How to switch to paperless document management

How many sheets of copy paper do you think an average office worker uses in a year? Could you believe it’s 10,000? For a long time, paper-based practices were basically the only option for businesses.

Today, things are changing. Not only are there digital technologies available that can essentially replace (or at least dramatically reduce) paper usage, but also the number of businesses taking advantage of them is increasing. Digital documents — and the tools that companies are using to manage them — are here to stay.

So if you’re considering ditching paper — or simply trying to reduce the amount of paper your business currently uses — you’re moving in the right direction.

Below are some of the most compelling reasons to make the switch, along with some tips on how to transition to paperless document management successfully.

The compelling case for paperless document management

Some of the benefits of going paperless are the obvious ones, including the fact that it frees up an immense amount of physical storage space in your office. It also saves on costs associated with storage, printing, and shredding and reduces your impact on the environment. (By some estimates, we throw away about 1 billion trees’ worth of paper every year in the U.S. alone!)

While those benefits are important, other compelling factors are also driving businesses to adopt a paperless document management system, including the following.

  • It allows you to move faster, increasing productivity.
    • You can easily create new documents using electronic templates and online forms.
    • You can quickly search for documents using key search terms or phrases.
    • You can automatically move documents from one person to the next to speed up key processes, such as approvals and contracts.
  • It increases accuracy. Creating digital documents using templates means fewer mistakes.
  • It offers greater security. Storing digital documents in an electronic document management system means you’ll be less likely to lose them or let them fall into the wrong hands. (In contrast, anyone can access that file on your desk.)
  • It allows employees to make better use of their time. Creating, filing, and locating paper documents can take up to 40 percent of an employee’s time. Switching to a paperless system means they can focus on bigger, more important issues that will actually impact your business.

Tips for converting to paperless document management

If you’re convinced that your business is sorely in need of an upgrade, it’s time to take the next step. First, understand that converting to paperless document management won’t happen overnight. You’ll go through an adjustment period as you discover the best ways to create new digital documents, scan old ones (to convert important paper documents into digital versions), and set up an electronic document management system that works well for you.

Still, it doesn’t have to be a chore, either. Here are some tips to make your conversion to paperless document management easier.

1. Decide on a set of document management rules. To optimize your new system, you’ll want to set some rules around creating and storing documents. Consider questions like these:

  • How should we create new documents? Will we use templates or forms?
  • Should we date all new documents or include other key information?
  • How should we name documents, and where should we store them?

2. Only convert documents you really need. While you could scan all your existing paper documents to convert them to digital, that probably isn’t necessary. Consider this a good time to organize your files, discard documents that you no longer need, and prioritize those for conversion that are most important.

3. Involve your entire team in the process. Documents belong to the entire company, not just an individual. Reorganizing your document structure without consulting each department could throw a wrench in some key processes. Try to involve as many people as possible in the transition and give them a say in how your company will organize documents.

4. Retain old documents for reference. It never hurts to keep your old documents around — especially the most important ones — as you adjust to the new reality. That way, you can always refer back to them if you need to.

5. Consider how you’ll handle paper documents going forward. It’s inevitable that you’ll continue to receive paper invoices, receipts, contracts, and more from some vendors and other organizations. You’ll need a plan to manage them. Will you convert them to electronic form? Which documents should you convert? Who will be responsible for the task?

6. Communicate your switch to the new system. Send out a company-wide email that links to any training or informational documents for your new management system — and don’t forget to give people the contact information for technical support.

Encourage everyone to make a habit of accessing documents in the new system. Getting people on board may not be easy at first, but over time, your paperless system will become the norm.

Converting to a paperless document management system requires a lot of up-front costs — including time and energy — but the more efficient your system is, the better your business will run in the future.

Photo by Nicolas J Leclercq on Unsplash

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