- Tech tools, including software and document management services, make creating a paperless office easier than ever.
- A gradual transition from paper to digital filing systems can help your team adapt to paperless business processes.
- Paperless offices help companies save time and space while producing less waste.
- This article is for business owners and managers interested in reducing their organization’s physical paperwork.
A paperless or paper-free office minimizes the use of physical paper in favor of digital documents. Instead of storing documents in file cabinets, businesses store files on computers and in the cloud.
Today’s readily available mobile applications, online software and digital storage platforms are helping usher in paperless offices for more organizations than ever before. While transitioning to a paperless office takes time and resources, the benefits of going paperless far outweigh the challenges.
We’ll explore tools, tips and services that can help you reduce your company’s reliance on paper documents so your business can get started saving time and money and reducing waste.
Going paperless is an excellent way to incorporate sustainability into your business model and start minimizing your company’s carbon footprint.
How to create a paperless office
Consider the following tips, tools and best practices when transitioning to a paperless office.
1. Change your document management habits to go paperless.
Examine how your business creates and manages documents, and find digital alternatives to replace those processes.
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“In most businesses, one of the main reasons people print documents is either to meet a regulatory recordkeeping requirement or so they can refer to it at a later time,” noted Cory Porteous, director of marketing and inbound business development at Office Interiors. “Both of these reasons can be solved by an effective document management system.”
To change your document management habits, implement the following systems:
- Use scanning tools to go paperless. Use a document scanner or scanning apps to scan notes, documents, images and more so they’re all in one digital location. Excellent scanning apps include CamScanner, Evernote Scannable and FineScanner.
- Use online faxing services to go paperless. If your business still relies on faxing, turn to an online fax service. The best online faxing services are an inexpensive way to send and receive faxes via email and store them digitally. Tools to consider include GotFreeFax, mFax and RingCentral.
- Use a document management solution to store your paperless documents. Whether you choose a self-hosted or cloud-hosted service, a document management system can act as a digital filing cabinet. The best document management software solutions offer features like security, mobile functionality, usability, document sharing, collaboration and version control. Tools to consider include Rubex by eFileCabinet (read our Rubex by eFileCabinet review to learn more), Microsoft SharePoint and M-Files (read our M-Files review to learn more).
2. Digitize business functions with software and services.
Accounting, document signatures, expense tracking, and time and attendance tracking are among the major business functions you can digitize. Consider the following software and services that can help you go paperless by digitizing business functions:
- Accounting software: The best business accounting software helps you track and monitor your business finances securely and digitally. Tools to consider include FreshBooks, QuickBooks and Xero. (Read our review of FreshBooks, our QuickBooks review and our Xero review for more details on these solutions.)
- E-signature services: Instead of requiring a written signature on paper, e-signature services let employees and customers sign documents digitally. Tools to consider include DocuSign, Adobe Reader, Hightail and the Mac’s Preview app.
- Expense-tracking apps: You can digitally organize and monitor your small business expenses with expense-tracking apps. Tools to consider include Concur, Expensify and Wally.
- Digital time and attendance systems: Digitally track employee hours using one of the best time and attendance software solutions. Tools to consider include Clockify, TimeDoctor and When I Work. (Read our Clockify review, our TimeDoctor review and our When I Work review for more information).
3. Switch to paperless billing to create a paperless office.
Assistance from outside institutions and vendors is essential to a paperless office. Request paperless bank statements, speak to your vendors about digital invoice options, and inform customers about purchase-order emails.
These paperless options can help you manage your books. Additionally, you can scan receipts into your smartphone and import them into your bookkeeping software for expense reports or tax filings.
Your payroll processes can also go paperless. To get started with paperless payroll, find a reputable employee self-service portal or software solution and introduce direct deposit.
4. Use cloud-based document backup and storage to go paperless.
Cloud-based applications are a convenient way to go paperless. They help you create, save and access information via the cloud instead of relying on physical documents or an internal server. Additionally, cloud-based applications include built-in security protocols and allow for shared files and collaboration.
While some platforms are free, like Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive, others come at a cost. BigMIND by Zoolz, Carbonite and IDrive are among the best cloud backup and storage solutions to consider. Research your options before choosing a platform to store and back up your data.
After transitioning to a cloud-based platform, you can recycle the corresponding physical files and papers. However, Porteous emphasized the importance of due diligence before making any drastic changes. “In most jurisdictions, a cloud-based copy of a document will meet any compliance requirements, but you should check local legislation before destroying documents required for regulatory compliance,” he advised.
Incorporating cloud platforms is an excellent way to keep remote workers engaged because they can collaborate on documents in real time.
Tips for making a successful paperless transition
Creating a paperless office can feel overwhelming at first, but it doesn’t have to be. Consider the following tips for making a smooth transition.
1. Focus on your most wasteful processes first.
Businesses can digitize many operational aspects. However, most organizations have several processes that account for most of their wasteful printing. Determine your most paper-wasteful culprits, and focus on them.
“Select the business process that generates most of your printing, then do a step-by-step analysis,” Porteous advised. “By reviewing only one business process at a time, you will be able to avoid overwhelming your team and find better results.”
2. Make the paperless transition gradual.
Transitioning to a paperless office will take time and should be a slow, gradual process. Going slowly lets you implement new procedures properly and gives your employees time to adjust. You may need to have some paperless systems work in tandem with your old systems during the adjustment period.
Samuel Johns, senior content editor at Resume Genius, suggested reducing the amount of paper each employee can print using a print credit system until it reaches zero.
“Bear in mind, it’s unfeasible to expect that your company will completely stop using paper,” Johns cautioned. “People still need to print some things, like a keyboard shortcut cheat sheet or a seating plan so they can remember who sits where. Aim for an 80 percent or 90 percent reduction instead.”
Although the transition will take time, and you may not entirely meet your goal, make continual efforts to introduce employees to digital alternatives, weaning them off paper as much as possible.
3. Get your employees involved in the paperless transition.
Creating a paperless office is not a one-person job; everyone must handle the new system. Since a successful transition requires the whole team, involve your employees in the decision-making process. Encourage employee feedback about the digital platforms you’ll use and how the transition is progressing.
To make the transition a relaxed and productive process:
- Foster an office environment that embraces the change.
- Limit paper usage by reprinting on nonconfidential documents or requiring double-sided printing.
- Recycle the paper you do use.
Conduct an employee survey to gauge how employees are responding to the paperless transition, and give them an opportunity to provide feedback on improving the new systems.
What are the benefits of a paperless office?
Your business can achieve several key benefits by transitioning to a paperless office.
1. A paperless office saves time.
The first and most immediate benefit of going paperless is the time your business saves. In paper-based workplaces, teams spend time organizing, filing and searching for documents, and there’s much room for human error.
When you use only digital documents, you can create, share, organize and search for documents with the push of a button. The time your employees save with a paperless office will let them focus on mission-critical tasks instead of digging through filing cabinets.
2. A paperless office saves space.
Paper storage leaves a large footprint. Filing cabinets, printers, shredders and bookshelves all take up significant space, and your employees must constantly determine what papers to store and which ones they can toss.
If your business manages digital files via an on-premises server, you still must dedicate some space to your office documents. However, a server can be as large or small as necessary, taking up an entire room or a space the size of a computer tower. Either way, a digital file system usually takes up less space than a paper archive.
3. A paperless office produces less waste.
A paperless office produces far less waste than paper-bound workplaces. Paper takes a toll on the environment by contributing to greenhouse gas production and deforestation, and inks and toners are often made from nonrenewable resources. While digital filing systems aren’t perfectly carbon-neutral, paperless offices have much smaller carbon footprints.
Incremental changes will help you go paperless
While your instinct might be to grab a pen and paper, turning to paperless options can quickly become standard practice in your company. As your company transitions to a paperless office, track your changes and note which teams are embracing the paperless environment. When you see new habits forming, reward good behavior.
Remember to modify your goals to fit your team’s needs. Realistic goals will help you keep your office on track.
Train yourself to choose digital services whenever you can – but don’t force it. It might take time, but it will soon feel like second nature. Eventually, your business will be reaping the benefits of a paperless office.
Jessica Pooree contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.