Transition to a paperless office – A detailed guide for SMEs
Posted 4 months ago15 Mar 2019
If there is one constant fact that we tend to ignore, it is that paper is everywhere. We hardly consider its presence, but businesses of all shapes and sizes spend a lot of time and money to move paperwork around. It plays an important part in our daily lives, both personally and professionally.
For two decades now, analysts and researchers have predicted and proposed the arrival of a paperless office. Yet more and more paper is being produced every year. That should not be the case.
Digital documents (primarily PDF, but there are other formats) are a lot simpler to use. For example, it is a lot easier to edit a PDF file than it is to mark problems with on a hard-copy document with a pen. In addition to being editable, they are also easier to store, send, more searchable, and provide more versatility than paper.
But businesses still have a long way to go before they start to become paperless. The following guide will look at some of the potential benefits that businesses can accrue with digital documents. Moreover, it will also provide you a guide on reducing paper to run your business more efficiently.
Why still paper?
While using a paperless office system has clear benefits, it is important to understand that paper is still very common. Here are some reasons why businesses still use paper:
You do not have much of a choice if the government orders you to keep paper records for official purposes. While governments prefer hard-copy, the regulation is not as strict anymore. In fact, the government understands the benefits of using digital documents.
If you are trying to sell a house or applying for a loan, paperwork is often a necessity. However, with the times, lawyers are starting to transition towards the paperless system, so the practice is dying out.
Paper documents have been around for centuries and hold historical and religious significance. Some paper texts from olden times can still be read today. In comparison, some computer records from 20 years ago cannot be accessed at all.
The point is that paper has a longer lifespan than digital documents. However, the evolution of digital technologies has helped to stabilized digital storage methods. Formats like PDF and JPEG have the potential to outlast businesses that use them if properly stored that is.
The Feel of Paper
Liking the way paper feels has also affected the preferences of paper over the digital format. If you have been using PDFs for some time now, you might have noticed that often times, the digital print does not feel so real. But this is slowly changing as computers are becoming a part of life for more and more people across the globe.
To some, the hard copy is cheap and easily distributable. It might be for some but with paper, you also incur costs for printers, toner, service, connectivity, cabling, support, and maintenance. Once you add up all those associated costs, it starts to paint a different picture of the paper system. And that is just the beginning because once you start counting up the costs of document storage you might just want to switch over to digital documents.
The gist of this entire section is that while the digital system is superior, the reasons we still use paper are embedded in history and our personal preferences.
Benefits of Going Paperless…
You might think twice about going paperless, but it has more benefits than disadvantages. Here is what will happen once you start switching towards the paperless system.
Let us face the facts that paperwork on desks and shelves can create untidiness and stress. Moreover, it is inefficient. When you use digital files, your office or cubicle will look much neater. This happens because digital files are easier and simpler to organize. Your mind will, therefore, be focused towards work instead of tidying the place up.
Fast Access of Information
With digital documents, you can store, retrieve, index, and search for files a lot faster than paper documents. The computer does the clerical work for you, improving your efficiency as a result. Moreover, with the help of PDF editing software, you will be able to search and edit larger documents with ease.
Instead of creating room over the room of shelves to store information, which can easily be compromised by fire, flood, or in some cases, rats; digital documents have simple storage mediums. It is easier to store information digitally rather than using paper as no physical space is required.
With digital storage, you are not only saving money on printing, postage, and associated costs, but you also pay less rent because you will not need much space to store all your files.
Let us suppose that your company is expanding. Your scaling strategy requires you to rent a bigger office. If you do not have digital storage, then you will face a lot of problems organizing your documents. You can easily avoid such strenuous work by simply transitioning towards a paperless system.
With less printing, you are playing your part against excessive deforestation to make paper products which in turn helps in slowing down the phenomenon of global warming.
Mailing paper documents through snail mail usually
takesabout a day or two, if you are lucky. Emailed documents, on the other hand, take seconds. In this time, when businesses are required to move swiftly, there is an important need to transfer documents as quickly as possible.
The Steps to a Paperless office
Transitioning towards a paperless office is a strategic process, which does not happen overnight. You should always have a plan beforehand if you are really dedicated to reducing the clutter of paperwork from your office. Here are a few steps to consider.
Find out what you print now
In a business, keeping track of how much printing material you are using can be a difficult job. It becomes tougher if you have a bigger office. The best approach towards this step would be to set up a print audit software to track where all the print jobs are coming from. Keeping track will help you in mapping out the digital transition.
Calculate potential cost savings
With the help of quality accounting software, you keep track of all your paper-related expenses. The expenses would include printers, ink, toner, paper, service contracts, storage, as well as technical support. Deduct any possible revenues you receive from the use of paper unless they would be matched using digital documents. For example, email can become a replacement for printed newsletters or snail mail, without a loss in revenue.
Move to online applications
With the help of Cloud-based applications, you can share data and information with clients and suppliers easily. There is no need to worry about multiple file formats either. It is imperative; however, that you discuss the potential use of
cloud-basedapplication with the companies that you work with to see if they are willing to use the application as well. The following are some useful cloud-based applications.
- Google Docs – Collaboration on documents.
- Dropbox–File storage.
- Basecamp – Project Management.
- Evernote – Taking digital notes.
- PayPal – Transferring funds.
These are just a few popular applications. The point is that the more business function that you can move to the cloud, the fewer problems you will have to face with technical support and file format issues.
Don’t forget training
Keep working with the staff to ensure that they can handle digital paper procedures, especially on the financial side. Training programs can go a long way for this step.
Incentivize your employees
You can set a printing budget to your staff and reward them for printing fewer documents.
Scan any paperwork you receive from other people
Compared with printers, document scanners are relatively cheaper. You can store any paperwork that you get into PDF format so that you do not have to print it out. If it is too much work, you can get a scanning company to do the work. Just make sure it is secure.
Sign documents digitally
Electronically-signed documents are now considered legally valid in some countries. Innovations like the QR-Code can help you with the process of digitally signing documents.
Use online banking
You can request paperless bank statements and other documents from financial institutions. If you still feel that you are missing something, you can set up alerts in your accounting software to get advanced alerts about when a bill is due. You can pay your bills as well as your suppliers online.
Update your office
When you have less paperwork to deal with, your office will not look as congested. You can use that space to make your office a better place to work. Consider buying larger monitors, or better yet, a dual-monitor setup, so your office staff can view more than one document at a time.
Phase out old technology
There are a few companies out there who still use fax machines. Using fax machines might sound old fashioned, but in a paperless environment, they can prove a good alternative if your office internet is slowed down. With the help of fax software, you can receive and send fax documents in digital format. This would mean less paperwork and lower costs.
The Paperless Transition – Fast or Slow?
Everything that we have written above was to prepare you for this final step. How long will the transition take? Weeks? Months? Well, the decision is entirely up to you.
You can try to go “cold turkey” by suddenly cutting down on all the paperwork. However, this would mean a quick shift towards cloud-based applications. While that might be a good step towards a digital age, it can prove very stressful for you and your staff, especially if they are really busy in their work.
It is best to approach the change from department to department so that you can measure the change without hampering the work performance of your employees.
Lighten the load
Depending on your comfort level, it might be difficult to manage a change towards a paperless office. We have provided you some tips to make the transition easier:
Keep your documents secure
Keep your documents safe from prying eyes by using encryption technology.
Backup everything, regularly
Electronic documents are a lot easier to store than paper and easy to delete. Make sure you have an online backup in the cloud. You can use services like backblaze.com or carbonite.com. Offline, you can use USB memory sticks, external hard drives, CDs and DVDs can also be used for offline storage.
When they are fully indexed, electronic documents are more useful. That way, you can easily search and find what you are looking for. You can use OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software to properly index your files.
A paperless office is a goal, but it might even be difficult, or impossible to eliminate the paper. If you are involved in real estate transactions, for example, there will be a lot of paperwork involved.
Take small steps
In order to reduce paper, you can take little steps like using both sides of a sheet of paper. If you want to print out a PowerPoint presentation, you can include two or four slides of a page. Such small steps can make a huge difference.
There has been a lot of talk about the paperless office for years. With newer technology, especially easy-to-use cloud applications, we are reaching closer towards that goal. Going paperless certainly has a lot of advantages for the business owner, the employees, and the business partners. Besides cost savings, it provides you more flexibility to run the business from anywhere. However, there are certain security concerns regarding the use of digital document storage that you need to be aware of. With regards to the current cybersecurity landscape, the security concerns present a threat. Regardless, the prospect of having a paperless system is modern and should be implemented.