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Tips and Services to Help Your Office Go Paperless

Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley
Staff writer

Transitioning to a paperless office is simple with these tips and services.

  • Creating a paperless office is easier than ever with modern technological advances.
  • A gradual transition from paper to digital filing systems may help your employees adapt.
  • Involving your employees in the digitization process will help you uncover the best document management options for your business.
  • This article is for business owners and managers who want to reduce the physical paperwork their company uses, manages, and stores.

Creating a paperless office has become a highly achievable goal thanks to the abundance of mobile applications, online software and digital storage platforms. Although it takes time and resources to transition your office, the benefits of going paperless far outweigh the cons.

Reducing your paper documents requires planning. Start by defining what "paperless" means to your business and creating realistic, achievable goals. Smart goals increase your chances of a successful transition. You can set these goals by identifying the paper processes you still use and the heavy paper users in your company.

What is considered a paperless office?

As the name suggests, a paperless or paper-free office is a workplace that minimizes the use of physical paper in favor of digital documents. Rather than storing reams of paper documents in file cabinets, businesses can digitize those documents and store them on computers and in the cloud.

The paperless office has been a concept since personal computers became ubiquitous in the 1980s and '90s. In recent years, going paperless has become easier than ever, and the benefits of ditching paper continue to grow.

Key takeaway: A paperless office is one that replaces physical paper documents with digital versions.

What are the benefits of a paperless office?

Your business can achieve several key benefits by transitioning to a paperless office.

1. It saves time.

The first and most immediate benefit you will find when you go paperless is how much time your business saves. In paper-based workplaces, teams spend a lot of time organizing, filing, and searching for documents, and there's a lot of 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 will save with a paperless office will allow them to focus on mission-critical tasks, instead of digging through filing cabinets for documents that may not be there.

2. It saves space.

Paper storage leaves a large footprint. Filing cabinets, printers, shredders and bookshelves all take up significant space, and your employees constantly have to determine what papers they need to hang on to and which ones they can toss.

If your business manages your digital files on an on-premises server, you will still need to dedicate some space to your office documents. However, a server can be as large or small as you need, 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. It produces less waste.

Finally, 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.

Key takeaway: A paperless office is not only environmentally friendly but also more efficient, reducing costs and streamlining workflows.

Make the transition gradual.

The transition to a paperless office will take time. It should be a slow, gradual process. The slow merger will allow you to implement new procedures properly 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," Johns said. "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% 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.

Key takeaway: Don't try to change everything all at once; give your team time to adapt to your paperless processes. Try shifting away from paper in phases.

Get your employees involved.

Creating a paperless office is not a one-person job. At the end of the day, your employees are the ones who will deal most with the new system. Since a successful transition requires the efforts of your whole team, your employees should be involved in the decision-making process. Ask for their suggestions on the digital platforms you'll use, and encourage feedback throughout the transition.

Foster an office environment that embraces the change. Limit paper usage by reprinting on nonconfidential documents or requiring double-sided printing, and recycle the paper you do use. You can also think of other ways to make the transition a relaxed and productive process.

Key takeaway: Give your employees some ownership over the transition, and help them feel engaged in the transition to a paperless office. 

 

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.

 

 

Review and digitize your business processes.

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 your 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," Porteous said. "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 track and monitor your business finances securely:

For more information on these and other options, check out our best picks for accounting software.

E-signature services

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

  • Adobe Reader
  • Hightail
  • Preview

Expense-tracking apps

You can digitally organize and monitor your small business expenses with an expense-tracking app, like one of these:

  • Concur
  • Expensify
  • Wally

For more information on your options, check out these 10 expense-tracking apps.

Digital time and attendance systems

You can digitally track employee hours using time and attendance systems like these:

  • Clockify
  • TSheets
  • When I Work

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

Key takeaway: Digital solutions such as accounting software, e-signature services, expense-tracking apps, and time and attendance systems can support your shift to a paperless office.

Change your document management habits.

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

"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," Porteous said. "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 is a great way to get a digital copy of your information. From there, you can use paperless documentation management services to perpetuate your digital presence.

Scanning apps

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

  • CamScanner
  • Evernote Scannable
  • FineScanner

Online faxing services

With online 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 a self-hosted or cloud-hosted service, a document management system can act as a digital filing cabinet.

Key takeaway: Document management software and other digital systems can help you centralize your important files and limit access to those who need it.

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.

 

Take advantage of the cloud.

Cloud-based applications are a convenient option for going paperless. These platforms allow you to create, save, and access information via the cloud, rather than relying on 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, enabling multiple employees to 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, you can recycle all the corresponding physical files and papers. However, Porteous emphasized the importance of due diligence before you make 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 said.

These are some cloud-based platforms you can use for paperless storage:

  • BigMIND by Zoolz
  • Carbonite
  • IDrive

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

Key takeaway: The cloud makes it easy to access your files anytime, anywhere, on any device. This is especially important as distributed workforces and remote work become more common.

Switch to paperless billing.

Assistance from outside institutions and vendors can be essential to a paperless office. Request paperless bank statements, speak to your vendors about digital invoice options, and inform your 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.

Key takeaway: Paperless billing can reduce costs and paper waste while streamlining your recordkeeping.

Form new habits and track your changes.

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 in your company. As your company transitions to a paperless office, track your changes and monitor which team members are doing the best job of embracing a paperless environment. When you see new habits starting to form, reward good behavior.

Remember to modify your advancements along the way 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 eventually feel like second nature.

Key takeaway: Track your team's digital habits so you can see how you've improved over time. Identify new habits you can change over time as well.

Sean Peek contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Image Credit: smolaw11 / Getty Images
Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley
Business News Daily Staff
See Skye Schooley's Profile
Skye Schooley is an Arizona native, based in New York City. She received a business communication degree from Arizona State University and spent a few years traveling internationally, before finally settling down in the greater New York City area. She currently writes for business.com and Business News Daily, primarily contributing articles about business technology and the workplace, and reviewing categories such as remote PC access software, collection agencies, background check services, web hosting, reputation management services, cloud storage, and website design software and services.