The Paperless Office
When I worked at the Coldwell Banker Canada head office, I was always amazed at how brokers and agents wanted to print everything - CB Weekly, Virtual Assistant client lists, listing reports, articles etc. etc. etc. My thinking was - it's on your computer, why do you want a paper copy that you now have to store, throw out, or carry with you? People handed me paper all the time and I'd turn around and ask for the digital version, because I had no files to put it in. My computer is much more organized than I am and the Google Desktop allows me to search this hard drive in seconds and find what I need. Perhaps it comes from my background in Ecology, perhaps because I've grown up with computers, whatever it is I don't see a need for so much paper in this world. When personal computers made their way to the workplace, "the experts" thought our paper usage would drop, but in fact paper consumption drastically increased because of the ease of printing. This article from today's Inman News gives a great reason for offices to consider going paperless...
Mississippi real estate firm learns value of paperless office
Katrina shreds paper documents, spares electronic data
Friday, November 04, 2005
By Janis MaraInman News
Hurricane Katrina tore the roof off Sawyer Real Estate's Gulfport, Miss., office, threw giant filing cabinets across the room and shredded all of the 104-year-old brokerage firm's paper documents.
A tidal wave buried the firm's 10 hard computer drives under 6 feet of water. But, to co-owner Lenwood "Lenny" Sawyer Jr.'s amazement, all the data on nine of the hard drives was recovered – including some 6,000 scanned-in documents.
"We are now firm believers in the paperless transaction," said Sawyer, whose grandfather Roy Anderson founded the business in 1901. "We've learned our lesson."
Sawyer Real Estate, one of the major commercial real estate brokerages in the area, has 16 agents and boasts many local casinos, banks and retail stores such as Wal-Mart and Kmart among its clients. It survived the Great Depression, the 17-to-20-percent interest rates of the 1980s and Hurricane Camille. But Katrina was quite another matter.
"When I first saw the building (after Katrina), I couldn't believe my eyes," said Sawyer, who inherited the family business from his father Lenwood Sawyer Sr. in 1986. "The windows and doors are gone, the ceiling was blown out, all our cubicles were blown apart."
But Sawyer, who runs the company with his son, Lenwood "Lenny" Sawyer III, was able to salvage from the hard drives the software from Sawyer's property management division – "the software that keeps up with the rent rolls, tenants, billing and accounting data was on there," he said. His e-mail, his personal records and the data of nine other agents in the office was also saved.
"We Federal Expressed the hard drives to a company in California and within two days they were able to save the information," Lenny Sawyer Jr., said.
"Whereas the paper records we had in the vault are gone," he said. "Some of them were completely washed away. The ones remaining in the building were shredded into tiny pieces.
"If we had had a paperless office, we would have been able to save the plats, records, contracts, history on old properties that we had," Lenny Sawyer Jr., said.
The company set to work immediately to get the office back up and running, according to Lenny Sawyer III, the "son" half of the father-and-son team.
"We were lucky enough to find a company that handles construction trailers and they got us one within a couple weeks after the storm," Lenny Sawyer III said.
"The power company was very responsive. The day we called them, they were out here that afternoon to turn the power on. The telephone company, too. They had us back up and running with phones and fax within a few days after we tog the trailer delivered," Lenny Sawyer III said.
Almost the instant the phones were connected, they began ringing off the hook, Lenny Sawyer III said.
"We do mostly commercial real estate and companies were looking for warehouses for items they had been able to salvage, and also people were looking for undamaged office space," he said.
"In the last month, companies coming in to build have been looking for warehouse and office space. The construction companies are looking for pieces of property called 'construction yards,' staging areas for the workers and their materials," Lenny Sawyer III said.
At first, the company and its 16 agents, all of whom survived the storm, did things "the old-fashioned way: hit the road, look for it, depend on word of mouth, call property owners," Lenny Sawyer III said. Now, he said, the MLS is back up and running and the company is able to access it to see what other agents have available.
The storm hit Sawyer Real Estate's building around 10 a.m., Sept. 29. Now, less than two months later, "as far as systems and processes go, we are probably back to close to where we were before the storm," Lenny Sawyer III said. "We now have two trailers onsite for our agents to work from."
The brokerage has a tough row to hoe, with major clients such as Grand Casinos and Casino Magic suffering hurricane damage. "The storm wiped out the whole Mississippi Gulf Coast," said Lenny Sawyer Jr. "It's like you take a big iron rake and go 2,000 miles back from the beach. It flattened everything."
The company is not yet up to its former volume, Lenny Sawyer III noted.
"We don’t have the population back to do the amount of volume we did before Katrina, but it is slowly coming back," he said. "A lot of people left because the schools were closed, but we are seeing people come back gradually as the schools reopen.
"We are going to make it. We'll get there for sure."