While it’s not quite the same as communing with each scrap of paper in your office to determine whether or not to throw it out, taking the steps toward becoming a “paperless office” has many benefits.
First of all, you’ll have more room to roam, with fewer storage boxes and filing cabinets, and less stuff to pack when you move. It’ll be easier to pick-up-and-go when working remotely, and you’ll have much better search capability with digital rather than paper filing systems.
But having a “paperless office” doesn’t mean no paper at all; you’ll still be making notes and printing out documents when you need a hard copy, but you can even shred that when you’re done. Not only will you be saving trees, you’ll be saving time and sanity as well. So where to start?
1) Get a virtual mailbox.
Perfect for travelers who need mail collected or forwarded, but also for the paperless office enthusiast. A virtual mailbox will allow you to create a permanent, physical mailing address that you need not visit in order to receive your mail. Instead, you’ll have the option to discard a piece of mail or have the contents scanned, depending on how important it is. The service takes care of the rest. Explore services like Traveling Mailbox or Earth Class Mail. You’ll want to compare, as there are fees and limitations associated with each, like number of exterior and interior scans, number of addresses, number of recipients, and physical as well as cloud storage space. So depending on your needs, pick the one that suits you best.
2) Use a local scanning service to digitize all of your physical documents.
With a local scanning service, you can either bring your files to their office or have them come to you. They can then convert your docs into PDFs and transform your actual folders into virtual folders, according to your filing system. What’s more, many of these services offer OCR (Optical Character Recognition), which not only scans and converts paper files so that they can be edited, but makes them searchable. Imagine never having to dig through your filing cabinet or drawer, looking for that one folder, ever again.
3) Switch to an online fax service.
For industries that still rely on faxes, or even if you only send them occasionally, try switching to an online fax service. They’ll securely send and receive documents for you, and you can finally ditch your landline. Again, you’ll want to research your options to find a service that fits your needs, whether that be a mobile app that interfaces with your cloud account, a pay-as-you-go service, or a longer term contract. There are even free, basic faxing services available.
4) Utilize an e-signature service.
Obtaining signatures for legal agreements or for sales transactions, among other things, often requires signing a hard copy document. But with e-signatures on the rise, all of that is changing. Now, sometimes in just one click, agreements can be signed electronically, saving you time, money, and of course paper. E-signatures are a fast, efficient and secure means for authenticating documents as well. You’ll want to research e-signature plans and services to find the right fit for you. Again, there are apps that interface with your cloud accounts, pay-as-you-go services, and services that offer monthly as well as yearly plans.
5) Digitize paper with a document scanner.
Invest in a document scanner (like Fujitsu ScanSnap or Neat) to digitize business cards, news clips, contracts, bank statements and other pieces of paper that pile up in your office. The scanner’s software can, for example, recognize business cards and make them easy to import into your contact manager, and even allow you to export your scanned files directly to Evernote, Dropbox, Google Drive, email (as an attachment) or whatever organizing or communication tools you use. They also utilize optical character recognition (OCR) capability to convert into machine-readable text, which makes it easier to find contacts and search for information in the future.
6) Find a quality shredder.
Instead of storing sensitive documents, which makes them more vulnerable to falling into the wrong hands, protect yourself by investing in a quality shredder. Fellowes has an excellent reputation and offers a lot of options, from home office to commercial or even government use, and they have multiple price points.
7) Backup and storage for your digital files.
Now you just need to make sure all your newly-digitized materials are widely accessible and backed up. Use a cloud service like Dropbox to safely store or share your documents, videos, or photos so that you may access them on all your devices. Then go ahead and spring for another online backup service like iDrive or Carbonite to create backups to avoid catastrophe.
8) Sell your extra file cabinets and relish the newfound space in your office!
Now there’s room for a yoga mat or a Foosball table. Enjoy!