For companies everywhere, a key phrase of the digital age has taken over. The phrase is "going paperless," which refers to the process of moving all documentation, files, and records into a digital format.

But how to know if your business would benefit from such a transition?

The Value of Going Paperless

Going paperless isn't right for every business. That being said, it is possible for every business to go paperless. In order to determine whether this strategy is a good fit, weigh the following advantages of transitioning to a paperless office.

1. Time Saved

First off, going paperless saves time. Instead of printing documents, filing them, and then having to search for them manually at a later date, your document retrieval process becomes as simple as holding down "Ctrl + F." This can eliminate a lot of wasted man-hours and allow your employees to use their time more for other tasks.

2. Better Access

When files are digitally stored in the cloud, your organization instantly becomes more flexible. How flexible? Consider the following example:

Let's say your business is located in New York City and you're meeting with a top client in Los Angeles. On Friday afternoon, you're discussing a project with the client and need to refer to a specific file that's back at the office.

You call the office and suddenly remember that it's 7 p.m. on the East Coast. You're out of luck! You'll have to wait until Monday morning to get the file, or ask one of your employees to head in on Saturday morning to help you out. Very inconvenient on both fronts.

Now, if your office was paperless, all you'd have to do is log into your cloud account, search for the file, and show the client. The convenience of being a paperless operation can save a lot of trouble with regard to logistics and geography.

3. Saved Space

One sheet of paper may not take up a ton of space, but tens of thousands of pages certainly do. Over the years, businesses can accrue boxes and boxes of files. These files have to go somewhere; they ultimately end up overcrowding office space (which isn't cheap). By going paperless, a firm can free up closets, boardrooms, and even entire offices.

Digital files, on the other hand, take no physical space on your premises at all. They're stored remotely and accessible from anywhere, which means you no longer have to waste overhead on physical file storage.

4. Stronger Security

Storing documents in the cloud is safer than keeping sensitive files in an office. Digital documents are encrypted and protected by numerous layers of security, and access can be restricted to only a few individuals.

Furthermore, digital files don't run the risk of getting lost due to theft or fire, which are occasional occurrences for small businesses.

5. Less Money

According to the EPA, a paperless office saves roughly $80 per employee (annually) in costs related to paper, ink, toner, storage space, and postage. If you have an organization with 400 employees, this could total more than $32,000 per year. That's a substantial chunk of change for any company.

6. Eco-Friendly

Did you know that the average firm processes more than 10,000 pieces of paper each year? That's roughly 20 reams, or the equivalent of a small tree.

Now imagine if every business went paperless. We could save entire forests! The eco-friendly benefits of going paperless may not be as apparent as the savings related to cost and space, but they are definitely worthwhile.

Four Tips for Going Paperless

It's likely the above advantages would benefit any business. Who wouldn't love to save time, money, and space, while simultaneously enhancing security and becoming more sustainable?

Identifying the value becoming a paperless office isn't usually the sticking point. The challenge comes when you have to determine how to go paperless. The key is to take a strategic approach. The following tips will help you get started.

1. Have a Plan for Disposing of Documents

Admittedly, a considerable effort will have to go into scanning documents and turning physical files into digital files, one of the more difficult aspects of this transitional process involves disposing of paper documents. You have the option of a variety of strategies for disposing of your current load of documents. Here's one of the best:

  • Document collection. After scanning a document, mark it as such and organize based on whatever criteria you deem appropriate. It may be helpful to organize based on the date the document or file was copied into virtual form.
  • Offsite storage. Next, move all the documents that have been turned into digital copies to an offsite storage unit for 30 to 90 days. This allows you to purge your office of the files, but also provides ample time for correction if an error might have been committed in the process.
  • Destroy and dispose. After the allotted time has passed, shred the documents and dispose of them in a proper manner. You can then get rid of the storage unit and shift your focus to maintaining your status as a paperless organization.

The beauty of this approach is that it gives you time to recover from any mistakes that may be made during the disposal process. You could eventually choose to forgo the second step, but it's wise to be as thorough as possible the first few times around.

2. Give Employees the "Why"

In order to keep employees on track and engaged, you need to help them understand the logic behind this transition. Simply informing them you've decided to go paperless is unlikely to be sufficient.

Provide your team with the "why" behind the move. This will bring everyone up to speed and increase your chances of long-term success.

3. Implement Strict Protocol

"If you want to substantially reduce paper usage, there's no running away from re-architecting certain business process to identify procedures that make needless use of paper," writes tech blogger Paul Mah.

"One of the simplest remedies: Generate reports directly in PDF format, which can be reviewed on a laptop, tablet or even smartphone."

Other protocol implementation tips include: (1) encourage the use of smartphone apps that capture the content of paper files and turn them into digital files, and (2) do away with the requirement that printed documents must be physically signed.

4. Make Paper Inconvenient

The next thing you can do is make paper less convenient to use. Remove fax machines and printers from the office, encourage dual-monitor setups to give employees more screen space to load documents, remove printing options from computers, and sign up for paperless statements from all service providers. Eventually, the habits of a paperless operation will become second nature for employees.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Going paperless isn't something that happens overnight. If you really want to reduce your dependence on paper and pursue digital alternatives, then you have to be willing to strategize and plan.

Going paperless isn't going to be a sprint; it's a marathon. A full transition can take months or years to complete. However, by taking the strategy outlined in this article into account, you can streamline the process, reduce mistakes, and maximize efficiency.

Just keep in mind the adage that says, "Slow and steady wins the race." You aren't going to get anywhere if you go too fast, so you might as well be meticulous and complete.