Years ago, you could casually consider the decision to go paperless within your team or organization. The time and paperless cost savings for the organization were the drivers for change. Today, the need is urgent, driven by competition and both the opportunity and need to make real-time decisions based on data.
Let’s talk through five reasons why switching to paperless documentation is an urgent issue, and how to reduce paperwork in business.
1. The positive impact on your company growth
Consider two companies. Company A and Company B both have field sales and service/installation teams that cover the same geographic region.
Company A equips its team with professional-looking paper-based contract forms and other high-quality, printed sales materials, enabling face-to-face revenue generation.
Company B equips its team with a paperless work order system and iPads that contain a full digital library of sales resources, training materials, and digital contracts that can be signed in-person or remotely.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Which office team will spend time printing or ordering additional sales materials and mailing or shipping them to the field employees?
- Which remote team will waste time and money driving back to the office to drop off signed contracts and work orders or pick up the new materials available?
- Which sales team will need to take extra time out to communicate new customer details to the service or installation team to start the delivery process by phone?
- Which office team will spend time on value-deficient busywork while waiting for paperwork from the field?
It’s Company A. Clearly, Company A is already at a severe disadvantage.
Meanwhile, Company B’s employees have everything they need at their fingertips at all times. There’s no printing, no extra driving, no stalled processes waiting on paperwork, no missing or miscommunicated information passed on from team to team, and no manual errors when the office receives documents and data from those remote teams.
You are increasingly competing against Company B. Which company are you?
2. The positive impact on business decisions
Let’s say both companies have a routine, remote task involving data capture that happens 100 times each month. Maybe it’s a maintenance inspection, a safety audit, or a service checklist of some kind.
Company A receives its paperwork from the field weekly or less often, depending on when field employees get around to turning it into the office in-person or by mail. Office employees then manually transcribe the key data points from the paperwork into some other software.
Then and only then can company leaders and executives get any insights into patterns and trends in order to make decisions that will impact the business. Meanwhile the paperwork itself is later dropped into a manila folder of a file cabinet at the main office.
Company B receives every submission for this routine task from its field team in real-time, no matter where the team is located. Relevant employees receive real-time alerts and the information they need to make their own plans and decisions. Documents are routed digitally for easy review or for audits that might be necessary later. They are automatically saved through paperless storage solutions.
Most importantly, the data is instantly pushed to a CRM, databases like Airtable, and/or business intelligence tools such as Power BI, Tableau or Domo, as well as other crucial software the company relies on. That data can be seen any time of the day by leaders and executives, who now have their fingers on the pulse of the company, no matter where they work from.
3. The positive impact on your cash flow
There is a staggering abundance of statistics on the cost per paper in business.
- PricewaterhouseCoopers says the average organization spends about $20 in labor to file each paper document, approximately $120 in labor searching for each misfiled document, and $220 in re-creation of a document
- Deloitte & Touche estimates that managers operating by 1990s-style processes spend an average of three hours a week looking for paper that has been misfiled, mislabeled, or lost
Using Company A and B from our example above, it’s clear that Company A is spending far more money to run the business in terms of both hard costs and soft/opportunity costs.
Hard costs come in many forms: paper, gas, mail, overtime, and maybe even added employees because menial tasks are not automated.
Soft costs come in the form of time wasted while waiting for paperwork to be turned in, time spent with rework due to paperwork being unreadable or missing information, and time that could be spent on more productive and revenue-producing tasks. These are very real, negative outcomes of a paper-based team.
Acciona states that 21% of daily productivity is due to problems with documentation. And the average time spent in each office finding files is as much as 18 minutes a day.
This is nuts.
Do you want a 15% profit margin or a 25% profit margin? Going paperless is like a cost reduction campaign that can have a significant, immediate impact on your bottom line.
4. The positive impact on your customer experience
Now let’s imagine you’re the customer.
The representative from a company you’re working with has just handed you an important audit they’ve completed. The 10-page audit is crumpled, the handwriting is only somewhat readable, and if you want to hang on to the paperwork for the long haul, you’ve now got to scan it yourself. Is this what you want from a professional firm you’ve hired to do work for you? You don’t even want an emailed copy of a handwritten document. But this is what Company A does.
To coin an American phrase, Company A trips over dollars to pick up pennies. They deliver a terrible customer experience because they don’t want to pay for a modern, improved experience that will positively impact customer acquisition and retention.
Company B doesn’t deliver paper-based audit reports or contracts. They know they can provide a faster, more efficient, more effective customer experience. They deliver audits and inspections and contracts digitally because their team can focus on the customer experience and seeing more customers in a day, week, or month, rather than spend time filling out a paper form and making sure it doesn’t get coffee-stained in their vehicle while going about their daily routine.
Company B appears trustworthy, credible, competent, and acts like it owes a professional experience to customers by providing a digital aspect to the experience.
As Kyle Paterson of Bryson Insurance puts it, “We’ve found that meaningful face-to-face relationships still work for us,” Paterson said. “But we’ve realized it can be cumbersome and challenging to always serve that way.”
5. The positive impact on hiring and retention
There is significant research highlighting why employees leave their jobs. One roundup post by Marvin Russell that links to some of this research lists the top reasons.
A few interesting takeaways:
- Employees quit jobs because of the culture
- Employees quit jobs because of the lack of flexibility
- Employees quit jobs because of the empathy
- Employees quit jobs because they’re not engaged
- Employees quit jobs because the workload is too much
You are contributing to these negative outcomes if you’re providing your workforce with antiquated tools and processes to do their jobs. This is a fact, and it’s even more true with the Millennial workforce. And the cost of replacing employees at any level is at an all-time high.
At Company A, employees feel out of the loop due to slow coworkers and processes and lack of information. They hate when repetitive, routine tasks are time consuming and too manual (in fact, they’ll find workarounds to automate them on their own, that could add risk to your business). They feel like they have no say in how their work is performed faster and more accurately. Turnover at Company A is high.
At Company B, the human resources department is paperless. Employees are encouraged to make recommendations on tools and processes that will help everyone streamline work, and therefore they feel their culture is rewarding and engaging. Employees are given modern digital tools — hardware and software — that give them real-time insight into their work and the ability to get work done more efficiently. Employees feel like leadership understands them and their workload because the company has invested in these tools and digital processes. Turnover at Company B is low; HR paperless solutions pay off.
All of these ways to go paperless at work are there in 2021 to automate routine tasks and give the right employees access to data they need to make decisions.
Are you Company A or Company B?