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.
Consider the following tips, tools and best practices when transitioning to a paperless office.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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:
Your business can achieve several key benefits by transitioning to a paperless office.
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.
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.
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.
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.