Paperless: Bury it Before it Buries You

The idea of a paperless office has, for many, been little more than that – an idea. Even as innovations move us a little closer to a reality, we are still faced with an almost daily onslaught of more paper documents; receipts, legal documents, sales letters, marketing material and related reports.

While it remains true that going completely paperless in a normal office environment is not possible, there are numerous steps you can implement and follow that will reduce the amount of paper used. Smaller offices will certainly find it easier to implement measures that result in paper being all but eliminated, but this does not exclude larger offices from putting so measures in place too.

The steps outlined below are suggestions, and as such it is up to you to decide which you can implement, and which you cannot. The nature of your business and the documents it produces and holds significantly influence this decision. In any business, documents can be divided into two sets – those that have to be retained for specific period of time, and those that do not. Digitizing documents is much more affordable, and easier, than it used to be, but you are still advised to investigate which documents can be digitized.

Here then the ten steps you can take towards a paperless office.

-1- Know your objectives

We are all familiar with the phrase “begin with the end in mind”, and this is very applicable to this project. Productivity should not suffer as a consequence of environmental concerns, so always assess the impact of any new measures before you implement them. The goal should not be to immediately cut back on paper usage, but rather you should aim at improving efficiency within all areas that normally use the most paper. Doing this can lead to an organic reduction in paper usage, without affecting productivity.

-2- Work towards a specific date

Don’t try to go paperless all at once. Have a date by which you wish to have achieved this, ensuring that it is far enough away to give you time to do a staggered approach. If you have a goal to be paperless within 12 months, you need to have smaller goals each month for various processes and departments to become paperless. This allows for easier implementation and measurement, and gives you the opportunity to identify any potential problems ahead of the main goal.

-3- Digitizing your records

You don’t need an expensive and complicated system for processing and managing your electronic records. Find a system that you are comfortable using and slowly begin implementing it, with the single most important aspect of it being the file naming convention employed. Have a single standard in place for the naming of all electronic files, which are then sorted into relevant folders; one popular method is to begin each file name with the full date and time of creation or modification, for example 20130131_1300. Not all documents need to be digitized; identify which records need to be digitized and which can be destroyed. If you have records that need to be retained for another 3-4 months, keep the hard copies instead of digitizing them, and then destroy them after the retention period has ended.

-4- Name all your documents

Any document that needs to be kept, electronic or paper, must be named. Everything else can be destroyed.

-5- Distinguish between records

Once you have made the switch you will still have a mix of paper and electronic documents, and as new paper documents are digitized the original can be destroyed. However you will also still have a few paper documents from before your office made the switch – documents which for one or more reasons cannot be digitized. These documents should be kept in a designated file as this helps ensure that all documents, paper or electronic, can be accounted for.

-6- Notify your suppliers and clients

This is an achievement you want people to know about, but more importantly it encourages other people to do the same. While your clients won’t always be in a position to do everything electronically, you can put some pressure on your suppliers to eliminate all printed documents. Bills, invoices, receipts, even contracts can all be submitted electronically, without any need for printing.

-7- Use technology that is simple and popular

Electronic documents should all be in formats that are widely used, such as portable document format (PDF). This makes it easier for your documents to be opened and read by any client or supplier, regardless of their own system, and it is also beneficial for long term usage and storage. While your computer hardware, and software, needs to be upgraded periodically, you don’t want to have to recreate you entire electronic document system every time you upgrade.

-8- Maintain your system

Remember floppy disks and digital backup tapes? Technology changes at a rapid pace, so always ensure your electronic records keep up with this pace. Using a standard file format is important, but even this might need to be evaluated from time to time. As for where you store your electronic documents, this depends on your own infrastructure. Offsite storage, and even cloud storage, are very accessible to all businesses but you need to also know that whoever provides this service to you offers strong security and additional backups.

-9- If in doubt, do without

As mentioned earlier in this article, your industry may require hard copies of certain records, but once you have established what these are, implement a ‘no doubt’ policy. Keep physical copies of everything you are 100 percent sure you need to keep, and everything else gets digitized and destroyed.

-10- Recognize the achievements of others

This step applies to any organization with more than one employee. Recognize the achievements of each individual in helping you move towards a paperless environment, and share each goal achieved with your team. This helps maintain motivation, especially if there have been challenges along the way.

Following these simple steps can help you achieve a paperless office easily and without much difficulty. And remember, the size of your organization will also influence the time in which you can achieve this, so always have realistic goals set.

About Out of the Office Virtual Assistance:

logo1bAt Out of the Office, we are committed to providing earth-friendly administration and offer ideas and ways to increase your productivity, decrease your workload, and work more efficiently. We nurture a successful business relationship, while continuing to grow as your business partner. We are focused on streamlining your administration, social media planning and execution, and offering creative solutions for your business success.

Interested in going paperless, contact us for a personalized coaching session!

Image credit: Paper Cliff by Orin Zebest | CC BY 2.0