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The limits to digitalisation in personnel management

Let’s say something straight away: this author’s desk will probably never be paperless. Though making every effort to behave ecologically and even efficiently at all times, she could never do without paper in her everyday (working) life. Noting something down quickly, drawing up the daily schedule on a coloured divider, ideas for the next article, collected in a wild cluster. Never mind the scribbles when she is telephoning. And how good it feels to tear up something when you have finished with it and to lob it happily into the waste-paper basket! Yet she is thoroughly impressed by paperless workstations – they seem to her the very essence of order and efficiency.  


Digitalisation as a competitive advantage

For many businesses filing cabinets and mounds of paper may indeed soon belong to the past: according to the Digital Office Index for 2018, a representative survey by the digital association Bitkom of 1,106 businesses with 20 employees and above, German companies have made it about half-way to the digital office. The bigger the company, as a rule, the more digitally it operates. Just under three-quarters of businesses surveyed find that digital office solutions have optimised the performance of their office and administration processes. And automation has increased, as has fulfilment of compliance guidelines, transparency and data security. “You can say: companies which invest in the digitalisation of their business processes have a home-made competitive advantage”, says Nils Britze, Bitkom representative. There is no doubt about it: if you can succeed in installing a well-functioning system with which everyone in the company can cope successfully, a paperless office is a good idea and perfectly possible – almost! If only a few details did not need to be taken into account. No doubt many of them are set out in the “Basic principles on the proper keeping and storage of financial books, recordings and documents in electronic form” (GoBD), the 37-page long list of requirements set by the German federal and state tax authorities. If you do everything properly which is written there, you are certainly on the safe side. 


Is an electronic personnel file possible?

A factor impeding a completely paperless business is the continued need for documents which must be stored in their original copies. These include, for instance, annual financial statements, opening balance sheets and export vouchers. And – though software firms constantly try to tell us that personnel files can be kept in exclusively electronic form – they also include personnel records. Time dockets for recording working hours, for instance, which since the introduction of the minimum wage must be filled in by low earners in many industries. The German Social Security Code also sets a duty to maintain certification under social-security law. This means that the originals of wage and salary documents must be stored in the German language until expiry of the calendar year following the last audit. Further duties of storage may also apply inter alia under the German Income Tax Act, Commercial Code and Tax Code. So, along with an electronic personnel file, you should also keep the originals of certain documents available. All further documents can inprinciple be stored digitally. If the originals are destroyed, however, a degree of legal uncertainty may also arise here, e.g. if legal proceedings are triggered. A requirement may then be made to submit original documents.


Scribbling and doodling for concentration and creativity

So perhaps the paperless office will remain a myth. But, in conclusion, it should be noted that two English academics, Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper, in their study “The Myth of the Paperless Office”, have found that paper appeals to more senses and this is also a reason why the paperless office will never exist. They asked why people at meetings screw up paper, draw or scribble on it. The answer is: it encourages concentration and creativity, and thus efficiency – just as it does for the present author. 


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by Martina Tangara


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