By Chris Hadden, CPP
Technical Sales Manager
To go, or not to go, that is the question. Well, not quite, but businesses and individuals are facing the question of whether to go paperless on a daily basis. And, while the idea of going paperless is not a new one, it is something that individuals continue to push off – both in their professional and personal lives.
Start small. I read a fantastic book by Robert Maurer last year, titled One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way. This book has one primary focus: make small changes on a daily basis. After enough days, you’ve made big changes without feeling the overwhelming feeling that we all get when tasked with a big change or project.
How can I start small with going paperless? Going paperless doesn’t have to be some massive and overwhelming project.
- Toss out the notepad. Are you still taking notes on paper? Do you really enjoy having piles of paper with an organization system that in theory makes sense, yet leads to no results when you are actually looking for something? Consider typing your notes on your computer (or any of the many mobile devices we all have these days) in Microsoft Word. Want to make things even easier? Take a look at Microsoft OneNote. OneNote has had a major impact on my professional life and has not only allowed me to be more paperless, but it’s made me super organized.
- Create an electronic signature. I find myself reviewing, signing contracts, and other documents on a regular basis in my current position, and this one was a game changer for me. Using the free Adobe PDF reader (which is a simple install, if by some chance you don’t already have this program installed) allows you to upload an electronic signature. I literally signed a white sheet of paper, took a picture of it, and saved the picture on my computer. After uploading the signature picture into the PDF, I was able to layover my signature onto any document I needed to sign. This saved me the time and money of having to print out a document, sign it, and then scan back in. Adobe now even offers an e-signature option as well.
- Stop giving your employees paychecks. I’m not suggesting you stop paying your employee their wages, I’m just suggesting you stop spending the time and resources required to print out physical paychecks for your employees. Consider implementing direct deposit. Have you already tried and some employees don’t have bank accounts? Take a look at employee pay cards. These are great options for employees without bank accounts, which in many cases have no or limited cost on the employer, and the employee.
- Paperless payroll slips. Once you’ve stopped the paper payroll checks, don’t just switch the paycheck for a paper pay stub slip. Go green by distributing these statements electronically. There are a variety of secure options available, such as online employee portals and email distribution.
- Payroll tax filings. Do you think you are the only one going paperless in 2016? Many states, with Utah and North Carolina being two of the latest, now require electronic reporting of employee unemployment wages. And don’t forget about the IRS and Social Security Administration, who require businesses with more than 250 records to file electronically. Even if you are managing to avoid the mandatory e-file requirements at this point, are you really enjoying filling out these paper returns? Or even better, going through the tedious process of aligning your printing to ensure your printed data overlaps perfectly with your pre-printed forms?
- Tax forms: The IRS allows you to distribute your year-end forms electronically (W-2, 1099 MISC, 1095-C, etc.) as long as you follow their guidelines. So, why not take advantage of it? Distributing tax forms electronically will cut down on the cost of paper (most accounting and payroll systems require you to purchase expensive pre-printed forms) while saving you the momentous task of printing and mailing these forms during the already busy year-end season.
- Electronic receipts. Many retail and office supply stores now offer to email you a receipt instead of printing a paper copy. This not only cuts down on overall paper use, but it also saves you the time of scanning this receipt in later on as part of your paperless process.
So what are the pros of going paperless?
- Go green! We all know the impact paper has on our trees, but let’s not forget the other costs to the environment. Paper production uses a significant amount of water (higher water usage per weight of product output, than any other industry) and discarded paper is a major component of many landfill sites, accounting for over 27% by weight of municipal solid waste, according to a recent EPA report.
- Lower costs. Not only does the cost of paper add up, but how much money are you spending right now in filing documents away, or doing reprints of employee pay stubs? Also, where do you store all of the filing cabinets and banker boxes? The cost of this space and storage can certainly add up.
- Easy access to information. How nice would it be to type in some keywords or tags when looking for a document in your filing cabinet? If done correctly, going paperless can make tracking and accessing documents much easier.
- Secure backup of data. Any business that has ever gone through a natural disaster can speak to how easy it is to have your filing cabinets and storage boxes wiped away, only to never be accessible again. How nice would it have been for these companies if their data was stored electronically, via the cloud?
- Additional security. If setup properly, documents that were once just locked in a filing cabinet, can now have multiple layers of authentication before a particular user has electronic access.
Are there potential cons of going paperless?
- The initial investment in software or hardware. Depending on how small you start off, you may need to purchase some type of software or hardware to get your paperless system up and running. This could be a cloud type service for hosting employee paystubs, or an additional server to store your electronic documents. You’ll just need to counter this against the lower costs going paperless can bring over time.
- Time investment. Something like scanning in documents takes time. If you intend to rid your office of all paper documents, it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. You must be committed to the project and know that it will require some time.
- Habits, good or bad, are hard to break. Going paperless may require more than just your involvement as you most likely need buy-in from those around you as well. If employees are used to immediately printing out an email, or too quick to jot down notes on paper before thinking to grab a computer, ongoing training will be needed to get employees out of this habit. Additionally, going paperless may come along with new software programs that employees will need training on.
- Data can be lost. Yes, going paperless can allow you to have ample backup of data in the event of a natural disaster, but what if you forget to backup your files? That fancy server you purchased won’t do you much good if it burns up in a fire, so consider storing a backup offsite or in the cloud.
- Less security. Yes, I realize I list additional security as a pro for going paperless, but it all depends on how you set things up. It’s easy to slap a lock on a filing cabinet and place it in a locked room, but are you familiar with the complexities that come along with encrypting your paperless data? Make sure you work with a reputable organization or consultant when setting up security for sensitive data you may be storing electronically.
What are some things to remember when going paperless this year?
- Don’t forget about backing up your data. As mentioned above, data can be easily lost if you do not have proper backup procedures in place.
- Start small. Remember, make small changes every day. For example, start by scanning in all new documents that come in starting today. Leave your existing filing cabinet alone for now. Once you get used to scanning all new documents that come in the door, go back and begin archiving the older documents you have stashed away in your filing cabinets.
- Think about entire document management – not just storage. As you begin creating a paperless environment, set yourself up for some wins in the future by tagging documents with key fields, or search criteria. And, don’t forget, organization is key.
- Compliance and regulatory requirements. Many states and industries have requirements in place for not only how long certain documents must be stored for, but also how they must be stored. This is especially important when dealing with sensitive information such as employee names and social security numbers, or personal health records.
Stop putting it off and do yourself a favor by going paperless in 2016. Even by making small changes today, you may just look up at the end of 2016 and see yourself free of the burdens of paper.