Liz Sheffield

Should Your Office Go Paperless?

It’s rare to walk into an office and not see any computers. But while most businesses rely heavily on technology, a surprising number still do not digitally organize personnel files and other documents.

Going paperless can be a great “green” initiative, but it can also help prepare businesses for success in the digital age. Many companies are taking advantage of the cost and efficiency benefits of a paperless office. Should your business be one of them? Before revving up the paper shredder, make sure you’ve assessed the benefits — as well as the challenges, consequences and necessary precautions — involved in transitioning from paper records to digital ones.

The Benefits of a Paperless Office

Maintaining digital documents and records relieves the need to physically store years or even decades’ worth of data. It makes sense that decreasing the amount of paper used in your organization can eliminate unnecessary waste and benefit the environment, but just how much paper Americans use is often underestimated: Nearly one billion trees’ worth of paper is thrown away every year in the United States.

Aside from the environmental benefits, reducing physical storage can make accessing documents more efficient and allows for better collaboration among employees. Instead of being taken out of a file folder, copied and distributed, employees can easily and instantly share digital files with a few clicks. This can promote teamwork and discourage knowledge hoarding.

According to Corp! magazine, U.S. businesses spend $8 billion each year managing paper files, with it costing companies on average $20 to file a document, $120 to find a misplaced document and $220 to reproduce a lost document. Knowledge workers can spend up to half their time just looking for information.

Going paperless also reduces security risks. Paper documents containing confidential information can be accidentally left on a table or placed in an unlocked file cabinet. They’re also susceptible to physical damage over time. While paperless files come with their own security issues, more and more companies trust digital storage systems to use passwords and document tracking to prevent the wrong people obtaining confidential information.

Precautions to Take When Going Paperless

When considering how to approach a digital record management strategy, focus on the following areas to make sure your organization system is effective.

  • Privacy and safety. Maintain information security practices that ensure privacy and safe storage of employee data.
  • Accessibility. Check that information is available as needed for employees and that digital data is streamlined into existing operations. Educate employees on how records are organized and where they’re stored.
  • Retention of information. Confer with a legal adviser to determine what documents must be kept and for how long.
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Four Steps to Start Reducing Paper Use

The process of going digital should be as well-planned and strategic as the digital organizational system itself. Start your paperless office strategy off right with these four steps.

  1. Create a committee. Involve representatives from every department in your paperless office transition. To ensure you address all interests and issues, invite stakeholders, legal counsel and representatives from operations and administration to support the conversion.
  2. Start small. Support a paperless culture in your organization by making small changes — ask partners and vendors for digital records of transactions instead of paper ones, and encourage employees to think twice before printing emails, meeting agendas or reports. Update your billing process to support electronic invoices and receipts.
  3. Select a digital document and record management system. Look for a qualified vendor whose platform meets the needs of your organization and who can deliver adequate data retention and storage protocols, including firewalls, passwords and secure backups.
  4. Regularly conduct audits. Put an annual plan in place to review your company’s storage and data retention policies. This review will help your organization’s digital records and data avoid becoming trapped in outdated technology.

Going digital isn’t a minor decision. Time and significant effort go into making sure your business meets the operational and security requirements for an effective paperless office. But between enhanced security, increased efficiency and improved collaboration, the value of having digital records makes it clear it’s worth the effort.

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