A paperless office is a workplace that has replaced paper-based processes and relies on digital documents in its operations instead.

As you’re about to find out below, going paperless is better for everyone involved in the operations, and it offers plenty of benefits for companies and organizations of different sizes.

In addition to helping the environment, going green also directly impacts the efficiency and speed of your overall business operations.

According to research by McKinsey, workers spend an average of 20% of office time weekly sorting through files and file cabinets when they are searching for documents. 

Moreover, the environmental impact estimate of paper pollution in landfills stands at 16%.

In this guide, we will cover the biggest benefits of a paperless office and go over some real-life, practical examples of what a paperless environment might look like. We'll also cover what a paperless office is like for a few different industries.

Here's what you'll learn:

  • What Is a Paperless Office And How Does It Work?
  • Biggest Advantages Of A paperless office
  • Advantages And Disadvantages Of A Paper-Based Office (And Who Is It For)
  • 6 Practical Steps To Switch To A Paperless Office
  • Top Industries That Benefit From A Paperless Office 

What Is a Paperless Office And How Does It Work?

The paperless office concept at its core embodies digitization

An ideal paperless office seeks to reduce and ultimately eliminate paper use in the workplace. Going paperless in the office means that every paper process is digital or electronic. I.e. PDF instead of paper.

The paperless office has a stark advantage over the traditional cabinet filing and paper-laden office operational system. There is a clear divide between operations efficiency pre and post transitioning to paperless. Unproductive and redundant parts of the traditional filing system have been revamped with technology to offer more efficient and streamlined business operations

A paperless office is more efficient in operations. Compared to the paperless system, the traditional paper operations system ensures that employees spend time otherwise spent on productive and value-adding tasks instead of redundant and boring processes. 

How does a paperless office work?

In its operations, a paperless office uses document generation software to create contracts, invoices, proposals, insurance claims, and more.

Then, you can use a document management system to help with all parts of your document management lifecycle

Other paperless office concepts include:

PDF generation

PDF generation highlights the relevance of automation in going paperless. 

It's like a foundational puzzle piece; without digitization, you can't have a paperless office, and digitization without automated document - PDF generation is a great way to automate your document creation processes.

For example, with automated PDF generation, you can automatically process 10 confidential reports or 10,000+ customer statements with a simple API request.

Standardized document templates

As an extension of the automation principle of paperless digitization, standardized templates facilitate the automatic generation of documents. 

As a rule, there are generally two types of templates, the dynamic template that changes according to feed information and the static template that remains unchanging no matter what.

To automate PDF generation, you need a dynamic template that can be automatically changed based on customer information from another source. For example, here’s an invoice template by HubSpot.

invoice template by HubSpot

You can usually pull that information from HTML text, such as a web form filled in by a client.

Paperless functionality

The paperless office's paperless functionality refers to the totality of all actions and processes undertaken to fuel transitioning to go paperless. 

It is a broad concept that underlines the core of the paperless office system. It could be your document and record management system or your HTML rendering software.

To recap this step, the “before and after” of a paperless office is as follows:

  • Before - employees sort through emails and paperwork to perform work normally. However, after going paperless, digitization and automation improved the employees' productivity as they can now perform value-added tasks with the saved time.
  • Before -  cumbersome file maintenance and organization, it was difficult to locate files in archives, especially old ones. However, after going paperless, document digitization makes it possible to back up and retrieve documents in the system easily.
  • Before - lax document security, inefficient office communications, and overall workflow redundancy. However, after going paperless management tools make it possible to ensure optimal document security, efficient office communications, and improve overall operations. 

Now, let’s take a closer look at some advantages of going paperless.

Biggest Advantages Of A paperless office

While the eco-friendly benefits of going paperless can't be overstated, the relevance and significance of switching to paperless are more extensive for your business. 

Infographic on the printing statistic n regular offices

Source: Frevvo

Having said that, let's now take a quick look at some other paperless office advantages outside its eco-friendliness.

Saves time

The most highlighted benefit of the paperless office has to do with its speed and efficiency

While saying that your company will realize a hundred percent efficiency is a stretch, going paperless will drive up workflow speed, and efficiency of task execution in your company as employees now have time and necessary tools to facilitate workplace productivity.

Improved document security

Another direct benefit of going paperless is the enhanced security of documents and other confidential information. 

When you digitize company and proprietary documents like business contracts, these documents are less susceptible to security breaches, manipulations, and ultimately, destruction.

Improved data accessibility

Storage and management of documents electronically in the paperless office ensures that you can easily search, locate and retrieve your documents. 

With the improved data accessibility, employees can save up to weekly 20% of otherwise wasted time for other productive tasks instead of sorting and reading through archives and storage.

For example, you can use user roles and permission settings so that only specific people will be able to access confidential documents and reduce the chances of data leaks.

Increased productivity

Beyond improving data accessibility, going paperless ultimately drives up work productivity and collaboration. 

Going paperless affords evolutionary improvements in how employees share, store, and use the information either as teams or individuals in the office. 

When all these factors combine, it results in a qualitative development that will ultimately boost productivity across your organization. With automated document generation, you can essentially save time and money as well.

So, is a paperless office heaven for operations teams with countless benefits?

Not exactly, it doesn’t come without its cons.

Advantages And Disadvantages Of A Paper-Based Office (And Who Is It For)

Despite the numerous paperless office advantages and conveniences, going completely paperless comes with a few cons, depending on your office and operations.

If you’re too reliant on paper-based management and operations at this point, one option is to consider balancing paper and the digital.

Now to help you on your journey to further enlightenment, let's quickly explore the disadvantages of the paperless office.

Paperless office disadvantages

  • Time-consuming. A complete switch to go paperless is anything but fast. Like any other major process that involves change, committing to go paperless takes time. Whether for strategizing or implementation, completely going paperless is a time-consuming black hole. The outlook gets even uglier when you consider how long it will take for you to digitize all your physical documents completely. Therefore you must know when to stop your paperless campaign, especially when the cons begin to outweigh the pros. 59% of businesses going paperless achieved a full ROI in less than 12 months. While 84% achieved payback in under 18 months.
  • Documents digitization and automation challenges. Whether it is the amount of effort that complete digitization will require or the security and software challenges that document automation must tackle, going completely paperless might result in diminishing returns. 

Paper office advantages

  • Regulations and compliance-friendly. Maintaining an offline documentation system is important to ensure that you are regulatory compliant. There are certain regulations and compliance guidelines that state certain documents must be physically kept in their offline format. Depending on your industry regulations, this might be an important part. Though, with the right document management system, you can also set up legally compliant deletion features.
  • More familiarity with conservative industries. Depending on your industry and employee preference, paper-based office might be more convenient, as it doesn’t take any getting used to. Many customers and business partners might still want to get physical copies of legal, financial, and healthcare documents.
  • Convenient for brainstorming and note-taking. The advantage of the physical paper-infused system is heavily highlighted here. Whether it is the scribbling of inspirational thoughts or brainstorming, papers are ultimately the go-to option. It is easier to process and record printed information than those present on the screen. Hence many people still prefer to use papers when working on agreement drafts, brainstorming ideas, or support presentations.

However, even for the healthcare industry (which is usually very conservative when it comes to change), there are certain document management best practices that help with a paperless office. 

We’ll cover this more in-depth below, so, keep on reading.

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6 Practical Steps To Switch To A Paperless Office

Transforming into a fully paperless office might seem like a long and complicated goal.

But as with all projects, you have to start somewhere. And usually, it's with strategizing or planning out how your organization can transform into a paperless one. 

Now, going paperless looks different for every industry (we'll list some examples below), but focusing on the bigger picture, here's potentially how you could switch to a paperless office.

Step 1: Develop a paperless management and initiatives strategy

What you want to do here is consider your management structure. 

This change doesn't have to be radical immediately, you can make subtle but pivotal changes in your operations framework. 

For instance, you can change your company mandate to feature a paperless vision outlook. This will, directly and indirectly, align your organizational setup with the concept of going paperless.

You can also experiment with some paperless or marketing tools to help with your operations.

Step 2: Define your goals

Now that you've developed and enforced a paperless inclusive company initiative, what you want to do next is to define your goals clearly. As of now, you are now aware of the advantages and disadvantages of going paperless, either completely or partially.

When defining your goals - short and long-term goals, you need to consider all the likely constraints that will challenge your paperless journey and factor in the short-term and long-term effect of these constraints.

Short-term goals can include automation of certain operations in the workplace, depending on your discernment. At the same time, long-term goals can include converting physical documents to digital format.

One way to plan this out is with SMART goals.

smart goals and their meaning

Step 3: Organize your paper documents and files

After you've defined your short and long-term goals and gotten your team on board the train to go paperless, it is time to do the effort-intensive part of the process - changing your offline documents to relevant electronic file formats.

To do this, you need to have organized your paper documents and files comprehensively before scanning can switch to digital format. 

Here you might want to brainstorm with your team to determine what works best for your company. 

Launch the solution across your company once you've figured out how to arrange and organize your files comprehensively. After you have confirmed and double-checked that all company files are classified according to your layout, you are now ready to go paperless.

Step 4: Adopt digitization software

While your employees are preparing their documents and files for entry, you need to determine the right digitization and document management system to switch to a paperless office.

To help narrow your choice, you can list out a list of tools your company needs from a document management system and the things you want but don't necessarily need, like data backup, amount of storage, and number of user accounts.

Alternatively, see our full guide on how to evaluate a document management solution for your paperless office.

Step 5: Train employees

Once you've chosen your prize software program, you need to provide relevant training for your employees. Depending on your company's situation, you might want to train only certain departments or leaders of certain departments.

Essentially, you need to ensure that all employees that handle files and access information in your new digital system can do so digitally and confidently.

For this, you can create internal documentation, record videos, and switch to paperless billing to start with.

Step 6: Execute the transition

Everything you need to become a fully operational paperless office is now in place. 

You can now push the paperless button from your goals and objectives to the organized and ready-to-convert files, finally, with your equipped management automation software and trained employees.

Then, all you need to do now is monitor the transitioning process and update your company policy to match the set pace.

Potential paperless KPIs to measure when going paperless include:

  • Total monthly spend (printing, payroll, subscriptions, etc).
  • Cycle time.
  • Gross profit margin.
  • Revenue per employee.
  • Employee satisfaction.
  • Total project errors.

Top Industries That Benefit From A Paperless Office 

Now that you are well-grounded on the necessary steps about your switch to go paperless let's look at how a paperless office example looks for top industries leading the paperless transformation.

1. Finance and Insurance Sector

The finance and insurance sectors are overseen by strict regulatory and compliance guidelines due to the sensitive nature of documents that organizations in the sector handle. 

An ideal paperless office in these sectors will have digitized all the normal processes that can be optimized. 

Let's take a look at a paperless office example in the finance and insurance industry:

  • Registration of customers is achieved using financial documents like loan contracts, account statements, and invoices that are automatically generated via template-based document generation software.
  • Billing is automated using rendering tools.
  • Customer care services are available online and offline.
  • Account opening and closure are completed remotely and autonomously.
  • All documents are backed up digitally for audit and storage purposes, except if stated otherwise by regulations.

This is an overview of what the paperless office looks like in the financial and insurance sector. 

For a more detailed breakdown of document generation and automation, see our guide on the topic of financial services.

2. Healthcare sector

Like the finance sector, the health sector is also supervised by strict regulations and compliance guidelines such as HIPAA. Which can lead to fines of up to $50,000 per violation and higher. 

The healthcare sector is a paper-consuming giant globally, as it is heavily reliant on paper for different processes at every level of operation.

A paperless office in the healthcare sector:

  • Digitally keeps patient records while maintaining compliance.
  • Automatically generates and delivers billing and other relevant documents using ready-made custom and dynamic templates.
  • Allows physicians to monitor and track patients' data digitally through Electronic medical record systems (EMR).
  • Medical practitioners can easily retrieve patients' records from the digital database, effectively boosting efficiency.
  • Patients' and visitors' logs are updated automatically and digitally.

For more info, be sure to see our guide on document generation and storage for healthcare organizations here.

3. Federal government and public sectors

Being one of the most diverse industries, the federal government and public sector organizations rely heavily on paper heavily paper to function properly. A paperless office in these sectors will have an outlook like this:

  • Receipts, bills, and account statements are automatically generated and distributed to the right address.
  • Customer registration is completed autonomously.
  • All documents are backed up securely on servers.
  • Securing confidential information and sensitive documents so that only certain people can access them.
  • Employees can work remotely with guaranteed work efficiency.

For more info on this, check out our guide on document generation and storage for the federal government.

Where To Go From Here

Hope this guide to a paperless office was helpful!

Now, as you might have realized, switching to a paperless office isn’t an overnight journey.

To start with, you need the right tools and management in place to help with the transition.

So, if you’re not sure where to go from here, be sure to check out our guide on the top questions for evaluating document generation software.

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