You're reading this on a screen. Your company is already working digitally, of course. But are you digital enough?
Look around most office spaces and you'll see filing cabinets full of documents. Almost all of these represent an inefficiency.
Going paperless can make your business more productive, sustainable and secure. We're big fans of the paper-free life, so here's how you can make the switch – whether you’re a small business or big enterprise.
The benefits of a paperless office
There are countless advantages to ditching your physical paper files and digitising your business operations. But what’s it going to do for your business? Here are some of our favourite paperless advantages:
- Cost savings: Eliminate the need for paper, ink, and toner – it’ll save you a nice chunk of cash. And you don’t have to spend big on calling out an engineer for regular printer maintenance
- Better efficiency: Things just work better without physical documents. Files can be shared more easily when you’re online, meaning faster decision-making and better collaboration.
- Improved organisation: Digital documents can be easily searched, organized, and backed up, reducing the risk of lost or misplaced documents.
- Increased environmental sustainability: Going paperless reduces the amount of paper in your life, which is way better for the environment. The paper industry is one of the most energy-intensive industries in the world, and was recently calculated to use up 6% of global industrial energy consumption. A paperless office causes less waste, a lower carbon footprint, and less pollution from the production of paper and its disposal.
- Better security: Do we really need to explain why? Even government ministers still leak important info by leaving printed documents on train seats. It’s all too easy to lose important data if you store documents in their physical form. Digital documents can be password-protected and backed up, making them less vulnerable to theft, fire or general acts of idiocy.
How you can go paperless at work
So you're going to curb your paper use – great. The next step in going paperless (or using less paper) is looking at where you can make simple changes with the biggest impact.
A proper digital transformation means you’ll end up using cloud services to make your business processes easier. This is your opportunity to embrace digital documents and paperless processes to save time and money.
Here are five areas of work you can transform with digital tools. They'll reduce your paper usage and get you a few nice cost savings - and they make for a tidier work environment, too.
Note-taking and writing
A paperless system for writing notes and reports is a must. And with recent advances in AI for content generation and research, you’d be daft not to use digital tools to speed up your documenting process.
Firstly, getting your ideas down is a lot easier this way.
Digital note-taking apps apps like Evernote have been a staple of the digital worker’s toolkit for many years now. There’s a host of competitors in the digital notes space - for example, Bear is well-suited to note-taking for creative writing, and Milanote is best suited to open-ended research and planning.
For creative inspiration and writing help, you can use AI tools like Jasper, ChatGPT and new features in Microsoft Office. They’ll help you refine ideas and get them into readable prose faster.
You'll also find some decent tools in Google Workspace for collaborative note-taking and idea generation (and they integrate with Timetastic!). Airtable is great for all kinds of spreadsheet productivity (think a more versatile, colourful Excel) and Slack and Discord are the new kings of team-based chat with the ability to search messages and interest groups.
Some research suggests taking paper notes can help you remember things better, which is great for studying. But in the context of meetings, you might be better served by tools like Otter.ai which automatically transcribe and summarise what’s been said.
File management and project management
Companies with large amounts of paper (like legal documents) should consider using a document management system (DMS). This is a program that organises your company’s electronic documents from multiple sources and formats into a central hub. Having a central repository for your digital files that people can instantly search through is a life-saver.
You could use Microsoft Office 365 and the like, but these are really aimed at document creation. Using cloud apps like Google Docs is great for individuals, but doesn’t really work company-wide. So if you use a decent document management software, you’ll have a digital filing system that everyone can use without getting confused. And it’ll massively reduce your use of paper, too.
One feature to look out for is optical character recognition (OCR). OCR means you can scan paper documents in and it’ll convert them to readable text – something a typist used to spend hours doing. Being able to edit them and make new versions straight away is really useful.
Digital forms and signature management
Digitisation of document signing is a clear an obvious win for the paper-light office.
By using digital signatures to speed up approval processes and contractual agreements, you’ll save reams of paper throughout the year. Docusign or one of its competitors will do the job nicely.
There’s not much more to it than that, really.
Booking time off work
Still digging around your desk drawers for a paper form to fill in when you need a day off?
Any paper-based form is a chore to deal with. First, you have to find the request form, then print it, then fill it out, then give it to the manager, then they read it, choose whether to approve or not, and input it into the spreadsheet, and fill out the wall chart. What a nuisance!
We think there’s a better way – use a mobile phone app. It looks like this:
Yes, we’re going for a bit of shameless self-promotion here, but saving paper is totally our thing. Timetastic is a paperless staff leave planner that streamlines your company’s leave request process. Less hassle, tidier filing cabinets, and a better environmental footprint. How about that?
You can use Timetastic completely free for 30 days, so please, take advantage 😀
The future of paperless work
We’re not anti-paper. Reading paper is a tactile, enjoyable experience. And we’re not the only ones.
Look at the shelves in any newsagent and you’ll see luxury magazines printed on thick paper stock. High street bookshops are thriving despite online competition.
But when it comes to most office work, reducing paper usage just makes sense.
So what does the paperless office of the future look like? It’s quite exciting, really. There have been some massive advances in productivity tech in the few years following the pandemic.
There are plenty of new tools for workflow automation that eliminate slow paper-based processes. AI is moving at a lightning-fast pace, meaning we can create and organise thoughts much faster than using physical files. And there’s a load of new ways to collaborate and do great work together.
Whatever the future brings, we won't be going back to paper.