At the dawn of the personal computer came the term, “paperless office.” This ideal was first predicted in a 1975 Businessweek article. Decades later, we may have progressed slightly closer to this office model, but most companies still rely heavily on paper use to meet the needs of clients and regulatory or legal requirements. With a more widespread use of tablets and mobile devices, we could see a major shift to a society that is less paper dependent.
Here are some practical ways to reduce the amount of paper currently used in your organization, as well as some easy ways to keep employees involved in the process:
Get Everyone on Board
Many employees have little to no idea how much paper they are using in a given day at the office. This would be a good time to start recording paper use (many new model printers can give you this data), and showing each employee how many reams of paper they go through in a month. Giving them a visual can help them understand the importance of cutting down on printing.
To get employees on board with using less paper, show them new ways to store and organize files on their computers or company servers. Having clear guidelines for how documents are saved and managed will make it more efficient for employees, saving not only time, but also money on the paper they are not using. Once a system is in place, stick to the plan. Let employees know this is the new process, train them on how the process works and follow up to make sure they are implementing it properly.
Minimize Printers in Workplace
Most electronics have become very affordable, making it easier to have one of everything at each employee’s desk. In many cases, this includes printers. This makes it simple for employees to print at any time; however, it also makes it more common for them to print more than they usually would if they had to walk across the office to get the pages they printed. Taking the printers from their desks and putting one or two printers in common areas, may cut down on printing costs.
Another way to cut down on printing costs in the office would be to send documents over email, instead of fax. If you still have clients that must use the fax machine to send you documents, use a service like EFax.com to have the fax sent directly to your email, and not printing out as a fax. Services like these cost as little as $15 a month.
Digitize Meeting Handouts and Notes
Usually when you are giving a presentation, you already have your slides and notes on your screen. Many meetings start with handouts so that others in the meeting can follow along. Using a screen sharing service, which allows them to see the slides as the meeting progresses using their laptops, is a great alternative to this. Another way for them to follow along easily would be to have tablets accessible during meetings to view the meeting materials. Save the slides and notes in a folder on the company server and employees can reference the material by doing a simple search inside the folder and pulling up the needed information.
Use Cloud-Based Service for File Storage
Some easy ways to implement an electronic file storage system would be to use services that fit your needs. If you need multiple people to be able to edit the same document, Google Docs is a great, free alternative to paper printouts. Everyone can work on the document at the same time, from anywhere, using their computer, phone or tablet. Dropbox and HighTail can be used to send large files other services can’t handle. Dropbox can also be used as a cloud-based storage system for all of your company’s files. It gives each user the ability to sync and share files from any device, and also keeps your organization’s data both safe and secure. Keeping regularly used files in the cloud storage like employee handbooks, company policies and training manuals eliminates the need to print a copy for each employee. Having your files kept in an online storage also helps eliminate clutter caused by paper and filing cabinets or boxes.
Once a cloud-based file storage is executed, it is important to keep all of the files organized. It is very easy for electronic files to get messy and misplaced, just as they would if they were printed and not filed away properly. Implement guidelines on how to save the files and make sure every employee knows how it should be done.
Request Electronic Contracts and Signatures
Many companies are faced with the challenge of still having to physically sign contracts and important documents. This means they first have the print out the contract, sign it, then either scan and email back, or fax it over to the client. When possible, request clients to electronically sign contracts and email back the document. Electronic signatures are as legally valid as signed hard copies (ESign Act of 2000). Forms that need to be filled out by employees can also be filled out and signed electronically using services like Adobe. This eliminates the need to print out the form.
If you must still use paper…
Since every office at some point will still have to use paper, ways to use it responsibly would be to use both sides of the paper to take notes or use scrap paper when possible. Printing on both sides of the paper can also cut waste. Start a recycling program in the office and have a desk-sized recycle bin for paper under each desk, while making sure employees know the process of how the recycling program works.