I recently came upon an interactive infographic that explains ways that companies (and employees) can avoid using paper at work. Though many offices now do most things digitally, many also still have a trail of actual papers to be filed, recycled and stored.
Some of you might wonder what the benefits are for going paper-free. For those smaller offices, doing away with stacks of papers saves space. Plus, having digital copies is much more convenient these days. You can email or fax necessary documents quickly without having to lick a stamp or call a courier. And using the cloud to store documents allows workers to access them from just about any mobile device, and it promotes collaboration among employees. Not to mention, it’s far more green to not print at all than to recycle a ton of paper each month.
For a small to midsize business (SMB) office, where should you begin? One area that is becoming simpler to digitize is finance. Accounting software is usually set up to work with most banking applications and websites. One such company, Xero, provides accounting software that emails invoices, works with a mobile app, works with up to 300 third-party apps and helps schedule payments. Also, online banking is fast and easy. Bills can be paid without having to cut a check or wait for a signature. Funds can be transferred easily from vendors to your bank account. Using digital payments cuts out the need to buy (and use) paper checks, and there are no checks to misplace or have expire. And all transaction data can be linked to your accounting apps so that no one forgets a withdrawal or payment.
Next, you’ll need to consider a way to digitize current and future papers. Many offices look around at existing files and stacks of papers and think that it’s too overwhelming a task to begin digitizing it all. And maybe it is for today. PCMag’s Jill Duffy suggests starting from a date and declaring that after that date, the office will be paper-free; then worry about digitizing older files. Neat SVP of Product Management Harris Romanoff told Duffy:
“In kicking off a paperless venture, focus your efforts on how you’ll move forward, rather than how you’ll deal with the backlog. What I’ve observed over the years is the prospect of getting paper-free is very aspirational. We see a lot of interest in Neat [products] around New Year’s and tax season, but then people say, ‘Oh my gosh, I have so much!’ They get overwhelmed. Once they get up and running and it becomes part of their routine and their daily work flow, then they can start to move backward.”
Investing in paper scanners like the ones from Neat and Fujitsu is a good way to start converting paper to digital documents. For smaller offices, this can be cheaper than a document management system, such as Scan123 or Xerox. Storing scanned cards, receipts and documents on a server works well, but many cloud-based document management services are very cost-effective. Solutions like eFileCabinet provide software for organizing and categorizing files along with a cloud-storage solution to file them away.
To help cut down on the influx of paper mail you receive, be sure to contact your utility providers, credit card companies and vendors and ask for paperless billing and statements. This will allow you to receive emailed statements and bills that can be saved and filed in the cloud or on your server.
Eventually, your company mailbox will be virtually empty. In fact, employees may find it easier to pay bills and collaborate on documents when everything is at their fingertips via the keyboard. And although you will likely still find some outside companies that haven’t embraced digital documentation, stay on track and be sure to scan and file those documents and papers into your document system. Eventually, they’ll probably catch on, too.
Kim Mays has been editing and writing about IT since 1999. She currently tackles the topics of small to midsize business technology and introducing new tools for IT. Follow Kim on Google+ at google.com/+KimberlyMays6 or Twitter @blumoonky.