Is your office is a mess of buried desks? Paperwork avalanches? Noticeboards crammed with incomprehensible charts filled with coloured pins, dots or marker pen squiggles?

I've worked at places like this, it's hard to focus, the clutter is a distraction, you can feel the inefficiency and bureaucracy hanging around, ready to stifle any good idea or productive task.

Yet we all know that a paperless office is the way to go. Not only does printing fewer documents save trees, but a paper free office will save money and make your office run more efficiently.

We're talking about:

  • Saving on storage space: Filing cabinets and under desk drawers brimming with physical files, forms and archives - they fill up your expensive office space. Better to use that space for something more profitable.
  • Saving on paper costs: Admittedly, cloud storage can cost money as well, but almost invariably virtual is cheaper.
  • How to save time: Printing, photocopying, schlepping around the office sticking copies in files and putting stuff on shelves and in cabinets.
  • Improving security: There are security risks associated with leaving sensitive information in a paper format, there's also a chance of it being damaged or destroyed in a fire or flood.

So let's look at how to create a paperless office. It's not always about strategic intent at board level, but equally we don't need it to happen overnight. There's some simple steps and quick wins that will streamline business operations, and help keep your paper usage down to an absolute minimum.

1. Get rid of your filing cabinets

😱 really, is this too drastic?

Contrary to popular opinion, there's actually relatively little information which needs to be kept for years at a time. Statutory documents, legal correspondence, HR records, financial information are the main ones to keep, but in most cases, once you have pared down to storing only what's absolutely necessary you can put the rest into some form of document management software and you'll mitigate most of your filing.

Any costs relating to storing digital files are usually rapidly repaid by the reduction in storage costs associated with stuffing those cabinets to the max.

If stuff does expand to fill the space allocated, then the solution is to reduce the space.

2. Stage a paper shortage

What would happen if your workplace ran out of paper?

How would you manage?

How would others cope?

Trust me, they'll be just fine.

You can test staff ingenuity at the same time as finding out what works by "accidentally" running out of paper. When faced with such an emergency, it's amazing the strategies which workers can come up with to get the job gets done without a piece of paper in sight!

A "printer breakdown" or "we're out of ink" can also have a similar result.

3. Get rid of personal printers

Are you one of those places that puts a printer on each person's desk?

Try switching to shared printers, you'll notice a real difference in print volume as soon as you force someone to walk across the office to collect their printing. If you do need printers, then share them. Put them far away in the corner of the office.

4. Swap to double-sided

Talking of printing, you can halve the amount of paper you use with a simple adjustment to your printer. Just change the default setting on your printer from single-sided to double-sided printing.

It  could reduce the amount of paper used significantly. Double-sided printing also makes for easier reading: no one wants to trawl through reams of sheets unless they absolutely have to.

5. Start to question all your paper documents

The generation of irrelevant information that nobody bothers to read happens everywhere. We have a tendency to create processes and documentation that is relevant at the time, and we continue with it, maybe out of habit, maybe through lack of questioning it's current relevancy. Either way, we end up doing stuff that just doesn't need to be done anymore. In a small business this can be crippling.

So before printing off a report, memo, spreadsheet, or letter, ask yourself whether you need to do this anymore, and if you can switch it to a paperless process with electronic documents.

6. Move to digital documents

Electronic storage is fast, secure, economical and accessible from almost any device. If you want to bring your company into the 21st Century, cloud storage is the way to go. Aside from freeing you from the shackles of paper, cloud storage means your documents are readily available wherever and whenever you need them. Why bother dragging paper documents from A to B, when your phone or laptop can allow you to get the same information from the cloud?

Things you can try right now:

  • Google Docs / Google Drive - it's free, give it a go today.
  • Storing docs in pdf format - just create a folder on your hard drive and start storing.
  • Use your phone as a document scanner - iPhone has this built in

7. Bin those holiday request forms

Sophie Jones has requested time off: Mon 16th August through Fri 20th August

We still see a lot of businesses using paper processes to book a day off work, then trying to keep a spreadsheet up-to-date from those forms.

You can make this a whole lot easier by using a Staff Holiday Booking System like Timetastic. You'll get rid of all the paper forms associated with taking a day off, and it's a massive step up from a spreadsheet based/ excel annual leave template.

I struggle to believe any of your employees would prefer to be completing a paper form and getting it signed compared to firing up a mobile app and making a few taps on their screen.

8. E-payslips are the way forward

It's amazing just how much paper a wage slip can take up! Particularly if you work in an organisation with numerous employees, a significant amount of paper may be wasted in printed payslips.

9. Cloud-based accounting software

Accurate, up-to-date financial record keeping doesn't just ensure you know exactly how much you've got coming in or going out, it's also a vital tool for future planning and decision-making.

Cloud-based accounting software is perfect for small businesses. Think, Xero, Quickbooks, and Freeagent, they help keep accounting simple, as well as provide an extremely secure method of storing financial documents and data. Accounting packages allow information to be accessed remotely as well as in the office. We live in an age when clients can take legal action if their financial data falls into the wrong hands: cloud accounting is far more secure than paper, offering greater protection for you and your customers.

10. Try electronic invoices

Time is up for manual invoicing and sticking them in the post. Invoicing should be a paperless process, with paperless statements too.

Add up the price of paper, envelopes, postage, and your time - we're talking big cost savings.

And your customers will prefer paperless billing. It gives you the chance to provide links to payment methods, statements and other useful data.

11. Go digital when it comes to marketing

Flyers, posters, leaflets and even direct mail are rapidly becoming redundant when it comes to effective marketing.

With ever-growing numbers of people using the Internet as their primary source of consumer information, digital marketing is the route most likely to yield the ROI you're looking for. Banners, blogs, social media, backlinking and savvy content can all make a difference, potentially enhancing your bottom line as well as reducing your stationery bill.

12.  Digital signatures / e Signatures

Are you still signing and faxing documents?

E Signature apps are commonplace and well developed now. The most popular of these digital services are Docusign, hellosign, signable.

There's a host of electronic document management eSignature style apps now that can help get rid of those dated fax machines so you can sign documents digitally.

Switching to eSignature can be a hard cultural transition so I'd suggest starting small. Take one of your less important physical documents and run it though the eSignature process. Once you've got a feel for how it works you can build up your comfort and work out if you want to store digital copies outside of the app too.

13. Workplace chat apps

Almost everybody uses WhatsApp, iMessage or Signal to stay in touch with friends and family these days.

Slack, Teams, Twist all bring that chat and file sharing ability to your Workplace. And with the huge shift to remote work I'll be amazed if you and your employees have managed this without at least trying one of these apps already.

If you're serious about creating a paperless office, reducing your environmental footprint, saving the planet one tree at a time, as well as saving money, space and printer ink, these tips are going to go a long way to ensuring your success as a paper-free zone!

Why not give paper-free a go and enjoy the difference it makes?

Please don't print this article ;)