Transition to a Paperless Office: Best Practices

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Munadil Shafat
Student (MBA), Bangladesh

Transition to a Paperless Office: Best Practices

The "Paperless Office" has been a buzz word in office culture for 3-4 decades now. More and more organizations and departments within organizations are attempting to go paperless. It is likely that Covid-19 and resulting Work from Home is going to catalyze this gradual process a lot.
Note that what seems to be an everyday concept, isn't necessarily that easy to implement. It requires know-how, persistence and careful attention to specific things. Otherwise, the attempt may go in vain in most cases. If you are thinking about a paperless transition either for your department or your entire organization, here are some best practices to follow:
  1. START WITH SCANNING (BUT DON'T STOP THERE): The first venture to a paperless dream often begins with a large-scale document scanning initiative. But anyone who has some experience in scanning knows that it is a time-consuming and boring job. And thus it doesn't fit well to the fast-paced digital culture for which you are doing all these things. Scanning previous documents can be your first choice as there is no other option, but it should have an end time. Consider the following:
    1. Take the scanning job as a project with a start and end date. Hire an intern for the project or outsource it altogether. Don't assign it to a current employee who has other job duties.
    2. Categorize what type of paper documents you deal with, which ones are necessary for the future, which ones are not. Clean the unnecessary ones first. Among the necessary documents, differentiate between active (recalled frequently) and Inactive ones (rarely recalled). Active documents, when scanned, give a higher return on investment and productivity boosts than inactive ones.
    3. While someone is scanning your active files, you have to take (change management) initiatives to decrease the flow of future incoming documents in paper form (more on change management in the next point).
  2. CHANGE THE MINDS OF PEOPLE: If the entire organization is not ready for the change, then start in one / your own department and lead by example. If they are convinced to try it across the organization, then carefully implement the following:
    1. Introduce policies aimed at discouraging unnecessary printing. Minimize access to printer by arranging only a centralized printer. Otherwise, monitor and limit toner purchases across various departments.
    2. Come up with a fool-proof system to organize your digital files or what you will produce will end up into being a digital mess with little to no future value.
    3. Like other change initiatives, this one also needs training your staff to adapt to the new digital workflows.
  3. ARRANGE THE TOOLS OF THE TRADE: You will need an Electronic Content Management (ECM) system to make the process easier. There are a lot in the market to choose from. Trial as many as you can and see what satisfies your needs best. You will also need a reliable, fast, intuitive digital scanner if you are planing to do it in-house. Make your paperless workflow simple, clear and straight forward. Give employees digital devices so that they feel it is unnecessary to print various kinds of documents to carry with them.
  4. INTEGRATE WITH BUSINESS OPERATIONS: Unlike the other considerations, this one requires more work. Do every integration possible with your business operations. Possibly you have an existing ERP to drive your business. Integrate your ERP with ECM. Convince your supplier, or other companies you work with to ease your transition by complying with your digital norms.
  5. SET A DEADLINES FOR THE TRANSITION, MEASURE PROGRESS AND REWARD: Set goals for each department and for the company as a whole that encourage everyone to transition to an electronic document management system. What gets rewarded, gets done and repeated by others. Thus, you should also have a reward initiative program in place for when the goal is met to encourage employees to participate in the efforts to go paperless. It is important to remember though the extent of paperless transition varies by organizations and industries. You have to be realistic in setting goals and deadlines.
These were the best practices I collected and distilled from several sources. What do you think is the most challenging part of "going paperless"? Please share your experiences and ideas.
Sources:
Max Freedman, "How to Create a Paperless Office", Business.
"7 Simple Steps for Going Paperless", eFileCabinet.
Violette Farah, "Biggest Mistakes Organizations Make When Trying to Switch to a Paperless Office", Scannmore
"How To Improve Document Storage & Imaging Across Your Organization", Laserfiche

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