Whiteboards took up half of Wendy Fallow’s office. The operations manager of Clear Concepts, a customised glass design business, said her working life consisted of sticking cellotaped magnets on pieces of paper and talking on the phone to her seven mobile installers and sales reps.
“There was paperwork everywhere, and we did everything 10 times over,” she says. “And I was the only one who knew what was going on because I was sitting in front of the board. Everyone had to ring me to see when things were scheduled. We had a whole storage room full of filing cabinets, boards on the wall and job sheets.”
That changed about a year ago, when Clear Concepts chose cloud-based mobile workforce management software GeoOp. “It was a scary thing,” she says. “Nobody could see how we would go without our job sheets and without all the thousands of pieces of paper we would give out to the boys, but we’ve done it.
“My work is now so much easier because I’m not telling seven people the same thing over and over again. They can look for themselves. Everybody gets notified so I’m not chasing everybody.”
Removing the whiteboards might be the first step for service businesses wanting to update from their traditional paper-based systems. What else can they do? Here are 10 steps to paperless paradise (or something close to it).
1. Scan important documents
One of the easiest way to accumulate paper is to file every document … or put documents in a place where someone will decide eventually whether they should be filed. The best solution is to buy a scanner and electronically file anything important, with the rest going into the recycle bin. A computer search function also makes significant files easier to find than having to thumb through ancient filing cabinets.
2. Use a file transfer system
In the same vein, it is so much easier to find documents that have been sent electronically than through snail mail. It’s certainly faster and more secure to use excellent file transfer services such as Dropbox or WeTransfer when sending or receiving important files or photos.
3. Choose online file management
Being able to communicate with colleagues is much easier using connected web-based systems than by sending information through internal mail or old-fashioned memo. File management programs such as Google Docs or project management tools such as Basecamp enable easy and timely paperless staff communications.
4. Adopt cloud-based apps
As Wendy Fallow found, cloud-based software allows work-related communications to move with you and your staff, and information can be updated quickly and securely. Clear Concepts uses GeoOp for its field management, and this is integrated with Xero’s accountancy software. Other software options include Navman for navigation services. These cloud-based solutions are cost-effective and save enormous time, office space, effort … and paper.
5. Connect with other businesses electronically
Gone are the days when things needed to be “on paper” to be “official”. Internet banking and paying for goods via services such as PayPal are commonplace. Even for those businesses that insist on sending invoices or quotes via the fax machine, services such as utbox allow these to be converted to email automatically. Other services (such as efax) send electronic faxes via email or online.
6. Sign documents electronically
Not even physical signatures are safe from the march of time: electronic signatures are legally binding and offer those on the road a way to approve documents from anywhere. Apps such as DocuSign integrate with other popular business software.
7. Store business cards electronically
Even that original piece of printed personal communication – the business card – can be stored in a searchable database. Millions of people now use readers such as WorldCard Pro or smartphone apps such as CamCard to scan, manage and exchange their business cards.
8. Use electronic Post-It notes
Those little sticky notes were brilliant in their day, offering users handy visual reminders or messages. These days, electronic note and list managers help keep jobs organised and under control, even if it’s just to remember to buy the office milk. Have a look at WorkFlowy or Wunderlist.
9. Train staff and use incentives
Of course, buying the right technology is only part of the equation when creating a paperless work environment. It’s just as important to train staff and motivate them to use the technology in the right way. Most business apps and software services offer step-by-step training through their websites or have instructional YouTube videos. Remind staff that paperless technology improves productivity and the bottom line, and that every dollar saved goes back into the business (and potentially their pockets).
10. Choose good storage and backup systems
One of the usual roadblocks to “going digital” is the concern over security and what happens if the system goes down. That’s why robust backup systems are a must. Many experts say that small businesses should have two (or even three) separate storage systems in case of calamity. Options include external hard drives (in sizes measured in terabytes), portable usb-style memory systems (such as those available from kingston) or automatic cloud-based backup systems such as backblaze.com,mozy.com or carbonite.com.
Wendy Fallow says that Clear Concepts isn’t completely paperless, not yet anyway. “The job side of it is, but for our own piece of mind we still like to print out important things and file them, in case anything happens. What happens if the internet curls up and dies one day, you know?” So, the four-drawer filing cabinet is still in use? “Yes, but I only use the top drawer now.”