What is a Paperless Office?

As many of you know, we at Out of the Office have transitioned over to a paperless office last year. The planning and leading up to the “big change” wasn’t as daunting as I thought it would be. In addition, I made significant strides in transitioning to paperless. I doubt I’ll ever get 100% paperless at the house, but we’re really getting close. This is the first in a series about going paperless. Hope you enjoy!

Is a paperless office possible?

When you look around you, and see how quickly paper multiplies in the office one wonders, how possible is it. The victory of a paperless office is in your determination to have a paperless office from the beginning.

To what extent is using paper a bad habit versus essential?

When you look at the pile of paper that is unnecessary, one wonders. You are so used to scribbling or writing down a number on the closest piece of paper on hand, that it seems impossible to have a paperless office. You will need a plan of action and the resolve to actively take the first action step.

Begin by looking at alternatives.

Your computer is the ideal place to start looking for paperless solutions. You can use the basic software you have on your computer or investigate into paperless software, data and also document management. It is the first step that is the most difficult, but once you have started you will enjoy the challenge.

It’s not possible to have a 100% paperless office. There are original and essential documents that a hard copy is necessary. Documents such as receipts, contracts, deeds, and notarized documents are essential for financial, tax and legal purposes. The rest of the vast amount of paper is not necessary. Spring clean your office by getting rid of unnecessary paper and stop printing documents that are not essential. You will be surprised at the extra office space you have to use more effectively.

There are numerous advantages to a paperless office:

  • Efficiency – It is more efficient to have your files available at all times by clicking on the computer screen. It is far more professional than asking the caller to wait while you search through a stack of files.
  • Save – The amount of money you will save by not needing to by filing cabinets, printers, ink cartridges, files and paper will surprise you.
  • Accessibility – Everything you need for the important sales meeting is on your computer or iPad. You don’t need to take an extra suitcase on your business trip for all the files and documents you will need or could possibly need for reference. Share files via cloud access or emails instantly.
  • Security – Confidential documents are safely secured with limited access on your computer. You won’t lose the only copy when it is damaged. Backups can be made on a regular basis.
  • Environment friendly – Trees are cut down to produce paper. By making your office paperless, you are actively participating in protecting the planet. The American Forest and Paper Association assessed that in a business one person uses about 1.7 pounds high-grade recyclable material on a daily basis.

Take the first step and transform your office into a paperless office.

First Steps in Going Paperless

Transforming your office to a paperless office is not something that happens overnight. You need to take step by step. Changing everything at once can become so overwhelming, that you decide not to convert at all. This a process that will be ongoing, and will improve as technology improves. Taking the first step is essential and it is the first step in protecting your planet.

Here are a few questions to look at when transforming into a paperless office.

What paper is in your office that you are not using anymore and can be recycled?

  • Outdated marketing materials
  • Old magazines
  • Old text books
  • Notes from projects that have been completed
  • Work samples from years ago that are not applicable anymore
  • Files of former clients
  • Other outdated documents

When you have recycled the above, consider the paper left in your office. If you don’t need the paper anymore shred it or take it to the recycle bin. Temporary notes are temporary and not permanent. Finishes the task associated with the notes and recycle it.

What documents that you print can be changed to paperless by using your computer and internet? Using electronic systems for banking, paying utility bills and receiving statements will reduce your paper load as well. Checks, different kinds of statements and bills can be eliminated. Although your banking is done electronically, monitoring your accounts on a regular basis is still very important and good management skills.

What documents can be done electronically instead of printing?  Create invoice on your computer and send the invoice via electronic fax or email. Business finances can be done electronically by making use of accounting and business software. Appointments and meetings can be done online and relevant documents can be shared or send via email.  Think twice before you print a document. Make sure it is essential to have a hard copy of the particular document.

How to transform incoming paper into digital paper instead of printing it? Documents such as business cards, proposals, diagrams, client information and contacts can be stored electronically in PDF format. After signing contracts, scan it and send back to the recipient via electronic fax. Before you send it, make sure the other party will accept a scanned copy. More often than not it will be acceptable.  Records that already exist on paper can also be scanned into your computer files and the paper recycled. Decide how far back in time do you want to go with scanning older documents into the computer files.

Paperless Technology in Your Office at Home

When transforming your office to a paperless office, you need help. There are paperless systems and technologies that can be used by large companies, but also by people working from home. You don’t need a vast amount of money or a large budget to utilize these paperless systems offered by different companies.

What technologies and systems are available for a paperless office at home?

What you Have

You already have the tools to start your paperless office at home. You have a computer on which you can store files instead of printing the documents, and you have access to the internet. You can use the internet to send emails, instead of mailing letters, and you can do your banking electronically. Your printer can be used to store documents as PDF files on your printer hard drive instead of printing the document. Essential documents can be printed. Save money and paper by printing on both sides of the sheet of paper.

Your printer is possibly an all-in-one that includes a scanner. Use the scanner to scan your documents into your computer, creating digital images that can be saved as PDF files. Store these documents in separate files on your computer. You can also share these files. Investing in a scanner will save you a lot of money on paper in the long-term. It is also an environment friendly action to take, because you will be using less paper.

Smart Phones are more than cell phones and can assist you in becoming paperless. Your iPhone, BlackBerry, and other Smart Phones have PDA, or personal digital assistant, features and benefits. This means you can use your cell phone to record, read and send emails, store notes, and to share files. Using an electronic address book, you are another step closer to a paperless office. The advantage is that you have your contacts always with you, without needing to remember to take the address book with you.

It is vitally important to remember to back-up the data stored on your computer, and to do it regularly. Your computer can crash and you can lose all the data. It is good practice to schedule a time to back-up the data, preferably on a daily basis. External hard drives are not that expensive to use for back-up. If you don’t have that much data to store, you can also make use of a USB flash drive or a CD. Flash drives can hold up to 2 gigabytes of data, and CDRs can store 700 megabytes data. It is safer to use a CDR, which records only once, than rewritable CDs.

Computer security is important. Use a good antivirus to safeguard your computer, and also protect your data against hackers and cyber thieves. Ensure your computer firewall is enabled at all times for protection. Use intricate passwords that can’t be deciphered so easily.

Traditional fax machines are not necessary. Your computer software usually has the ability to fax documents electronically. This is another environment friendly action, because you don’t need to print the document to fax it. There are companies you can subscribe to that enables sending and receiving faxes via the Internet or email. The faxes are converted to readable images when opened.

Technology doesn’t stand still and is forever advancing. Paperless technology is also improving constantly. Technology such as NeatShoeBox, scans business cards, receipts, and other documents. The information is taken from the document and exported to software applications such as Microsoft Outlook or Excel and also Quicken.

What ideas and actions plans do you have in transforming your home office to a paperless office?

Let’s look next at paperless document management and handling the paper that you can’t eliminate from your home office.

Paperless Document Management Systems for a Paperless Office

How will you handle data management? You can eliminate paper, but you can’t eliminate information. Without paper, you’ll still need to store and find files, send out information, keep some information confidential and make sure you have more than one copy of important files. To accomplish this, you’ll need a secure electronic file system, an easy filing procedure, a regular back-up process, and the software and hardware to make all of this happen.

Next, let’s look at technology that can make your home office more paperless.

A paperless office requires systems allowing it to run smoothly. These systems, or document management systems, manages the documents enabling ease of access when storing or retrieving files.

As designed for large companies, document management systems turn paper into digital images as PDFs that can be stored electronically and, with some software, searched or edited. These systems also can improve electronic filing, retrieving and secure access to information — and they can be very costly.

However, at its simplest, a document management system consists of a scanner and software that convert paper documents to electronic PDFs. And you can get less expensive software to make PDFs searchable and editable. Here are several options:

  • PDF Transformer Pro from ABBYY (for PC only; under $100) will allow you to create PDFs and convert the images to searchable files.
  • Acrobat Professional 8.0 from Adobe (for PC or Mac; about $400) creates PDF files, automatically recognizes text with optical character recognition (OCR) and can save the editable PDF files into programs like Microsoft Word.
  • NeatShoeBox (for PC only; about $200) scans documents like receipts and business cards, pulls off key information and then exports the data to applications like Quicken and Microsoft Excel and Outlook.

You’ll need to develop your own system for managing electronic files. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Create an online filing system as you would for paper in a filing cabinet. Use file and document names that will be easy to find and remember.
  • Use the “print to file” option to save electronic documents from outside, like e-mails or online statements, to their correct electronic files.
  • Back up your files regularly, probably at least weekly, to a CD or USB flash drive.
  • Make a master list of file folders that you can refer to.
  • End the year by reviewing your files. Trash any that you no longer need, move files that are going to storage (like the year’s invoices) to a CD and set up new files for the new year.

Keep in mind that you’ll also have to maintain paper files and weed through them at the end of each year, although these files should be much smaller than before. These documents include notarized documents and materials you need to prepare your taxes.

While you may be tempted to scan your receipts and toss the paper originals, don’t do it, says Barry Steiner, a Chicago CPA and former IRS agent. You may need them as proof for a tax audit. Steiner recommends keeping all bills, invoices, receipts and canceled checks related to deductible expenses for three years after filing tax forms. At that point, he says, shred them to prevent identify theft [source: e-mail interview with Barry Steiner].

As Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper, the authors of The Myth of the Paperless Office point out, no office can be completely paperless. “Rather than pursuing the ideal of the paperless office, [people] should work toward a future in which paper and electronic document tools work in concert,” they write in the book [source: The Myth of the Paperless Office by Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper, MIT Press, 2001, page 21].

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: Picography | CCO Public Domain