A paperless office: the impossible dream?

There have been talks for over forty years about achieving paperless offices – the holy grail of the business world – and though companies have reduced their consumption of paper in the office, thanks to the increasing rate of conversion to electronic tools (tablets, smartphones, wireless, broadband, laptops...) – the paperless office is still to be achieved.
 
Going from a classic office environment with trays, filing cabinets, archive rooms, fax machines, printers and photocopiers at every floor to a digital working environment can be a challenging experience in which everybody in the company needs to join the cause and buy in the new process.
For older generations of employees, it may be harder to get rid of their ocean of hard copies to embrace the on-screen filling in, reading and filing – whereas younger , tech-savvy staff will take it in their stride.
 
The question is not to get rid of any paper – some people do prefer holding a hard copy and who would deny a customer’s request? – Other services still need to use paper especially where staff design, proofread or edit.
At a time of budget reduction and lesser outlets, it is worth considering converting your work area to a paperless place and reap the multiple benefits: economical, environmental, efficiency and security –not mentioning the pleasure of looking at neat work spaces, rid of paper trays and overflowing bins.
 
Enjoying new rewards

Economical

  • Savings on paper costs (obviously!) but also on all related stationery costs such as folders, furniture (e.g. filing cabinets), pens and pencils, staples, envelopes....
  • Savings on office/storage space thanks to electronic storage – at a time where office space costs can become astronomical!
  • Savings on time: Studies also show that administrative staff can spend up to 30% of their time organising and filing.

Environmental

  • Save the forests! Though 80% of paper now used is now recycled paper, reducing one’s consumption would greatly benefit the environment.
  • Whatever paper and ink you use can be recycled; you can try and bring together other local businesses to save on waste disposal costs.

Efficiency

  • Electronic documents are often far easier to retrieve and share.
  • Handling time is dramatically cut: Staff do not need to print, stuff, stamp and post daily dozens of documents, whether letters, payslips or invoices – all are sent and filed directly from the computer – with shorter and more reliable delivery times.
  • Bespoke forms: adopting digital documents makes it easier to standardise forms and work habits throughout the different services or subsidiaries, whether local or international.
  • Planning is easier: deliveries, chasing, correspondence, etc. – all can be automated to be sent or archived at a given date.

Security

  • Password protection and dedicated server areas for services keep things private wherever needed.
  • A daily back-up grants peace of mind in case there is computer or network failure – there will only be 24 hours of work to catch-up with in case of a digital disaster – far better than years of catching up in case the office burns or the wrong papers are disposed of.

 
Planning ahead

Converting to a paperless office requires a long-term preparation both internally and externally.
Businesses will need to engage staff and external partners (suppliers, clients...) and to prepare the organisation: arranging and password protecting your server into relevant areas, finding a good back-up system, scanning of documents and digital archiving, find a process to name and store documents so that they can be easily retrieved in the future, group databases and train employees and managers...

Managers may need to invest in a document managing system to help the company with the transition and facilitate the capture, indexing, storage, retrieval, search and access to documents.
Centralising the printing to one powerful copier/printer/scanner (set by default on using both sides of a sheet of paper) instead of using different printers in each service will help reduce costs and the use of paper; it will also generate data on how much is printed, wasted, and who are the biggest paper users. And on a lighter note, when employees need to get up and walk to retrieve their printed documents, they think twice before pressing the “print” button.
Businesses will need to think about how and when to dispose of old documents – Make sure they find the right partners to help with recycling or shredding in big quantities and in compliance with the local regulations.

Communication with external partners (customers, suppliers and other service providers) will be crucial to control the amount of incoming paper – this can be achieved by getting taken off mailing lists and opting for electronic delivery of invoices, bank statements, utility bills, payslips etc.
This methodological planning and organisation may at first glance seem overwhelming and time-consuming, especially when staff must first dedicate themselves to their daily activities and core business; however there is always the option to delegate the task to external consultants who, thanks to their knowledge and experience, will recommend bespoke solutions, encompassing if needed software and organisational processes for the company. 

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