2020 was a leap year for the document management industry. Businesses still holding onto paper went digital—finally. It’s a two-part process: paper is scanned and then paper is shredded. But some businesses are still waiting in line for their own digital revolution. Until a high-volume scanner comes along and turns those old paper records (that are expensive to store and cumbersome to retrieve) into lightweight electronic files, you are obligated to take care of them. In most industries, regulations require retention. That means keeping documents for a defined period until their expiration date. While we recommend a solid paperless office strategy for all forward-thinking companies, here five tips to secure and protect physical documents from potential threats in the meantime.
1) Create a Records Retention Plan:
Does your organization know what records are bound by retention regulations? Do you have a retention checklist? Customer information, employee data, accounting, and tax records are some examples of vital business records that companies store over long periods. They call for a strategy to organize and securely store them. Since companies do not access these records often, they are likely to get misplaced or lost in storage. Base your storage facility on the expected retrieval frequency. For example, documents needed on a daily or weekly basis should remain at the office. Consider off-site storage for documents that do not have to be close at hand on a daily or even monthly basis.
2) Implement Security Protocols:
Your company's most sensitive data, especially customer information, must be well-guarded. Failure to do so creates compliance issues. Implement strict security authorization protocols for employees to prevent data leaks. Where paper documents are concerned, brief your staff members to adhere to physical access control restrictions. For example:
- Secure filing cabinets, desk drawers, and storage room doors with mechanical or digital locks
- Identify and authorize employees who will access and retrieve the documents. Restrict access to locked documents to authorized employees only
- Assign a responsible employee to manage and record access to these documents, whether it is with mechanical keys, passwords, swipe card, or digital keypad access
- Remove access immediately when an employee leaves the department, company, or relocates to another office
3) Maintain a Clean Desk Policy:
A clean desk policy means that employees must ensure that all information they handle—both paper and digital—is locked or password protected when they leave their desks. Data cannot leave the office without permission. Expired or unnecessary paper documents must be shredded or destroyed appropriately. No records or files must be unattended for extended periods on desks or common areas. Publish and communicate the policy so that employees become aware of the importance of data security.
4) Consider using a Record Management Company
Consider outsourcing records management to a reputed and experienced document management and storage company. The purpose of this is twofold: Professional storage companies offer off-site storage and retrieval of paper documents at affordable rates. Not only does this save valuable office space, but it ensures your information is safely stored. Professional document management companies have a comprehensive security policy. They take complete charge of your documents, from transporting to storing (to scanning if you’re pursuing a Scan To Zero strategy), to shredding after expiration. Outsourcing to the experts is often a good move as it leaves you more time to concentrate on your core competencies.
5) Employee Awareness and Audits
Employees across the organization must understand and follow document security protocols—including department heads, leadership, and others who handle your company's most sensitive information. Make them aware of best practices for password protection, clean desk policies, and document destruction procedures. Once every team member knows how to protect the information they handle and understands what your expectations are, you are in control of document security.
Conduct regular audits to check for the following:
- Are paper documents locked and secured? Or are they accessible to bypassers or employees without authorization to use them?
- Are unnecessary documents destroyed or shredded appropriately? Or do they add to office clutter and use up expensive storage space?
- Are documents past their expiration date regularly shredded or destroyed?
- Are any sensitive documents left unattended around office printers or on desks for long periods?
If the audit shows that employees did not follow document security best practices, review the reasons for transgressions with the designated security manager and plan for further training or stricter protocols.
Encourage your organization to go fully digital—replace all paper processes with digital ones. Avoid printing digitally-created information. Store digital backups on the Cloud. Encourage partners and vendors to share and transfer digital documents with verifiable eSignatures.
Where original paper documents must be retained, introduce a regular document scanning process. Protect the original paper documents by backing them up with a non-paper copy for frequent use. Electronic document transfer is now a virtual necessity, and emailing electronic copies is much more efficient than fax for anything you might need to transfer more than once.
The best strategy to protect vital paper documents is to create a comprehensive records retention plan, implement basic security protocols, store retained (by compliance) documents off-site, and dispose of sensitive documents responsibly. Don't forget to back up physical documents with scanned copies!
Get in touch with us for a free quote for paper document scanning and storage. Digitize your paper documents and use our safe and secure Scan-to-Zero service for affordable storage.