2020 has been an unprecedented year for businesses, as the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way a lot of us work and interact in the workplace. Many businesses were forced to rapidly adapt to working online and remotely, which some were better prepared for than others.
Now that 2021 is almost upon us, many people will be looking towards making some new year resolutions, and the new year is also a great time for an organisation to plan and look at ways they can improve and futureproof their business to avoid being caught out again. One way that you can achieve that is by going paperless.
I am going to take you through why you should convert your business into a paperless office, and how exactly you can do it.
Paperless isn’t necessarily paperless
While it is called paperless, it is near impossible to go completely paperless. You may still have to print and sign physical copies for other businesses, for example. The term paperless means implementing a workplace that uses minimal physical paper as possible and primarily focuses on digital documentation.
So even if you do have a specific use case where you can’t see yourself being able to move away from paper documents, going paperless is still for you.
Lets explore why you should consider converting into a paperless office
Environmental impacts of paper
The environment is a hot topic right now, and for a good reason. According to the findings of the 2019 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, we only have until 2030 to drastically change our patterns of consumption, or else face irreversible damage to the climate.
A big way your business can improve its carbon footprint is to go paperless. Producing paper uses enormous amounts of water and energy. It produces greenhouse gases and results in deforestation, both of which have destructive effects on the environment and the climate. Here are some statistics on paper that may surprise you:
- Paper accounts for around 26% of total waste at landfills
- 42% of all global wood harvest is used to make paper
- Producing paper uses 2x the energy as producing a plastic bag
- 10L of water is needed to make a single A4 piece of paper
- 50% of a business’s waste is paper
- 4 billion trees are cut down each year to make paper (A single tree produces enough oxygen for 3 people to breathe)
- The average worker uses around 10,000 sheets of paper every year
No matter how you look at it, the numbers are alarming. The entire lifecycle of paper, from production to waste, is damaging to the planet.
And this is only the paper itself, not to mention the additional effects of the supplies we use to manipulate paper, such as ink cartridges, pens, shredders etc.
Downsides of being paper reliant
While the paper is damaging to the environment, it may be just as damaging to your business. Gartner estimates that as much as 3% of a company’s revenue is spent on paper and the various activities surrounding it, such as printing, storing and maintaining files.
A study by McKinsey Global Institute estimates that workers spend on average 1.6-1.8 hours a day just looking for documents, and according to the 2019 Intelligent Information Management Benchmark Report, 83% of employees have had to recreate documents because they are unable to find them. By going paperless and digitising your information, you have access to advanced search functions that can greatly reduce the amount of time wasted on searching for the right document. That equates to an estimated 30-35% increase in productivity just from being able to find what you are after easier. Not to mention how much happier your staff will be when you remove the frustration of being unable to find what they are after!
Manual processes with paper are also a drag on time and productivity. No matter what the process is, time is wasted sending documents to other users, saving different versions, filing the information correctly and more. It’s a time-waster. By digitalising and automating your business workflow processes, you can greatly reduce the amount of time wasted and pain of dealing with paper documents.
Physical paper documents and processes are prone to mistakes. There is always the factor of human error to deal with. By instilling a document management system to control the storage of documents and automate workflow processes, you greatly reduce the possibility of errors occurring. Plus any mistakes can quickly and easily be rectified.
Reducing paper usage will save you money. Plain and simple.
Digitalising your files and improving your staff’s ability to find documents alone will save you around $10,400 a year per employee of lost time. Additionally, the reduction in errors and the automation of business workflows will also see more increases in productivity, and that means your staff can focus on more important tasks, such as tying down new business opportunities or reducing overtime hours.
There is also the physical aspect of a paper that will save you money. When you go paperless, expenses such as buying paper, running printers and copiers, ink etc., as well as storage costs of documents and the time spent managing old documents will drastically decrease.
On top of this, by going paperless, there is no longer the danger of everything grinding to a halt if a supply has run out, or if a printer was to malfunction. And time is money.
So now we know why you should consider a paperless office, but how do you achieve it?
Look ahead, not back
The best advice I can give when considering a move to a paperless office is to look ahead, not back. Often people will look at their huge backlog of paper files and records and think that it will just be too hard to become paperless.
80% of documents created and stored are never touched again. While these older documents may be important to keep for compliance reasons or just general historical data, they are not as vital to your business as the documents you are using and working on now. Focus on the benefits that are going paperless will give you now and in the future, rather than let historic untouched data hold you back
The core component of going paperless is to digitalise your documents. Simply digitalising them usually isn’t enough. They need to be appropriately managed and stored. Backups need to be regularly taken, and other technical requirements need to be considered. This is where the use of a document management system, such as M-Files, will benefit you greatly. Using M-Files, all your digital documents can be stored and maintained in the M-Files system. Regular backups and maintenance are automatically run to ensure data integrity, and powerful security settings restrict access to those documents that aren’t for everyone to see. Searching becomes a breeze as all documents that become digitalised become readable PDFs and using M-Files Metadata system, are easily tagged and sorted to how users want to see their information.
OCR to the rescue
While scanning old documents to digitalise them may be a daunting task, it can be made a lot easier through the use of M-Files OCR feature and the use of hot folders.
Hot folders can be set up for similar documents and then can be automatically brought into the system and filed correctly. For example, let us say you have a box of invoices for March 2019. If you configure a hot folder with the relevant details, you can scan all those documents into that folder and then M-Files will do the rest, automatically bringing it into the system, appropriately filing and managing it as well as applying the relevant permission settings.
This can be taken up a notch with M-Files OCR. OCR, or Optical Character Recognition, will allow you to define parts of a scanned document to look for information. Using the same invoice example above, you could define a zone on the document where the invoice date is. When the document is scanned, M-Files will look at that zone, pick up what the date is and automatically mark that document with the correct date from the document contents. This would allow you to have 1 single hot folder for invoices and all the dates will come across automatically, all with greater detail as it can define an actual date rather than just a month.
M-Files has a fully integrated workflow engine. This means you can create your own custom automatic workflow processes using your new digital documents. These processes can be created to mimic your existing manual processes while adding additional automation to reduce time loss and human errors. Now you won’t have to ask around to find out where that invoice you are waiting on is, or dig through a pile of documents to find the one contract that needs to be signed, as it will all be available, automated and easily accessible in M-Files.
Worried about signing documents if they are all digital? Worry not, as M-Files has it covered.
Internal documents can use workflow approvals to allow users to approve documents and full document history shows who approved it and when, alternatively an electronic signature can be required to approve a document, requiring the user to input their login credentials to verify it is them before an electronic signature is applied.
Alternatively, if a document needs to be signed for external requirements, M-Files has integrations with several 3rd party digital signature applications, such as DocuSign, Visma Sign and Adobe Sign. It also has a trusted digital signatures module meaning any signature requirements you may have are covered.