Close your eyes and imagine a productive worker. If they’re sitting on a desk filled with piles of paperwork and they’re frantically going through physical documents, you need to change your perspective. Although just about every business process has been recorded on paper for centuries, things are starting to change, and the modern office has less and less space for it.
If you plan on launching a business soon, making it paperless from the beginning could be one of those decisions that help you avoid clutter right off the bat, streamline productivity, and help the environment too.
We might be used to using paper on a daily basis, and the very idea of an office without physical documents may seem unimaginable, but paper can actually hinder your productivity. More and more businesses have embraced digital transformation in the past year, and replacing physical documents with digital ones has been part of the transition.
Of course, compliance remains an issue for many companies and, depending on your jurisdiction; you may have to keep some physical copies too. But, even so, you can still drastically cut down on the amount of paper used.
In-home settings, the use of paper has dropped significantly in the past years. Fewer and fewer people buy printers, use printed calendars, or take notes on paper because there are apps for that. In a business setting, however, old habits die harder, and continuing to rely on paper can actually affect the company’s productivity as a whole.
No matter how neat you are, paper is messy. The more people are in your company, the easier it gets for papers to be lost or misplaced, which will inevitably lead to loss of productivity.
According to Gartner data, companies lose, on average, four weeks per year because of misfiled and missing documents, while the typical worker makes 61 trips per week to the fax machine, printer, and copier. Meanwhile, looking up a digital document and opening it only takes a few seconds.
One market study found that going paperless can improve staff productivity by 30%, and McKinsey data shows that 84% of businesses that go paperless achieve a full return on investment in the first 18 months.
Digital documents are easier to find and boost collaboration. Instead of going around the office looking for memos and client documentation, workers can simply access them from their computers and work together on them. Now that many employees work remotely, this is extremely important.
Plus, you also need to keep in mind that paper documents can’t be edited easily. You either scribble on them, or you print them all over again. Instead, by going paperless, you can use tools like PDFChef, which allow you to edit, merge, and sign files effortlessly from your computer.
Going paperless cuts down on approval cycles and eliminates some communication bottlenecks because documents are easier to access and distribute. Even if your office is small now and you don’t see yourself needing too much paper, keep in mind that, as the company grows, it will need more paper.
One study from the Paperless Project found that the need for paper grows by 22% every year. Besides, the longer you use paper, the longer it will take you to digitalize everything, so being paperless from the beginning is a smarter strategy.
Printed papers can be lost, stolen, or tampered with, which can create lots of inconveniences. In the worst cases, sensitive work documents can get into the hands of malicious third parties who can use that information to blackmail you or your clients.
While digital documents have their security shortcomings, too, they’re much more secure compared to physical copies. For example, you can password-protect sensitive files so that they can’t be accessed by unauthorized personnel, or you can change the sharing settings so that only certain people can edit them.
When a physical document is gone, it’s gone. But digital documents can be backed up in the cloud, so if anyone deletes or edits them by accident, you can restore them with a single click.
Paper and minimal design don’t exactly go hand in hand. The average file cabinet takes up around nine square feet of office space, which is a lot if you don’t have the budget for a spacious office. Besides, papers don’t always stay in near stacks in drawers and cabinets. They’re also passed around the office, and they can sit in piles on worker desks, taking up valuable space. Paper creates clutter, which affects productivity and employee mood.
Studies have shown that a cluttered environment can increase the risk of employee stress and anxiety by up to 75%, making their jobs seem more frustrating than they actually are. But, when all the documents are easy to find online, employees can save time and reduce mental overload. And who doesn’t want to have cute decorations on their desk instead of piles of paperwork?
Help the environment
Last but definitely not least, going paperless is a must for every company that has a sustainability objective. According to recent research, paper is the most common type of unrecycled waste in offices, and that can dramatically increase your carbon footprint. Although we often take paper for granted, its manufacturing consumes limited natural resources. If deforestation continues at the current rate, in less than 100 years, there will be no rainforests left on the planet. Plus, paper manufacturing uses chlorine-based bleach that pollutes water and soil.
In the US, we throw away 1 billion trees worth of paper annually, and most of this paper shouldn’t have been used in the first place because digital documents are much easier to work with. In an office environment, the average worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper in a year, and half of it is thrown in the garbage bin at the end of the day. By going paperless, you show that you’re committed to sustainability, which is good for your reputation and can also help you attract top talent.