Talk of the ‘Paperless Office’ has been around since at least the 1970’s, and possibly even earlier. A workplace where everything would be held on microfiche or some other ‘space-age-screen-based work station’ to be summoned on demand. Just looking back now makes me wonder how we could ever have imagined it to be possible. Microfiche readers, which in the 70’s were fast becoming the best way to store large numbers of records in a small and compact storage space were at the same time clunky and hard on the eye. The much envisioned ‘space-age-screen-record-summoning system’, or ‘Desktop Computer’ in future speak, had not yet been invented.
It is true that in some organisations, microfiche records are still called upon to retrieve archived information although when faced with today’s technology this is comparatively inefficient. Searching for the correct record using microfiche can be time consuming and require hundreds of boxes with thousands of fiche slides to review. I can’t image what would happen if I dropped one of these boxes and had to put it all back in order again. In short, there were still many logistical issues to navigate and so the idea of a fully paperless office never really took off.
Since the turn of the century, we have progressed dramatically and there are now superior ways to preserve and retrieve your documents in a compact, ‘non-physical’ yet immediately accessible environment. Equipment such as scanners and smart phones using cloud technology and programs such as Dropbox, One Drive, Live Drive and other online storage resources are now in use on a daily basis, transforming the workplace. Not only can we now really consider the concept of the paperless office but we can also make documents accessible from almost anywhere on this planet. The idea of a paperless office is now no longer just a theoretical dream. The availability of cheap, cost effective solutions to the age-old task of archiving important records and documents has made it a real possibility.
So, what does the paperless office look like?
How about a smooth, sleek, well organised work space which allows people’s creativity to flow and ideas to flourish. There are no piles of filing to deal with – leaving a clean environment that doesn’t have you feeling like you are drowning in paperwork. Employees are able to ‘hot desk’ more efficiently, and pretty much plug into any work station available, to easily access their documents directly through the company server. In order to make things as comfortable as possible, it helps if each hot desk has at least two monitors – three if you like! – that way you can have the company intranet or email screen in view at all times to maximise effective intra-office communication.
How do we achieve this?
Well, just as they say “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, removing all traces of paper from your office cannot always be achieved immediately. Making the decision to remove all traces of paper from your office will take time and planning. There may be new software and equipment to be purchased including additional monitors and at least one well serviced, reliable, high speed scanner. Most importantly, you will need to educate your staff in new ways of dealing with the large amounts of paper and documents that they currently manage on a daily basis. In order to have an effective transition, all staff members need to be fully on board in understanding the goal and what is expected of them.
Accounting has moved forward in leaps and bounds in recent years, with many new ways of dealing with the multitude of receipts and bills that accumulate. By using programs such as Receipt Bank and Entryless, large volumes of bills and receipts can be emailed, scanned, or photographed via your smart phone, and sent directly to your accounting program or storage system. Record keeping and reporting is managed easily with automatic bank feeds or csv imports for your business transactions. In addition, sales invoices are emailed directly to the customer and can be paid online, requiring no paper to be printed.
In terms of staff management, most accounting programs now allow employees to log their timesheets and leave forms directly into their employee portal. Timesheets and payment summaries are then also readily accessible via their login. This eliminates the need for the business to print and resend copies of lost payment summaries or payslips on request and gives the employee the ability to access their payroll details and leave entitlements online at any time.
It is important to note that having cloud based accounting and payroll records does not relinquish your obligation to abide by current Legislative record keeping requirements. In fact you still need to provide information if requested by the ATO, ASIC or any other government regulatory body.
For this reason, it is of the utmost importance that you ensure the storage medium that you choose is safe and that your records will be accessible on request. In many cases this may mean having a server backup of all important documents. To ensure that you comply with adequate record keeping requirements whilst using an online storage system, it may be necessary to discuss various options with your IT manager.
With all of this in mind, it is clear that the transition towards a fully paperless office may not occur in a short space of time. Although if this is your aim then there is nothing stopping you from making plans to get things underway.
Where to begin?
Set the scene for your office – what does a paperless office look like to your organization.
Get staff on board and allow them to visualize the concept – take on board their ideas and objections.
Find solutions that everyone can work with on a practical level to ensure that resistance to the idea is resolved and productivity is not affected.
Determine what additional equipment is required (i.e. scanners, monitors or screens) and if necessary budget for these (or go ahead and purchase if cashflow is good).
Decide on which software program or cloud storage system you are going to use. Do your research and discuss with IT professionals about what the software limitations may be. What can you do to ensure that you have a safe and secure system for document storage?
Get a backup server if necessary.
Set a goal and timeframe. Perhaps you can achieve your aim in stages (i.e. 60% paperless by the end of the year).
Ascertain what documents need to be kept in original format. i.e. passports, title deeds, wills These can be scanned but also may be stored in a safe place – out of the general flow of the office.
Decide what to do with existing paperwork – does it need scanning and archiving? Can it be returned to the relevant third party? (especially good when operating as a bookkeeper).
Create a workflow chart or mind map for the business showing how incoming information is to be dealt with in the future. Who is responsible for setting up the file structure of your document storage? Who has access to what documents or folders? And who is responsible for the integrity of the information base.?
Once again, be aware that the truly paperless office will not be achieved overnight. There are many important decisions and considerations to make before you are ready to clear the desks completely. Hopefully this article has given you some insight into the trials and tribulations that you may face in this endeavour. Set your goals, make a plan and move forward in your own time.
Before you know it – you will be enjoying a more spacious, organised, eco-friendly and uncluttered environment.