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Tips for Achieving a Truly Paperless Office

Written By Alex Fielding, iCEO and Founder, Ripcord

As Earth Day came to a close last month, we have to ask: are we doing enough to adopt a truly paperless work environment? Even with all the advancements and cultural changes, it appears we still have a long ways to go. 

It's estimated that there are more than 5 billion boxes of paper records being kept in storage facilities and billions more kept in-house. The costs of using paper as a medium for storing information goes far beyond environmental impacts such as cutting down trees. Unnecessary amounts of energy and billions of dollars are expended managing and processing paper, such as printing information, shipping to and from storage, climate control systems, and secure destruction.

On a global scale, we're producing more than 300 million tons of paper, with roughly 22 million tons of it going into landfills in 2017, albeit that's down from 36 million tons a decade earlier.  

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, printing and writing papers typically found in a school or office environment made up more than 25 percent of municipal solid waste in 2015. And it's believed that nearly 45 percent of paper printed in offices ends up in the trash.  

On average, it takes one tree to produce 17 reams of paper and 50 percent of paper comes from virgin forests. Going paperless also helps reduce the carbon dioxide that sucks up to 2,000 pounds of C02 during the life of a single tree.  

Recycling is important. But so is digitizing your paper records. The legal, finance, education, healthcare, and manufacturing industries are already leading the charge.

Electronic Health Records (EHRs) represent nearly every form of medical records in the United States, driven in large part by the 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH), designed to promote the adoption of healthcare information technology. The legislation has provided $27 billion of incentives for healthcare providers to achieve meaningful use of EHRs.

Manufacturers that now operate in a global network of dispersed suppliers and vendors have discovered it is much more efficient to keep and share records electronically. Industrial software programs make it easier to maintain accurate orders and inventory through electronic records. And now with the addition of technologies like the AI and automation software, they're responding faster to changes in customer demand, design flaws and inventory issues. 

Education likewise has adopted and profited through a paperless environment over the years, from both the administration and student side of the aisles. Student records are stored digitally, saving space in the classrooms and administrative buildings.  

The rest of us can get on the paperless wagon if we alter the way we go about our jobs. It's not just good for the environment; it's good for our budgets, too. For every dollar spent on printing documents, we spend more on handling and distribution while digital storage is more affordable and easier to manage.

When needed, audit trails are much easier to enforce and manage, especially over long periods of time. With a digital document environment, online storage space is unlimited. Every file document can contain metadata to show who created it and who used or shared it, making it easier to search for information that improves customer service.  

Here are a few tips to help you get started on your paperless office.  

Endorse a paperless environment from the top down. Many employees don't go paperless because management doesn't provide the right initiatives or mandates. Employees are more willing than you might think to adopt a paperless environment, but they won't if no one leads the way or provides the tools. There are technologies that make this easy, such as robotic digitization, that provide businesses with a secure, fast, and all-inclusive records management solution.

Promote a "scan first, file-cabinet never" office culture. This involves a commitment to making scanners as pervasive as office printers and copiers. Train employees how to scan and share documents over your networks. Make it a goal to transfer as many paper documents as possible into a digital platform, and then eliminate the physical copy with directions on what and when to shred.

Encourage paperless services for customers. Organizations have been pushing paperless billing and communications for years as a way to save money on printing and mailing. The trick is helping the customer realize the benefits as well, possibly in the way of potential discounts or rewards.

Make tablets and other portable devices more accessible. Prices have dropped so much that there is almost no excuse for not having a mobile device management policy for devices assigned by the company and for those employees who BYOD with their own phones and tablets.

Make it a competition. Back to setting an example and leading the way, internal department contests can make it fun to demonstrate your commitment to going paperless.

Every year we seem to be one step closer to a truly paperless office. Maybe next year we'll be even closer. So here's to hoping that you're reading this article online and accessing your most important data in the cloud instead of locking it in a mountain.

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About the Author

alex fielding 

As iCEO, co-founder and member of the board of directors for Ripcord, Alex Fielding is responsible for the leadership, vision and execution of the company. Fielding started his career as an engineer at Cisco Systems and Apple, where he worked on multiple generations of MacOS, PowerBook, Network Server and was part of the first iMac team. After leaving Apple, he worked at Exodus Communications with Ellen Hancock, Exodus' CEO who was Apple's former CTO. He co-founded Wheels of Zeus with Apple's co-founder Steve Wozniak in 2001, which was sold to Zontrak in 2006. Alex was Chief Technology Officer, Federal Government at Power Assure and then Vice President at Vigilent before starting Ripcord. Alex sits on the Board of Directors of The Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME), is a Board Member of the Code Warrior Foundation and is a founding member of Singularity University. He is an Orange Telecom mentor in their Mentor Fab startup accelerator and an Advisor to Astra Space.

Published Wednesday, May 15, 2019 7:37 AM by David Marshall
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