The idea of a truly “paperless office” has been talked about for many years, but very few organizations have actually adopted the concept and eliminated paper for good. While recent research has revealed that printing and scanning have decreased significantly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, 56% of workers are still printing and 50% are still scanning, even while working from home (WFH). However, this way of working is simply not sustainable in a remote-first work world.

The need for digital transformation has never been more evident. Though many companies have accelerated their digital initiatives, a number of gaps still persist, particularly when it comes to document productivity. In fact, it is estimated that 83% of workers believe that the way their company manages and works with documents has not improved significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. And almost everyone (95%) sees room for improvement on this front.

Weaning your business off paper completely will certainly not happen overnight, but it can be done! If there is still some hesitation, here are three of the top reasons to start making the transition to paperless today:

Increased Productivity and Efficiency
Let’s face it, paper creates a ton of workflow bottlenecks and inefficiencies. Did you know that employees waste over 4 hours virtually every single week completing paper-based tasks? With paperless workflows, they don’t have to spend extra time pushing paper, chasing down signatures, and filling out forms. These tasks are easier and faster when they are accomplished digitally, leaving time for more important work to get done.

Paper-based processes also have limitations. It is virtually impossible to have more than one person working on the same hard copy document and accurately keep track of various edits. So then, how can remote employees be expected to work together efficiently? When you remove paper from the equation and adopt a digital document productivity solution, teams can easily create, share, edit, track versions, sign, and file—all without printing or scanning a single page.

This also creates a better user experience for employees, which can lead to higher job satisfaction and less burnout. According to our Future of Work research, 51% of respondents claimed better document productivity technology would make their job easier, and 55% said it would save them time—two factors that go a long way in cutting job-related stress and helping boost morale.

Implementing a new tool won’t come without its challenges though. It is important to have a solid change management strategy and training plan in place if you really want to drive employee buy-in and adoption.

Cost Savings
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that the average knowledge worker uses over 10,000 sheets of paper per year, which comes out to about two cases of paper per worker. With every case costing $40 (or more), it is easy to see how much things can add up. If that was not enough, PwC recently found that the average company spends $20 in labor to file paper, $120 searching for a missing document, and $220 to recreate a lost document. This means that companies with 1,000 employees are spending $3.5 million annually on issues created by paper. If your budget is strained, especially by the impact of the pandemic, cutting out paper may be one of the fastest and easiest ways to save significantly.

Environmental Sustainability
There is a direct correlation between the levels of paper still used in the workplace and the impact on the environment. For instance, it takes 11,134 kilowatt-hours (kWh) to produce one ton of paper — that is the same amount of electricity an average household uses in over 10 months. In addition, the ink and toner cartridges used for printing are horrible for the environment if they aren’t disposed of properly (and unfortunately, too few do dispose of them appropriately). It is estimated that more than 400 million ink and 100 million toner cartridges end up in landfills every year.

Organizations should focus on minimizing printing at every opportunity possible, whether that is taking away some of the printers in your office or switching to a document productivity solution. By eliminating or reducing paper usage, businesses can legitimately position themselves as “green” while also preserving the environment for our future generations.

And if you’re recruiting, you’ll have an easier time attracting millennials and Gen Zers who rightfully place a high value on sustainable companies. As these generations gain presence in the workforce, their concerns and motivations will naturally result in them being more selective about the positions they choose. That means a fully digital workplace that is environmentally aware will likely be more appealing than one completely reliant on paper.

How to Start Going Paperless

Now that we’ve outlined the benefits of going paperless, let’s walk through the steps of how to get started.

Step 1: Assess your current paper processes. Before you actually start seeking out paperless solutions, you’ll need to figure out which processes and departments make up most of your printing and physical storage. Then, you will need to determine what security measures should be taken into account for your digital processes. While it’s possible to safely and legally store even the most sensitive documents, it’s critical that you know your industry regulations and are compliant before you start transferring.
There’s also a good chance that you already have some tools available that haven’t been leveraged yet. So, it’s important to check if you have any existing resources in-house that can be used to take paper out of the process.

Finally, determine which technologies you are going to need in order to complete your transformation to the paperless office. If chosen wisely, your new digital tools will be intuitive and user-friendly, and ideally, affordable enough to roll out to your entire organization.

Step 2: Create a system for transferring paper processes to digital. To do this, the first thing you’ll want to do is prioritize the digital transfer processes that make up most of your printing. If your business is like most, this would be signing and sending forms. After that, you should upgrade your document storage. Start by removing paper and printed agreements that can be completed and stored online.

Step 3: Familiarize employees with your new digital workflows. Enhanced training is one of the top ways employers can boost worker productivity. Keep in mind that in addition to training on new tools, it may be necessary to do a refresher course on any solutions you already have that will be part of the transition to digital.

Step 4: Develop strategies for onboarding and rolling out the new tools. One of the biggest barriers to going paperless is the challenge of onboarding employees to new digital tools, especially on an enterprise scale. Many businesses make the mistake of attempting this without a strategy, which results in an overly long, stressful process and low user adoption. But if you’re thoughtful about your approach—and ideally, have the option of support from your vendor—you can have a smooth transition and get the most out of your investment.