Having a paperless office is no longer a distant dream for small business owners. New and changing technology has given us the tools we need to transition the overflowing file cabinets into an organized digital format. But that doesn't mean going paperless is easy to do, or that it's the right decision for every small business.
Here is a look at the pros and cons of a paperless office to help you decide if going paperless is a smart decision for your small business.
The Pros of a Paperless Office
Environmentally-Friendly - According to The Daily Green, paper accounts for 25% of landfill waste, and if the United States cut office paper use by just 10% it would prevent the emission of 1.6 million tons of greenhouse gases. And that's just for paper, not taking into account the production and disposal of ink cartridges and the energy used by printers. Going paperless is an environmentally conscious decision.
Cost Effective - Just as there are benefits of a paperless office for the environment, there are also benefits for the small business budget. Think about how much you spend each month on paper, ink, postage and other supplies that support a paper-heavy office. Then, consider the space it takes to store all of your physical supplies and actual documents. It can be quite costly. Over time, going paperless could result in huge savings for your small business.
Easy Access - Being paperless means all of your important documents are digitized. You can back them up to the Cloud or access them through a remote desktop application, giving you the ability to work from a mobile office, or anywhere for that matter, and stay productive.
File Organization - If you have ever wasted time shuffling through a disorganized filing cabinet or stacks of paper to find what you're looking for, you know how cumbersome paper documents can be to manage. When you create a paperless office, you create a digital file system that's easier to organize, search and tweak over time. This makes what was once a painful process of finding a document as easy as conducting a search.
The Cons of a Paperless Office
System Failure - Digital may be quick access, but it also means quick loss. Consider what would happen to all of your business documents that are saved locally on your computer if your system crashes. You could lose everything. It's important for every small business, and particularly those that are paperless, to have a system for backing up and protecting data off-site.
Security - Digital files can't be protected by a lock on a file cabinet or the office door, so the security of documents and sensitive information is a serious concern for paperless offices. Solutions include encryption, local servers and restricted access, all which have their own costs and benefits. Plus, it's important to consider the nature of some businesses and the sensitivity of materials handled on a daily basis (think of your accountant) simply don't lend themselves to going paperless.
Revamp Processes - Part of transitioning to a paperless office involves reviewing all of your current operations processes and finding adequate alternatives. For example, you may need to begin using an electronic signature service, online invoicing and payment services, and other applications that replace the need for physical documents. All of your staff will also have to be trained in the new system once it's in place.
Time Intensive - Going paperless isn't an overnight process; there are a lot of factors to consider. It takes time to consider all of the implications of leaving the paper world behind, and just as long to implement all of the changes to your operations that support being paperless.
The decision to go paperless is one that varies from business to business, and it's certainly not a universal decision that is right for every company. The most important part of making the decision to go paperless is doing your research so you can decide if the benefits outweigh the challenges. Then, create a systematic process that will not only afford you the benefits of being paperless, but also help improve your productivity at the same time.