When working from home was mandated without warning, businesses had little opportunity to plan for how they’ll keep systems online. In spring 2020, COVID-19 put a stop to planning and a start to dealing with what was in place.
When you get back on-site, know that time is of the essence. Remember what you were missing in order to keep business moving forward remotely. Paper documents certainly have their place in the business world, but once your office goes paperless, that place can be the shredder.
Switching to a paperless office may take some time, but the benefits of digitizing your paperwork far outweigh the costs. Not only will a paperless office improve efficiency, but it’s an environmentally friendly option to reduce excess waste. If you take your time, plan ahead, take security seriously, and do things right the first time, your business will be more efficient and your employees will have more time to help your business grow.
Why Go Paperless?
The most obvious reason to switch to a paperless office is storage space. There’s no need to clutter the office with countless filing cabinets or pay for off-site storage to house documents you just can’t get rid of yet. Virtual space is considerably cheaper than physical space and there’s no chance an essential document will be deep in a storage facility or lost on someone’s desk when you need it.
A digital office is far easier to safeguard against disaster than a paper one. Since virtual storage space is so affordable, creating and maintaining multiple digital backups of your data can be done quickly and automated to keep it up to date. Trying to do the same with a paper office is nearly impossible, and even when copies are made, they’re often kept in the same office. One fire or flood could destroy the originals and backups at the same time. With cloud storage, though, backups can be stored in entirely different regions, ensuring that a single disaster won’t destroy everything.
A digital office allows you to access your files from anywhere you or your employees need to work. Nothing has made the need for remote access clearer than the recent COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. A lack of access can mean a shutdown in business. Even at the best of times, remote access means there is no need to call the office and interrupt someone else’s work to retrieve a contract or report you forgot to copy. Log into your network and easily pull it up on your laptop five minutes before the meeting.
The only way to find a paper document is to know exactly how it was filed and hope the last person to use it didn’t put it in the wrong place. With a digital office, you can search for the file name or metadata element and pull it up in seconds, even if it was saved in the wrong folder.
What to Watch out For
Going paperless isn’t just scanning paper and saving it. To create an effective paperless office, planning is essential. Failure to plan proper organization beforehand can lead to employees doing it their own way and a lot of confusion. Consider the following before you start:
- How will files be named?
- What kind of file folder hierarchy will be employed?
- Who will have access to the files?
- What file formats will be permitted?
- How will the files be accessed?
Not Implementing Permission Controls
The office manager doesn’t need access to the same documents that the CEO does, and your permission controls should reflect that. Make sure you have IT professionals set up granular user access permissions for your digital office.
Poor Backup Solutions
Business owners shouldn’t just plug in an out-of-the-box backup solution and assume they’re protected. Choose a backup vendor with a strong history of recovery ability, who keeps multiple iterations, and who has ransomware defenses in place. It won’t help to have backups in a ransomware incident if your backups get infected, too.
Some professional backup solutions have the ability to create a virtual workspace that you can operate from in the event of a disaster. This could save your business days or weeks of downtime as you recover.
Lax Cyber Security
Big or small, no company can afford to be lax about their cybersecurity needs. Once you’re paperless, all your company documents look like a gold mine to cybercriminals. All it takes is one wrong click or savvy hacker to infiltrate your network. Some threats will be immediately obvious, like ransomware, and some will remain lurking in your systems, siphoning off sensitive company data, customer data, or even employee usernames and passwords that criminals can use to try to regain access to the network if they’re discovered.
The cost of a ransomware event or data breach is more than what the cybercriminals demand. It’s in the downtime spent recovering or rebuilding your systems. It’s in the loss of trust in your company. It’s in fines and penalties imposed by government regulators. All of that together could mean the end of a small business.
Invest in professionally-installed cyber security and employee training. You don’t need your own IT department to get the required expertise. Managed Services Providers (MSPs) act as an outsourced IT department. They can maintain your networks, advise you on best practices, and train your employees to spot malicious activity. Cyber security is worth the cost of doing it right, because if you don’t invest now, you’ll pay for it later.
6 Steps to Going Paperless
- Make a Plan
Don’t just shove paper through a scanner and call it a day. Determine what you need to digitize, what is essential, and what can be put off until later. Decide what physical copies need to be preserved for legal or other reasons. Figure out if this is a reasonable in-house assignment or if it would be more cost-effective in the long run to outsource the digitization process.
- Create Effective Policies
In your planning you should have determined how files are going to be named, saved, and stored. Now you need to turn those into clear policies for your employees to follow. If everyone in the company isn’t on the same page, your digital office might end up more cluttered than your physical one.
If this is an in-house job, there are a few things to watch out for when scanning. Feeder scanners can sometimes grab multiple pages at once. The loss of a single page could be detrimental if it’s part of a contract or other sensitive document. Scanners can also jam, leading to torn or damaged papers.
- Add Metadata
For quick and efficient search results, consider adding metadata to the scanned files. Even information as simple as date created, type of document or author could end up being invaluable time savers.
- Protect Your Data
If you haven’t added user access controls and cybersecurity features yet, do it now. Don’t let your business be the next data breach featured on the news. Consider encrypting sensitive information so even if the criminals make it into your systems, the data can’t be used.
- Prepare for Obsolescence
Technology continually changes, and file formats and storage hardware from just ten or twenty years ago are at risk of being unusable. Make sure your files are saved in archival file formats whenever possible and set up a plan to update files from at-risk formats. If data is stored on removable hardware, ensure its transfer to new media before that hardware is no longer compatible with modern technology.
Going paperless can be a big job, but done correctly it’s well worth the effort. The quick search functionality, ease of access, reduced storage costs, and security of reliable backups will keep your office running smoothly and efficiently into the future.
If you want to go paperless but find it’s too much for your company to handle on your own, get help from a reputable digitization company that will work with you to create the best paperless office possible. Efficiency, optimization, and access are all just a paperless office away.
Amy O. Anderson is a Principal of Anderson Archival, a digital archiving company in St. Louis, Missouri. Anderson Archival increases the impact, relevance, and accessibility of historical document collections with a thorough, principled digital preservation process.