Small and medium businesses are known to consume a large volume of paper documents around the world. Accountants deal with their clients' invoices and receipts; lawyers collect legal documents; insurance agents get clients' signatures, all of which traditionally require paperwork. We hardly think about it, but companies spend a lot of time and money moving and storing documents. Analysts have predicted the move to a paperless office for more than two decades, but companies still spend a lot of time and money moving paper around. The use of paper documents causes losses that can be eliminated, or at least drastically reduced, by going paperless. As your physical paperwork accumulates, so do your problems:
- Data entry errors due to manual input of information read from a piece of paper
- Slower execution of routine tasks that rely on papers as input
- Costly storage in the office or offsite storage
- Security vulnerabilities due to loss or theft of documents
In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of digital documents and the steps needed to go paperless.
What does it mean to give up the paper?
As a paperless office, you’d most likely want to:
- Have all your documents scanned, indexed, and securely stored in a central repository for easy retrieval.
- Be able to receive and send digital documents efficiently
- Automate processes that were previously performed manually.
- Securely access your electronic documents from any device, anytime and anywhere. This is especially important if you have several offices or remote employees.
Even though businesses in most industries can now turn completely paperless, many small and medium businesses still have a long way to go to become fully digital.
Digital documents are simple, searchable, comfortable to store and share, and more versatile than paper documents. Nevertheless, adopting a document management system and using it to streamline workflows across all business functions is hard work. Thus many businesses have long been deferring going paperless.
The Urgency of Going Paperless Due to Covid-19
The global pandemic has brought our world to its knees and seriously affected all aspects of human life. The scale of the social and economic impacts of covid-19—along with governments' actions across the globe—have dramatically increased the amount of remote work.
Working from home has become a new normal for most businesses, pushing employees to find new ways to accomplish tasks they previously performed in the office or face-to-face. Some employees have had to get used to not having a scanner or copier nearby, and to no longer being able to meet a client to get their signature. Others have had to look for alternative ways to remotely collaborate with colleagues and efficiently communicate with customers.
Fortunately, today’s powerful mobile technology and a rich selection of business applications have made it easy to go digital—sometimes 100% paperless—for businesses of all sizes. During covid-19, many businesses have succeeded in operating at peak efficiency by adopting well-developed remote working practices and switching to a paperless office.
How Your Small-to-Medium Sized Businesses Can Quickly Go Paperless
The concept of a paperless office is far from new, but the transition has never been as easy as it is today. The availability of cloud storage, document management, file sharing, and remote collaboration simplifies the transition process. The question then is: I want to go paperless, but where to start? Below are few steps to becoming a paperless office.
Get the right equipment
There are several items your office will need to transition correctly. Laptop computers with reliable internet connections are probably the most important. Second most important are desktop scanners to help convert physical documents—such as invoices and signed contracts—to a digital format so that everything can move online.
Scan existing documents
It’s probably not going to be so easy, but it’s often going to be necessary to scan all existing physical documents. Follow best practices for folder and file names, such as
/year/client folders and the
YYYY/MM/DD date prefix for file names, for example:
/2021/Client Name/20210201 - Filename.pdf. Pick a specific switching date: scan all paper documents from before that date, and switch to digital thereafter.
Get more computer monitors
With less physical document storage, you now have more working space that you can use. Consider setting up two monitors on each desk, so that your employees can view two or more documents at a time.
Move to cloud storage applications
Cloud storage applications make it easy to share data with customers and suppliers; no need to worry about different formats or sync between multiple devices. Some useful cloud storage applications include:
- Google Drive for storing and sharing documents
- Dropbox or Box for syncing files between devices
- ImportFeed for managing incoming customer documents
- Notion, Roam Research, or Evernote for digital note-taking
- Basecamp or Asana for task and project management
- Slack for team communication
The more you can migrate to the cloud, the less you have to worry about finding your files and whether your team already processed them.
Define a document handling methodology
Now that your files are synced across multiple computers, you’ll want to define a specific methodology for handling newly received files. When one user updates or makes changes in a file, the latest version should be available to all relevant team members and clients. Online document management applications not only support a paperless office but also make communication and collaboration easier. Be sure to choose a document system that fits your needs and is secure, especially if you are in a regulated space like accounting, finance, or insurance.
Consider digital signatures
Nowadays, most jurisdictions have adopted laws giving digitally-signed contracts the same legal effect as contracts signed with pen on paper. Use a digital signature platform such as Adobe Sign or DocuSign in order to get collect signature online.
Today’s online billing platforms allow for reliable and flexible online payments. Many facilitate one-time and recurring payments and recurring subscriptions, have a self-service client portal for invoices, and even handle disputes. Choosing one such billing hub will help offload a large part of your paperwork hassle.
Cut down on email
It’s a constant struggle to stay on top of your inbox and know when you’ve received the latest version of an important document. Instead, use software that consolidates all documents and communications into one central place.
Save time dealing with client documents
ImportFeed is a powerful document management and customer communications tool that can help your business get more done faster.
Try ImportFeed for free to reduce email communication and take control over your incoming documents.