How to Create a Paperless Office Back
A paperless office is a workplace or work environment that uses minimal paper, with most documents and files being used and stored in a digital format.
Many offices are already a hybrid between old-style paper-dominated spaces and fully digitised workplaces.
Taking the next step and going paperless takes a little planning and expertise but it is not hugely difficult and brings a number of benefits.
Environmental benefits of a paperless office
Environmental issues are at the forefront of a lot of people’s and businesses’ concerns at the moment and rightly so. Some businesses may take an ethical stance on environmental issues.
They affect everyone after all, but consumers are increasingly looking at the green credentials of the businesses they interact with and your actions in this area can also serve as a selling point.
The manufacture and distribution of paper products uses up huge amounts of resources every year. One study suggested that the US alone uses 85,000,000 metric tonnes of paper every year. Not all of that is for office use of course, but businesses tend to use more than households and are major consumers of paper products.
Recycling can mitigate some of the environmental impact but millions of tons still end up in landfill every year. The production and use of paper in the office and elsewhere also contributes to deforestation and comes with a massive carbon footprint.
Other benefits of a paperless office
There are a number of other benefits to switching to a paperless or online office. It can save money in the long run, eliminating not only the cost of the paper itself but also expensive printing, photocopying, storage and postage costs. After a little initial training and adjustment it is also far more efficient.
Digitised documents are far easier to store, organise, search and retrieve. They obviously require less space and can also be more secure. There are digital security issues to bear in mind of course, but when following simple best practices and using the appropriate software, your documents can be more secure than hard paper copies.
The digital revolution has enabled a new way of working and, whether you’re a big business looking to streamline and optimise, an SME with limited resources or a freelancer looking to run a paperless office from home, it can be surprisingly affordable and easy to do.
How to create a paperless office
So there might be plenty of benefits to moving to a paperless footing but how do you actually go about it? Multinationals might be able to bring in consultants to guide individual offices through the process but if you are a small business and going paperless, it might be a different story.
Here are some simple steps that can help your business to make this transformation…
Understand where paper is used
In even a small business it can be difficult to track who is printing what, when and for what purpose. Print audit software can help you track this but it’s important to know what paper materials come in and out of the office on a regular basis. Do you still send internal memos on paper?
What about training materials and external communications? Working out what you use paper for now will allow you to more easily move your processes online or at least into the digital realm.
Make a plan
Once you understand where paper is being used, you can plan for how you are going to replace it with a paper-free alternative. Generally this will mean moving directly to comparable digital alternatives. What is a paperless office system? Simply one that allows the same work, communication and record-keeping to be undertaken but in a digital form instead of a physical one.
Cloud-based solutions can be ideal in this regard as they tend to be scalable. Instead of the limited space of a physical storeroom and filing system, you will be able to choose and pay for the resources you need, when you need them. This can also be important for a growing business as it scales up, or a flexible one that responds to an ever-changing environment.
Choose the right office software
Effective management of a paperless office requires you to have the right tools in place. People still need to be able to do their jobs, make records and complete all the tasks that they used to – although in some cases going paperless might actually streamline and reduce the workload of some of those tasks.
There is some high quality free paperless office software available but even if you pay for new software, this is usually an investment that will result in overall cost savings over time.
Some areas that you might want to consider when going paperless include:
- Accounting software
Track and record your business finances easily and securely. Even for businesses not going fully paperless, this can be very useful. Some good examples include Freshbooks, Quickbooks and Xero.
You can still sign for things without paper using e-signature services such as Adobe Reader, Hightail and Preview.
- Expense tracking
Expense tracking apps such as Expensify and Wally allow you to keep track of everything from large business expenses to petty cash payments quickly and easily.
- Digital timesheets
Apps such as Clockify and When I Work allow you to digitally track hours and attendance.
- Document management
Whether hosted within the business or on the cloud, you will also need a good all-round document management service, such as Microsoft SharePoint or MFiles. You can centralise your documents in one place while still keeping security and restricting access to certain documents or folders where applicable.
Don’t move too fast
A sudden change can affect both morale and productivity, especially if some people struggle to adapt or are not fully behind that transformation. Communicate the benefits of going paperless to all staff and try to make sure they’re on board.
Make changes gradually, with a run-up to let people know they are coming and don’t assume everyone will immediately grasp the paperless tech and systems straight away.
Provide training and support where required. If you take all your employees with you, it will make the transition much easier, allowing you to enjoy the full benefits of going paperless.