How Paperless Offices Work

Going Paperless at Home

In a home office, it's possible to back up files to a computer rather than having stacks of paper.
In a home office, it's possible to back up files to a computer rather than having stacks of paper.
Photographer: Richard J. Thompson | Agency: Dreamstime

Whether you're a solo entrepreneur or a telecommuter working full or part time from home, there's no reason your home office can't be as paperless as possible. In fact, given limited space and available time, the move to electronic communication and reduced paper may be even more important at home than in a conventional office. Most of the same concepts apply, only on smaller scale.

Start your at-home push to paperless by taming your inner pack rat. No, you probably don't need marketing materials from five years ago or every scrap of paper related to completed projects. Reduce junk mail by calling 1-888-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) to stop receiving credit card offers. Once you've cleared out the unnecessary, you can work to keep those newly cleared spaces clear permanently.

Next, switch to electronic with everything you can. Electronic banking eliminates statements and checks. Online credit card and financial statements knocks out more paper. Check to see what other accounts, like insurance, you can make online. The same goes for project proposals, resumés and invoices. When paper comes to the door, handle it once, and recycle or shred as much as you can immediately.

Make PDF documents of your receipts and save them online instead of printing out paper copies. Create an online filing system that's easy to understand. And develop a regular back-up system that you do at least weekly to make sure you don't lose important documents. A flash drive or CD can work, unless you have enough data to need an external hard drive for back-up.

Consider getting an inexpensive scanner, if you don't already have one, to scan and save receipts, contracts and other documents. If you need to return a signed contract and your employer or client is willing, you can scan the contract, sign it and fax it back. If not, you can at least scan and save the signed contract for your records.

Take that concept a step further, and consider signing up for electronic fax services. Several companies offer this service and accompanying software for as little as $40 per month. With electronic faxing, or Internet faxing, as it's sometimes called, you can send and receive faxes without a paper-using fax machine. Any document you create on your computer can be sent to a fax machine via e-mail or the Web.

Add a firewall and evaluate your software to make sure you have adequate security for your electronic documents and can protect them from cyber-thieves. If you think you need more, buy something more robust.

Work on one area at a time to gradually build to a nearly paperless office. Plan an annual end-of-year clean-out. Go through files, and move everything that simply needs to be stored onto CDs.

And accept the fact that some paper won't go away. Deeds, birth certificates, notarized documents and some tax-related items just need to be stored securely. Fortunately, by the time you've made the other changes, you probably won't need a large box to store the paper you've left!

Next, let's consider paperless office solutions beyond document management systems that can make a paperless office work better.