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Transitioning to a paperless office

Benefits outweigh challenges of going paper-free
Monday, August 19, 2013
By Marcia O'Connor

The “paperless office” is one of the latest eco-friendly business buzzwords.

But what does it mean to facility managers?

It can mean space savings, increased efficiency, greater sustainability and a lower carbon footprint.

Confronting the paperless office challenge
Moving to a paperless office requires all involved in the process to be on board. A manager can’t just dictate that the organization is migrating to a paperless office. Everyone needs to see the value in order for the changeover to be a success.

There are some hurdles in transitioning to a paperless office. Among the most significant is a business’ communication with other companies and individuals. Electronic communication requires all parties involved in the conversation to have easy access to appropriate and compatible software and hardware. It’s also important for the team to develop habits, practices and behaviours that support the paperless environment the organization is moving toward. The process requires a ‘do as I do’ approach, with regular communication with individuals to obtain feedback on what is and isn’t working.

As a result of government regulations, existing organizational policies and initial technological requirements, there are start-up costs and temporary productivity losses associated with converting to a paperless office. Businesses often encounter difficulties with file formats, system stability, the longevity of digital documents and employees not having appropriate technological skills.

“Paperless” often means less paper as opposed to no paper. While it’s possible to scan all in-house and received documents into a computer and virtually eliminate all paper faxes, both incoming and outgoing, by handling them electronically, facility managers will still have some paper lingering around the office. Not all clients will want to be billed electronically, and some clients and vendors will want to continue to communicate by regular mail or require hard copies of documents. If paper must be used internally, facility managers should consider printing two-sided, using the back side of previously printed documents and using recycled-content paper.

Benefits of being a paperless office
The paperless office won’t initially save space since the office will need to continue to retain records until it has completely converted to an electronic format. Eventually, though, tremendous space savings will be realized when filing cabinets are no longer necessary.

Going paperless reduces the amount of paper needed to be purchased and, with it, a company’s carbon footprint. It is also a key sustainable practice and less paper is just the beginning of the payoff. Over time, facility managers will see reductions in costs for mailing and storing documents and even document disposal. As well, employees will be able to access data faster, significantly reducing the amount of time lost in the previously unremitting paper shuffle.

With today’s technologically advanced business environment, there is no reason to not go paperless. Many technologies support the transition to a paperless environment, including cloud storage for documents, databases to store financial and client information, and smartphones and tablets for lightweight portable access. Once the transition has taken place, digitized files are easy to backup daily and can be kept in very space-efficient ways: cloud storage, external hard drives and USB drives.

Marcia O’Connor is vice-president of Arcori Inc., the lead facility management instructor at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies’ facility management certificate program and founder of AMFM Education Services. Ian Bolt of Arcori Inc. and Robb Dods of PSST…network assisted with this article.

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