The whole concept of the ‘paperless office' has been around pretty much since computers appeared on our work desktops, and yet – despite the best intentions of businesses – many are still struggling to really make it happen.
We all know the benefits of going paperless. By avoiding the time, expense and confusion involved in using paper, companies can enjoy increased productivity, reduced costs, and improved security, not to mention the environmental upside.
But how do you actually make the switch to paperless? In this article, we'll identify 5 easy ways to cut down your reliance on physical documents. These suggestions might not eliminate paper from your office altogether – but they certainly represent 5 healthy first steps!
1) Cut down on incoming paper
If you noticed a leak in your roof, you'd probably focus your efforts mainly on fixing the hole, rather than mopping your floor while water continued to cascade in.
What's our point? Well, a similar logic generally applies when going paperless. You see, you could start by focussing on your existing mountain of paper, but – as long as more are continuing to find their way onto your desk – you'll always be fighting a losing battle.
That's why it's a good idea to start out by taking a quick inventory; what paper documents are coming into your office, and what alternatives are available? You can often work with your key partners – banks, vendors and customers – to take the bulk of these items online and away from your mailbox or fax machine.
- Take the time to remove yourself from mailing lists
- Pay your bills (and accept payments) online – it saves money on postage, spares employee time and makes everything much more efficient and easier to track
- Go paperless with your bank. Many institutions are now offering paperless solutions which let you do all your banking online – and they won't send you paper statements anymore
Once you've reduced the flow of paper into your office, you'll likely find it much easier to deal with the documents you already have.
2) Digitize your existing papers and records
This can sometimes seem like an intimidating, off-putting task, particularly if you have a large volume of files. The thought of manually entering thousands of records can be enough to give you nightmares – but don't worry, there are solutions available which totally automate this whole process.
Software like Adobe Acrobat lets you scan to PDF – and, using a special function called ‘optical character recognition' (OCR) the software actually recognises the numbers and text inside your documents, meaning that the PDF output files are searchable. This means they can be properly archived and – next time you need them – located by the use of a simple keyword search.
3) Invest in the right software
While you may be able to ditch the filing cabinets, but there's no way around it: those files still take up ‘space' in one form or another. And, because they're often sensitive or valuable, it's vitally important to ensure they're secure, backed up and accessible when you need them. That's why it's important to invest in a suitable, reliable storage solution. Check out our sister product, Copy, a perfect option if you're looking for reliability, security and manageability – it's also priced very competitively, making it accessible to businesses of almost any size.
If you need even more clarity in your workflow, you may consider investing in a Document Management software solution. This enables you to capture, track and manage electronic documents by using a document scanner, and the best options fit inside your existing processes and workflows. You can use this handy questionnaire to identify the right Document Management software for your needs.
4) Gain buy-in from your team
The typical office worker uses about 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year, which is enough to cover a three-by-six-foot desk more than 360 times.1 It goes without saying, then, that the more your staff buy-in to your paperless vision, the more success you're likely to have. They're the people with the power to make a real difference and it's vital that they ‘get it.'
This means giving employees the tools, knowledge and encouragement they need. If you decide to utilise a Document Management system, for example, be sure to deliver effective training to ensure adoption, while explaining the benefits a paperless office will bring to everybody. Old habits often die hard and it can be a hard slog to roll new ideas out across your team, so perseverance is key.
A number of internal processes can be streamlined by removing paper from the equation.
For example, where documents are subject to internal review from different people in your teams, why not encourage them to collaborate online instead of annotating physical copies – simple, free tools like Google Drive enable multiple users to collaborate and communicate regarding individual documents, in real-time.
5) Use e-signatures
At SignNow, we are biased about this one, but eSignatures are a great way to go paperless. As we've mentioned in earlier blogs, signatures are an area where all too many businesses fail in their drive to go paperless. So many companies end up using a legacy, sluggish system to get a signature on a document – printing and signing documents, before sending them off via mail or fax, and waiting for the recipient to do the same. This typically takes days or weeks of time, time you don’t have.
e-Signatures are a fantastic example of the benefits of the paperless office, distilling a system that once took days into a matter of seconds. In doing so, they make it easier and quicker to close deals, reduce errors, cut costs and secure your documents.
‘Going paperless' is something on the agenda of many businesses, and the benefits are numerous. But cutting down on paper in your office can be a gradual, even painstaking process and it certainly doesn't happen overnight.
We've outlined 5 simple ideas to save on paper, cut costs, and make your business more efficient – but that's only the tip of the iceberg. What other tips would you give to a business looking to go paperless? Leave your comments below!