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At long last, the 21st century has arrived in full force. There are driverless cars, armed flying robots, and virtual reality. So is it finally time your company joined the 21st century and went paperless? A paperless office can make your company more efficient, help your employees collaborate more effectively, and ultimately, make you a more agile, adaptive company; it could also save you a ton of money on paper, printers, and toner cartridges. With advances in technology, it is also easier than ever to go paperless, too. Here are five great tips for your company to cross the bridge into the 21st century and go paperless once and for all.

Establish Digital Forms and Templates

Whatever type of paperwork your company produces, it can undoubtedly be replicated digitally. Establish a digital library of all relevant forms that your company uses, and ensure that they are readily available and usable on desktop and mobile devices. Mandate that everyone uses the digital forms (see also the section below on rules), and establish a “wear out date” for paper, after which it can no longer be used.

Digitally Transform all Incoming Documents

Even if you go digital, you are still going to have to deal with vendors, customers, and in some cases the government, who may still be reliant on paper documents. Establish procedures for instantly transforming any documents your company received into digital form. This can be accomplished primarily through a good scanner at the office; additionally, employees can also use mobile scanning apps to capture paper documents as well while they are on the road.

Go Paperless with Bills and Payments

Your communications aren’t the only thing you can digitize; you can also go paperless with all billing and payment activities as well. Rather than printing invoices, you can email or text them to clients. You can also enlist the services of companies like Due, which can oversee your electronic invoicing system, make it extremely easy to manage, and free up time for your company to focus on other aspects of your business. Similarly, Due can help you go paperless in terms of cash, enabling you to send or receive payments with no physical cash or credit cards involved.

Ditch the File Cabinets

If you have gone paperless, there is no more need for an archive of file cabinets stuffed with papers from days gone by. You can instead share all of your documents and files on a cloud-based system, which will make them easy to access in the office or while on the road. Services like Dropbox make it easy to store, manage, and access your documents from wherever you are; it can also help facilitate collaboration amongst your employees and customers, even when you are all hundreds of miles apart.

Establish Good Business Rules

In order for your office to thrive, or even function, paperless, you need to establish and enforce good business rules. Employees must understand the forms and procedures they are supposed to use as a paperless office – from how to create them, naming conventions, where to store them, etc. – and they have to abide by those rules. You should expect to have to spend additional time training new employees when they arrive so that they can rapidly learn how to use these systems. Finally, you should routinely review all of your business rules and procedures to determine if they need to be updated, or have become outmoded due to new technologies or requirements.
One final thought on going paperless is buy-in. Changing an entire company from paper to digital can be extremely disruptive; in some cases, there will be resistance or unease due to unfamiliarity with electronic media and devices. Work hard to assuage people’s fears and garner buy-in from your employees. And once you do go paperless, give them all the help they need to succeed.

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William Lipovsky owns the personal finance website First Quarter Finance. His most embarrassing moment was telling a Microsoft executive, "I'll just Google it."

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