Paperless Offices and Polar Bears: 5 Simple Steps We Took to Go Paperless

I have a confession to make: I’m a closet Pinterest user.

Usually, all my boards are private, but one I pin to regularly is called ‘Dream Office Space’. It has pictures of offices with pristine desks and shiny new MacBooks. And all the plants are still alive and kicking.

In reality our plants are overwatered, and our MacBooks aren’t exactly the latest model. But we do our best to keep our desks pristine.

You see, here at Orbit we refused to be paper shufflers and decided to be a paperless office—or at least as paperless as possible.

Here’s why.

We wanted faster access to information

With our data ‘in the cloud’ in systems such as Box and Xero, we can quickly retrieve any information we need about our clients or our business. With a simple online search we can have the file or report on our screen in seconds. We can even share it with our clients, and be looking at the same information at the same time.

We wanted to save money

I refuse to pay Sydney rent prices for extra office space just to have a few filing cabinets. I could put another desk there.

In all seriousness, being paperless means we don’t store any client originals on site. If there’s a fire or a flood our data can easily be replaced from a backup—unlike that original stamped trust deed.

Being paperless also means we save on printing, postage, toner, service calls and maintenance. And by putting the money we save towards a faster Internet connection, uploading and downloading paperwork takes seconds instead of hours.

Our team can work remotely

Not being tied to wads of documents in the office means our team can work anywhere.

And they often do.

So instead of wasting time travelling to and from the office, they get to spend that time at home with their friends and family.

Which makes them happier and more productive.

We’re saving polar bears

Okay, so maybe we’re stretching the truth a little. But using tools that let clients digitally sign their tax returns means we don’t have to print each one twice. We’re saving reams of paper, and that’s good for the environment, right?

We get paid faster

Before we decided to go paperless, we had to print each client’s tax return and post it to them, along with a copy of the invoice. And then we’d have to wait for them to sign the documents and send them back, along with a handwritten note containing their credit card details.

Not only was it time consuming (it could take up to four weeks to get the documents back), it was also incredibly insecure.

But now, thanks to systems such as DocuSign, Xero and Eway, we can securely send any document that needs signing. And we can create and send an invoice the client can pay securely using their credit card in a matter of minutes.

Minutes instead of weeks. Talk about a cashflow no brainer.

Our office is one step closer to looking like those on my Pinterest board
By reducing our reliance on physical paper, the Orbit office is a neater, more professional place. Yes, we still occasionally print items we need to highlight or scribble on. But once we’re done scribbling we get rid of them (securely), so they never clutter up the office. And it never stops another team member from doing their job. So how you make your office paperless (or at least more paperless)? Here are five ways to get the ball rolling.

We use Box internally, and it’s a great tool for version control, sharing files with clients, and providing secure access to documents.

You’ll be able to not only send invoices electronically, but also see when a client clicks the link to view it (which means you’ll know they’ve received it).If you use Xero you can also use an add-on such as Receipt Bank to scan your paper receipts and bills and bring them directly into Xero for you to pay/reconcile. (Check out our app review of Receipt Bank here.) No more folders marked ‘PAID BILLS JUL – DEC 2012’. Note: The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) now accepts electronic receipts as proof of purchase. You just need to keep them for a minimum of five years (which is far longer than most paper receipts ever lasted.)

Everyone in our office has dual screens, and we bought a high-quality scanner. The result? We print nearly 75% less than we used to.The scanner means we can make high-resolution copies of any paperwork we receive. And because it’s scanned at such a high resolution, it’s always as clear as the original.We also invested in an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) reader that recognises text and characters from PDF documents (including multipage files) and images.

And remember: Any equipment you buy before the end of the financial year is an immediate tax write off.

You won’t become paperless But documenting how you’ll become paperless, and training your employees on the benefits of going paperless, will pay dividends in the future.For some companies, giving the team an incentive to print less works well as a change management tool. But the biggest incentive for our team is being able to work at home without any down time. And that incentive is still going strong.

There’s no point having everything scanned and in the cloud if you can’t find what you’re looking for. Make sure your electronic documents are fully indexed, and stored in an easy to use format. You should also use encryption to keep your documents secure, and have everyone log in using two-factor authentication.

Where do you start?

The first step is knowing what to change. In our case, we looked at our processes and at each step asked, “How could this happen if I wasn’t in the office?” It quickly gave us an idea of what steps needed to be made paperless, and from there we worked out how to do it.

As I said earlier, you won’t become paperless overnight. And it’s okay so start small, as long as you keep going and commit yourself to making the change.

And who knows? Maybe one day I’ll be pinning a picture of your office on my Pinterest board.