It may seem like a difficult or even impossible challenge, but paperless operations or significantly reducing paper consumption within a business is achieved regularly by companies without drastically affecting their operations. By not taking action to reduce paper consumption, it is costing your company more than the cost of paper, printing, filing cabinets, and copiers and scanners.
A culture of wastefulness exists in many businesses, as employees get caught up in the whirlwind of the everyday operations, and it can therefore be difficult to change. However, the more time that is spent waiting for the perfect time to convert to paperless technology or reducing consumption, the more drastic of an approach there may need to be in order to overcome the challenges of using paper in a digitized business world.
Here are six best practices to reduce or eliminate paper that we have observed through working with many companies that have successfully overcome these challenges.
1. Understand the Flow of Paper Processes
Understanding the flow of paper in all areas of the business is key to making changes. Looking at how and where paper enters the business, where it moves across departments, where it clogs up and slows down, and where it inhibits information access and the flow of processes will create visibility into hidden issues related to the use of paper.
Talking to team leaders in the different areas will help to shed light on the flow of paper, and interviewing key personnel whose roles revolve mainly around the use of paper will help create clarity into how it behaves and moves through the business. Getting feedback from employees can also help determine where paper is redundant and can be reduced or eliminated, and is instrumental in identifying drawbacks and potential solutions to any issues.
2. Set Measurements and Benchmarks
One of the most common mistakes that we see companies make is moving forward without understanding from where they were starting. Without being able to look back to see where we began, we cannot understand accurately how far we have progressed.
Understanding benchmarks and measurements throughout the process will also help team members understand how they are performing, which can lead to higher engagement and adoption from your employees. Accurate feedback can only be properly achieved if a disparity is identified, and this consistent feedback will help to show employees where they have been, where they are, and where they need to be.
3. Set Goals That Employees Care About
Setting goals may seem like an obvious step, but many companies jump head first into implementing paperless processes or reducing paper consumption without knowing what their objectives are and where they would like to end up, and without considering the needs of their employees.
Instead of setting goals based on reducing costs or increasing profits, find out why employees would want to reduce paper in the office and set actionable initiatives around these reasons. Is it to reduce clutter, create more efficient processes, reduce monotonous data entry, or simply to reduce waste and be a greener company? Based on the benefits that would be realized by employees, set goals that revolve around what employees find valuable.
If objectives and goals are clearly defined and engage employees, then once these goals have been achieved, measures such as reducing costs should follow.
4. Allow Employees to Lead the Change
This is one step that we cannot stress enough. When management attempts to change the workplace without any input from employees, the results are often not what are expected. Letting employees have a say will make them much more likely to not only adopt, but to lead the change. Employees that deal daily with paper will likely already have an idea of where redundancies lie or where the use of paper can be reduced or eliminated, so tapping into this knowledge is crucial.
Involving employees from the beginning by getting their input in determining the flow of paper that we discussed above, will not only expedite the discovery and planning stages, but will also help employees feel invested in the initiative.
5. Create a Cadence of Accountability
Ideally, including employees throughout the process will help them to want to share progress and discuss setbacks, and this can be achieved through regular meetings about the initiative that also help to propagate accountability.
These meetings need to be focused only on the progress of the current initiative, and should not digress into other matters beyond the measurements, goals, progress, challenges, and success of the change. It is also important that the meeting end with the actions that each team or employee will complete before the next meeting that will help them contribute to the overall goals.
6. Take Baby Steps
For the most part, change can be hard to accept for anyone within an organization. Often times change ends up happening because it has gotten to a point that if it doesn?t, the business will suffer. Usually this ends up being the worst case because the transformation occurs too quickly for it to be palatable for employees and management alike.
Foresight, planning, and bite-sized pieces are important for any initiative to be successful. Reducing or eliminating paper in the office by implementing a series of insignificant changes is one way to successfully enduce an eventual tranformation with the least amount of pushback.
Depending on the goals and the size of the change that will occur, it will be important to set up a process of implementation that uses one small group, one department, or that is implemented in stages so as to ease the transition most smoothly.
If they could, most companies would flick a switch and instantly have paperless processes because the end result is so favourable; however, it is the complexity of the route to get there that causes many companies to abstain from this needed change. As industries overall move away from paper and into a digitized world, those that rely heavily on paper processes may find it exceedingly difficult to remain agile, responsive, and efficient compared to their competitors.
By getting a head start and following some of these best practices that we have identified by working with many companies undergoing the same process, businesses have the ability to successfully implement a necessary change without negatively impacting their operations.