Talk about the 'Paperless Office' has been around since at least the 1970s, and possibly even earlier. A workplace where everything would be kept on microfiche or some other 'space-age-screen-based workstation' to be recalled on demand. Looking back now, I wonder how we ever imagined it could be. Microfiche readers, fast becoming the best way to store large numbers of records in a small and compact storage space in the 1970s, were at the same time inconvenient and difficult on the eye. The common "space-age-screen-record-summoning system," or in the future, "desktop computer," had not yet been invented. It is true that microfiche records are still relied on in some organizations to retrieve archived information, although this is relatively inefficient given current technology. Finding the correct record using microfiche can be time consuming and requires hundreds of boxes containing thousands of chip slides to review. I can't imagine what would happen if I dropped one of these boxes and had to put everything back in order. In short, there were still a lot of logistical problems and so the idea of a completely paperless office never really got off the ground. Since the turn of the century, we have advanced enormously and now there are superior ways to store and retrieve your documents in a compact, "non-physical" yet readily accessible environment. Equipment such as scanners and smartphones that use cloud technology and programs such as Dropbox, One Drive, Live Drive and other online storage sources are now used on a daily basis, changing the workplace. Not only can we now really think about the concept of the paperless office, but we can also make documents accessible from almost anywhere in the world. The idea of a paperless office is now no longer just a theoretical dream. The availability of low-cost, cost-effective solutions to the age-old task of archiving important records and documents has made this a real possibility. So, what does the paperless office look like? How about a smooth, sleek, well-organized workspace where people's creativity can flow and ideas can flourish. There are no piles of archives to deal with - leaving a clean environment that doesn't make you feel like you're drowning in paperwork. Employees can use the hot desk more efficiently and connect virtually any available workstation to easily access their documents directly through the corporate server. To make it as comfortable as possible for you, it helps if each hot desk has at least two monitors - three if you want! - that way you can have the corporate intranet or email screen in view at all times to maximize effective communication within the office.
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How do we achieve this? Well, as they say, “Rome wasn't built in a day,” removing all the scraps of paper from your office cannot always be accomplished immediately. Making the decision to remove all traces of paper from your office takes time and planning. New software and equipment may need to be purchased, including additional monitors and at least one well-maintained, reliable, high-speed scanner. Most importantly, educate your staff in new ways to deal with the large amounts of paper and documents they currently manage on a daily basis. To have an effective transition, all staff must be fully on board to understand the purpose and understand what is expected of them. Accounting has progressed by leaps and bounds in recent years, with many new ways to deal with the multitude of receipts and accounts piling up. Using programs such as Receipt Bank and Entryless, large quantities of bills and receipts can be emailed, scanned or photographed via your smartphone and sent directly to your accounting program or storage system. Data tracking and reporting is easily managed with automatic bank feeds or CSV imports for your business transactions. In addition, sales invoices are emailed directly to the customer and can be paid online, without the need to print paper. In terms of workforce management, most accounting programs now allow employees to record their timesheets and leave forms directly in their employee portal. Timesheets and payment overviews are therefore easily accessible via their login. This eliminates the need for the company to print and resend copies of lost pay statements or pay slips upon request and gives the employee the opportunity to the ability to access their payroll data and leave entitlements online at any time. It is important to note that having cloud-based accounting and payroll does not mean you are not relinquishing your obligation to comply with current legal record keeping requirements. In fact, you are still required to provide information at the request of the ATO, ASIC, or some other government regulatory body. For this reason, it is of the utmost importance that you ensure that the storage medium you choose is secure and that your records are accessible upon request.
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In many cases, this could mean having a server backup of all important documents. To ensure that you meet the correct record keeping requirements while using an online storage system, you may need to discuss various options with your IT manager. With all this in mind, it is clear that the transition to a completely paperless office is unlikely to happen in a short space of time. Although if this is your goal, nothing will stop you from making plans to get things started. Where to start? To ensure that you meet the correct record keeping requirements while using an online storage system, you may need to discuss various options with your IT manager. With all this in mind, it is clear that the transition to a completely paperless office is unlikely to happen in a short space of time. Although if this is your goal, nothing will stop you from making plans to get things started. Where to start? To ensure that you meet the correct record keeping requirements while using an online storage system, you may need to discuss various options with your IT manager. With all this in mind, it is clear that the transition to a completely paperless office is unlikely to happen in a short space of time. Although if this is your goal, nothing will stop you from making plans to get things started.
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Set the tone for your office - what does a paperless office look like for your organization.
Get staff on board and let them visualize the concept - bring their ideas and objections with you.
Find solutions that everyone can work with practically to ensure that resistance to the idea is resolved and productivity is not affected.
Determine what additional equipment is needed (eg Scanners, monitors or screens) and budget for this if necessary (or go ahead and buy if the cash flow is good).
Determine which software program or cloud storage system you will be using. Do your research and discuss with IT professionals what the software limitations might be. What can you do to make sure you have a secure document storage system?
Purchase a backup server if necessary.
Set a goal and schedule. You may be able to achieve your goal in stages (ie 60% paperless by the end of the year).
Check which documents should be kept in the original format. ie passports, title deeds, wills. These can be scanned, but can also be kept in a safe place - away from the general flow of the office.
Decide what you want to do with the existing paperwork: should it be scanned and archived? Can it be returned to the relevant third party? (especially good if you operate as an accountant).
Create a workflow diagram or mind map for the company and show how incoming information should be handled in the future. Who is responsible for setting up the file structure of your document store? Who has access to which documents or folders? And who is responsible for the integrity of the information bank?
Again, keep in mind that the truly paperless office won't be realized overnight. There are many important decisions and considerations to make before you are ready to completely empty the desks. Hopefully, this article has given you some insight into the trials and tribulations you may face in this endeavor. Set your goals, make a plan, and move on on your own time. Before you know it, you will be enjoying a more spacious, organized, eco-friendly and uncluttered environment.
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