Manage your papers like it’s 2016: a journey to paperless office

Is paperless office achievable?

Some executives are bragging about running the whole business from a mobile phone (as reported in Forbes and WSJ). In reality most businesses don’t.

I’ve seen some small businesses where papers fill shelves from floor to ceiling, wall to wall, stand around in banker boxes and crowd all available horizontal surfaces. In some cases you can’t move any more.
Paper hoarder can make everyone around him miserable and wreck the relationships. Trying to “help” him/her is usually futile.

But we are not all like that, we do dream about paperless office.

Why is it so hard to get there? Besides record keeping requirements, and still kicking strong printing habits, we just simply are overwhelmed when it comes to dealing with volumes of office documents.

In Small Business this transformation is easier than in larger offices where not just a decree from the management, but also buy-in from all stakeholders, whose habits are difficult to reign-in, is necessary.

I favour a simple approach to advance paperless office journey.
Here are DOs and DON’Ts of the process:

  • Don’t wait until you have time to do it.
  • Don’t plan to do it on weekends, at the cost of your family life.
  • Don’t involve outside help in sorting papers to determine what can go and what must stay (you will spend double-time, just ‘helping’ your help to decide).

Do think-through beforehand:

What security levels your documents fall in (so you know where to place each when you’re done with it)

Do research:

What shredder capacity you need daily/monthly.
(From home shredder to shredder company)

What scanners can quickly scan, and index(!) your papers.
(This changes with technology, pick good one today)

What cloud services offer cost-effective storage
(countless companies compete, it may be convenient to stick with one your computer system is connected to already, like OneDrive or Google Drive or Apple iCloud, unless you need special consideration – data stored on global companies’ servers are subject to foreign countries laws, including US servers which are subject to US laws, even if they are located somewhere else. )

Which of these cloud services have servers located in your country.
(See the difference between cloud service providers that offer their services in Canada, versus providers that host their cloud services on Canadian soil, and are 100% Canadian companies. Global company with servers in Canada still complies with the foreign laws.)

What security is offered, and (harder to find out) what might be security risks, of these cloud services.
(Power/internet outages, your data viewed by third parties or submitted to foreign laws)

You may choose to set up your own computer storage, which with small size multi-Terabyte external hard drives is now very easy to do.

What backup systems you have in place once you start using electronic documents flow.
(What would happen if you can’t access your computer and have no backup?)

Choose and test a mobile app that you can use for your To Do lists, notes and scheduling. And if looking at a tiny screen is not your thing, and you need lots of timely notes, you can use Wipebook, which is a synthetic paper notebook that can be re-used, written over and wiped multiple times.

Do handle paper/folder/file only once.

What does this mean? We need to refer to the same papers over and over again… It means that paper you are handling should be in one of the following states:

a) It goes out of the office – you put it in the shipping/mail/pick up area
b) It goes to organized file folder once you let it out of your hands (a permanent place where you would look for this type of document next time you need it)
c) It goes to organized disposal (either recycling or security disposal box or shredder)

Prepare and have handy:
Recycling container & Security disposal container
Computer storage space
Backup system

Start doing it. The secret is Transition As You Go:

Every time you touch a folder or a small pile of paper documents, take 3 minutes to quickly browse through it and toss out papers you don’t need any more. Which are the ones you [might] need? Only those required for official record keeping and something that you must have to perform future business task. Innovation notes, ideas etc. need not be thrown out, but take care to keep a reasonable volume only, in one place.

When tossing out papers, dispose them either to recycling or to security container on the spot, so you only handle each paper once. Sorting from one stack to another is counter-productive. Don’t fool yourself that you will come back to finish sorting a new stack of papers later, in the evening, next weekend, next week…

Every time you create new documents in a business process, think: Do I need this in a paper copy, or an electronic version will suffice? Most likely you only need an electronic version. If you also need a paper version (because you are handing it to a customer or supplier), put it quickly through the scanner, so it becomes paperless).

Once you collected enough banker boxes of confidential papers to dispose, call local shredding company asap. They will come and shred your papers while you watch, completely secure, for a small fee. For lower volumes you can use a good office shredder and a blue bin.

Take away lessons:

  • Handle each paper once.
  • Dispose of not needed paper the moment you identified it as such.
  • Interns/administrators/assistants can’t help you to lessen your papers burden until you develop paper-less habits.

Don’t leave legacy of overwhelmingly intimidating mountain of paper.

How to handle security and continuity of your electronic documents is a subject for another time.

Once you’re on your way to paperless office, remember to back up your files and then back up again.

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