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You Are Here: Home - Newsletters - "Get Organized" - Article

     Working Toward the Paperless Office

Paper is both a necessity and a nuisance. One thing is guaranteed, there will always be a constant INFLUX of paper. It just keeps coming into our homes, offices and lives. Most of what we receive is from unsolicited sources such as junk mail and advertisements. Some of it we need to act on and some we need to save for future reference. How do we efficiently HANDLE all of this paper?

Whether you work in an office building or your home office, the first step to take is to SORT and PURGE mail daily. Recycle all junk mail, advertisements and outdated information. Shred all documents that contain personal identification information. Now what do you do with the rest?

Given that paper is one of the top contributors to clutter in an office, learning how to handle it efficiently can save both time and money. Physical clutter leads to mental clutter so creating a paperless or semi-paperless office is a worthy option to consider. We have found that striving for a SEMI-PAPERLESS office is a more practical approach to streamlining most offices than expecting a full blown paperless environment.

You need a computer, a scanner and imaging software and an open mind for accepting CHANGE. Each work station should be set up with dual monitors. This allows for more efficient processing of work as one monitor can be used to display the program you are working in and the other for displaying reference document files. The second screen takes the place of a paper document.

We recommend that you check with your IT professional to ensure that your computer system and network will support your plan for a paperless office. They can also suggest the appropriate scanners and dual monitor screen set ups that make running a paperless office more efficient. Imaging software is sometimes INCLUDED with the purchase of a scanner. We recommend Scan Soft Paper Port software which is very user friendly and cost effective for most small offices. You can research software and scanner options on the internet.

In addition you must also have a PLAN for how to process the paper into electronic files. It is important to sort and purge documents prior to scanning and filing electronically otherwise you will have an electronic pile in place of a paper pile. Remember the same rule applies to electronic files as to paper files; 80% of what you file will never be looked at again. Be critical of what you keep. Purge your electronic files monthly or at least quarterly. Name your files with the date in the title so you know how old the document is which will make it easier to purge electronic files. Since the office staff will be contributing to shared electronic files, it is important that everyone follow the same procedure when assigning file names. Establishing a file name PROTOCOL for everyone to follow will streamline the process and ensure easy retrieval of documents.

It is important to consider the legal and industry specific REGULATIONS affecting your business when considering what documents can be kept electronically and what documents must be kept in paper format. Generally speaking all contracts with wet signatures must be kept in paper format. It is also wise to keep paper files as back up for a period of 6 months while you are transitioning to electronic files. You will then be able to retrieve the paper files should you experience a glitch in the paperless system.

Back up is very important when creating a paperless office. You should back up your files on an EXTERNAL drive not just on your hard drive so if something happens to your computer you will still be able to access your files. If you are on a network it is best to back up the files on the SERVER. If you are storing critical files you should consider having an outside source for storing your backups. This provides the security should your office have a fire or a theft. It is important to discuss backup set up and procedures with your information technology professional.

It reduces the amount of TIME it takes to retrieve a document. Sharing of documents is simplified as they can be accessed from the shared network drive right from one's desktop computer rather than having to physically go to the filing cabinet to retrieve the document. It eliminates the need for DUPLICATE files. Rather than each individual keeping their own copy, all employees can retrieve the document from the shared drive. There is a recognized savings in the amount of paper supplies that the office consumes which helps the budget and the environment. You can email documents rather than having to fax or mail them which further reduce the cost in office supplies and postage. By removing bulky filing cabinets you will have more physical space in the office.

If your current paper files work for you then you can simply create an electronic REPLICA Of these files and start scanning to reduce the paper load in your office. If your paper files need refining it is best to do this prior to recreating an electronic version. Instituting an electronic documentation system can improve office efficiency and productivity but if you want optimum business performance consider streamlining your workflow and processes first. The key to improving office efficiency is to COMBINE technology with organization.


Dhawn Hansen and Tracey Turner are organizing consultants and co-owners of Hansen Turner Solutions, LLC. Please visit their website at www.hansenturner.com or call 619-757-8027.

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