On your desk – a slew of unsigned contracts, invoices, and paid leave requests towering above you like some makeshift mount Everest. Letting a deep sigh, you take a big sip of coffee and begrudgingly begin your day, wishing there was a better way to do your work. If you recognize yourself in this description, then it’s time to ditch the paperwork and digitize your office environment. But where do you even start?
Join us as we take a look at what it means to go paperless, what are the benefits of moving your file cabinets to the cloud, as well as several actionable steps to help you get there before yet another paper skyscraper has a chance to make your desk home.
What is A Paperless Office?
In today’s polluted world, businesses are pretty much required to go green if they ever hope to get along with governments and appease their eco-conscious customer base. In the last decade or so, this led to the push to “go green”, with companies racing one another on coming up with innovative ways to optimize their work process and reduce carbon emissions. This trend, however, often seems to fly right past the typical office environment, where literal tons of paper is still being used every single year, especially in places like law or accounting firms.
This is where the idea of a paperless office comes into play. In simple words, a paperless workplace is one that uses digital technology, such as scanners, electronic invoicing platforms, and document management software, to reduce or completely eliminate the need for paper. One way of achieving this goal, for instance, is by converting traditional paper documents into digital formats, such as PDF or Word files, and storing them electronically so that they can be instantly recalled and modified if needed.
That being said, there are many benefits to storing all of your documentation digitally that go way beyond the environmental concerns. Let’s take a look at some of them now.
Reasons to Go Paperless
Going paperless is one of the best ways to make your business run like a luxury Swiss watch. Just take a look at the list below and see if you can agree with us by the end:
- Increased efficiency: Digital documents can be easily searched and indexed, making it incredibly easy to find important information. So instead of digging through file cabinets for hours on end, employees can easily find what they need at the click of a button, thus greatly improving the speed and efficiency of business processes.
- Improved mobility: Digital documents can be accessed from just about any device and location, allowing employees to work remotely or even on the go.
- Bigger office space: With the heavy file cabinets and printer systems out of the way, you now have more than enough room for the things that truly matter.
- Huge cost savings: A paperless office can save money by reducing the need for paper, ink, and other office supplies. Additionally, it can also save on costs associated with storing and maintaining physical documents.
- Improved security: Digital documents can be password-protected and encrypted, providing an extra level of security for sensitive business information. By phasing out printers from your office, you’re also relieving hackers of an easy backdoor into your internal file servers.
- Increased collaboration: Digital documents can be easily shared and collaborated on in real-time, making it easier for team members to work together on projects.
- Environmental benefits: Going paperless can reduce the environmental impact of a business by reducing the need for paper and other resources, which is also why a paperless office is more sustainable in the long term.
- Better compliance: Digital documents can be easily tracked, audited, and archived, making it easier for businesses to comply with legal and regulatory requirements.
- Better customer service: Digital documents can be easily accessed and shared with customers, which can improve the speed and quality of customer service. You also save your clients more time and money, which in turn results in more reviews, referrals, and ultimately more work for your business.
- Better disaster recovery: Digital documents can be easily backed up and stored off-site, making it easier to recover from a disaster such as a fire, flood, or earthquake.
And that’s just scratching the surface of why we need more paperless offices in our lives. However, as rewarding as creating a paperless office environment is, it won’t come easily, especially if you have to convince other people in your organization who have been used to dealing with paperwork for decades on end.
How to Go Paperless – A Step-by-Step Guide
Step #1: It All Starts With You!
Before heading online to window-shop software and pro-grade scanners, the very first step to a paperless office is to truly believe in the cause. Regardless if you’re a team leader, manager, or even the CEO, you have to believe in the benefits of going paperless so strongly that others around you won’t have any other choice but to share your sentiment. We won’t lie – there will be a lot of work ahead of you, but as long as you see the end goal clearly and set an example, you should see massive improvements in the long run.
Step #2: Identify Important Documents
Once you’re adamant that all that paper needs to go, the next crucial step is to identify which are the most important and frequently used documents for your business. Common examples include contracts, invoices, and other types of legal documents, but this will mostly depend on the type of sector you operate in.
Once you’ve identified these documents, consider converting them into fully searchable PDFs as soon as possible so that they can be easily accessed and shared electronically. Of course, it goes without saying that in addition to making it a priority to digitize documents as soon as they come in, you should also slowly work on your backlog to reduce the paper trail to a minimum. But in order to do that, you would also need to…
Step #3: Invest in Software & Scanning Equipment
Invest in a high-quality scanner that can convert paper documents into digital formats. This will allow you to digitize your important documents and store them electronically.
The next big thing on the list is to find a good document management software to help you organize and manage your digital documents, as well as a well-rounded PDF editor which would allow you to edit the scanned documents in almost any way you can imagine.
Most PDF editor software also includes handy built-in tools, such as the ability to fill & sign documents digitally, compress them so that they take up less space, and convert them to other popular file formats, such as Microsoft Word or Excel.
If budget permits, consider also splurging for an e-signature service, which will facilitate business transactions by allowing employees and clients to sign documents digitally, as well as for an expense-tracking app to put a lid on unnecessary business expenses.
Finally, look into free apps, such as Trello or Google Keep, in order to create organized lists of notes and tasks without having to rely on hundreds of confusing sticky notes.
Step #4: Transition to Cloud-Based Storage
These days, cloud storage deals are pretty much raining on a daily basis. You can even take advantage of free options, such as Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, or Dropbox, though keep in mind that you will likely quickly outgrow the offered space. By having a cloud-based platform at your fingertips, not only will employees gain access to rich collaboration options and find and edit files quickly and from any device or location, but you will also have a backup copy of all their important documents which you would be able to quickly restore should anything bad happen to the files on your internal server.
However, before going full-on digital and shredding all that paper, double-check with local legislation whether some of the documents are required to be in paper format for regulatory compliance purposes or if a cloud-based copy is enough.
Step #5: Encourage Digital Communication
Encourage employees to communicate electronically, rather than through paper documents. This can be achieved by using email, instant messaging, video conferencing software, or even a digital business card service, which would enable them to share their cards with clients via QR codes, text messages, or email signatures.
Another thing you can do is move to paperless statements. This could mean limiting incoming postal office mail, ditching paper invoices in favor of downloadable copies, and insisting that banks issue digital statements only.
Step #6: Set Up New Ground Rules at The Office
Educating employees on new digital tools and processes, such as scanning, electronic signatures, and document management software, can often be a tall order. This is why you will also have to review your current policies and procedures and come up with written guidelines in order to smoothen out the paperless transition.
Once you’re done, make sure that your employees are aware of the changes and understand the benefits of going paperless. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Remove all printers and copiers from the premises. As long as these devices are easily accessed, people will continue to use them. However, replacing these with centralized network printers in dedicated spots around the office, putting strong passwords in place, and limiting the allowed ink and toner purchases only to these approved devices will greatly reduce the paper trail.
- Set goals for each department in your company. Come up with actionable and measurable ways for departments to transition to various electronic platforms and set up rewards to make the goals more desirable. Also, set some deadlines and realistic targets, for instance reducing paper trails by 30% by the same time next year.
- Start digitizing files as soon as you can (and catalog them appropriately). Instead of playing catchup with your backlog, start scanning documents as soon as they come in to save time later on and make them searchable from the get-go by using a PDF editor supporting OCR (optical character recognition). You should also think of a logical file naming system, instead of simply dumping all PDFs into a single folder and calling it a day.
- Take time to clearly explain the benefits of going paperless. If you help your employees realize just how much time and effort they could save if they made the switch, they would be much more likely to comply – after all, who wants to get home drained from work if there is a much better alternative just within arm’s reach?
- Not all paper needs to disappear. When going paperless, you need to be flexible and keep in mind the needs of your employees. For instance, if someone is used to periodically printing out a keyboard shortcut cheat sheet or something similar which helps improve their productivity at the office, make sure that they still have a way to do this freely without violating the new ground rules you’ve just set.
The Bottom Line
Turning a cabinet-filled office into a paperless space is a massive undertaking as you will not only have to invest funds to prepare for the transition but also convince your entire staff that this is the right move for your business. And let’s not even talk about the fact that you’ll have to migrate everything to the cloud, which is a feat in and of itself.
Yet the hard work can definitely pay off as a paperless office can bring significant benefits to your business, such as improved efficiency, cost savings, better organization, and increased security. Additionally, the adoption of a paperless office routine can also contribute to more sustainable and responsible business practices, which is a win for everyone – you, your customers, and the environment we all share.
And when disaster eventually strikes, be it a flood, a fire, or malicious software, you will be able to quickly recover and hit the ground running since all of your important files will be backed up in the cloud.
Of course, none of this would be possible without you making the first move and showing everyone just how better everything will be in the office once you switch to the new system.
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