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Many manufacturing companies are shifting their shop floor priorities from print to digital in an effort to “keep up with the Joneses.” Beyond being environmentally conscious, there are many benefits to going nearly or entirely paperless in terms of productivity and customer satisfaction. As a result, many leading companies are doing so. Of course, there are some precautions that manufacturing companies should take into consideration before ridding themselves of print entirely.

Companies that are set in their ways may fear this sort of change, but incorporating digital assets seems to be essential as technology continues to develop. Although conversion costs can be high, which may lead companies to delay the transition, the overall benefits far outweigh the temporary setback. Their storage needs can be fulfilled via the Cloud, allowing more real-time visibility into orders and data rather than having to sort through files that take up physical space within the shop. Most importantly, shop floor employees can complete and execute customer and shop orders without waiting for paper to be delivered and processed. They can receive more current updates – not only allowing them to get a better idea of how long they should wait on their own orders, but customers’ orders as well – ensuring a greater level of customer service. What it really comes down to is an increase in visibility, allowing a much higher productivity rate than what would be offered through the traditional print model.

Recent research shows that only 37% of leading companies are still relying on paper-based record keeping and processes. This means that 63% of these companies are entirely paperless. This may be beneficial for their business model, but in terms of their training processes for the people who make daily utilization of the new digital software, going paperless may not be a successful route to take.

Professor Mark Bauerlein from Emory University has studied the immense effects of the consumption of digital vs. print media and how it effects the way in which our brains process information. In his 2008 article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Online Literacy Is a Lesser Kind, he begins with the bold assertion, “Slow reading counterbalances Web Skimming.” He goes on to describe the findings of Web researcher Jakob Nielsen in his study of how people read via digital screens. Nielsen’s findings from testing 232 participants proved to align with Bauerlein’s statement – people don’t take in information nearly as well digitally as they do with print.

Through the use of eye-tracking tools, Nielsen observed that the way our eyes move as we read digital print is very similar to the shape of the capitalized letter “F.” Bauerlein explains, “At the top, users read all the way across, but as they proceed their descent quickens and horizontal sight contracts, with a slowdown around the middle of the page. Near the bottom, eyes move almost vertically, the lower-right corner of the page largely ignored. It happens quickly, too.”

Out of all the participants in his research study, only one in six read as we have been taught to our entire lives: left to right, top to bottom, line after line. The rest jumped around the page to what they thought might be most interesting or useful, looking for words in bold or bullet points – essentially trying to soak in the most important information in a shorter time than it would take to actually sit and read it. Apparently, Bauerlein’s bold assertion holds true. We may call it reading, but in actuality, it’s skimming.

Sure, it’s difficult for adults to adapt to digital resources in the workplace, but as younger generations enter, this won’t be a problem, right? As technology evolves, it only makes sense that our ability to work with and understand it does as well. Without getting into the multitude of fallacies within the Digital Natives vs. Digital Immigrants argument, I should simply state that the tried-and-true method of reading off a piece of paper is the most efficient way of consuming information, despite how outdated it may seem. Bauerlein explains, “Another Nielsen test found that teenagers skip through the Web even faster than adults do, but with a lower success rate for completing tasks online (55 percent compared to 66 percent).”

Therefore, it seems like we cannot simply rely on changing times and a younger generation entering the workforce to create a successful environment where digital is inherently more efficient than print just because it’s a newer way of executing tasks.

One of the most unfortunate disappointments would be a manufacturing company – or any company for that matter – investing their money into a digital training program for their employees and finding that their spending is all for naught on something that not only fails to increase, but actually hinders their new employees’ knowledge. In addition, training through a digital method creates a false sense of confidence within their new team member. They believe they have taken the proper time and effort necessary to understand the information, but their knowledge ends up being two-dimensional.

In other words, any company that deploys a digital training process would be setting up their new hires for failure. Although technology developments within a company are essential to keep up with changing times, it is no more essential than the employees who operate these systems and how they are trained.

 

Jessica Burns is a blogger and communications professional.

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