Is Your Office “Paper Happy”?
People have been talking about the promise of a “paperless office” since the age of the floppy disk. But despite the increasing use of automation, the American Records Management Association reports that the average U.S. office worker uses about 10,000 sheets of paper a year.
To evolve from the heavy use of paper, it’s necessary to first take a look at exactly what takes place with paper in your operation. Here are a few questions to ask:
- How does correspondence come to you? Is it delivered in paper form by the post office? Or do you communicate mostly through email or other online communication?
- How many people touch a piece of paper before it is acted on?
- What do you have to do to process a piece of mail? Do you open it? Remove staples? Tape torn pages? Sort mail into batches or categories? Log it? Add notes? Stamp received dates? Scan it? Photocopy it?
- Why do you do all of these tasks? Are all the steps really necessary?
Would you believe that some companies perform about 25 activities on each piece of correspondence?
Rethink your processes
If you are trying to get from paperbound to paperless, the best way to gauge your progress is by knowing what are you doing now and where you would you like to be in regard to paper usage.
Create a flow chart
Set up a workflow chart to determine the steps taken to process any given item such as travel expense reports, invoices or budget reports. Or, if you don’t handle accounting tasks, think of how you process communication or requests from customers or clients.
One way to start gauging your processes is with sticky notes. (You can convert your sticky note results later to an Excel spreadsheet.)
First, identify a task you want to benchmark. Write every step in the task on a separate sticky note and post each task in order on a wall or bulletin board. How many steps does it take to complete the task? How long is the process? How much does it cost to process each item?
When you have outlined an entire process, analyze it. Could any steps be cut? Are they all absolutely necessary? Could copies be eliminated? Is there a better, quicker way to accomplish the same task? What are your “pain points”—the parts of the task that get bogged down? Are you losing time or money? Is accuracy being sacrificed?
If you are having issues with approvals, turnaround times or missed deadlines, this indicates a process that is not functioning properly.
Gathering this data and reviewing all the factors allow you to examine the nature of your workflow and the overall efficiency of your administrative operations and work processes. It can also help you investigate solutions.
For example, could some of the paper processes be converted to electronic processes? How about scanning instead of photocopying, and sending communications interdepartmentally through email rather than hard copy? If a document must be reviewed, how about tracking the changes in Word or marking corrections in PDFs using Adobe Acrobat? Most of the time, there’s no need to print or photocopy hard copies.
Other solutions might be to outsource or invest in software to increase efficiency. For example, travel and expense software is readily available and yields tremendous savings in time and cost.
Start a dialogue
Analyzing your workflow is the first— and most important—step toward going electronic and achieving a paperless office. Start the process now. Benchmark and talk with others about how you could improve your processes with technology. Do your homework and calculate potential costs and time investments. And get others involved. It will help pave the way for you to eventually present a case for implementing cutting-edge tools and strategies.
— By Elaine Stattler