Student advisor Winnie Pang remembers her paper-filled past - photo by Martin Dee
UBC Reports | Vol. 54 | No. 2 | Feb. 7, 2008
Here’s How it’s Done
By Basil Waugh
The world’s loneliest printer just might reside in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems’ (LFS) undergraduate advising office.
Despite working in the typically paper-heavy world of academic advising, the unit has weaned itself off paper, becoming UBC’s first paperless workplace.
It took two years, an acceptance of online technologies and an openness on the part of employees to new ways of working, says Lynn Newman-Saunders, the faculty’s Assistant Dean, Students.
“The benefits of not generating paper through our routine advising practices have been so clear and so immediate,” says Newman-Saunders. “In addition to the environmental aspect, it has led to increased job satisfaction and helped us to serve students better.”
Newman-Saunders says the paperless path began in 2005, when UBC implemented enhancements to its Student Information System (SIS), which gave advisors an online repository to track interactions, such as advising sessions, grades and student-teacher evaluations.
“That was the crossroads for us,” says Newman-Saunders. “It was time to start creating hard-copy files for our new students and we decided to really change paths and explore the paperless possibilities of the online system.”
But first they had to ensure the system was reliable and confidential. “With all information backed up hourly and password protected, we really felt the benefits outweighed the risks,” says Newman-Saunders. “I have more faith that a computer isn’t going to crash than I do about a piece of paper not going missing.”
While SIS made a paperless workplace a possibility, Newman-Saunders says it was the ingenuity and energy of advisors Winnie Pang and Joshua Robertson that made it a reality. “Our staff really bought into the system and deserve the credit for the implementation and for developing creative ways to cut paper out.”
Advisors now use reusable laminated forms (using acetate reclaimed from overheads) and dry-erase markers to illustrate course options for students. The office photocopier is used, not to make copies, but to create PDFs of documents. Instead of sending letters, they E-mail.
The changes have enabled Newman-Saunders and her team to do away with physical files for the faculty’s 1,200 students. They now only use paper when required by law or faculty policy, such as confidential medical files or failure notices.
“Managing files is incredibly time consuming,” says Newman-Saunders. “Every time a student came to us, we would have to find their file, update it, and then file it again. Now, we are actually getting rid of our filing cabinets.”
Newman-Saunders estimates these changes have resulted in savings of more than $4,000 per year in paper costs alone. The office has also embraced CourseEval, an online student-teacher evaluation pilot program that replaces labour-intensive paper forms, which is saving the office an additional $1,000 per semester.
The three-person office has also experienced marked improvements in employee and student satisfaction, Newman-Saunders, says. “Let’s be honest, no one wants to push paper around,” she says. “It has freed up our staff to spend more time with students.
“Instead of filing paper, our advisors are finding innovative ways to increase their accessibility to students,” says Newman-Saunders, adding that advisors communicate with current and prospective students on Facebook and will soon be able to telecommute to work one day per week.
LFS students are noticing the difference. “Beore I came to UBC, phoning advisors meant getting an answering machine and appointments, made a week or more in advance, meant filling out forms,” LFS student Stephen Ford says.
“If my experience is any indication, less paper means more human,” adds Ford, who is in the faculty’s Food, Nutrition and Health program. “The advising staff are ultra-accessible and there are no forms to fill out or hide behind. My friends in the faculty unanimously agree that we are a part of something special.”
Why has this office succeeded in breaking its paper habit, where others have failed? “It helps that we are a small office, but I think this system is adaptable to any size of organization,” says Newman-Saunders.
“It’s really a matter of embracing change and innovation,” she adds. “A series of small changes eventually leads to a really significant one.”
For more information on LFS, visit www.landfood.ubc.ca.
Seven steps to a
- Commit: Promote a paperless workplace.
- Be creative: Solicit ideas from front-line employees.
- E-mails: Don’t print e-mails. If you have trouble reading, increase monitor settings.
- Photocopies: Instead of making copies, use the photocopier to make PDFs and email digital file to yourself.
- Trust: Back-up computer files regularly.
- Innovate: Laminate forms and use dry erase pens.
- Invest: Allocate resources to paperless systems.