What is a Paperless Office and How Do You Start?

One of the ways companies can save money is to go paperless. What does going paperless mean?  It means reducing the use of paper starting with eliminating unnecessary record keeping including redundant bookkeeping and the distribution of paper reports (I mean, we ALL have MULTIPLE screens and devices where these reports can be sent, right?)

The term paperless office was coined as a kind of prediction on a growing office trend in the coming years.  Perhaps the use of paper cannot (quite yet) be totally eliminated in all fields since there are still some documents that need printing and some documents that can't fully be replaced by screen or digital copies. However, even this is changing as many are making a conscious effort to choose on what occasion paperless can be applicable and explicity where the use of a paper is a must. If your company is trying to go green, become environmentally friendly, increase savings, and encourage productivity, consider the following suggestions from Paul Mah, a tech blogger and an IT professional on how to start your journey to paperless office.

 

Make A No-Print Policy

 

Some of the most egregious use of printers occurs during quarterly and annual reports, sales pitches, and major project deliverables. During these times, printed books/manuscripts/manifestos/reports are recklessly produced to show flashy numbers/statistics and the downtime, uptime, progress, and even introduction of new products or projects. What can you do?  Declare a no-printing policy for at least half of your meetings, and set a long-term paper-free goal. Even if you aren't running the meeting, you can request such a policy for financial and environmental reasons. Try the policy out for at least one month. Embrace the minimalist movement that has brought us open offices, standing desks, increased creativity, openness, and increased social responsibility. You may be surprised at how people improve socially when they don't have a stack of papers in front of them; they engage more, they became active listeners and introduce new concepts, and devising solutions becomes easier. Instead of shuffling out stacks, the administrators can use digital releases of pdf versions of their reports. This can also mean going digital and using laptops, tablet, and smartphones as workers view the reports in PDF format. Consider a dual or multi-monitor setup. One common reason that workers print documents is the need to cross-reference them with another document; a multi-screen setup can help fix this. Multiple projection screens during meetings can allow other employees to follow your discussion without the need for handouts (which can be made available for them to access at any time also). 

Assign A Common Print Station

Not only is it more efficient (one printer vs many printers), a common print station can also be another motivator to go paperless. Even the effort of employees having to walk over to a print station will make them think twice about printing something that they can send digitally.  And if you want to limit the number of printed sheets, use a tracking print server. You can control and monitor the number of pages printed per person and (if you want) email the monthly report to for everyone to see - take care with this - it's useful to track and get ideas, but you don't want to shame anybody. One of the print server software packages available is Print Inspector. If your company needs financial savings, you are cautious of what your employees are working on and if the printed pages are job-related documents, then installing print software is your first move. Some of this software can monitor, manage and can serve as an audit solution for your corporate network. It can even record detailed information in all printed documents: document name, date, number of pages, the name of the user who printed the document or the name of the computer from which that document was sent to the printer.

Apply for (And Use) Electronic Billing Statements

How many bills does your company receive every month?  How many does your company send out? Online service providers, credit card companies, and banks have already taken the path to go paperless starting with bank and billing statements, and if you haven't done so already, you should start right away. The use of online payments is also encouraged. This practice reduces the use of papers, envelopes, and filing cabinets. It is also one way to save trees - less paper, less use of pens which ultimately improves productivity. Your company has bills to pay and invoices to send, payroll to make and inventory to keep, so start requesting paperless billing statements from banks, suppliers, and service providers. Ask your loyal consumers to switch to electronic statements / electronic payments. How do you get them to switch? Try the trick that some large banks and other service providers use and provide discounts and perks for easy compliance to going paperless with you. In the end, you both save.

 

Check Digital Forms and Signatures

For internal signed printed documents (and sometimes external, depending on your industry and regulations), you can always use digital signatures. Many courier companies have been making use of digital signature devices for years now. Some countries including the United States and Canada have laws which now makes electronic signatures valid and legal just like signed hard-copy contracts. If applicable, you can discard the use of a fax machine. Replace it with PDF forms and send through email, or use Dropbox, or Evernote and share the files to your employees or clients. There are free online tools that convert your files to PDF. There are also paid applications which can provide you with better options and a more technical, user-friendly functions. Search for free mobile applications for electronic fax. Scan and fax documents if you can and convert your documents into digital copies. This is a great help when sharing employee handbooks and user manuals, and bulk periodic reports. There are online fax providers that will send the incoming box to your assigned email account.

Re-Use and Recycle

For those times when you MUST print, you can do it in an efficient and environmentally responsible manner. Choose printers that will support printing on both sides of your paper. Duplex printing is highly recommended, it will save you money and reduce the use of printing paper. Making your employees take an active role in going environmentally friendly will raise awareness and advocacy in saving, recycling, and reusing papers. For each department, supply a green box non-confidential documents. This green box will be collected every Friday and stored in your common printer area for recycling and reuse. You will be assured that you are teaching your workers to be responsible and to follow basic rules in paper usage.

You can also use scanners instead of printing to share documents. Need to send that report?  Send a pdf instead of a printing out a heavy tome. Files can be sent via email, pdf download, or any number of file-sharing platforms that have sprung into existence over the last several years (DropBox, Google Docs, Microsoft OnedDrive are just a few).  Nowadays we also even have personal scanners for small group use. Need to capture some written notes?  Use a portable flatbed scanner and pop that file out for sharing.  There is even intelligent software that can convert your scanned PDF files and digital photographs into Excel, Microsoft Word, and PDF formats that are searchable (the 'searchable' requirement was needed for financial and legal documents and used to be a major reason why people couldn't go paperless in the past, but that is largely resolved now).  The ultimate goal is to go digital in applicable documents, make it easy to store, easy to search, and reduce the amount of physical space paper records can take up. 

Use Mobile Applications

Smartphones have functions similar to a laptop or computer. You can receive and send email with your smartphones using downloaded applications. Wireless printing is possible and you can also read ebooks using your smartphone. Your phone is 'smart' indeed, functional, and convenient to use. If your company do not have a hardware scanner, worry no more since there are apps that can scan documents by using your smartphone's camera. How great is that! These files can be shared, viewed, and maybe even edited using your smartphone or tablet. There is no need of printing the documents because your scanned files can be uploaded to a cloud storage device and give some of your key person's authority to share it to employees especially when these files are monthly reports and updates of ongoing projects.

Conclusion

Starting with a paperless office is a challenge especially when paper documents are commonly used in almost every facet of a traditional business. But change is inevitable, and change is here to stay. The traditional office practice NEEDS to change, and new technology will replace the old.  Technology makes the paperless office possible but there are establishments which will have more difficulty eliminating the use of papers. Courts, hospitals, and schools will face major hurdles. But they can start going digital when acquiring information from their clients, and by helping encourage the governmental systems and regulations (upon which they depend and use) to modernize. Being a paperless office will greatly impact the environment. The benefits of going paperless are manifold, but to summarize with the obvious: save money from printing costs, save time from printing, increase productivity, reduce paper waste, and deepen social awareness. We all have a part to play - support the paperless office and be ready for the positive changes that will come forth.