Paper trails

With the advent of the year 2012 we find ourselves in a special time and place in world history.   Surprisingly I don’t mean the fact that we have managed to arrived at an awesomely futuristic date without blowing ourselves off the face of the universe.   So now that we’ve arrived relatively unharmed at this millennial junction I’d like to think that the time is nigh for the digital revolution to finish the work that it has started.

Namely, I would like to take this time to call for the absolute destruction and subsequent shredding of the paper product driven office environment.  So, if you want to join the struggle against the tyranny of 8.5 X 11 and feel good about saving not only trees but our environment then consider some of the following strategies that will help you move  towards a paperless home or office environment.

1. Make digital backups! 

Now that you’ve incinerated your surplus paper stockpiles in order to barbeque your Xerox machine you’re going to have to take all of the important documents you would have filed in a bulky filing cabinet and store them somewhere safe, and accessible.  Creating a filing system that mimic old paper systems is relatively straight forward- using folders and descriptive titles is just the begging of  storing your documents.  It is not enough to just create all of these files on your computer,  they have to be backed up as well.

You have a couple of options depending on the size and scope of your operations, you could back up to:

  • Secondary hard drives
  • Removable drives
  • Could/Internet drives
  • Off-site locations

Choosing to put your backup off site minimizes the risk of a fire or other natural disaster destroying  all of  your data in one go,  but the further it is away from you the less accessible it could be.  You’ll have to make the decision based on the facts on the ground for your business; often the solution can be as simple as doing a little bit from column A and a little bit from column B.   Diversity gives you the advantage of having a choice when choosing a disaster recovery plan, so as long as you have a system in place for regular and consistent backing up of your information you should rest easy knowing your paper days are far behind you.

2.  Nothing major happens overnight

Although you may be excited about your paperless office, you have to realize that it does not happen overnight.  All things have a natural progression, so testing your paperless strategies in one aspect of your business – such as storing all invoices digitally- before rolling it out to every single department will let you iron out wrinkles in your system and deal with obstacles you may come across on a much more manageable micro scale.

Chances are you’ll probably learn a whole lot about what going paperless means in your business in this initial test, and you should take your employees’ opinions into account at this stage of the process as they’re likely going to be the ones doing the bulk of the digitizing of  all existing paper documents.

3. Get ready to rearrange your workspace.

Since you’ll be switching from focusing on giving your employees easy access to the paper systems and filing cabinets currently populating your office to making their paperless experience pleasant there is going to be some necessary redecorating coming up on your docket.  This is actually a good thing- you won’t notice during the initial stages of the switch over likely because you won’t be getting rid of those filing cabinets right away but replacing a wall of metal boxes with a digitizing station (as simple as a scanner on a table) will free your office from looking like it doesn’t belong in the future.   In replacing document and paper supply storage with hardware and peripherals to assist your transition to digital documents won’t explicitly help your feng shui but it certainly can’t hurt.
4. What we really mean is “Less Paper” or “Not such an obscene amount of paper”

Ok so you COULD scan and digitize every scrap of paper and every single post it note that gets passed through your department, sign and date contracts digitally, eliminate paper faxes by using e-fax for outgoing and having in-bound faxes received in your IT system.  Though chances are you’d still have some paper floating around your business- and it won’t really depend on you in this case.   Certain clients will necessarily have the capacity to be billed electronically, and some correspondence will undoubtedly be initiated by snail mail.  So you should not panic if you see some paper products in your office, but as long as your desk doesn’t look like Santa’s mailbox you should not be discouraged.  Besides, it is always good practice to keep tax and regulatory information stored as hard copies, as unfortunately the Government has a tendency to be in the slow lane when it comes to  environmental and business friendly e-initiatives.
5. This project requires complete buy in by your workforce.

As the case may be, simply making your will be known to your partners,  staff or family members (if you’re implementing this in your home office) may not be enough to change the entrenched ways in which people feel they do their best work.

Change can be difficult. People who have been making photocopies, sending paper faxes, putting documents into legal sized folders—or saving mounds of mail and catalogues that they just can’t part with—are going to have to change their perceptions.

6. Less paper is just a marginal payoff

Initially it may seem that the only benefit to a paperless office is the reduction on printer toner, mailing, shipping and dealing with purchasing/storing paper, but the real time saver is the superiority of electronic systems when it comes to finding files and documents.

Where as it might take a new employee several months if not years to get so comfortable with the filing system that they can find anything within a minute, now thanks to the power of a computer search the right file is always just a few keystrokes away no matter how long you’ve worked at your job.


Let us know if  you’re taking on the paperless office challenge, and what some of your strategies or experiences have been.  Has it been easy? Or do you wish you had never started?


Stefan Avlijas @ XiiTec  Vancouver