The Paperless Office

How long have you been saying, "We need to go paperless"?  Has it been months, years or even decades?  It's a great concept to strive for, but don't get discouraged if you haven't gotten to this point yet.  This term has been thrown around for years and we still see business after business with paper everywhere.  Paper takes up space and sometimes is hard to find, and it can eventually make your office look messy.  So why is so hard to make the move?  I'll give you the main reason, IT'S AWFUL!!!  Why is it so awful, well here are some obstacles you may be running into:

1.  Time- The amount of time required to actually move towards a paperless office can take years without a proper strategy.  A little scanning here, a little scanning there, a little scanning whenever your employees have some downtime.  Well if you are properly staffed and running an efficient office, your employees should not have a lot of downtime, which then makes the process even harder to accomplish.

2.  Money- Usually the move towards a paperless office requires the purchase of a new software program, or to utilize software already in place that has the capability to store all of your information.  Think about that for a minute.  How much did you pay for a software program that you are not using to its highest potential?  Why buy something that you won't even use?

3.  Hard copies are required- Well then what's the point of going paperless if we have to keep the documents?  Pretty much every business is required to keep some type of hard copies.  Whether it's contracts, time sheets, transcripts, etc., hard copies are needed to make someone happy.  Have you ever thought about what you would do in the event of a natural disaster?  A fire, flood, tornado, or even a busted pipe could wipe out all of your required documents very quickly, then what?  Some organizations are fined, or worse, if they can't produce proper documentation within a given amount of time.  

4.  We don't reference those files-  Then what's the point of keeping them?  A retention schedule of eliminating old paper documents is unheard of in some organizations.  They are out of sight, out of mind and there when we need them.  Files are thrown into storage and forgotten about, taking up valuable square footage you are paying for at a premium price.  

Where do you start?  Moving towards a paperless office requires baby steps.  It's important to identify the main objective of what you are trying to accomplish, then come up with different phases of how this will be completed.  Once the plan is in place, a great commitment is needed to follow through with the plan.  Here are some helpful ideas that can make this process easier to start:

1.  Identify the champion-  Every office has that employee with all of the ideas of how to make the company better.  Make that employee your paperless champion.  It is their responsibility to come up with a plan, implement the plan, and then follow through with the plan.  It will be harder to convert your office into paperless if everyone is doing what they think is best on their own time.  Once a champion is established and has taken ownership of the project, you will see this project completed properly and faster than you could even imagine. 

2.  Baby Steps-  Consider what is most important first.  Do you need to convert the warehouse?  Do you just want to start with a day-forward strategy?  Should you start with HR?  Pick a department, or specific file, or even a file cabinet.  Once that is completed, move on to the next project.  Put the plan in writing so no deviation can occur.  

3.  Scanners-  Identify who is going to do the converting.  Some companies bring in their children over summer break, some hire a temp agency, some use their current employees, and some hire a company to come in and convert everything.  Just remember that the conversion process is a very tedious job that can take a very long time to complete depending on who you choose and how much you want scanned.  

4.  File Retrieval-  Once everything has been converted, how are you going to find it?  Scanning and creating PDF's could work, but think about all of your files that would be converted.  It is possible that it could take just as long to find that PDF as it would take to find the hard copy.  Scanning to PDF is great, but without proper software the only tag to search a file by is the file name.  The retrieval of information within the file may be what you are looking for, but you may not know which file name it's under.  Document management programs have the capability of searching by OCR (optical character recognition) and tags..  By tagging your document with three to four most searched for items before the scan, or by creating OCR PDF's, you should be able to find what you are looking for very quickly.    

5.  Keep it Digital-  Once everything is scanned in, how are you going to keep it digital.  This part of the plan can be the hardest to accomplish because it requires behavior change.  We are all set in our ways, and change is great for the other guy.  But in order to complete the process, it is good to have someone from the outside come in and ask questions about why you are doing what you are doing.  It may be hard to come up with a game plan for behavior change if you don't know what to change.  Once that game plan can be implemented, then you are well on your way to becoming a paperless office.