Ultimate guide to the paperless office

You have no excuse for being buried under paper these days. The tools to digitize most or all of your pile are readily at hand and very affordable. We’re not exactly a paperless society yet, but this guide will help you get to less paper, and that’s a step in several right directions: increased efficiency, better security, and a reduced environmental footprint. We’ve also added a few ways to eliminate paper from your workflow, the better to declutter your office—and your mind.

Scan everything

scansnap v600
Fujitsu’s ScanSnap SV600 can digitize just about any document.

The simplest way to eliminate paper documents is to scan and archive them. Try one of SimpleScan Connect’s portable scanners, which offer single- or double-sided scanning capability. They also come with a free service to upload scanned documents to popular cloud services such as Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive, among others.

If you’re dealing with formats more cumbersome than standard printouts, try a desktop scanner such as the Fujitsu ScanSnap SV600, which brings the line’s one-button scanning to bound and oversize documents.

To add a scanner to a crowded office, buy a multifunction printer, which has a scanner built in, plus accompanying software that can create PDFs from scanned documents for storing or sending. Office models will have an automatic document feeder for scanning multiple pages easily. Get one that can scan two-sided documents for the greatest efficiency and convenience.

Many mobile apps let you use your smartphone or tablet camera to capture documents. However, these are suitable only for dealing with very low volumes of documents.

Whichever scanning method you choose, add a good document-management software package such as Nuance PaperPort, so you can create a searchable, cloud-accessible digital archive from all of your scans.

Set up paperless faxing

Archaic though it sounds, some industries and individuals still rely on faxed documents for some of their business procedures. Fortunately, advances in technology have made this relic of 20th-century office culture more environmentally friendly.

Multifunction printers generally have the ability to email incoming fax messages as PDF file attachments to a PC for viewing. This arrangement makes the messages easy to read, forward, or file without ever printing them out. In addition, such machines typically offer a software driver that allows you to fax documents directly from the Print dialog box on a desktop or laptop PC. Alternatively, online fax services such as eFax, FaxZero, and MyFax let you send and receive paperless faxes for a fee.

Businesses that rely heavily on faxing or want integration with a messaging back end such as Exchange Server should consider advanced server-based options such as GFI FaxMaker or RightFax. Be aware that these on-premise software applications can be pricey and require some initial configuration work.

Embrace electronic signatures

Signatures perpetuate paper. If you can’t eliminate the approval process, at least adopt electronic signatures. For internal paperwork, a system that relies on an electronic medium such as email to approve decisions or purchases should be adequate.

When it comes to external documents, you have plenty of ways to embed a digital signature without having to print anything. Adobe Reader lets you sign in a PDF document with your finger on a touchpad. Moreover, apps such as SignNow and SignEasy let you do the same thing with your smartphone or tablet. Depending on your requirements, some apps can also embed your company logo and upload signed documents to different cloud services for archiving.

Adobe PDF signature
Adobe Reader lets you digitally sign documents with your finger on a touchpad.

As legal requirements may vary between states and countries, seek appropriate guidance before substituting important legal agreements with digital-only versions.

Take digital notes

Honestly, with the range of note-taking apps available—from text-only options such as SimpleNotes to more sophisticated offerings such as EverNote and Microsoft OneNote—you have no excuse to use another Post-it. Touchscreen and stylus support even let you enrich notes with sketches and diagrams, and all notes are saved to the cloud.

Traditional messaging platforms such as Microsoft Exchange also incorporate text-only Notes that you can access in the PC and Mac Outlook clients, as well as on the iPhone and iPad with the release of iOS 7.

Although the Livescribe Sky Wi-Fi Pen isn’t cheap, it lets you write and save notes and audio recordings to your Evernote account via Wi-Fi, or you can plug in a Micro-USB cable and save your work to a PC or Mac. Livescribe requires special (and pricey) paper with tiny dots on the page that track your writing with precision. The pen even has an ecosystem of apps, including dictionaries.

Reduce where you can’t eliminate

The unfortunate reality is that we all face situations where paper printouts are unavoidable, or we work with partners and clients who require them. When that’s the case, select duplex printing in your print settings to reduce the amount of paper you use.

While the paperless society remains elusive, adopting processes that emphasize digitization will help you get closer to that ideal.

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