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How Paperless Offices Work

        Money | Work Life

Transitioning to a Paperless Office
Faxes can be sent electronically to individual computers instead of requiring hard copies.
Faxes can be sent electronically to individual computers instead of requiring hard copies.
Photographer: Izaokas Sapiro | Agency: Dreamstime

If you're considering the transition to a paperless office -- or at least a more paperless office, you may be wondering where to start and what you'll need. Many companies offer document management systems, hardware, software and consulting services to help improve electronic communication on the road to having no paper. We'll look at some of those later in this article. For now, let's explore the process.

Here are some decisions for you to consider before you start the transition to a more paperless office:

  • How much of your paper do you want to convert? How far back do you want to go in converting paper files?
  • How will you handle the paper that still comes in from vendors, partners or customers? Or, that you can't convert, like legal or tax-related documents?
  • How expensive is new equipment or software, or both, and how does that fit your budget?
  • What's your proposed process for going paperless and your time frame?
  • How will you inform staff and get them to buy into the process so they accept the changes you want and don't slide back into heavy paper use?
  • How much help do you need from outside? (This could be a consultant to manage the conversion process, a vendor for new equipment and software, a firm to do actual data conversion, a hosting service to move electronic files off site, security experts, or employee trainers.)
  • How will you handle paper reduction on an ongoing basis? For instance, whose job will it be to scan and electronically file incoming paper?

Based on recommendations from experts and companies who have gone through the process, here are some basic steps for the transition process.

  1. Commit to going to a paperless office, and convince staff to go along with it by explaining the advantages for each of them individually, and as a group, and involving them in the process.
  2. Check your existing computer hardware to make sure it's robust enough to handle added applications and file storage. Make sure you have a reliable backup system for all the files you will be adding.
  3. Analyze what you need and plan to accomplish. Think about what you're likely to need in the future with a growing business, as well as now. Think about which documents need to be accessed often or quickly, which need extra security, and which could be weeded out after a certain time.
  4. Develop a transition plan and a timetable.
  5. Start small with just a single department or area of our business so you can address any problems before broadening your scope.
  6. Research the available tools to help you (document management systems, electronic faxing, scanners, data backup systems, security systems, document conversion companies, process consultants).
  7. Select and arrange to buy the tools you plan to use. For software, consider fit with your needs, ease of use and implementation, cost, and integration with your existing systems. And don't neglect backup needs to keep electronic data from being lost.
  8. Do a small test project; make any needed changes; and then move to the transition in your first department.
  9. Develop a plan for ongoing company-wide use. Include a document storage plan for employees with specific guidelines.
  10. Gradually take your paperless transition through the company.

Next, let's look at a key part of any paperless office -- the document management system.