by Matthew Stibbe
Published on 18 January 2013
The 25th October marked World Paper Free Day: if you're like me, you probably didn't know that. An entirely paper-free office isn't a realistic goal, and for a lot of people, like Forbes contributor Douglas Merrill, it's a rather dystopian concept.
That said, a less-paper office improves efficiency, reduces stress, saves money and helps the environment. These are benefits that cannot be ignored, so below are some of the best ways to strike a beneficial balance between hard copy and digital.
Don't use a process that feels counterintuitive to the way you work: it will only slow you down. At the same time, make sure you are not stuck with a certain routine just because it is familiar. Give digital options and cloud-based solutions a fair trial, and understand that it will take time to adapt to change.
There is no need to print an email that is staring at you on your screen - and now with tablets and smartphones, that screen can be with you wherever you are. Use programs like HP Smart Print to print only the parts of a website you desperately need to see on paper. Maybe just save sites you want to read using Instapaper or Pocket to avoid printing altogether. Use PDF's, use e-readers and pause before you ever click print.
Some paper usage truly slows you down. Documents like HR records and purchase orders create filing cabinets full of signed, copied, counter-signed and incorrectly categorised pieces of paper. Using online systems, like Turbine, allow you to easily process, approve and search for what used to be your most fiddly paperwork. This not only saves time and increases efficiency, but frees up physical space in your office too.
Storing your documents online with a service like Dropbox means colleagues can access files anytime, anywhere. Project management tools like Clarizen or Pivotal Tracker allow teams to collaborate and share ideas and files without the need for paper: your staff don't even have to be in the office. Using less paper can ultimately lead to the additional benefits of remote and flexible working.
Your staff is a varied bunch - some will already be tech-savvy digital evangelists, others will never let go of their Post-its and Filofax diaries. Be considerate when you implement changes. Consider setting a date a few months into the future for switches to paperless processes and get your digital evangelists to help in training and promotion: get people excited about the change.
Whilst documents are safe from flood, mould and accidental shredding when they are stored digitally, they still need protecting. Ensure you have a comprehensive back up system like Mozy. Consider restricting access to particularly sensitive files, just as you would add a lock to confidential filing cabinets, and make sure you know what you need a hard copy of for legal and compliance purposes.
Use the paperless office concept to make life and work easier. Let it inspire new and efficient working practices, save time and help the environment. Just remember, it should never create a bigger headache than it solves.