Did you know that the average office worker uses around 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year? And then goes on to waste 68% of them – predominantly through printing errors? Even more scary is that over 24% of businesses can lose a day per transaction getting signatures on a printed document.
What is a paperless office?
Most people visualise a paperless office as a workplace with desks clear of paper, or a greatly reduced amount of paper. That’s certainly the aim of a paperless office.
In fact, the term ‘paperless office’ is more commonly used to describe the methods where the use of paper can be reduced or eliminated. This involves converting from traditional paper-based processes to digital-based processes.
The concept isn’t new. It goes all the way back to the 1970s when video display computer terminals were the latest thing – influencing the thinking about how office automation could eliminate paper for routine tasks.
So why aren’t we paperless 40-years on? A YouGov survey amongst business leaders has showed that a fully paperless workplace is some way off. 84% of UK businesses still print documents just to get ink-based signatures with the figure being even higher as the organisation gets larger – 89% of medium-sized and 83% of large organisations admit to this.
Often businesses look to achieve it in steps – the first one to focus on eliminating paper from a specific business process or workflow.
What’s so important about a paperless office?
Over the last few years there has been increasing focus on the paperless office with advancements in technology and constant business drivers to reduce cost and improve efficiency.
There is real cost attached to paper from the handling and wastage to the storage and disposal costs. In fact, a recent survey highlighted the handling alone has been estimated as 13 to 31 times the cost of buying the paper in the first place.
There are the hidden costs around less efficiency. According to an independent survey of over 3,600 European employees, commissioned by Epson Europe, 24% of businesses claiming they can lose a day or more getting a signature or business leaders estimating that employees lose an hour each day looking for documents.
Contrast this with a digital system where employees can quickly locate documents and share them within minutes. And an office where the space can be fully utilised for its people and purpose – than in housing filing cabinets or having to pay costly contracts for storage.
Attracting future talent has to be part of the consideration too. Future generations will expect to see digitalisation in the office place – the more, the better – using multiple devices to achieve their tasks.
And we have to think about the environment here – 49% of all wood pulp goes to paper production. Businesses, like individuals, have a responsibility to the environment. Going paperless is a much green option than using reams of paper.
What are the benefits of a paperless office?
There are real advantages to a paperless office which include:
- Finding and accessing your documents
A paperless office is all about making access and retrieval to documents easier 24/7 – using different devices. Within teams and departments, documents can be shared and stored safely across authorised users – and nobody ever needs to leave their desk. It’s all screen based – saving time and boosting productivity
- Reduced costs
The same document can be duplicated, faxed, manipulated or combined at the same time at no cost in terms of paper, printers and secure paper storage and disposal. Further, when you consider that that businesses can pay up to £140 per square foot in London – the cost of utilising office space is critical. Bulky filing cabinets are an expensive way to use that space – move the documents out of the office and you still have the expense of retrieval and storage.
|More efficient processes|
With a digital management system in place, you can simplify processes within a business. Using just a few buttons, users can use authorities and transfer date whenever they need. Similarly, authorising invoices or ordering goods becomes a much simpler process and you have an automated audit trail.
- Focus where it matters
Greater efficiency within an office means that people can spend their time where it really matters – on their customers and growing the business.
- Secure systems
Digital document management systems store documents on secure servers or cloud with only authorised users able to access them.
- Better perception
Operating more efficiently is better for everyone and has an impact on how you are perceived by customers, suppliers and the market as a whole. It certainly improves the customer experience and their expectations – so critical whichever sector you operate in.
Are there any disadvantages?
Clearly there needs to be a culture change where surveys are still showing over 80% of office workers like to see paper within an office. However, some of the reasons for wanting paper also need to be considered namely:
- Reading large documents isn’t easy on a computer screen. Within Epson survey, mentioned earlier, 64% indicated they’d prefer to read reports and brochures on printed paper. 62% believed that errors were more likely when editing a document on screen as opposed to a printout.
- Security measures need to be considered within a paperless office over access controls and how they are monitored.
- There are compliance issues around certain legal documents needing to be stored in paper format and requiring ‘inked’ signatures.
- There is an upfront investment, not inconsiderable in cost and time, around converting existing documents into digital form.
- Companies need to ensure that they carry out essential continual upgrading of hardware and software
- In the most extreme case, there is the threat to companies, highly reliant on digital information, being shut down through computer viruses, power outages, network crashes and malicious activity.
Can a paperless office be a reality?
According to the YouGov survey, an overwhelming majority (83%) felt a ‘paperless office is unrealistic’.
People can be one of the biggest barriers with current working generations used to working with paper. Generation Z may be the turning point having used digital devices since pre-school.
There are also reasons around compliance and security that many organisations would struggle to be paperless at this time.
However, many larger organisations have adopted a paperless approach in the last few years around waste reduction and the use of paper. For example, Bank of America has cut its paper consumption by 25%, in a two-year span, by increasing the use of online forms and reports, and doing simple small habits like double-sided copying and lighter-weight paper.
Further, the rapid pace of technology and customer expectations means that many businesses are either considering or taking their first steps towards a paperless office – streamlining workflows or business processes. It may not be the paperless office envisaged nearly 40-years ago, but it’s getting closer.
11 tips for moving your organisation to a paperless office
It’s not as daunting as it sounds and offers a number of benefits to organisations from cost savings to a better customer experience.
1. Plan ahead
Going paperless doesn’t just save money but can offer real benefits to improving the customer experience. Change comes from within so It’s important to lead from top down with a clearly defined plan and implementation. Going paperless means you need to digitalise and semi-automate multiple company processes so don’t underestimate the task.
2. Break Down the Process
It can be pretty daunting looking at the business as one single entity – our recommended approach is to plan the programme initially around departments and disciplines. This approach will allow documentation and processes to be considered clearly and their future requirements to be properly considered as part of the overall paperless office restructure.
3. Put a team in place
Depending on the size of your organisation, you might need one person or a team to drive the change and be responsible for internal training. Do be open to bringing in a specialist, if you don’t have the internal expertise, as you can miss a critical opportunity to drive real value-led transformation and place stress on already busy individuals.
4. Sharing your vision
Achieving a successful paperless office relies on great engagement with your people. You need to bring them with you with – each and every employee committed to making the change. Ensure that internal training requirements are assessed and carried out.
5. Compliance considerations
Make sure you carry out checks on whether compliance regulations require you to retain actual copies of documents with an “inked signature” for a certain period of time. Depending on the country, electronic signatures have become as compliant as original ones in recent times – but it is always important to double check this.
6. What system?
Identifying which digital system to go for is one of the most critical factors in moving towards a paperless office. A Document Management Software handles file creation, sharing, manipulation and storage whilst an Enterprise Content Management provides a heavier solution – covering all company content, including files, images, web pages, records etc. A further decision is then required whether you want to go the cloud or server option. The popular and perhaps more agile option for SMEs is to move into the cloud with a DMS due to its cost-effectiveness and lack of maintenance.
7. Switch to paperless billing
Switching to paperless billing can make your life easier whilst saving you money and accessing invoices more easily.
8. Paperless tasks and memos
Switching to paperless task lists, memos and notes can be simple, especially with a document management software supporting many kinds of options for sharing information. It also better supports collaboration with a team’s tasks and notes synchronized across all devices.
9. Paperless payments & receipts
By switching to a paperless online payment provider, you save time and benefit your customers.
10. Paperless signatures
The whole process around signing documents is time consuming – there are various solutions to choose from: enterprise level to much lighter solutions.
11. Choose PDF software
Going forward, you need a system that allows your business to edit, convert and manipulate different file types in order to maintain the new paperless system. The options range from licensed offline desktop software through to more agile, cloud-based PDF types of software.
Staying ahead of the competition
If you don’t take the plunge towards a paperless office, your competitors will. There are real benefits to be gained from cost savings to an improved customer experience.
Taking one step at a time is fine but you do need a strategic plan with full board buy-in, the right expertise and employee engagement to ensure you deliver the transformation that’s right for you.
Connect with BPMS if you want to know more