The concept of a paperless office can sound downright strange. For many people in business, paper has been a constant, and a typical reaction might be, “Of course there’s paper. Documents must be filed, receipts and records must be stored, important forms must be protected.”
But some small business owners are moving on without it, relying on digital files to replace the old traditional methods of keeping piles of paper around.
It’s not a move that every business can make, and there are certainly pros and cons to it. Businesses will need to maximize security of digital files, and ensure that there are backups so that vital information isn’t lost in a computer crash or other mishap.
The benefits can be significant, however. Here’s a look at how going paperless can help small businesses.
Small business owners may find themselves in a constant search for expense reductions. Since businesses can struggle to gain a foothold in the early stages, it could be smart to give serious consideration to options that help the bottom line. Moves that harm the overall product or staffing are a last resort, but giving up paper may make some sense. Alyssa Gregory includes this in a story for The Balance.
“Think about how much you spend each month on paper, ink, postage and other supplies that support a paper-heavy office,” she writes. “Then, consider the space it takes to store all of your physical supplies and actual documents. It can be quite costly. Over time, going paperless could result in huge savings for your small business.”
It frees up physical space
Consider the amount of paper in a typical office, and then consider it all going away. Long-running businesses may have an abundance of cabinets, boxes and storerooms full of documents. If all that is digitized, it frees up all that room. And for a small business owner just getting started, avoiding that buildup from the beginning can go toward being more productive and efficient. In a story for Inc.com, Larry Alton writes, “One sheet of paper may not take up a ton of space, but tens of thousands of pages certainly do.”
“Over the years, businesses can accrue boxes and boxes of files,” he explains. “These files have to go somewhere; they ultimately end up overcrowding office space (which isn’t cheap). By going paperless, a firm can free up closets, boardrooms, and even entire offices. Digital files, on the other hand, take no physical space on your premises at all. They’re stored remotely and accessible from anywhere, which means you no longer have to waste overhead on physical file storage.”
People can debate environmental issues all day long (and they do). For a small business owner looking to go paperless, it could be useful to keep one thing in mind that simplifies the issue: Paper equals trees, and therefore reducing the use of paper is better for the environment. Ben Zimmer explores this in a story for Entrepreneur:
“The U.S., with less than 5 percent of the world’s population, consumes more than 30 percent of the world’s paper. Reducing the amount of paper we use reduces greenhouse gases and conserves natural resources, but it can also reduce business costs.”
The cost and space advantages are among the first things that come to mind with a paperless office, but time can be a factor as well. Anything that makes a business more efficient can be a great benefit, freeing up time that is wasted on everyday tasks. Chuck Cohn explores this idea in a story for Forbes.
“Think about this: 123 years of National Geographic magazine with high resolution photos, or over 1,400 issues, can be stored on just one flash drive,” he explains. “Paperless filing can easily reduce long-term storage costs for your company, as well as allow you to access information near instantaneously.”
The introduction of cloud technology has made going paperless much more feasible in recent years. It can also make working from multiple locations easier. And as Alton writes, it allows a business to be more flexible in regards to file access. His example:
“Let’s say your business is located in New York City and you’re meeting with a top client in Los Angeles. On Friday afternoon, you’re discussing a project with the client and need to refer to a specific file that’s back at the office. You call the office and suddenly remember that it’s 7 p.m. on the East Coast. You’re out of luck! You’ll have to wait until Monday morning to get the file, or ask one of your employees to head in on Saturday morning to help you out. Very inconvenient on both fronts.”
The access that a paperless office can bring could solve this problem, Alton writes:
“ … All you’d have to do is log into your cloud account, search for the file, and show the client. The convenience of being a paperless operation can save a lot of trouble with regard to logistics and geography.”
No business owner wants to ponder a document-related disaster. Relying on digital files helps to ease some of these concerns, though there will be plenty of precautions required to ensure security, and that backup copies of crucial information are available. Alton examines this in his Inc.com piece.
“Storing documents in the cloud is safer than keeping sensitive files in an office,” he writes. “Digital documents are encrypted and protected by numerous layers of security, and access can be restricted to only a few individuals. Furthermore, digital files don’t run the risk of getting lost due to theft or fire, which are occasional occurrences for small businesses.”
Consider the transition process
Granted, going paperless isn’t a simple task. It may turn out to be a large project that requires a great deal of planning, along with extensive training to ensure that everyone is on board. Additional software can be required, along with secure methods of file storage, as Cohn explains in his Forbes piece.
“Paperless companies require more digital storage than traditional businesses, which comes at modest extra expense,” he writes. “Cloud storage — like Dropbox, for example — can carry a subscription fee. There is also the cost of converting existing paperwork. This may involve scanning important items or utilizing document creation software to develop digital counterparts for contracts, terms of service, time sheets, etc. If you intend to scan paperwork, consider optical character recognition software, which turns hard-copy documents into computer-searchable text.”
This article originally appeared in David Kiger.