How to go Paperless in 2024? A Simple Guide for Small Businesses

A paperless office has many advantages from reducing costs for office supplies to showing you care for the environment. Small and medium businesses are the first to adopt this new way of work. That's because they're more open to innovation, have limited budgets, and follow a more sustainability-oriented company culture.

10 benefits of going for a paperless office in 2024

  1. You can search, archive, and update your files very quickly. All your documents are well-organized and at hand.
  2. Many of your clients require digital files, so you avoid the need for scanning documents.
  3. You avoid repetitive tasks by using batch processing.
  4. Your files are always safe.
  5. You save money by reducing the budget for office supplies.
  6. You have access to your documents from any location and mobile device.
  7. It's environmentally-friendly and this adds to your company's culture and wins new customers.
  8. You'll reduce audit time.
  9. Analysis and statistics will become easy and efficient.
  10. Communication with employees will become easier. Not everyone owns a printer.

How to go paperless at work

The HR department is one of the most paper-consuming departments of a company. From employment contracts to resumes and applications for leave, the HR Department has much information stored on paper. Not to mention monthly reports, certificates, statistics, planning, attendance tracking, and leave booking. 

Switching to a paperless HR department should be on your agenda. You can find plenty of smart tools ready to make the transition easy. Check out the following tips for a paperless HR department:

1. Choose cloud-based HR software

Dedicated HR software allows you to keep everything updated without spending too much time on repetitive tasks. It also eliminates human errors and makes you more efficient. But if you choose cloud-based software, you'll be able to access your data at any time from any device. Moreover, data will be safe and you'll be able to use much less paper.

2. Use online systems for annual leave booking and attendance tracking

Instead of spending precious time filling forms and lists, choose an online system that does everything for you. You'll have real-time data for each employee and reports ready to be generated anytime to need them. Attendance tracking doesn't have to use paper at all and neither should the annual leave booking system. An online app provides a fast and secure data transfer, allows you to be responsive, and gives you less paper to recycle.

3. Store forms and contracts in digital files

A huge amount of paper is used for contracts and different types of forms. People print documents, then sign them, and then scan them in the digital format again. Use electronic signature when possible and store forms and contracts in digital files from the beginning. Make sure you backup your data periodically.

Some documents don't need a signature at all. Resumes and cover letters, planning documents, meeting appointments, statistics, and reports are better in digital format than on papers.

4. Use employee self-services for annual leave management

Employee self-services are a great way to move forward to a paperless HR department. They are mostly used for annual leave management because it's a win-win situation. On one hand, the HR Department is released from dealing with paper applications, paid time off, and manual leave tracking. On the other hand, the employees see their leave situation at any time and plan their tasks accordingly. Employee self-services are transparent, efficient, and paperless.

Switching to a paperless HR department may take some time but the result is very rewarding. You can be an example for other departments, increase employee satisfaction and productivity, create a green company culture, and avoid dust allergies. But where should you start? And how much time would it take to reinvent your department and give up the paper?

“To put your things in order means to put your past in order, too.” — Marie Kondo

You won't need too much time and effort to go paperless. The first step, and the most important thing, you have to do is decide you want to do this change. Buy the right software and learn how to use it. Then, involve everybody and make them feel they are part of the change. Enthusiastic people have the best ideas. Make sure you train as many people as you can and everybody is on board with the software.

The third step is the hardest: organize your documents and transform them in digital format. Here's where step two will be helpful: if everybody does their part, the whole organization and scanning process will take less time and effort. The last step is to upload the digital documents in your new software and inform your clients that you're going to work paperless from now on.

Additional ways to become sustainable, green and paperless

A. Reduce paper consumption, energy, and CO2 footprint

Using paper in the office harms the environment. The recent analysis demonstrates an impact on the climate estimated by cutting down 312 trees, CO2 emissions, energy consumption, solid waste produced, and many liters of water wasted due to the use of paper in the office. The transition to digital HR management can stop this negative impact.

This study's results are also supported in the paper on sustainability published by Arnold Tukker and Ursula Tischner in 2017, which mentions that the environmental impact is expressed in energy consumption in M.J. / year and the space used in m2. Thus, each employee produces 175 kg of paper waste annually. As the paper's energy consumption is 37 M.J. / kgm, each employee unnecessarily uses approximately 6500 MJ of energy in the form of waste paper. At the same time, it must be taken into account that the paper must be purchased, and there is a cost of processing, transport, storage until it reaches the employee's office.

The connection between paper and deforestation

Paper consumption has increased by 400% in the last 40 years, and this has led to intensive forest exploitation, with deforestation occurring in some countries. It is estimated that about 35% of the trees cut down around the planet are used for paper production.

Given that paper requirements are limited, and essentials are digitized, paper copies are no longer needed, paper applications are eliminated, which provides substantial benefits for employers, not only in terms of time but also costs. Simultaneously, if in the next 10 years 20% of companies would give up activities that use excessively paper, the percentage of 35% of trees used for paper to be cut will decrease substantially. This creates a seemingly non-existent link between eliminating excessive use of paper and the protection of biodiversity.

Paper consumption is an expensive expense that can be avoided

According another analysis led by RTC, one of the most important paper distributors in Romania, an employee consumes paper, files, and other office products for 4-18 euros per month. If we consider 4 Euro/month the cost for paper products in a year, the cost per employee will be 48 Euro. For a company of 100 employees, this cost is 4800 Euro, a cost that is not negligible. It should be noted that in addition to this cost should be considered a storage cabinet, the cost per m2 of office for these cabinets, for copiers and paper archiving, files for their classification, toner, and the acquisition/maintenance of printing equipment. Using software that wants to digitize, and eliminate paper, can generate an estimated 50-80% cost reduction with stationery.

B. Recycling

Although paper is an item that can be easily recycled, this does not happen most of the time. The U.S. stands good, however, this situation is not similar across the world, where governments enforce selective recycling systems.

Over 69 million tons of paper and paperboard products are recovered annually in the U.S., achieving a recycling rate of approximately 67 percent.

In this sense, if a company does not use paper, this company will not turn this paper into non-recycled waste, which is an extraordinary element to be imported in terms of sustainability. 

C. Extending the life of products

The elimination of regular consumption in SMEs or excessive consumption in large paper companies has several different side effects, such as those documented above. Still, this type of consumerism creates some lesser-known effects:

  • 45% of printed paper in offices ends up in the trash by the end of the day,
  • each document is printed in several copies - although it is not necessary,
  • if a catastrophe happens - like a fire - most records would disappear (for this reason, AraHR makes it easier for companies to be more resilient to disasters)
  • business paper increases by 22% per year, which means that the use of your paper will double in 3.3 years.

Saving the original document in the cloud, it can be accessed at any time - in the digital file of the employee, without the danger of losing that document, without purchasing additional equipment or furniture for printing or storage, and without wasted time archiving documents, or wasting precious time searching the archive for a certificate.

How can the employees help to switch to a paperless HR department?

You're not alone in this process. Everybody can help, including the employees. For example, you can easily transform the hiring process into a paperless one. Require digital resumes and cover letters, give online HR tests, and use cloud-storage for storing hiring documents and contracts.

Employees can also help. Replace paper applications for leave or certificates with online forms. Implement as many self-services as possible, including attendance tracking, leave booking, evaluation and planning systems, and online training. You'll see that a huge part of your paper pile is dedicated to communication with employees. And this shouldn't be the case in a paperless office.

In conclusion

Going paperless is the best decision you can take right now. You have all the tools you need, amazing software, and an entire community to help you. Involve your employees and clients and build a more sustainable new wave of businesses. And keep your eye on your paperless goals:

  • Reduce the carbon footprint of office printing
  • Keep your documents safe and in order
  • Start using online collaboration tools
  • Maintain transparent communication with employees

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