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How to set up a paperless office? Step-by-step tips for creating a digital office

An aromatic cup of coffee stands on the left, with a computer in the center and piles of paperwork stacked up on the right. Not exactly a pretty sight, but one that is quite common on many company desks. The paperless office sounds like a great idea. But many companies don’t have the practical knowledge. At the end of the day, digital ideas have to be turned into action. You can find out here about the advantages and disadvantages of a digital office and how to set one up. 

Definition: What is a digital or paperless office?

A paperless office is an attempt to do away with paper in any forms. This includes invoices, contracts, and applications, for example. The aim of the paperless office is to map all necessary processes, data, and documents digitally using computers and software. Examples of tasks carried out in a digital office include:

  • Storing documents and data on hard drives, in the Cloud or on removable media
  • Scanning and archiving available documents
  • Transferring documents and data digitally by email, Instant Messanger or similar means
  • Replacing handwritten signatures with legally valid electronic signatures

Why should I opt for a paperless office?

More and more companies are choosing to go paperless. This comes with various advantages and disadvantages that have to be considered in each individual case. An overview of the main ones is provided below. 

Advantages of a paperless office

  • Enables mobile working by making data and documents available digitally
  • Saves paper, space, and long-term costs (less storage space, ink, printers, etc.)
  • Simplifies communication, cooperation, and decision-making processes
  • Looks after the environment by protecting trees and reducing the carbon footprint
  • Central storage space for all data and documents
  • Simple retrieval thanks to search and filter functions

Disadvantages of a paperless office

  • It takes time to switch to a paperless office 
  • It involves a certain technical dependency (stable Internet connection, software) 
  • Digital work involves the whole company in a process of change with increased communication requirements in the initial phase
  • Different programs are required depending on the complexity of the work 
  • An initial investment that has to be profitable 

In contrast to the advantages, many of the disadvantages of the paperless office are canceled out after a while. Although implementation takes time to start with, the effort soon pays off as document processes are carried out more quickly. The same is true of investment costs: Income covers expenses within a short space of time. 

Guide to setting up a digital office

Before you start to set up your digital office, it is important to create awareness within the company. You need to have the approval of the senior management and the executive board. Point out the advantages and disadvantages and explain that everyone has to pull together to create a digital office. It is also important to form a digitalization team made up of managers and department representatives. In doing so, you not only take different requirements into account, but also make sure that everyone has their say so that you can move forward with the project together. Once you have completed this step, you can get to work. As a guide, you can follow these five steps when setting up your digital office. 

1. Create order

The first step is to create order. Focus on the business process rather than the document. The only way to gain added value for your company and customers is through digital workflows. As soon as you consider the process, you will quickly identify paper documents that can be replaced by digital ones. Many workflows include purchase invoices, contracts, quotations, receipts, and other paper documents that can be digitized. Think about which business processes exist in your company and compile a list.

2. Follow a document trail

The document trail is also crucial in terms of identifying the data and documents used by different departments. How are views and experiences shared? Talk to your colleagues about how far you have come. You should also consider processes that may already be partially digitalized, but could still be improved, for example because the approval stages are not yet fully automated. Documents that are already available digitally should also be included in the analysis.

3. Identify inefficient processes

Once you have recorded the respective steps in the procedure, you are ready to take the next step towards a paperless office: Identify inefficient processes. Go through the individual trails and make a note of the things that seem inefficient in the processes. Start by focusing on individual business divisions such as HR, accounting, or sales, and then look at cross-departmental processes.

4. Prepare a digitalization concept

Tip: Start small and decide first on a process that has a particularly high potential for digitalization.  For example, one that is frequently used in the company, involves large amounts of paper, or is not automated, even though this could be quite simple. Create a digitalization concept that outlines your goals, steps, and time frame. 

5. Choose the right software

Now it's time to get to what is at the heart of every concept - implementation. This involves working with a competent solution provider. Focus on the future and look for software that will work for your paperless office not just now but also in the long term. Whether you opt for a standardized or customized solution will depend largely on your processes. You should still look for software that is suitable for everyday use in standard business processes relating to HR, sales, or finance and accounting. You might consider a cloud or app solution if employees will be working from home or remotely.

Software: How to move closer to a paperless office with digital solutions

Paperless working is closely linked to the use of suitable hardware and software. The type of hardware equipment that employees need for their work is down to personal choice. For example, if companies want to create not only a digital but also a remote workspace, they will need laptops, tablets, or smartphones. In contrast to hardware, software for a paperless office is a corporate decision with far-reaching consequences for different departments. Managers must therefore think very carefully about their choices. 

Cloud vs. on-premises solution

It all starts with deciding whether or not to use your own server. In other words, should data be stored on external servers, as is the case with cloud solutions, or should the company deal with software maintenance and support itself (on-premises software)? The company's vision and requirements determine what is the right solution. It is often quicker and less onerous for small and medium-sized companies to work in the Cloud

Paperless office: Which is the right software?

The choice of software available for the paperless office is huge and often challenging for companies. Suitable software exists for almost every specialist area and every type of application. But it doesn't take much to get started with a digital office. You need systems that can digitize and archive documents and digitally control cooperation with colleagues and third parties.  

Document management systems (DMS) are often the first choice as they can map all the phases in the document lifecycle (creation, processing, monitoring, distribution, archiving, deletion). DMS therefore form a basis from which digital document management can be made possible. They include, for example, automated audit-proof archiving, and filing or indexing so that documents can be found in the archive.

Companies are often limited by stand-alone solutions for document management and are faced with extra manual work or unclear process statuses. Agile document management goes a step further: It is based on the process rather than the document, which means that digital document work is always a combination of process, data, and document management. The advantage: Integrated digital processes both with and without documents.

You can implement agile document management with hybrid software, which also includes a digitalization platform such as JobRouter®. This kind of software is characterized by the fact that it covers many different functions with a single solution. This means that you have access to a comprehensive tool, think long-term, and can make a start with your digital office. The functionalities can be expanded to suit your needs thanks to the options for integrating other systems.

Paperless working: Our tips summarized

No matter what kind of software you choose: Keep putting one foot in front of the other. You can’t create a paperless office overnight. Examine and weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of a paperless office. If you decide to go digital, you will need an elaborate plan, often a test phase and sometimes amendments. Don't let this discourage you - even small digital adjustments are indicators of success. The beauty of digital transformation is that it is almost endless and allows you to make daily office life easier, more flexible, and more efficient. Bit by bit.

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