BY SCOTT KOEGLER
The idea of running an office without paper has been with us since the dawn of computers. Not only does a paperless office aid in environmental conservation, it saves floor space otherwise devoted to file cabinets and makes it easier to share large amounts of information and documents digitally.
Paperless office tools and technology are widely available, and the costs of storing massive amounts of information online through document management solutions have lowered. But for some, the reality of ditching the paper habit is still elusive.
Even though the general consensus tells us that we can trust our information to digital storage and our thoughts to computerized apps, many office workers still want a piece of paper on their desk. It's a safety blanket. That desire for paper is the main impediment to moving away from a paper-based workflow. But you can take steps to encourage your staff to call it quits with paper.
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Provide tools and training for staff.
Don't assume people will find their own ways to minimize paper. They need clear instructions they can understand. Create written guidelines and operations they can follow.
Make it easier to work without paper.
The paperless process needs to be easy (hopefully easier than the old paper method) and deliver tangible benefits (save time, save effort, save the environment) that include easier filing and retrieval of documents and the ability to share them without having to make copies or scan them.
Move/remove printers and copiers.
If printers are still easy to access by your team they will get used. If you remove them from desktops and replace them with centralized network printers it can limit their use. Enable logging and password access to make printing secure when it's necessary. That also allows management to track usage and address any abuses. You can institute policies that restrict purchases of ink and toner for only approved devices. That will curtail the use of any printers that may remain on users' desks.
Devise a new paperless filing system.
Invest in modern document management software that will replace filing cabinets. Selecting the software that connects your company to its documents is an important decision and there are several good ones available. These four are representative of the best examples. Some of them offer free evaluation periods that can help you find the right package for your business. Pricing starts around $15 per month per user. [Interested in document management software? Check out our best picks.]
Switch from file cabinets to digital storage.
This means adding networked disk storage capacity, backup systems, and automated online backup systems. Your digital filing system can be even more secure than paper because it can be accessed even in the event of a disaster.
Enable digital scanners.
Modern shared copiers include scanners that can be pressed into service to scan paper documents into digital storage systems. Work with your office copier vendor to make your copier part of your paperless office. Set up a digital scanner on the copier to integrate with an online faxing service.
Integrate with business operations.
Users should be able to file their original documents directly within the software they use to create them. Connect their Microsoft Office account, of whatever other software you use, to the document management software you implement for both saving and retrieving files.
Replace fax machines.
Use online fax services to avoid the print-then-fax process. These can be attached to their office software to enable direct inbound and outbound faxing from users' computers. 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.]
Set goals and timelines for incremental change.
Lay out timing for implementation and set a date for converting to your target reduction in paper use. It's unlikely to completely eliminate all paper in the office so set an initial goal to reduce printing and paper use by some percentage. A 50 percent reduction is a good starting place and a final goal of 80 percent reduction is a realistic final goal. Check your progress and adjust operations as needed.