The paperless office and what you can do to get there

Dakota Murphey
Business Growth Consultant
14th November 2019

Offices aren’t the same as they used to be. Not so long ago, businesses couldn’t manage without paper documents on desks, in filing cabinets and archive boxes. From internal memos to client correspondence, sales contracts to VAT returns, paper was the universal medium. A printed copy would be drafted, finalised, sent and filed. Our workplaces literally ran on paper. 

These days, we have electronic document creation and collaboration, digital document management and cloud computing. Contemporary, forward looking businesses use Google’s G Suite, Microsoft Office 365 or similar digital tools. At a time when virtual documents can be created and shared easily, and when important documents can be signed electronically and sent/stored securely, why on earth are we still cutting down trees?

Going digital is the future

The paperless office, or digital office, should be the logical consequence of our modern business practices. But recent figures have shown that the average UK office worker uses around 10,000 sheets of paper per year, two thirds of which ends up in the (recycling) bin. What is going on?

From a corporate social responsibility perspective, going paperless is a no brainer. Did you know that 60% of the 17 billion cubic feet of trees deforested each year are turned into paper? With climate change now high on everyone’s agenda, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what needs to be done.

In terms of business, it makes financial sense too. Making better use of resources and reducing waste can only be a good thing for your business overheads, and creates opportunities for straight-up financial savings or to add value elsewhere within your operation.

Going paperless with your office

While most businesses are expressing a keen interest in the concept of having a paperless office, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the devil is in the detail. The implementation phase is where things can easily fall down. With this in mind, here are 4 strategies you can employ to get your business on the road to a fully digital office.

1.Get ‘buy in’ from your team

Getting rid of paper documents may well be easier than you think – we’ll get to some practical suggestions in just a minute – but if your business culture doesn’t support it, it’s always going to be an uphill struggle. 

Do your employees think reducing paper is just another cost cutting exercise? How did you introduce the subject – by announcement one Monday morning? The importance of clearly defining your objectives and goals and engaging employees in the process cannot be overstated. Unless your team feel that they were included in the conversation, or you took the trouble to educate them about why it makes sense to get rid of paper for the health of the business and the environment, they may not be on board with the idea.

Spend some time finding out why your employees might want to reduce paper in the office. Is it to reduce mess in the workplace, to create more efficient processes, to eliminate boring data entry tasks, or to reduce waste and be a more sustainable company? Then then set actionable initiatives around these reasons. 

2. Go digital with your documents

One of the things that can scupper the move to a paperless office is the sheer mountain of important documents that already exist in paper form. From employee and client data to health & safety documentation and tax returns, it all needs to be stored securely, somewhere.

This is where digital really comes into its own. Not only has it never been easier to scan and digitise documents, many outside companies now offer bulk scanning services to help. And once your existing records are digitised, you can move forward with automated processes that are not only paper free, but time saving, money saving and an altogether more efficient way to run your business.

Crucially, as one HR document processing provider points out, “it also helps you achieve GDPR compliance by having all personal data in one flexible electronic system that can easily be updated and managed.”

3. Introduce ‘healthy’ print habits

Habit plays a big part in company culture. If your team is used to printing off pages indiscriminately, carelessly discarding whatever is surplus to requirements, this wasteful approach can be a major problem, and also a hard habit to break. The bigger your team, the harder this task may be.

Had you thought about devising a ‘going paper free’ campaign that people are encouraged to join? This could include printing only when necessary and enabling duplex printing where possible. How about tracking the total number of pages printed per person per week/month, with rewards for the most frugal printer user? Here’s a great example of a Paperless Pledge that your company could take.

To further encourage newly acquired good habits, you could subtly reduce access to your office printers by placing them in less convenient locations and by reducing the number of machines in the building. You’ll be surprised how quickly people find alternative solutions…

4. Provide alternative technology

Finally, help your staff change their old-school ways by providing desirable alternatives they can work with to make their lives easier. Something as simple as installing dual monitors on each desk can revolutionise the way your team members work with documents. No need to cross reference documents in paper form – the two computer screens can do it all. 

For those used to scribbling on a paper pad, doing without a notebook is a hard ask. When it comes to note taking at meetings, encourage the use of tablets or smart notepads. Handwritten notes can be scanned and uploaded, synched with email accounts or cloud services. Then wipe the screen clean and start again.

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