Going paperless can bring significant benefits to a midmarket firm. Not only does a paper-free work environment save money, but it also shows that your company is committed to being environmentally friendly and keeping a small carbon footprint. With some research and preparation, getting your employees on board doesn't have to be difficult.

Going paperless can save your company time and money.

Why Do Companies Go Paperless?

There are many benefits to going digital, whether your goal is offering paper-free services to your customers, your internal operations or both. As a middle market company, you'll need to invest time and money to make such a significant change, but you'll save enough in the long run that the initial investment will be worthwhile. Here are six reasons to go paper free:

  • Greater efficiency and fewer errors. When you switch to an all-digital system, you can cut down significantly on human error. For example, forms that are digitally scanned rather than typed into a database have fewer errors. Some banks have reported that the number of errors decreased so much after going paper free that they had to shut down departments dedicated to fixing mistakes and redeploy those staff, reports American Banker. That's a good problem to have.
  • Faster customer service. You can greatly speed up customer service if you move to a digital landscape. Most businesses traditionally relied on paper for applications and opening new accounts, but many that digitize the process find that lowering the barrier to entry increases their number of customers, notes American Banker. In addition, you'll make your current customers happier by answering their questions faster. If a client requests a file and you can search for it digitally and email it rather than looking for a hard copy, you'll save significant time.
  • Cost savings. Although an initial investment is needed, businesses that go paperless eventually see that money returned. Consider this: An average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper a year, according to data cited in Entrepreneur. On average, a four-drawer filing cabinet costs $25,000 to fill and $2,000 to maintain just for one year. This doesn't even take into account the costs of making sure all your papers are properly shredded before you throw them away.
  • Flexible work environment. If you employ a document management system and keep your files in the cloud, your employees have more flexibility. Is an employee ill but wants to work from home? If you've gone digital, they can access all their files online and still meet those vital deadlines.
  • Environmental advantages. Going paperless brings a number of environmental advantages. On average, 39 percent of every 30 copies that are made are thrown away, reports Entrepreneur. In addition to saving trees, you'll also save on energy costs when you don't have to use print and copy machines as often.
  • Greater security. Another advantage to being paper free is better security. When you have backups of all your files saved in the cloud, you won't have to worry about a fire or other disaster destroying your most important documents. Not only that, but a simple filing error won't make an important paper impossible to find later.

How to Start the Transition

Transitioning your company to a paper-free environment takes planning and, in some cases, may require an expert's help to smooth the way. Your first hurdles will be choosing the right software, such as a document management system, and making sure your files are secure and backed up. You'll need to implement secure password policies for your employees, which might require a company-wide password management system. You'll also want to archive and back up all sensitive data. You'll need storage policies in place so that employees who don't understand the technology don't accidentally disclose confidential information. Even smaller processes, like scheduling appointments, should be done on a digital company calendar so that everyone instantly knows when their colleagues are unavailable or when group meetings are scheduled.

The next big hurdle to this transition is training. Some employees may feel overwhelmed by all the changes. Hold easy, step-by-step training meetings and provide ample documentation for employees to refer to later. Then make sure you have someone on staff who's available to answer any questions. The U.S. Small Business Administration recommends implementing changes slowly, piece by piece. Start by saving paper documents into PDF formats; you can even do this in batches by hiring a concierge scanning service. Move on to digitizing billing and time cards, and then implement electronic messaging and faxes.

All the benefits you'll get from going paperless are worth the initial investment of time and money. Does your company have a paper-free environment? If so, what did you do to make the transition? If not, what is stopping you from taking the plunge? Let us know by commenting below.

Stephanie Dube Dwilson is an NCMM contributor and publicist, journalist and attorney whose work has been featured by Businessweek, Newsmax and other national publications. She regularly reports on breaking news and business for Heavy, and she writes a monthly column for the American Bar Association. Stephanie is often sought by companies to consult on publicity, marketing and business development. You can follow her on Twitter or her blog.