For decades, organizations used filing cabinets stuffed with paper to organize their business information. There wasn’t an alternative. Now, the scenario has changed completely—paper documents are no longer considered the ideal way to store business records. Organizations around the world have transitioned to a paperless work environment.
The move from physical documents to electronic document management systems gets a strong push for two crucial reasons:
- significant cost savings (as you save on expensive storage space!) and
- an increase in workplace efficiency.
But going paperless in a business environment does not happen overnight. Consistency, commitment, and adopting a digital document management system are the key ingredients to paperless success.
Here are some best practices to maintain a paperless environment in your office:
Lead the paperless brigade by example!
As with any change, expect your employees to resist paperless processes initially. As the business owner or a key director, it is essential to lead by example. If you have a filing cabinet for your documents, take the responsibility to digitize them, and go paperless yourself! If your employees see you leading the way, they are more likely to follow, and you’ll drive home the point about how important going paperless is. A strong leader sets goals for employees that encourage them to transition to the new electronic system. Create simple incentives and reward employees or departments that lead the way. It will go a long way in adapting to this change.
Choose the Right Document Management Software
There are many document management software options available in the market. Picking the right one for your specific needs and expectations means trying a few on. Evaluate the options based on features and advantages such as the extent of automation, personalization, security, data backups, and storage. Look for the optimum features within your budget range. To accomplish this, ask for system demonstrations and trial versions and demos. Once you make your choice, train your employees so they’re comfortable with the software. After all, they’re the ones who will handle, store, and access the digital file.
Prepare for Present & Future Storage Needs
One of the mistakes that firms make when they adopt a paperless system is to plan only for current needs. Anticipate future growth when you plan for online storage capacity and off-site facilities to maintain the day-forward paperless environment. Use growth metrics such as company size, sales growth, and pipeline contracts to estimate data storage needs more accurately. This way, your office won’t be overwhelmed with a sudden influx of data that exceeds your current storage capacity. One of the best ways to make this happen is to invest in cloud storage, which gives you unlimited storage on an ad-hoc basis without breaking the bank.
Streamline Business Processes for Paperless
As this is a critical, one-time change, make sure employees are on board. Once you decide to go paperless, it should be just that—paperless! Don’t confuse the paperless document management system with some paper mixed with a few electronic documents. Convert all old paper documents into digital records. You may need to retain paper originals of some very crucial documents to meet compliance regulations—consider off-site storage for these. Destroy expired retained paper documents. In large organizations with many departments and regional offices, ensure that all of them switch to paperless business processes together. Consistency is the key; everyone must follow the same basic methods and guidelines. Avoid any paper-based processes as it will cause chaos, and your team will lean into old habits fast. For example, an employee could forget that a particular document is now a digital file, and they could waste their time searching for a paper document that no longer exists.
Adopt Paperless Document Security Systems
A new type of document management system opens up your information to a new kind of intrusion. Ensure that you factor-in adequate protection against external hackers as well as against internal security breaches. Access should only be on a need-to-know basis. Access control through identification and passwords is a must and failing to gate access can result in penalties. From legal issues in the case of client confidentiality to internal rifts within departments, any number of problems may occur if security is left loose. To prevent these issues, invest in a robust document security system as soon as your office becomes paperless.
Inform Clients of your Paperless Transition
Tell your clients that you are scanning all paper-based documents to digital and that you would appreciate any correspondence to be in digital form going forward—this is a vital consideration for legal and financial firms as their communication with clients is frequent and critical. Send out an email to introduce them to the new electronic document sharing systems. Make sure you address any security concerns and emphasize the benefits of the switch to digital. Familiarize your clients with the program or software you use to share, transfer, and collaboratively use documents. Electronic sharing cuts the processing as well as transit time, as documents are emailed, signed, and returned within minutes instead of days.
Implement a Day-forward Scanning Process
A paper-free office should be completely paperless. In reality, however, you will receive some form of paper in the office environment, whether you like it or not—because not all companies and clients are as digital-savvy as you are! However, this does not mean that you have to use those paper documents. Implement a daily process to digitize any physical or paper records as soon as you receive them. We refer to this as day-forward scanning—a process that maintains a paperless environment in your office. You need to decide if you want to outsource this process to a professional scanning company or assign the responsibility to an in-house team. Invest in high-quality document scanners if you take the in-house route.
The best practices we discussed here will help you get the most out of your paperless office system. MES offers document scanning services and document management solutions designed to make your business easier. Get in touch with us for a document management plan for your paperless office and a free quote of our day-forward scanning services.