for ease of use and back up but also to meet legal and regulatory requirements. In addition most workplace audits reveal “non paper”, equipment and personalised or bespoke storage requirements.

So despite the increasing move towards the “paperless office” physical storage is still a 21st century requirement, and agile workstyles also mean there is a different but ongoing need for storage in “the office”. It is key for any organisation to understand what these storage requirements are and grasp the opportunities for change – what to store, where to store it, and what media to use – and then create appropriate records management and storage strategies.

Modern office space is expensive to procure and run. According to the IPD Occupiers Annual Benchmarking Service, annual running costs for Central London office space is from £646  to £969 m2 and the rest of the UK £256 to £434 m2. The footprint of a standard 4 drawer filing cabinet is 0.5 m2 , meaning the annual occupation cost for just 10 cabinets is from £4,845 to £1,288 depending on office location. Take a look at the number of cabinets in your office and from these figures it is plain to see the economic argument for ensuring your organisation has an effective storage plan.

Often the initial driver for re-assessing storage requirements is relocation or major change in the workplace.  For instance, companies that face problems reducing team filing to provide additional workstations, or new office projects such as the Severn Trent Water “Workplace Improvement Programme”. It is within such change programmes that storage standards are starting to emerge  – from 1 linear metre to 2.5 linear metres per person. Although these standards are firm guidelines, there will always be business cases in some departments for additional storage, but  it does force a well needed re-assessment and clear out to align with the new agile and austerity agendas.

The discovery stage in any storage audit is usually the most difficult.  If you ask anyone for an honest answer they might say they look in the cupboards and cabinets around them occasionally; some may even admit they do not have a clue what is in them. With so many changes to the office environment and the introduction of new office practices, staff often cling to the comfort factor that is their storage space – the more they have the more important they feel ! The stalemate between cupboard and owner needs to be broken, the cobwebs removed and the contents explored.

The biggest hurdle I face as a Records & Storage Consultant is getting people to admit they do not need as much storage as they currently have. People always seem scared to throw files away, again bringing us back to the comfort factor, when in reality, much is past its legally required retention period,  maybe duplicate records are held elsewhere in the organisation or are now recorded on other more efficient media.

To help with assessment it is essential that retention and information security policies, filing & retrieval procedures and storage guidelines are in place to assist effective management, storage, and location or disposal of records. This will not only provide staff with an understanding of appropriate requirements but also the confidence to dispose of past records, for example invoices over 7 years old.

Once having prized open a cupboard for inspection contents can be assessed for what is worthy of retention and what can be destroyed. Based on policy guidelines contents can be classed as live or archive with particular security or confidentiality rating. This will further enable assessment of storage location or media.

Where Organisations focus on a standard amount of storage space per person, this provides the opportunity for a re-evaluation of documents in terms of usage, rather than importance or a belief of need. Looking at when the document is used will help define its ideal storage location. Once this is established, a decision can be made as to whether or not it is kept near the desk or elsewhere in the office, sent to off-site storage, scanned onto a share drive or destroyed. These tough decisions on handling documents need to be fully considered when planning budgets as off-site storage/ retrieval and scanning all cost money, but, significantly much less than prime office space.

With the increase in technological capabilities it is no wonder companies are looking to create and store documents in the electronic world. If there is adequate clarity and a generic folder structure in place, is it necessary to print out emails and file them away? Why should you need to print out a 20 page report that was saved onto the shared drive for everyone to access both in and out of the office? Behaviours need to adapt to agile ways of working; just as the office environment needs to evolve towards being, as far as possible, paper-free.

Not only are organisations faced with problems of reducing team filing to a standard guideline, but staff often have personal items which cause “alternative” storage headaches. For example, the encouragement of healthy activity such as cycling to work or running at lunch times creates the problem of where to store dirty/wet or cycle clothes, as well as clean clothes to change into.  Also, in the agile office, in attempt to re-find their identity and define their space many people now choose to store personal items in the office and display them on the desk they are occupying that day.

It is amazing the number of cabinets I have opened exposing items from the weird to the wonderful, and the sentimental to the down-right disgusting. Some people do use their allocated space for work items but many others feel they need to bring their personal lives with them to work ; others unashamedly treat office storage as a dumping ground.

P1M Ltd can help your Organisation deal with the issues it is facing with the storage dilemmas in today’s increasingly agile workplaces. Understanding the requirements and opportunities is the first step to success; the second is implementing a storage solution that will support new ways of working both in and out of the new agile Workplace.

Liz Pim
Director P1M Ltd

Liz Pim is a specialist in Records, Storage and  Document management working across the UK. Liz has developed and implemented storage strategies for the BBC, Severn Trent Water,  Anadarko, Perenco, Noble Energy and Haringey Borough Council.

Working closely with Organisations, Liz and her specialised team follow a successful method to understand the current situation, what the business needs are and plan for a long term sustainable future.  For more information contact Liz on:  07816 133 762