Many organizations are looking for ways to reduce waste and consider their impact on the planet. Going paperless in the office is a great way to achieve this. It is an investment that takes a lot of time and effort, but the end result is worth it. Vaive and Associates undertook this initiative several years ago, and we now enjoy a paperless environment. It’s hard to imagine how we were able to work before we were paperless.
When it comes to switching to a paperless office, there are some basic things that you need to consider in order to have a successful transition. There is a need for well defined policies and processes on converting paper to electronic files. For example, are old files going to be scanned, or will the process be done on a go forward basis? For new documents, do all documents get scanned, or is there a need for someone to determine what gets scanned, and what does not? Data backup processes are another critical factor when it comes to moving all documents to an electronic system: the organization needs to have complete confidence that all of these files will be kept safe and will be available when needed. Having server security and firewalls from the outside world are another must-have if you are going to keep things secure and safe, and to give your clients the confidence that their information will be kept secure.
One of the benefits of going paperless is the efficiency that it provides. With the proper systems in place we spend far less time looking for things. A proper system can be a formal document management system or something home grown with a good naming convention for files. In meetings or on client calls, we can access all of our clients’ information almost immediately. Gone are the days of putting your client on hold, walking to the file room, grabbing all the files and flipping through them to find what we need. On those dozen or so snow days that we get every year, our staff are able to work remotely from home and still put in a productive day.
We have also found that having a paperless office has made for better quality work. Everyone in the firm has their own scanner and multiple monitors, and we are able to create extensive support in all of our working paper files with scanned source documents, spreadsheets and memos. We have found that this saves a significant amount of time after personal tax season, when the CRA does their routine follow-ups. Requests by the CRA for child care receipts, donations and the like are far more easily dealt with all of these documents already scanned in PDF format.
Despite the cost of implementation (the person hours spent scanning and the cost of hardware), going paperless has saved a significant amount of money. Yes, we use less paper and printer toner. We also save on postage and courier costs as we encourage electronic delivery of our documents. But the biggest savings has come by eliminating the need for a file room. The old school file room took up a significant amount of space in accounting firm offices. With that file room now replaced by a small server closet, we are able to have a more efficient utilization of our space.
Although it may be hard to quantify the benefit of this, the paperless office also has a “cool factor” to it. When we’re meeting with clients and we have everything on the big monitors in our meeting rooms, it really does speak to a level of efficiency and professionalism that you just can’t get with a paper based office.