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5 Tips for developing a paperless office

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Whether you’re concerned about the environment or just trying to reorganize for the new year, there’s no better time than now to consider transitioning to a paperless office. Going paperless in your business has the benefit of saving money and natural resources, freeing up workplace storage, and creating an organized records system to keep you accountable if roadblocks arise in the future.

However, making the switch from paper documentation to digital can feel confusing or downright overwhelming, especially if you don’t know what your goals are or how to start. We’ve compiled this handy list of five tips to jumpstart your eco- and systematization-friendly journey into making your business paperless.

1. Make record keeping your ultimate goal

The efficiency of going paperless is practically indisputable. But why and how should you begin such an enterprise? Converting to a paperless office ensures that you will always have an accurate and accessible record of all your documents—if you’ve done it correctly from the beginning (more on this in Tip #3).

Digital document preservation allows you to access any invoice, contract, or checklist the moment you need it. This also means you’ll have an accurate, up-to-the-minute record of your company’s history. Concerned about sudden IRS or HIPAA audits? They happen more than most business owners think, and you don’t want to be caught off guard or stuck digging through storage boxes to find necessary documentation that may or may not have gotten thrown away.

Going paperless is easy, so long as you don’t let the “how” overpower the “why.” Remember that once your office archives are digitized, it will be much easier to maintain for the rest of your business’s life!

2. Don’t underestimate storage and physical organization

Once you have a clear idea of what you want from your digitization plan and what implementing it will look like, it’s time to consider the physical factors. For such a virtual-minded task, going paperless is a huge physical undertaking. The amount of manpower needed to complete this project will depend on the size and scale of your individual business.

You might have gotten used to working among stacks of boxes and filing cabinets, but they take up a significant amount of space that could benefit your business rather than weigh it down. By going paperless, you free up that physical space for something more productive. After being carefully scanned and digitized, those papers you’re drowning in can be shredded (or stored safely off-site) and virtually fetched when you need them again.

Digital backups also mitigate common cyber security concerns. Ransomware is becoming the top threat facing businesses of any size, meaning hackers can gain control of your networks and hold archived data for ransom. Those businesses desperate enough to pay the ransom rarely get all their data restored to working order, so having an external or cloud-based backup is an important part of the preservation process.

3. Consider searchability factors

Odds are you don’t have a ton of experience with digital preservation, and that’s okay! Before you start, think about how your archives are likely to be used. What’s the best way to structure file names and organization? Will you need to search by client names, dates, or other identifying data? Are there HIPAA or other industry standards that restrict naming convention or access?

One element of office digitization many business owners fail to bear in mind is searchability. Creating a searchable archive builds a foundation that makes going paperless more practical by reducing the amount of searching needed to locate a digital file. Why go to the trouble of digitizing everything if it’s impossible to find what you need?

The three main factors that affect searchability are scanning, OCR (optical character recognition), and metadata tagging. Plan ahead of time what information you’ll need to inject into each step of the digitization process. You’ll want to make sure that scanner settings are adjusted for the best image output. Scan quality and OCR software allows you granular adjustments to the textual overlay of an image. Inserting and tagging metadata is essential to search, since it guides keyword search once your office archive is functioning.

4. Focus on obsolescence—preventing it, that is.

One of the biggest hang-ups of a paperless office is the inevitability of obsolescence. The eventuality of your data becoming outdated can result in reduced readability down the line. With the speed that technology advances in the digital age, computers as soon as five or ten years from now could be unable to read your data if it was saved in an incompatible file format.

The International Organization for Standardization is a great resource for making sure your files are saved in archival-safe formats. Various types of data have their own specific requirements and recommendations, including the kinds of metadata, storage methods, and other characteristics you should include in your preservation plan.

This will also guide you in converting any older data into your archive or doing so in the future. For files that don’t have archival equivalents, make a plan for converting old file formats when newer versions are available.

5. Enlist help if you need it!

If you don’t have the time or workforce to reach your paperless office goals, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help. Archival companies with digitization experience can help you at any point in the process, whether you’re just starting out or stuck in the middle of your preservation project. These experts have access to resources and software you might not know about, making them a valuable potential partner in developing your paperless office.

When choosing an archival company to work with, remember that (as with most investments) you get what you pay for. The most budget-friendly firms market themselves at the lowest price point, but usually that means they’re pushing papers through scanners as quickly as possible with little regard for your individual needs. You’ll want to search for a partner who will listen to your business’s goals and make adjustments in their process to best fit your needs. Digital preservation “one-stop shops” might be tempting, but balance the investment with the overall quality and function your business deserves.

Going paperless is a wise business endeavor for the planet and for your peace of mind. The amount of consideration and attention to detail you and your archival vendor puts into this goal will save you stress and time in the future. Stop searching through boxes for the documents you need. A paperless office puts solutions at your fingertips. Start your paperless office today!

About Amy Anderson

Amy O. Anderson is a Principal of Anderson Archival, a digital archiving company in St. Louis, Missouri. Anderson Archival increases the impact, relevance, and accessibility of historical document collections with a thorough, principled digital preservation process. Anderson has a software engineering background and first started working in the archival arena in the mid-2000s on a custom solution that integrated document preservation and web technology to develop a high-end digital library.

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