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Grow Your Business Technology

Tips and Services to Help Your Office Go Paperless

image for metamorworks/Shutterstock
metamorworks/Shutterstock

With the technological advances of the 21st century, creating a paperless office has become a highly achievable goal. Although it takes time and resources to transition your office, the benefits of going paperless far outweigh the cons.

Marty Basher, home organization expert for ModularClosets.com, said creating a paperless office can help not only the environment but also your business.

"Going paperless is an excellent way to make access to documents quicker, increase organization, make documents secure with the ability to encrypt, save space, save time, save money, [and] enable sharing of documents companywide and globally," Basher told Business News Daily.

Although you may need to keep some materials for legal or historical reasons, you can greatly lessen your environmental footprint thanks to the abundance of mobile applications, online software and digital storage platforms.

Reducing your paper documents requires planning. Start by defining what "paperless" means to your business and create realistic, achievable goals. Setting smart goals increases your chances of a successful transition. You can set these goals by identifying which paper processes still exist and who the heavy paper users are. 

Transitioning to a paperless office will take time. It should be a slow, gradual process. The slow merger will allow you to properly implement new procedures and give your employees time to adjust. You may need to have some paperless systems work in tandem with your old systems during the adjustment period.

For example, Samuel Johns, office manager and HR specialist at Resume Genius, suggested reducing the amount of paper each employee can print by 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," said Johns. "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 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. Since it requires the efforts of your whole team to create a successful transition, your employees should be involved in the decision-making process. Ask for digital platform suggestions and encourage feedback throughout the transition. At the end of the day, your employees are the ones who must live with, and adapt to, the new system.

"You can make it fun to go green," said Basher. "Have contests for the best ideas and encourage innovation. Waste means cost, so let the bonuses come back to them. The tree they save today can be the check they receive tomorrow – electronic check, of course." 

Create an office environment that embraces the change. Recycle and limit paper usage by reprinting on non-confidential documents or requiring double-sided printing. Think of ways to make the transition a relaxed and productive process.

Editor's note: Looking for information on document management software? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

 

Many parts of your business model can be digitized. However, according to Cory Porteous, director of marketing and inbound business development at Office Interiors, there are usually a few processes within each organization that account for the majority of wasteful printing. Find out what the major culprits are and focus on them first.

"Based on the results of your print assessment, select the one business process that generates the most of your printing, then do a step-by-step analysis," said Porteous. "By reviewing only one business process at a time, you will be able to avoid overwhelming your team and find better results."

Accounting, document signatures, expense tracking, and time and attendance tracking are among the major business functions that can be digitized. Here are some software and services for each category that can help with your efforts to go paperless.

Accounting software: This software allows you to securely track and monitor your business finances.

For more information, check out our best picks for accounting software.

E-signature services: Instead of requiring a written signature on paper, e-signature services allow your employees and customers to sign documents digitally.

Expense-tracking apps: You can digitally organize and monitor your small business expenses by using an expense-tracking app.

For more information, check out these five expense-tracking apps.

Digital time and attendance systems: You can digitally track employee hours using time and attendance systems.

For more information, check out our best picks for time and attendance systems.

Changing how you create and manage your documents can reduce your environmental footprint. Go paperless by using digital alternatives.

"In most businesses, one of the main reasons people print documents is either to meet a regulatory record-keeping requirement or so they can refer to it at a later time," said Porteous. "Both of these reasons can be solved by an effective document management system." 

Some major business functions that can be modified are scanning, faxing and documentation management. Scanning and faxing documents can be a great way to get a digital copy of your information. From there, you can utilize paperless documentation management services to perpetuate your digital presence.

Scanning apps: With scanning apps, you can scan notes, documents, images and more so they're all in one digital location.

Faxing services: With faxing services, you can send and receive faxes through email and store them digitally.

For more information, check out our best picks for online fax services.

Document management software and services: Whether you choose self-hosted or cloud-hosted, a document management system can act as a digital filing cabinet.

For more information, check out our best picks for document management software and services.

Editor's note: Looking for information on document management software? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

 

A convenient option when going paperless is using cloud-based applications. These platforms allow you to create, save and access information via the cloud, as opposed to physical documents or an internal server.

Backing up your documents with reputable cloud-based applications can minimize your potential for data loss. The cloud also allows you to create shared files where multiple employees can work on the same project at once.

While some platforms are free, like Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive, others come at a cost. Research your options before choosing a platform to store and back up your data. After you transition to a cloud-based application, all corresponding physical files and papers can be recycled. 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," Porteous said. 

These are some cloud-based platforms for paperless storage:

For more information, check out our best picks for cloud storage solutions.

Receiving assistance from outside institutions, vendors, etc., can be essential to creating a paperless office. Request paperless bank statements, speak to vendors about digital invoice options, and inform customers about purchase order emails.

These paperless options can help you organize and track your bookkeeping. Additionally, you can scan receipts into your smartphone and import them into your bookkeeping software application for expense reports or filing taxes.

"Virtually all companies, utilities and banks already have a system in place to invoice electronically and send statements virtually," said Basher. "All you have to do is ask. If it is a smaller company that needs a push to set it up, request them to email the invoice instead of mailing it."

Making the effort to contact your providers about these changes can improve the way you do business. 

While your natural instinct might be to grab a pen and piece of paper, with a little work, turning to paperless options can quickly become common practice. Don't be afraid to embrace tech advancements.

As your company transitions to a paperless office, track your changes. Basher suggested using printers with codes to track usage, and creating a chart that notes your best savers and worst offenders. When you see new habits starting to form, reward good behavior.

Remember to modify your advancements along the way to fit your business's needs. Choosing realistic goals will help you keep your office on track and make progress.

Train yourself to choose digital services whenever you can – but don't force it. It might take time, but it will eventually feel like second nature.

Additional reporting by Sammi Caramela.

Skye Schooley

Skye Schooley is an Arizona native, based in New York City. After receiving a business communication degree from Arizona State University, she spent nearly three years living in four states and backpacking through 16 countries. During her travels, Skye began her blog, which you can find at www.skyeschooley.com. She finally settled down in the northeast, writing for Business.com and Business News Daily. She primarily contributes articles about business technology and the workplace, and reviews remote PC access software and collection agencies.