Moving your business away from paper is about more than finding the best cloud system. Success takes realistic thinking, cultural change, and sometimes change to your process.
This article goes beyond our Field Management 101 series, which gives you actionable tips for each stage of the process. In this article we look specifically at the issue of moving from paper to screens.
Is it possible to have a completely paperless office?
We have team members at myFLO who do some of their best creative thinking in regular, pen-and-paper notebooks. Others have a deep love-affair with the sticky note. Many organisations still send us documents and information by post. We have clients who scribble notes as they work.
Does this sound like your company too? If it does, then think about whether going 100% paperless is truly a realistic option.
‘We’ve got cloud systems but people still use paper! Why?’
The short answer to the question is that it’s a combination of work practices and psychology. But it doesn’t stop us talking about the Ideal Paperless Office.
Even though the ‘paperless office’ has become somewhat of an ideal, the uncomfortable truth is that paper consumption continues to rise. Between 2008 and 2015, global paper and cardboard production increased from 391.2 metric tons to 407.6 metric tons. (See the data at Statista.)
The idea of the paperless office was first put forward in 1975, when George Pake, who was then head of Xerox, suggested that it was inevitable. So why are we still paper-centric?
Though technology has grown to the point where we can replace a lot of the paper, sometimes there are persistent beliefs about such things as real signatures being necessary. Many organisations still require paper forms, particularly in government, where the penetration of electronic forms is still quite low..
The Conversation was right in saying that much of this change isn’t about having the right technology.
It is clear that for change to occur, simply having technology that can replace paper is not enough. Work practises need to change to accommodate the differences that the use of technology allows and this needs to come from an institution-wide effort rather than the practises of individuals.
Underlying motivations shape attitudes in the workplace
To change your cultural attitudes, you have to understand the underlying motivations. Just talking about ‘saving the trees’ is likely to miss the mark. Saving paper is more often about operational efficiency than anything else.
Some organisations talk about efficiency in terms of being able to have ‘clean desks’. Many of the minimalist, clean-desk policies we see emerging now come from this place. Yet, these policies can do their own damage, as different types of workers have different work practices.
Are you organised enough to go to the cloud?
We are not all superstars at organising information. This is why we are challenged by operational efficiencies even when we move to the cloud.
Technology hasn’t made the chaos go away. If anything, it’s increased it! We simply take our poor habits from paper to the screen, and find ourselves in the same mess. If you’ve ever tried to navigate a messy intranet, you know this pain personally.
This is why cloud systems aren’t the magic fix. At myFLO we have seen many organisations trade their paper for the cloud, and still be in a mess! It’s because they either had the wrong expectations, or didn’t lay the groundwork to change the culture beforehand.
Know what’s realistic for you. Maybe it’s not paperless. Maybe it’s paperlight.
When considering paper elimination, work to understand what is realistic for your company. Completely eliminating it might not be either economical for you, or possible.
Remember, your business isn’t just what you do. You also have clients, vendors, government, banks and others to deal with. Depending on your business, you may also contend with regulators, auditors, and a range of other compliance professionals.
Know, too, that even if your workflow is on a screen, your team members may still like to doodle or sketch ideas to get their thoughts together. Additionally, many collaborative teamwork exercises just work better when participants can use pens and paper.
The point is, there may be situations where it would be unfair and counterproductive to insist on change, especially if the resulting reduction in paper usage is minimal. (Chief Information Officer)
Address the human psychology that causes us to cling to paper
We all have a psychological attachment to paper, and it’s important to recognise it and address it.
When you talk to your team, getting the value proposition right is critical. It’s not about removing every piece of paper, but about improving access to information. It’s not about getting rid of files, but about reducing storage requirements. It’s not about throwing things away but about increasing findability.
There are a range of common reservations that people come up with, when their access to paper is threatened. Hayley Weber at WMRK Lawyers in New Zealand suggests that they include comments like:
It’s not a problem.
I can’t read off a screen.
I need the paper or I’ll forget.
I’m too busy to change.
There’ll be too much disruption.
Electronic records aren’t secure.
The computer will crash.
The systems are too complicated/strict.
I’m stuck in my chair all day.
Your solution? Take the comments seriously. Address problems early, and bring your solution back to the common goals of the team. How you deal with objections will shape how your team supports (or not) your shift away from paper.
How to reduce paper use in your organisation
These few steps will guide you how to reduce paper use in your organisation.
1. Go for the low-hanging fruit first
- Putting electronic signatures in place for everything
- Move to online billing systems
- Put barriers in place to discourage printing, like greater distances, passcodes, print limits
- Recreate your internal documents as searchable wikis or online notebooks
- Digitise other documents and printed resources that your teams rely on.
2. Plan to be compliant
If you are a heavily regulated industry, such as manufacturing, pest control, or even law, you may need to meet certain compliance requirements. Those requirements extend to the storage and retention of electronic documents, so make sure that your planned solution is compliant!
In the pest control industry, records retention and compliance is critical. One of our clients came to us because they were spending so much time copying and filing printed information, for compliance reasons. This meant that their workflow system had to be extremely accurate, highly accessible, and very effective. You can read more about that here.
3. Include paperless practices in your training
One of the overlooked tools for reducing paper consumption is to ensure that every new employee is trained in ways that emphasise paperless approaches. Make sure that your employees are trained to use processes that require steps like digitisation or scanning.
Include modules in their training that ensure that your employees are capable of assessing what needs to be kept and what can be discarded. Not everything you receive will need to be retained. But for the materials that are required, make sure your employees scan everything they receive - and know how and where to store it for simple retrieval later.
Your most competitive and skilled employees will lead the charge for creating paperless efficiencies.
4. Lead by example
As a member of the senior executive, make sure that you scan all documents and prioritise paperless approaches. Your teams will follow your example, so make sure that you are walking the paperless talk.
5. Reward desired behaviour
Training and examples are supported by rewarding the desired behaviour. Make sure that you acknowledge and reward those who contribute to the paperless environment most in any given month.
This may be most useful during a process of digitisation, but with the right measurement in place you will be able to keep rewarding continued demonstration of desirable behaviours.
Going paperless in the right way enables your business to grow
At myFLO, we have been helping people improve and grow their businesses since we started. Our platform grew out of a need to enable easier more efficient businesses, while giving them the flexibility to adapt and grow away from paper-reliant workflow.
To learn more about how we can help your team, give our experts a call on 1300 78 46 60