Cut the Sheet: How to Move from Paper to Software Documentation and Boost Your Performance

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By Erich Litch, CEO of eSUB Construction Software

“Change is not a four-letter word… but often your reaction to it is!” These words from author Jeffrey Gitomer ring true in the world of commercial trade contractors these days who are under growing pressure to do more labor with fewer workers. 

Thanks in part to a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, U.S. spending on commercial construction in 2023 will be robust, and commercial construction is projected to grow consistently over the next five years. However, the labor shortage within construction is also projected to be significant. The pandemic, the Great Resignation and an aging workforce have all contributed to a worker crunch, putting trade contractors on the back foot and making it even more important to create labor efficiencies wherever possible. 

One of the best ways to gain greater efficiency is by using digital tools to speed up administrative processes and allow workers to access information more quickly and easily. In addition, you are protecting your company by documenting tasks more consistently and effectively so you can maximize revenue and substantially reduce financial risks. 

Change can be hard, and you may not know where or how to start. Let’s fix that problem. Below is a four-step guide for using cloud software to automate processes and move information from boxes and file cabinets to anytime access at your fingertips on any device.

Walk Before You Run

Don’t try to start with everything. Instead, pick some high-value areas where you can get quick and significant returns, and focus on new document creation rather than digitizing previous paper documents. When creating new processes for document creation, Deloitte researchers, Jurrien Veldhuizen, Ilse Habraken, Peter Sanders and Rogier de Jong, recommend starting with processes that aren’t business-critical. Pick two or three processes (e.g. worksite photos and reporting hours) and try those in your new software. This lets you see what works and what doesn’t without disrupting normal business operations.

Some of the most valuable document types trade contractors get quick and significant returns on are field notes, daily reports, change orders, purchase orders, RFI’s and submittals. But you do not need to start with all of these. Start with basics like field notes and daily reports to make sure you document important job site developments and get your field workers comfortable with these tools. Then, add in the document types that are the most difficult to manage via paper and transfer all your project documents into one cohesive and easily accessible place. Gradually, you can begin moving other processes over to the software.

As you do so, be sure to document all these changes to your processes, DocuWare’s Joan Honig advises. “Then if issues arise in testing, you can determine whether they are due to the new platform or the new process.”

Select Software that is Tailored to Your Business and Easy to Use

Ensure the solutions you choose are designed for your users and your type of business. Many companies try to get their employees to use solutions that were designed for other types of companies or generically designed for other industries. This makes it much harder for employees to incorporate the technology into their daily work.

Also, organize training sessions to make sure users understand how to use the tools to do their work. Always look for ways to make the training accessible on-demand within their schedules, and give employees a way to learn at their own pace. A library of on-demand training videos and webinars can be a powerful tool to get your employees on board with your digital transformation.

Incorporate Other Document Types into Your Digital Processes

You will always encounter other sources of documents or files that are either paper or from digital platforms that are not part of your ideal cloud document management system. Make sure to identify these files and sources and develop processes to incorporate them into your digital strategy. Some important questions to consider are:

  • Should paper documents be converted to digital formats and then uploaded to a single cloud storage solution?
  • If you have multiple systems of digital document storage, can the systems be integrated to enable document sharing between systems?
  • Does your cloud document management system allow uploading of different file types and provide unlimited storage of these types, or do they charge by usage?

If you are converting paper files to digital files or downloading digital files for uploading to another system, you need to create a standardized convention for naming each of those files and having a consistent file folder structure. 

“This is incredibly important because records can then be stored logically, retrieved easily or browsed efficiently, saving time and minimizing frustration,” writes Steven Voight, knowledge development manager at InfinityQS International.

Voight has specific tips for creating those naming conventions:

  • Make sure file names are meaningful but short (e.g. 012022Payroll).
  • Don’t make file names unnecessarily repetitive or redundant.
  • Don’t use spaces or underscores.

Once the files are sorted and named, they are ready for migration to wherever you plan to store them. Ideally, that would be in a cloud environment that is easily accessible to everyone on your team.

Be thorough during this step. You probably have lots of institutional wisdom tucked away in those paper documents. In an industry where talented people retire by the thousands annually, trades businesses need to preserve what they’ve learned over the years, according to National Fire Protection Association President and CEO Jim Pauley.

“In the fire, electrical and life safety industries, there’s a lot of ongoing conversation about how to preserve veteran wisdom,” he writes in Forbes. “With traditional communications methods, older generations are typically sharing information via email or in the margins of code books … Save for digging through the retiree’s email for any important lessons learned throughout their time, it’s almost impossible to ensure that their industry-specific knowledge is preserved for the use of future generations.”

Guide and Manage Your Team Through the Change

As we noted earlier, change is hard in any business. People tend to focus on the work that’s right in front of them, and asking them to change how they work can lead to resistance.

Support that change by doing three things:

  • Make the change mandatory. Once the process is proven, make it an essential part of how you operate. A single employee might not understand how something they do impacts the organization as a whole. Don’t listen to the squeaky wheels and remember that the real value comes from widespread adoption and utilization.
  • Educate and train your team. Host training sessions, and do what it takes to make sure every person understands the new workflow. But most importantly, ensure they fully understand why it is so important to use these tools.
  • Hold people accountable. Set clear expectations for how and when you need people to adopt and begin using the new process, and hold your teams to them.

Learn More About Cloud-Based Construction Software

This guide is a broad overview of several complicated projects. Moving paper documents to the cloud and then creating new processes is a huge amount of work.

We built eSUB Cloud to be the software that supports that change in trades businesses. If you have any questions about how eSUB can support your company’s move from paper to software, contact us today to schedule a demo.

Erich Litch is the Chief Executive Officer at eSUB Construction Software. He brings more than 20 years of executive leadership experience from positions in public and private software companies to this role.

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