The lockdown introduced businesses to the benefits of a remote-first workforce. And while many companies initially “went paperless” to protect employees, some are discovering its longer-term benefits of streamlined operations, invoicing and contract management.
“The whole mortgage closing industry is going digital overnight,” says Max Simkoff, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based title insurance company States Title. The technology to conduct real estate closings without paper has been available for years, Simkoff says, but outdated regulations and industry reluctance to abandon traditional practices held up the transition.
Paperless adoption has critical benefits, including reduced paper waste and lowered printing and storing paper documents costs. It also streamlines processes, which simplifies cost cutting and improves management effectiveness and efficiency.
“Many businesses have already seen an increase in productivity and improved communication," says Jesse Wood, CEO of eFileCabinet, a Lehi, Utah-based document management system company.
Productivity gains are the main selling point Sunny Ashley uses when pitching electronic invoicing.
“Paperless invoicing means saved time," says Ashley, the founder of Autoshopinvoice, an Atlanta-based shop management software company. "It means fewer misplaced papers. It means easier access to documents from any connected device, rather than needing a filing cabinet.”
“Being able to collaborate with their team and view resources in real time gives them a big advantage,” Roscher says. “Managers can view the status of their jobs [and] prioritize and manage their resources, all from a computer, smartphone or mobile device."
The Paperless Process
Before you go the paperless route, make sure your suppliers and vendors are prepared for the change — not every industry or business is ready to instantly embrace paperless practices.
Heidi Golledge, founder and CEO of Irvine, California-based recruiting firm Jobot, says some of her clients have to be convinced to relinquish their paper.
"We have a few brick-and-mortar type companies, like construction companies, that are so used to paper that it’s taking a while,” Golledge says. “They like to print out agreements."
Once the case has been made, make sure everyone who will be affected is informed and on board. Although many businesses are converting to paperless practically overnight in response to the coronavirus, the preferred approach is gradual.
Owen Dashner, partner of Omaha, Nebraska-based real estate investment firm Red Ladder Property Solutions, says a gradual implementation provides opportunity for learning as you go. It also gives everyone time to get used to the change.
“If you try to do it all at once, it can be overwhelming and you give up quickly,” Dashner says. “Take it piece by piece, implement the right filing system and processes and make sure you and all your employees are on the same page.”
To map out a path, businesses can begin by charting out the processes used to conduct operations. Some processes will promise bigger return for the investment if you go paperless — these are the candidates for early digitization.
Jobot, for example, accepts digital resumes from candidates. The company also uses an electronic signing service for employment contracts and other documents requiring signatures. Interviews happen via videoconference. Even onboarding new employees takes place virtually.
Automating accounts receivable and accounts payable also offers proven efficiencies. Another paperless priority is digitizing commonly used documents, such as letter templates and standard boilerplate paragraphs for contracts.
Deciding what kind of technology to use is not a major sticking point, according to these business owners. Cloud-based applications and software for accessing digital documents generally run on inexpensive standard computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones.
Businesses may need to acquire additional scanners if they have high volumes of documents or high-quality scans to perform. However, in a pinch, there are smartphone or tablet scanning apps that can stand in for scanners.
Being able to collaborate with their team and view resources in real time gives them a big advantage. Managers can view the status of their jobs [and] prioritize and manage their resources, all from a computer, smartphone or mobile device.
Setting up a filing and file-naming system to keep digital documents organized is also an essential step. A paperless filing system will be organized similarly to a paper-based one. Having consistent standards will encourage users to avoid overly long or non-descriptive file names as well as those with special characters. Templates will also help standardize dates and version numbers.
Selecting an online file storage provider is next. The major cloud storage companies all have sophisticated backup and data protection systems. However, a big part of security with a paperless system is deciding who will have access to documents.
Since digital documents can’t be physically locked up like paper, setting up access controls requires some thought. Golledge allocates access by department, parceling out permissions to sales, marketing, accounting, human resources and so on.
“That’s the hardest piece,” she says. “But once you get done with the permissions, ease of use is much better.”
At various points in the implementation process, businesses may need to devote time to scanning and digitizing older documents that are in the filing system. Make sure that whatever paperless process you land on gets codified in standard operating procedure documents and employee training.
The Costs and Boundaries of Paperless Offices
Going paperless requires some new expenses. Dashner has had to budget ongoing costs for added cloud storage to accommodate the many documents his business generates. He’s also had to start paying fees for online accounting software.
However, he says his savings on postage, printing and physical storage more than makes up for it.
As with many of the impacts of COVID-19, there are some questions about how long pandemic-prompted changes will last. However, when it comes to paperless business operations, the consensus seems to be that this is here to stay.
“Once the crisis is over, we shouldn't be so quick to return to the status quo," says Wood. "[We should] remember to take with us all the positive changes we learned as the world returns to normalcy."
Read more articles on digital tools.
Photo: Getty Images