You have a meeting with a client in 20 minutes, but you can’t find his file. You look in every pile and stack of paper in your office, and it’s only minutes before the client arrives that you find it — underneath a stack of unread mail. And speaking of unread mail? There is an invoice in there that needs to be paid, and if it isn’t paid this week, the account is going to collections. Of course, you would know that if you had all of your correspondence organized.
In a perfect world, you’d be able to keep your desk neat and tidy at all times, but it’s sometimes impossible to stay ahead of the paper avalanche that greets you every time you walk in the door. Except all of that clutter is probably hurting your productivity — and your business.
According to the National Association of Professional Organizations, the average person spends 4.3 hours every week searching for papers. The Small Business Administration cites mishandled paperwork as the biggest factor in dissatisfied customers and slowed business growth.
While developing better organizational processes and systems can go a long way toward reducing clutter and improving productivity, one major change can control the chaos, improve productivity, and cut costs: Go paperless.
What Is a Paperless Office?
In the simplest terms, a paperless office is exactly what it sounds like: An office that uses little to no paper in its daily operations. Going entirely paper-free isn’t always practical, but most businesses can cut paper consumption by 75 to 80 percent with a few simple changes.
Going paperless can actually benefit your business in several ways. The most obvious benefit is better organization: When important files are stored electronically in a well-organized manner, there’s no need to sift through piles to search for important documents. You save time, and create a better impression on clients and customers.
A paperless environment also saves money. Not only do you spend less on paper, toner, and ink, you also prevent lost opportunities and excess charges due to lost invoices. Cost savings also come from reduced storage needs. Instead of investing in filing cabinets and extra office space to store papers you may never need, or paying for off-site storage, electronic systems store everything virtually for a fraction of the cost. Of course, you can’t ignore the environmental benefits of going paperless. Using fewer resources helps reduce your carbon footprint, which you can then use as a selling point to prospective customers.
How to Go Paperless
Making the leap to a paperless office requires a total overhaul of many systems and processes, but it’s actually not as difficult as one might think. There are a number of ways that you can go paperless without disrupting daily operations.
- Switch to an Internet fax service. Sending and receiving faxes online via a secure connection mean that you don’t have to print documents before sending or use paper to receive them.
- Request paperless statements and communication. Most companies offer the option to receive bills and statements via email instead of the mail. When you do, you can reduce the amount of incoming mail by more than half.
- Store documents in the cloud instead of filing cabinets. In many ways, cloud storage is actually more secure, since you can encrypt the data and determine who has access.
- Use shared networks and Wikis for daily workflow. Instead of printing documents to share with your staff, post policies, project updates, templates, and other documents in shared drives so everyone can access them as needed.
- Use portable technology. Make use of the smartphones that you and your employees carry, and download apps to keep paper usage under control. For example, choose a robust expense management app that allows employees to track expenses — and even scan receipts — right from their devices and submit reimbursement requests without any paper. Scanning apps or handheld scanners can also help control the clutter; in most cases, once the original document is digitized, it can be recycled.
Reducing Paper Usage
In some cases, going completely paperless isn’t practical, and there will always be a need to have hard copies of certain documents. However, even if you can’t get rid of paper entirely, you can reduce usage. For example, learn your printer’s settings, and encourage double-sided or multi-page setups to use less paper. Incentivizing reduced paper usage can also help. Challenge your employees to reduce their paper usage by a certain percentage, and create a “paperless” culture where the norm is to reduce usage.
Reducing or eliminating the amount of paper your business uses can go a long way toward keeping your organized and productive. Especially given the reduced costs that can come with such an initiative, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t make the change today.