Going paperless is a great way to reduce your company's footprint on the environment, improve its organization and increase transparency into your business's daily operations, not to mention all the storage space you'll reclaim after ditching the file cabinets. To create a paperless office, tools like document management software and electronic invoicing platforms are widely available. Moreover, the price of cloud storage continues to decline.
There has never been a better time to go paperless. Here's how to create a paperless office.
Benefits of a paperless office
Although transitioning to a paperless office might not happen overnight, the change can be well worth the effort. The benefits of going paperless include, but are certainly not limited to:
- Lower costs. The costs of paper, ink, toner and printer maintenance add up. By converting to a paperless office, or at least a nearly paperless office with just one centralized all-in-one printer, you can save money in the long run. Plus, many cloud storage solutions, such as Evernote, are extremely affordable, making it easy for your employees to access all the documents they need anytime, on any device.
- Secure access. No matter where or when your employees need to access your company's documents, a paperless office enables them to do so. Electronic document management platforms can be signed into from any location at any time, only by people with the necessary credentials. A strong username and password can be more secure than a traditional file cabinet, too, keeping your most sensitive documents safe.
- Increased office space. Printers and file cabinets occupy precious office space. Going paperless eliminates these common office obtrusions, freeing up valuable room for anything else you need.
- Workflow automation. Gone are the days of digging through a file cabinet to find the appropriate document. With electronic document management, you and your colleagues can sort through files in just a few clicks to easily find exactly what you need.
- Paperless statements. A paperless office means minimizing incoming mail too. Rather than having to sort and organize stacks of invoices, instead, your team can download paperless statements and save them to the appropriate digital folder. If your business sends invoices to clients or customers, going paperless lowers your postage costs.
- Decrease your environmental impact. Every business causes carbon emissions to some degree, but going paperless means your company can easily eliminate a major driver of its environmental footprint.
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8 ways you can make the switch to a paperless office
If the benefits of a paperless office sound appealing, all it takes to create a paperless office for your business are the right tools and a bit of training.
Here are a few easy steps to creating a paperless office.
Provide tools and training for staff.
Don't assume people will discover (and implement) ways of minimizing their paper usage. They need clear instructions they can understand. Create written guidelines and operations they can follow to ensure a paperless office.
Make it easier to work without paper.
The paperless process needs to be easy and deliver tangible benefits (save time, save effort, save the environment). Benefits should include easier filing and retrieval of scanned and sensitive documents via cloud storage, and the ability to share them without relying on copying or scanning.
Move/remove printers and copiers.
If printers are still easy to access by your team, they will continue to be used. But if you remove them from desktops and replace them with centralized network printers relegated to dedicated areas within the office, you can limit their use.
In addition, enable logging and password access to make printing secure when it's necessary. That also allows management to track usage and address abuses. You can institute policies that restrict purchases of ink and toner for only approved devices. That can further curtail the use of any printers that remain on employees' desks.
Devise a new paperless filing system.
Invest in modern document management software to replace filing cabinets. Evernote, for example, digitally organizes notes and tasks, and archives them without the need to scan them first.
There are several good document management programs available. Pricing starts around $15 per user, per month.
The four below are representative of the best examples. Some applications offer free evaluation periods so you can find the right package for your business. [Interested in document management software? Check out our best picks.]
Switch from file cabinets to digital storage.
As part of the switch, you'll need to add networked disk storage capacity, backup systems, and automated online backup and cloud computing systems. Your digital filing system can be more secure than paper because it can be accessed even in the event of a disaster, and scanned documents uploaded to your paperless system cannot be accessed without a password
Enable digital scanners.
Modern shared copiers include a document scanner that is capable of scanning paper documents and then storing them into many digital storage and cloud computing systems. Work with your office copier vendor to make your copier and document scanner part of your paperless office. Additionally, ask your copier vendor (or a copier service) about setting up a digital scanner on the copier to integrate with an online faxing service.
Integrate with business operations.
Employees should be able to file their original documents directly within the software they use to create your company's documents. Connect their Microsoft Office account, or whatever other software you use, to the document management software you implement for both saving and retrieving files. This way, you can automate your company's workflow, easily store paperless documents and implement digital signature tools from within the same platform.
Replace fax machines.
Use online fax services to avoid the print-then-fax process. These solutions can be attached to your office's software to enable direct inbound and outbound faxing from users' computers, easing the transition to paperless statements and digital signature tools.
These four fax services offer similar features with prices starting around 5 cents per page after a standard monthly allowance. [Interested in online fax services? Check out our best picks.]
Additional ways to reduce your paper usage
If you're convinced going paperless is right for you, implement these additional methods to establish your paperless office.
Utilize word processing and slideshow programs and spreadsheet tools.
Forget handwritten documents and accounting books. Rely on these tools instead for easy digital document creation and storage.
Use cloud storage corresponding with your email accounts.
Chances are, the same platform that manages your company's emails has cloud storage options too. By ensuring that all digital documents are uploaded to these in-built cloud storage tools, you and your colleagues can securely, safely access all your documents digitally no matter where you are.
Switch to laptops and tablets.
If your company primarily uses desktop computers, going paperless is more arduous. Employees with desktop computers cannot bring their devices into company meetings, meaning they have to print any documents they need to show during the meeting. With laptops and tablets, though, your employees can connect to projectors or other displays that everyone in attendance can see without distributing printed copies.
Set goals and timelines for incremental change.
Lay out a timetable for your office's transition to a paperless arrangement, and set a date for converting to your target reduction in paper use. It's unlikely that your company will completely eliminate all paper in the office, so set an initial goal to reduce printing and paper use by some percentage. A 50% reduction is a good starting place, and a final goal of an 80% reduction in paper use is a realistic final goal. Check your progress and adjust operations as needed.
Scott Koegler contributed to the writing in this article.