The Paperless Office by Helen Gough

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There is simply no escaping the fact that we are living in a digital age where technology plays a huge part in both our daily business and personal lives. At home, it seems that our children can find their way around an iPad quicker than we can turn the thing on, and many schools are increasingly using technology to prepare the next generation for a future world which will be unrecognisable compared to today.

As adults, we are being actively encouraged to complete more and more daily tasks online, from paying bills and shopping to ordering the Saturday night takeaway. Admittedly, we are not quite at the stage of driverless cars, delivery drones and robots being commonplace but we are certainly heading that way.

The key components of a paperless office:

There are four essential elements of a paperless office; a good document scanner, a basic document management computer system, diligent staff and a shredding bin!

So long as each paper document that comes in or goes out of the office is scanned, and electronically filed and indexed, there is no reason why it can’t then be thrown straight in the bin. There are, of course, a few select documents where the originals must be kept but, even in a law firm, we find that these are few and far between.

The biggest hurdle that you will come across when setting up your paperless office will be people and their irrational lack of confidence in I.T. It is understandable that, having worked in an office environment for most of our lives, we feel the need to document everything and hold on to every piece of paper that lands on our desk – just in case it may be important one day or someone might ask for it a year down the line! This is the mindset that we simply must change. If a document is scanned and saved to a computer system you have it indefinitely; it creates a full audit trail and you do not need a paper copy as well.

The advantages to the paperless office are endless. The most important has to be the cost saving. Every business wants to save unnecessary expense where possible and this is one area where you really will see the difference. The stationery savings alone are vast, from paper and envelopes to files and shelving. Not to mention helping the environment!

Then there is the cost of archiving, which can amount to thousands of pounds per year. Once your files are stored electronically, the cost of storage, collection of files and rental of storage facilities disappears. At the end of a job, simply close it on your computer system. There is no paper file to deal with, thereby freeing up time and leading to increased staff productivity. And, if you get low on server space, back up to the cloud.

We must realise that electronic files are safer and more reliable than paper files. There is no real possibility of losing them or leaving them at home.

We are all aware of the threats of cyber attacks, and this is something businesses have to work hard to minimise through effective I.T. policies, but such threats are probably no worse than risks of physical files being damaged or stolen or left on trains, planes, or in a coffee shop, and electronic files provide infinitely more flexibility for working practices and backups / disaster recovery scenarios.

Gough Law has made the transition. As a law firm, we deal with vast amounts of documents, but we have managed to convert to a largely paperless office over time and the benefits have been incredible. We have a more streamlined, efficient business. We are in constant contact with our clients, sharing documents at the click of a button. We have made huge cost savings and are no longer drowning in paper!

Practical tips to get you started:

• Don’t open a paper file for new clients – open an electronic file
• When you receive a document, scan it and bin it (securely, of course)
• Electronic signatures are now widely accepted, so ditch the pen!