How to Become a Paperless Office

While it may seem odd in this day and age, there are still many offices utilizing a paper file system as a primary means of document storage. For some, however, it can be a daunting task to let go of a comfortable and established system. Whether it be to take advantage of a cloud-based “access-anywhere” system, utilize document tracking and quick recovery through automated management system software, or create a better client experience with e-signing documents, the following are a few key items that have helped offices of various types during this transition.   

1.  Front-end scan your documents. When converting to this method, it’s important that errors like failing to scan or “missing” documents do not occur due to old paper file management habits. If the documents are scanned into your system before they are worked on, there won’t be an opportunity in the shuffle of documents for them to be bypassed.  Incoming mail should be scanned first and routed electronically to the recipient as well.

2.  Switch as much paper mail to digital as possible. In some industries, it’s possible to eliminate almost all scanning by requesting that your key vendors send email rather than paper mail. Also, using eFax instead of paper fax will significantly speed up your paperless system. The only time-consuming aspect of a paperless system should be the physical act of scanning documents.

3.  Use document storage software that incorporates a Client Relations Management (CRM) platform. There are many on the market that cater to specific industries. These powerful tools will help your office retrieve documents quickly, time/date stamp all activities involving the processing of the documents, help management track work flows, and organize client or prospect activities. Some systems do not allow the user to edit the time/date stamp and stores non-editable versions of original documents in order to make them admissible in court as evidence.  

4.  Have clients electronically sign documents. Most people cannot quickly sign and scan, email, or fax a document, but they can conveniently click a few buttons in an email to complete a signature. There are many affordable and easy to use e-signing programs on the market that make this a piece of cake, and the Electronic Signatures Act make these documents as legally binding as traditional wet-ink signatures.  

5.  But what do I do with all of my old paper files? In my experience, the two approaches that have worked best are creating a move-forward date and using the paper files until their expiring document storage date (and managing all new documents electronically in the meantime), or scanning in the old files. Depending on the amount of files, some have opted to utilize both methods and take advantage of OCR scanning software that makes the text in older documents searchable if stored in a large archive folder. This eliminates the need to individually name and route each old document into a client folder.   

I was part of a project that shredded and recycled over four tons of paper files after a paperless conversion. We joked that the building foundation probably lifted four inches! I’m relatively sure a physical lift of the building didn’t occur, but there was definitely a lift in efficiency after a few months of adjustment.


Written by Josh Nordin