Is it really possible to achieve a 100% paperless office in your business?
Imagine you are preparing for an important meeting on a busy Monday morning. You decide to respond to some important emails before you leave your desk. You start replying one of the emails from your supplier who claims he had sent an invoice a couple of weeks back and it’s already overdue. However, in hindsight, you feel that you had already made the payment, which prompts you to check your chest of drawers for the receipt but you can’t find it.
Since your meeting time is fast approaching, you ask your workmate who had collected it to help you, but she also can’t trace the receipt because it was just a small piece of paper that could easily be misplaced. You decide to search through a number of files where you keep all financial records, but it’s all in vain. Now your Monday morning is completely messed up and you decide to cancel your meeting due to a completely unplanned activity.
Does this sound familiar? How often do you misplace documents or spend precious time trying to locate them in the office? Well, this can be avoided by creating a paperless office, which is very possible.
While it seems a daunting task to completely go paperless in today’s business world, this article provides you with a number of tips that will at least help you stop wasting paper and start improving productivity.
What is a Paperless Office?
“The paperless office is possible, but not by imitating paper. Note that the horseless carriage did not work by imitating horses.” – Ted Nelson
The idea of running an office without paper has been with us since the dawn of computers. Marketers invented the term ‘paperless office,’ over 50 years ago, but it seems the concept is still a myth for many businesses.
A paperless office is a concept that significantly reduces or eliminates the usage of paper in an office environment. This is achieved by converting documents into digital form. Not only does a paperless office save floor space devoted to file cabinets, but it also facilitates the sharing of large amounts of information and documents digitally. Furthermore, a paperless office promotes environmental conservation.
All you have to do is to switch from paper to digital. If, for example, some of your bookkeeping items and processes are purely paper-based, it’s time to digitize them. Most remote bookkeepers work efficiently if they can digitally access items, such as paper invoices, receipts, expense tracking, and many others. To facilitate your digital migration, paperless office tools and technology are widely available for you, and the costs of storing massive amounts of information online through document management solutions are currently low. But for some, the reality of ditching the paper habit remains elusive.
The efficiency of your business will be greatly improved if you have everything digitally prepared and stored for easy access and reference. And, you have the added benefit of a digital paper trail for everything happening in your business. It gives you a safety blanket. That desire for paper is the main obstacle to move away from a paper-based workflow. However, you can take steps to encourage your staff to call it quits with paper. That being said, let’s first explore the advantages and disadvantages of a paperless office.
Pros and Cons of a Paperless Office
While there are only a few disadvantages, going completely paperless comes with a number of advantages for business owners. Nonetheless, some business owners are still wondering how to handle some impending risks pertaining to what they should digitize versus what should maintain or relegate to old-fashioned paper methods.
1. Significant Cost Savings
Let’s face it. If you can achieve the prospect of keeping everything stored digitally, including documents, photos, audio, videos, graphics, presentations, and related files, you will eliminate a lot of costs. Whether you decide to keep these items on computer drives, flash drives or in cloud-based systems, you won’t have to buy big cabinets to store them as paper, which cuts down your costs significantly. Storing them in digital forms also eliminates the cost of shredding services, especially when it comes to destroying paperwork with sensitive information. If your business has to set aside an entire room full of storage units for archiving paper, just going paperless eliminates this cost.
2. Ease of Accessibility
As soon as you start managing your documents in digital form, it will not only let you create your own security settings but also authorize specific users to access the same documents. This ease of accessibility unquestionably makes things easy when you have multiple users who want to use the same kind of document or in cases where your company is looking forward to using many sites. When you store everything digitally, accessibility becomes quick and easy as compared to using paper. With just a few mouse clicks, your employees, consumers, and business owners can have access to all data, contracts and consumer files, and this eliminates the hassle of locating various files or forms.
3. Supports Remote Workers
Through cloud-based technology, you can easily move important documents from paper to digital storage to facilitate the need to have your employees work remotely, which significantly increases productivity. Paperless offices make it flexible for your employees to meet clients outside the office, as they will easily access all information virtually. As an owner, you won’t be confined to the geographical area of your business’s physical address because you can hire remote workers who don’t even work in the same vicinity. As such, you can have a new pool of talent who can access electronic files promptly based on a secure internet service through cloud based services!
4. Saves Up Time
A digital office significantly reduces the time spent searching for a single document because employees only need to search in the PC in seconds. Your business can save all documents in the correct folders with appropriate names and dates to reduce the search time even further. With such an effective digital document strategy, you will no longer waste any time searching for needed documents. All documents stored in an organized fashion are also easy to retrieve at the same time! If 10 employees in your company take 1 hour on a weekly basis searching for various files in cabinets and drawers, this translates to 3.25 months annually.
5. Promotes Environmentally Friendly Behaviour
Going completely paperless shows your customers that your business is eco-friendly and efficient. Eco-friendliness is one of the most powerful benefits of having a paperless environment. Having a green-minded employee may at times compel them to convert file cabinets into a suitable digital system. This helps your business to cut down waste and uphold the need to exercise environmentally friendly behavior, and only conducting business with persons who share the matching views.
1. Risk of Potential Hacking
In this day and age, internet-based businesses carry the biggest security risk. Most paper-based documents are easy to protect compared to electronic files, which hackers may trace to obtain confidential information. When information is stored on paper and locked in file cabinets, an individual would be forced to physically access to the papers to steal information. However, when everything is stored digitally, hackers surpass this safeguard. Business owners often get too busy to update software and virus protection, making it easier for hackers to steal information or hijack company data.
2. Training Costs
There are concerns that it may take you some time and costs in order to train your team on the best ways to carry out day-to-day duties in a paperless office, as some employees may be rigid to change the way they operate. Training is critical for the success of paperless filing, as each employee will likely need to utilize the system. It will be a costly undertaking whether your business hires an IT consulting firm to train employees, or an in-house IT department makes time to train staﬀ. Furthermore, as technology evolves, additional training is required to help employees understand new processes and features including data safety protocols and the new filing framework.
3. Hardware and Software Issues
Digital filing requires a wide range of tools and hardware to manage eﬀectively and securely. For instance, software management tools are often required to establish an eﬀective filing system, and keep documents readily available and protected from breaches. With data storage and security priced with recurring fees, the costs of upgrading the network to enable high-bandwidth data transfer are another disadvantage. In addition, when you store everything digitally, there is a high likelihood that a system failure may lead to losses of important information and your business can be in jeopardy.
4. Health Concerns
Digital file-sharing means employees will be required to stare at computer screens for long hours. According to scientific studies, eyestrain can develop and vision can deteriorate as well as other related health issues. In addition, employees can suffer from a quite dangerous condition known as carpal tunnel syndrome if they constantly tap away at the keyboard. You may offer your employees an alternative with some tasks that are not computer-based in order to finish their tasks.
Steps and Processes of Achieving a Paperless Office
With the advancement of technology, creating a paperless office is surely possible. Most of the documents like bills, receipts, business cards can be scanned and stored digitally for later reference. You can make them accessible online, which saves a lot of your time as well as your money. However, you have to be cautious in the process because sometimes you need to preserve contracts and other legal documents.
The following steps and processes will give you an in-depth understanding of creating a paperless office:
1. Make a Gradual Transition
“I like the idea of having a paperless society. But to be paperless means you have to be so careful with your identity.” – Michelle Singletary
Completing the transitioning to a paperless office takes time because it’s a slow and gradual process. Don’t rush things! Ensure you take time to implement new procedures as this will give your employees ample time to adjust and learn. Making a gradual transition means that you merge your new paperless systems with your old systems in the course of the adjustment period.
It is important to acknowledge that it’s almost unrealistic to anticipate that your business can completely eliminate the use of paper. Your employees will still need to print some items that are stored digitally, such as documents to be delivered to various customers, the office seating plan, etc. Therefore, target an 80- 90 percent reduction of paper usage.
While the gradual transition is highly likely to take time and demand patience and perseverance, you may fail to fully meet your objectives as projected. Don’t give up because a creative project is a moving target. Keep on making persistent efforts to introduce digital options to your staff, which would continually wean them off paper as desired.
2. Prepare Your File Cabinets for Digital Storage
Your digital filing system can be even more secure than paper because it can be accessed even in the event of a disaster. To start the migration process, you must organize your paper files in existing cabinets in readiness for the digital migration as this facilitates the need to avoid unnecessary paperwork. To establish a good recordkeeping system for hard copies of your files, you must invest in a series of file cabinets that allows employees to arrange them consistently, such as:
- With the types of records they hold;
- Keeping basic record types together; and
- Using folders and partitions to separate individual files.
You must ensure employees do not mix up different types of basic records in file cabinets that contain similar files, such as invoices, bank statements, company policies, receipts, etc. You can avoid this by labeling the cabinets with clear logos to enable employees to know where to store or retrieve a specific record. Leave lots of extra space in the cabinets so that you can grow your records for years without needing to move files or the cabinets themselves.
3. Set Up Your Digital/Paperless Filing System
Setting up a simple workflow that becomes a habit for all employees is the key to making this process easy. A good filing system ensures you can find everything later, which is another requirement by IRAS. You must be able to produce your records upon request, just as with paper.
Use Specific PC Folders
It’s best to store files in your main PC folder, such as “My Documents”, so you’ll never lose track of them. Or create a folder in your PC where the files can be accessed as desired. Check to make sure your backup system supports that location, otherwise go with whatever it requires.
Match PC Folders with Your File Cabinet
To achieve this, you need to create a folder system on your PC that has a similar name and content to the one prearranged in your physical file cabinet. Create the folders chronologically (annually, quarterly or monthly). The sub-folders should contain specific categories of documents, such as banking, insurance, taxes, healthcare, housing, legal, and many others. It’s wise enough to have a digital tax folder for the current year and place documents into that folder through the year. For example, for any online tax payments, you can download the receipt in PDF, and store it in your current year folder for quick retrieval when needed.
Name Your Documents
While it’s advisable to maintain the default names of the scanned and downloaded files, it’s more prudent to change them to something commonsensical like “IRAS Tax Receipt 2019-11” to improve search results. If you want to achieve robust searchability, explore the sophisticated tools that come with your high speed scanner, such as full text indexing and batch tools for renaming or tagging.
4. Establish your Backup System
You need a strong backup system, either an external backup drive or cloud storage, or even both to facilitate the adding of a networked disk storage capacity, and automated online backup systems. If your company has been falling behind in the backup process, you have to prioritize it because you are now going paperless.
Two ways are available to create a robust and strong backup system: an in-house external drive or an online service “in the cloud”. An external drive plugs into your PC or office network and provides fast storage/retrieval of your content. Online backup services encrypt and back up your data to the Internet. In case of something catastrophic in the house like fire or theft, the content will be safe.
While it upon you as a business owner to make the choice, both serve different purposes and come with their pros and cons as detailed in the table below:
|In-house External Backup Drive||Online/Cloud Backup|
|Cost||At least SGD $100 one-time fee||At least SGD $100 annual fees|
|Pros||✔ Fastest backup and restore to PC
✔ Ultimate security from hackers
|✔ No maintenance required
✔ Redundant storage safe from catastrophic loss in the office
|Cons||✔ Vulnerable to fire, flood, etc.
✔ Needs a replacement every 5-10 years
|✔ Slower backup and restore speed
✔ Not under your complete control
|Best Use||✔ Store and share content among devices over home network
✔ Backup and recover lost files
|✔ Insurance against home catastrophe
✔ Repository to share and access documents remotely
5. Start the Digital Filing Process
After concluding the above processes, you can now migrate the paper contents not only in the cabinet, but also in your desk drawers for digital filing.
Download All Financial Documents
Log in online and download all your company’s monthly bank statements as far back as you can access. Save all of them in PDF format so that they are not altered in the future. If there are financial documents, such as a Web-based receipt of payment that are not in PDF format, use the “print” or “save as” command to create a PDF. After downloading and saving them in the respective folders, ensure that you make it a monthly practice to download the statements from your online accounts and file anything related to your company in the PC folders. Automating the process is not possible for now, but as soon as you receive an email notification for your bank statements, file them immediately.
Scan All Papers
Start with where you are seated: your desk. Clear your drawers by scanning all the necessary documents you have kept in there as well as placed on top of your work station. You can move the “short-term” items into a digital folder labeled according to the month and year you need to delete them, such as “Delete by 04-2020”. Remove staples and separate multi-page documents to facilitate the scanning process, and the subsequent shredding process where necessary. If some items are too bulky to fit through the feeder, invest in a multi-function flatbed printer or capture the details using a digital camera. Remember this process cannot take one day or woven one week. Strive to allocate certain hours of the day to clean up paperwork from your desk until it’s spotless.
After clearing all desks in a few months or so, switch your focus on scanning all documents stored in the paper filing cabinet, which would make it easy to monitor the progress. Stay keen and hard-nosed but if you are in serious doubt about whether you’ll need some specific documents in the future, go ahead and scan it. Avoid scanning any documents that you already have its copy online, e.g., warranties, user manuals, policies, terms and conditions, brochures, etc.
Furthermore, while it’s advisable to scan everything, you should store official certified documents and anything with a raised seal in paper form, including:
- Notarized documents;
- Title documents;
- Trust documents;
- Birth/death certificates.
Other items for paper are short-term documents you want at your fingertips, such as flyers, clippings, and catalogues. After all is done, place your file cabinet aside or in another room and mark it “archived online” or “done”.
Shred Sensitive and Unnecessary Documents
When the scanning process is complete, sift out confidential and useless documents for shredding. With secure document shredding, you protect the client and employee information or sensitive company data that is printed on all kinds of documents. Once a document contains confidential information it is recommended to shred the paper before you dispose of it for paper recycling. If you don’t want to buy a shredder, check your city’s Website to know whether it has a free document shredding/recycling day. You can keep the documents in a safe place and take them for instant shredding in your presence.
It’s unlikely to completely eliminate all paper in the office so set an initial goal to reduce printing and paper use by some percentage. A 50 percent reduction is a good starting place. You must provide your employees with tools and training. Don’t assume people will find their own ways to minimize paper. They need clear instructions they can understand. Create written guidelines and operations that they can follow.
In addition, you should always consult with your attorney when you check the pros and cons of going paperless. There are several government regulations that expect you to apply some storage or even archiving documents of certain types like tax forms.
Is your company thinking of moving toward the paperless office? Several companies have made the decision but they are still stuck with stacks of paper, bulky filing cabinets, and lost documents.
Our friendly team at Tianlong Services is able to work with you to achieve your paperless office goals by freeing up your valuable office space, tightening up your information security, improving your cash flow and saving some serious money and staff time. Speak to us and we can discuss on how we can help you to achieve a paperless office.
“By the turn of this century, we will live in a paperless society.” – Roger Smith
With that, if you have liked reading our article on paperless office and would like to give us some feedback, do let us know in the comment box below. We would love to hear from you.
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