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As companies grew increasingly reliant on electronic communication, experts assumed the era of the paperless business was upon us. Despite this, shops, restaurants, salons, law firms and small manufacturing firms still have difficulty converting to a paperless office. But the benefits can be worth the effort: Learning how to go paperless helps reduce office waste, saves time, reduces physical contact, helps securely store important documents and may save a few trees!
Here are some best practices to ensure you have a smooth transition to becoming a paperless behavioral health agency and installing a sustainable operation to take on the future.
Step 1: Adopt and implement a document management system
A document management system is the foundation on which you’ll operate your paperless business. It is your new digital filing cabinet and file retrieval system, as well as a solution for sharing and collaborating on files.
You’ll use your documentation retention solution as an essential tool to create, secure, and share critical documents, so be sure you take the time to get the system that’s best for your business needs.
And make sure you have the technical ability to operate and manage the system. If you take care of your own website management, you should be fine with managing your new document management system.
Tips for adopting and implementing a document management system
Here are a few tips for adopting and implementing a document management system.
- Do your research: Not all document management systems offer the same capabilities, so you need to do your research and understand the unique needs and corresponding capabilities you need your document management solution to solve.
- Consider consultants: You may be confident in your ability to use your document management system, but that doesn’t mean you or your team have the ability or capacity to implement it. Do be afraid to bring on an implementation consultant to get everything set up for you.
- Help people help you: We’ll discuss training and demo sessions below, but it’s worth noting now: It’s critical that you provide your employees and clients with instructional documents on how to complete the tasks they’ll need to complete using your new document management system.
Step 2: Organize and catalog existing documents
A major benefit of a document management system is the ease with which you can find documents. But this search capability doesn’t just happen — it requires tons of organizational effort and detailed tagging inputs.
So before you can bring on your new document management system, you’ll need to account for all the digital and paper-based documents you already have. This means scanning, uploading, organizing, categorizing, tagging, formatting, and much, much more.
This will most definitely be the largest hurdle in transitioning to a paperless office, so start ASAP and work to get ahead of this project so that it costs you less time in the future.
Tips for organizing existing documents
Here are a few tips for organizing your existing documents to ensure a detailed and easily searchable document database.
- Be consistent: Decide how you’re going to name, label, tag, and classify files and folders and stick with it. Any inconsistencies will make it difficult to find the document(s) in question.
- Put key information first: If you work with a ton of the same documents, pick the greatest differentiator between them, such as client or date, and use that to begin the file name.
- Keep it concise: While you want to provide detailed information for managing your business documents, try to avoid super long file names. Keep in mind that you can add tags to files and also infer context from the folders the files are in.
Step 3: Top-down change management
You must lead by example to make a successful transition to going paperless. Regardless of the new document management software and organization apps you implement, your employees need to see that you’re committed to the paperless cause.
This type of top-down leadership is essential for managing any kind of change in your business.
Tips for top-down change management
Here are a few tips to help you lead by example as you go paperless with your business operation.
- Be the face of the transition: Give a weekly/monthly status update for your employees and be sure to get facetime with clients to convey the dedication you have to the new systems and processes.
- Hold people accountable: You don’t need to fire anyone over excessive paper use during your transition phase, but you should hold people accountable to joining in the change and practicing the new processes.
- Add some pageantry: While there’s plenty of positive business and environmental impact to be had from going paperless, it’s not like you’re preparing for war. Find a way to balance your commitment to the cause with some fun and pageantry to get people engaged and equally committed.
Step 4: Bottom-up buy-in
Employee engagement and buy-in is critical for making a seamless transition to your new paperless office and operating style. You need to focus on ways to engage employees and get them motivated and committed to making the change to paperless.
Leading by example through top-down change management is essential, but you should also consider additional tactics to rally your employees toward the cause, such as gamification and training exercises.
Tips for bottom-up buy-in
Here are a few tips to ensure your employees become equally as committed to going paperless as you.
- Provide plenty of training: Overcome any internal objections or worries about your new systems and process with plenty of training, demos, and Q&As.
- Encourage team collaboration: You can foster collaboration and self-accountability by grouping people together to contribute as a single unit to the paperless initiative. Assign employees to different teams or use the existing departmental divides to define the teams.
- Gamify the process: Make a game out of going paperless to encourage bottom-up commitment. Provide a few prizes for the first individuals or teams that complete milestones.
Step 5: Create paperless champions
Take advantage of employees who are excited about and committed to going paperless by assigning them as paperless champions.
These champions will become quasi-experts on the transition and new systems and provide a helpful and willing resource for any questions that employees have along the journey.
Tips for creating paperless champions
Here are two tips for establishing and choosing champions to support the transition to paperless and adoption of new document software.
- Look for dedication: Bring on champions who have reached out to you in the past about going paperless or have already made a paperless transition in their business dealings.
- Give a chance: Your transition to a paperless office is definitely critical, but there’s also little risk involved. Consider giving a younger or less experienced employee a chance to shine by making them a champion.
Paperless is the way to go
If you’re serious about going paperless, these considerations and best practices will help you build the path to get there. The technology to do so has been around for a while, and it continues to get more affordable, easier to use, and feature-rich every year.
All the tools are there to take your entire business into the digital realm, but it’s up to you to lead your people through the archaic paper wasteland and show them the ease and efficiency that awaits them in their new paperless business.
Benefits of going paperless
Saving the world’s trees is a noble goal, but there are many other important reasons to go paperless in your office:
- Limit physical contact. Being free of paper means less interaction among coworkers, clients and customers. A paperless business could be a safer business during a health crisis.
- Make documents and files easily accessible. File-sharing with clients and employees is easy. Electronic searches allow you to locate documents quickly from anywhere you have an internet connection.
- Increase security of your business data. Digital documents are stored on secure off-site servers and are only accessible by authorized users.
- Improve your customer service. A quick electronic document search brings up all relevant customer data, including customer orders. You’ll be able to provide more effective customer service in a timely manner.
- Improve productivity of your employees. Another reason to go paperless is that employees will spend less time handling and printing documents, allowing them to focus on more important tasks.
- Enable employee flexibility. As employees access needed documents through the cloud, telecommuting and working from home become a possibility. Fewer people in the office means lower energy costs, and remote employees usually work from their own computers, reducing equipment needs.
- Save storage space. Medical offices and other businesses that must comply with strict regulations have to keep records for many years, which presents storage challenges. One of the great benefits of going paperless is the ability to store documents virtually, freeing up room in the office.
- Protect your company from disasters. Going paperless positively affects your business disaster plan. Because virtual documents are stored off-site in secure locations, they’re safe from fire, theft and any other disasters that might strike your office.
- Save on printing, paper and equipment costs. The financial importance of a paperless office cannot be overstated. Once you understand how to go paperless at work, you can save on printing costs, fax and printer equipment, pens and — of course — paper. By sending documents electronically, you save on mailing and shipping costs.
- Become a sustainable business and improve your brand image. Customers who value eco-friendly approaches to business will have a better opinion of your office and your sustainable workplace practices. And technologically savvy customers will appreciate the efficiency of paperless customer service.
Challenges and disadvantages of going paperless
Going paperless is not without its challenges. As with any business decision, you must also consider the potential disadvantages of a paperless workplace.
- Increased upfront costs. The benefits of going paperless include reduced operating costs, but these may not be worth the expense of new electronic equipment, installation fees and the costs of paperless document storage.
- Possibility of cyberattacks. Even if your critical business data is safer in the cloud than sitting in a file cabinet, cloud-based documents are still at risk of cyberattacks and information breaches that could put sensitive information at risk. To reduce that risk, store copies of your documentation on an external hard drive as well as in the cloud. And grant users online access to the individual documents they need, not the entire collection.
- Upgrading office equipment. Despite the many ways to go paperless, most offices still need a printer or copier. Older models may need replacing with newer models as part of your digital transformation and accompanying energy conservation efforts, which can be expensive. Not replacing older and energy-hungry equipment may offset any savings from your paperless-office strategies.
- Issues with compatibility. Just because you’ve already transitioned into a paperless company doesn’t mean all your business contacts have. This can lead to communication problems and a need to use paper in business-to-business dealings.
- Possible customer reluctance. While many people are quick to embrace paperless technology, some customers still prefer to receive paper statements. Before committing to a paperless system, be sure your customers are willing to accept online documents rather than hard copies.