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Waste Not
The Paperless Office 101:
Making a Seamless Conversion to Digital

One of the biggest trends in business for years has been the paperless office. Many brands have taken the digital or paperless office to extremes; social media platform Buffer, for example, does not have a central office, relying on its employees to produce remotely.

While this model is great for sustainability purposes, it isn’t ideal for larger organizations. However, that doesn’t mean that a brand the size of Amazon isn’t capable of going paperless. The conversion simply has to happen differently.

It becomes less about green practices and more about change management, which helps the members of organizations transition and transform. After all, for an organization and its members who have long held tightly to their file folders, going paperless, even partially, is a transformation. Even government entities are doing it, so here’s how to make the conversion more seamless.

It’s Good for Business

First and foremost is understanding the reasons for a paperless office transition. Nearly everyone in the world today knows that less paper production is better for the environment, but it’s also better for organizations’ bottom lines. Many employees may fear the transition because of what they think may be lost in the digitization process, but going paperless at work isn’t the same as going paperless at home.

Instead of couching the conversion in a true paperless context, think of it as lawyer Hayley Weber describes it for Legal Insight: “The focus should not be on removing every piece of paper from the office, but rather a shift to improving access to information.” When access to information is improved for employees, it’s improved for customers and clients, as well.

Process improvements, especially those that improve information access for customers, will increase growth. This growth will in turn facilitate more process improvements. On the opposite side of the coin Weber described is the need to protect some client information. Financial statements and bills may be better left in paper format for some organizations, depending on the situation.

Educate, Educate, Educate

There are many guides to creating a paperless office, from lists of tools to how-tos, but the most important step to remember is education. Once your organization has created its paperless workflow, it’s time to model best practices.

Transitioning to a paperless office is smoothest when those managing the change are committed to it and can convince others in the office of its merit by that commitment. Modeling is an effective learning and teaching strategy in classrooms throughout the world. It is no different in the business world when introducing something new.

Instead of teachers, however, these employees are change agents. Change agents have many distinctive characteristics, but one of the most important ones is that they lead by example. They are often the ones who embrace change early and show others it’s not so frightening. Losing the papers and file cabinets to which many employees are tied may seem insignificant, but when those tools have been available for decades, peer-to-peer education will go a long way to soften the blow.

The Bigger Picture

Transitioning to a paperless office can be about more than just better business practices or reducing paper production. When practiced in its highest form, like at Buffer, a paperless office can produce benefits such as increased freedom, better productivity, and greater innovation.

These are all means of engaging highly skilled, highly motivated employees who want to work for organizations that think outside the box. Remote, or mobile, work is one of the most transformative trends in business today. This is because of its power to retain the most productive employees.

It is not easy to convert an office to paperless practices, especially at the organizational level. As The Conversation’s David Glance wrote in 2014, what stops the process in most firms is inertia at the institutional level. This is because change agents and managers struggle to communicate the business practices, the processes, and the big picture.

When all of these are properly in place, the seamless conversion to a paperless office can be made fearlessly by all involved.


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