GREEN BUSINESS

How to Switch to a Paperless Office

There are plenty of reasons to reduce your use of paper, including cost, efficiency, and environmental responsibility. Here's how to do it.

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The average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year according to Reduce.org. Multiply that by the number of employees you have, and you can see how going paperless could save your business money. Of course, doing business using much less paper is easier said than done. Anyone working in the office of a lawyer, accountant, or health care company can tell you: the paperless office is still for many elusive, buried under ever increasing stacks of paper. But with careful planning, the dream of the paperless office can be a reality. This step-by-step guide will present you with strategies for weaning your office off paper, one step at a time.

1. Assess how likely it is that you will be able to go paperless.

Going paperless can immediately affect your company's bottom line.  We all know that "time is money", but it is still less expensive than real estate. An expanding business can fit more workers into space once occupied by filing cabinets and record rooms. Plus, electronic records are easier to search and retrieve, meaning that if you can digitize more of your paperwork, you can probably operate more efficiently.

That's the promise anyway. In reality, an operation that hopes to go paperless will face some obvious challenges. Despite the advantages of an e-overhaul, a resistant staff won't see the use of changing the way a business operates midstream. Stephanie Jones, marketing director for eBridge Solutions, a Tampa company that specializes in document management, breaks down the initial questions that need to be addressed before the transition to a paperless office can be effectively made.

"One of the biggest challenges is figuring out what to do with your existing paper," she says. "Is it critical for you to have it stored digitally—do you face record retention requirements, for example? Or could you just start going paperless from a certain day forward? Getting your employees to buy into the process and help decide where and when to get rid of the paperwork is key to your success."

Does your business have a core of younger, tech-savvy workers? If so, you may be well-positioned to go paperless.

Dig Deeper: Getting Staff Buy-In to Adopt New Tech

2. Set a deadline.

Choose a firm date beyond which you will no longer use paper records, and stick to it. Expect resistance from some of your employees. It is hard to change old habits so you will need to be patient and offer training. A "Go Live" date set at 6 to 9 months from the beginning of the project will motivate the early-adopters among the staff and give a comprehensible structure to the transition.

Dig Deeper: More on Strategy and Planning

3. Hire an outside firm and buy new equipment.

Marshall Maglothin, owner of Blue Oak Consulting in Fairfax, Virginia, is one business owner who has made the successful transition to the paperless office. He recommends you hire a document imaging system provider to help you go paperless. "All of your current employees already have full-time jobs; this project will thus decrease productivity, and could potentially increase stress—and possibly turnover," he notes. Plus, employees who don't know how to scan and store files are more likely to make mistakes and delay your progress toward going paperless. Finally, Maglothin says there is a Machiavellian reason to outsource the planning and execution of your paperless campaign. Having an outside firm "gives you someone to blame who then goes away," he says.

To kick-start your prep research, check out this introduction to document imaging systems on BuyerZone.com. This site also provides overviews, comparison, and price quotes for the major consulting firms.

The first item you should consider purchasing is a document imaging system because someone needs to scan all your records, set up the databases, and train the staff. A wide range of info-tech services has emerged to meet the demands of the digital transition, and these companies are essential to a smooth and relatively painless transition.

Dig Deeper: Should You Buy or Lease Equipment for your Business?

4. Replace your invoices.

One of the major concerns for office managers and executives are the accounting and legal complications of a massive record overhaul. In order to fund such projects, the invoicing and payment record must be the first to be secured. Enter the electronic invoicing system: these services, such as Freshbooks, will convert your billing and invoicing systems into a secure electronic database. The ideal system should be fast, accurate, professionally designed, and most importantly, easy to use. A list of suggested references and other high-tech data systems for moving to a paperless office can be found at Mashable.com.

Dig Deeper: Top 10 Free Apps and Services for Business

5. Store key documents.

Identify what type of paper record is essential for scanning, and call your document-imaging provider for the scanning. Maglothin's experience with the transition provides a clear strategy for dealing with the back-log. "Do not scan in existing documents prior to go-live unless absolutely necessary - simply maintain your current paper aging process. At "go-live" then only scan as needed and discard. Within 9 to 12 months, most paper prior to "go-live" can be moved to long-term storage."

Dig Deeper: Document Classification Tools and Strategies

6. Identify your "super-users."

The scope of the transition to a paperless office can be daunting. A company-wide training project would be unwieldy, costly, and most likely ineffective. This is where the "super-user" comes in to play. Within each department, the project managers should identify the tech-fluent employees who will be able to adopt the new systems with ease, and help create a training cascade that will reach even the most resistant users. The "super-user" is the staff member who reads on an e-reader, corresponds from their iPhone, and prefers to deal with data on-screen rather then on paper. The "super-user" is, in many ways, your most important asset.

Dig Deeper: Tips to Reduce Printing Costs

7. Pat yourself on the back.

By reducing paper and waste at the office, you've just done your part to save the environment. Going paperless should also help you boost your bottom line. Make sure you tout your efforts to reduce waste in your marketing and PR campaigns, and celebrate your successes with employees. Encourage them to share any ideas they have on how to be even more efficient.

Dig Deeper: 10 Ideas for Sustainable Initiatives at Your Company


The Paperless Office: Additional Resources

Designing a Document Strategy by Kevin Crane

Paperlessoffice.org - a comprehensive resource for planning, researching, and implementing the transition to the e-office.

Last updated: Jun 14, 2010




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