More and more, businesses are moving from filing cabinets and arcane paper files to going paperless. What are the benefits of going paperless, and what does it mean for an office to become a paperless office? How can businesses become paperless effectively?
Ten Benefits to Going Paperless
- Improvements to Document Management Practices: When someone needs a document in a paper-based office, the process of tracking down that document can be a nightmare! Does an employee need to find it in a filing cabinet or archives? What happens if the filing of a document occurs incorrectly? Some businesses even maintain Document Management Specialists or Records Custodians teams to handle the retrieval and filing of documents. The workflow process for simply finding or requesting a document can create a lengthy and exhaustive process. Paperless offices can avoid these issues by having streamlined document management practices. The use of specialized document management software can free up personnel resources and incorporate version controls, digital editing, flexible search options, easy sharing of files, and more.
- More Efficient Use of Office Space: Commercial real estate can be expensive, and storing paper is an incredibly inefficient and wasteful use of that space. Some estimates indicate that storing paper takes up between 50% and 70% of office space. Rows of filing cabinets, office archive space, and bankers boxes full of documents take up an incredible amount of space and representing a constantly growing cost. With paperless offices, file cabinets worth of data can be easily stored either in an onsite server with a fairly minor footprint or, as is more common, in the cloud where there is absolutely no loss of localized office floor space. The limitation of storage space is also a worry of the past as both physical servers and cloud storage are easily scalable.
- Availability of Digital Documents for Remote Workers: Remote working has become a given for many businesses. The COVID-19 pandemic, which quickly forced many businesses to change operations and implement work from home opportunities for employees, highlighted the potential pitfalls with reliance on paper documents. While the COVID-19 pandemic may subside soon, work from home is here to stay for many businesses, which means that paper files may not cut it when it comes to productivity. Having a paperless office can ensure that employees working remotely can operate effectively and efficiently.
- Availability on Mobile Devices: For many businesses, having accessible documents on the go is critically important. For example, construction companies may require to access work or change orders remotely, or field service technicians may need service reports while at a facility – the potential needs for documents on the go are endless. Paperless offices ensure that important documents, digital forms, and other key files are available on-the-go and in real-time.
- Automation of Business Processes: A critical component of going paperless is capitalizing on process automation. The use of document management software or process workflow solutions allows companies to manage, route automatically, and act on information through built-in rules.
- Accessible Data through Optical Character Recognition (OCR): Optical character recognition has changed how businesses can handle paper effectively. Before using OCR, paper documents that businesses digitized were not of much use other than being stored digitally – the information on them was inaccessible in a meaningful way. OCR, a technology that has been steadily improving over the past several years, has made scanned or archived files accessible through indexing and searching. Modern OCR technology even can turn handwriting into accessible and recognized characters with a reasonable degree of reliability.
- Cost Savings: There are multiple ways that going paperless creates cost savings – printing and copying documents is resource-intensive, requiring paper, toner, ink, staples, and more. Printers, fax machines, and copiers can be major expenses for an office requiring ongoing maintenance, repair, and replacement. Additionally, as already has been covered, the storage space for files is wasted floor space that generates no revenue for a business. Many companies can improve their bottom line by going paperless while improving business operations in a true win-win situation.
- Digital Files and Digital Signatures: When requiring physical signatures on documents, it may take days for copies to be mailed or sent by courier, extensive follow-up may be necessary for obtaining a signature, or signing these documents may require multiple people in a room together. This antiquated process can be time-consuming, expensive, and an inefficient use of time. With digital files, signing documents can occur through a computer or mobile device with verification processes to ensure that the signing of documents occurs securely and with identity verification practices in place. These electronic signatures, or esignatures, are easier and more secure than traditional pen-to-paper signatures.
- Safety and Security of Important Documents: The safety of documents comes in different stripes, but the most notable include safety against damage or destruction, as well as securing them from unauthorized access and viewing. Paper documents are susceptible to damage from water, fire, mold, and even from pests such as rodents or insects. Furthermore, prying eyes can easily access paper documents whether or not they are authorized to; however, businesses can encrypt digital documents accessible to the appropriate individuals only.
- Going Green: It is becoming more and more important to businesses’ identities to be environmentally sustainable and eco-friendly. Going paperless is a great way to reduce a company’s carbon footprint while promoting sustainability. Manufacturing paper takes a toll on the environment by harvesting and treating lumber – even recycled paper negatively impacts the environment. Similarly, toner and ink used in printers and copiers can damage people and the environment. Paperless offices can significantly reduce, or even eliminate, environmental and personnel exposure to these harmful chemicals.
How to Go Paperless
So it is clear that a paperless office has benefits to business owners, employees, the environment, and the bottom line, but going paperless can seem like a challenging undertaking. The effort required to become a paperless office can vary between businesses depending on many circumstances, including the volume of existing physical paper documents, record-keeping requirements, existing filing systems, and business processes, among other factors.
Records and Archives
Suppose a business has extensive records and archives that need to be digitized. In that case, there are plenty of third-party service providers available that can quickly and cost-effectively digitize records. Modern digitization firms can scan up to tens of thousands of pages per scanner, per day. These records can run through OCR software to make them indexable and searchable through a capable document management system.
Companies that currently rely on paper forms may want to explore shifting to digital forms as a part of going paperless. GoCanvas has pre-developed form templates available in its application store for deployment quickly and dynamically to fill this need for nearly any business. If the form your company needs is not available, it is not difficult to easily and quickly design that form have it ready to use. Companies can integrate these forms within their existing systems, such as financial backends, CRMs, and more.
The key to having an effective paperless office is a modern document management system. These software platforms enable businesses to organize, secure, capture, digitize, and tag files. Additionally, these systems incorporate process automation features to improve business workflows. Document management systems can track who has access to files, when files are accessed, changes made to files (version tracking), and more.
It is not typically realistic to decide to become paperless and then immediately become paperless. Businesses that accomplish becoming paperless offices do so gradually, involving personnel in the digitization process to understand how the process works and are not overwhelmed. Small businesses may benefit from using storage solutions such as Dropbox or Google Drive at first, while eventually transitioning to more dedicated document management systems.
A paperless office is not necessarily an office without any paper – it just means a business has worked to minimize paper use, focusing instead on digital documents. Offices will still have file cabinets, and employees will need to print things from time to time – it is a reality that is unlikely to change any time soon. But by being flexible in defining paperless offices, businesses can begin to benefit from digital files and paperless practices.
Handling Existing Paper
Some businesses may have sensitive information on paper that requires specific handling during digitization. These documents can often be shredded after scanning of them has taken place. In cases with high-security requirements (such as medical records, bank statements, or tax forms), a shredder company may offer certification and verification of the secure destruction of the documents.