Finding the Source of the Paper.

I want to begin this guide at the beginning of the process by looking at how that piece of paper you have in the office was created.  There is a very good reason I would like to start here, having been to visit a great number of companies who are considering reducing paper there is a tendency to start the removal process at the end of the process, when the paper and documents are being archived or filed away for storage.

I can understand that there can be a great deal of satisfaction in taking away one of those large grey filing cabinets that you have been tripping over for last few months, seeing that piece of office floor again.  But is this the right place to start?

I want you to imagine that you are in a leaking boat out at sea.  Your first instinct may be to start bailing out, you can grab a bucket and start throwing water over the side.  Of course as much water you throw out will be coming into the boat through the leak.  The first action should be to block the leak and stop more water entering the boat.  This same principle should be applied to your paper in the office.  If you start by removing the filing cabinets at the end of the process you know that the flood of paper is still coming into your office and within a day, week or month, that filing cabinet will be back.  Lets stop the flow of paper first.

Within your organisation

The first place to start is by identifying and paper that has been created within your organisation.  You will be surprised how many companies I see where a document is created on someone’s computer, maybe in Microsoft Word, printed, placed into an envelope and sent via internal post where it will be photocopied, then filed.  Is this the case in your office even though you have a good reliable network and e-mail system in place?

What is needed is a change in the attitude within the workforce in your office and this will be a recurring theme throughout this guide.  The best strategy is to make the working methods you want the workforce to adopt as easy as possible and those you want to discourage as hard as possible.  Because your internal post has been in place for many years and the e-mail system is new many people will continue to use internal post “because they have always done so”.

Consider moving those post collection points to a distant part of the office and make the collections and deliveries less frequent. As a way to encourage your staff to use e-mail ask your senior managers to start send important information by e-mail, few employees like to be out of touch with what is going on.  Allowing those annoying jokes and virals  to be circulated may appear to be a good way to start using e-mail it is a difficult thing to stop and can quickly block up your network.

What about that director who insists on having his secretary print out his e-mails?  First they may not be aware of the cost of printing, because the price of printers has fallen recently the manufacturers now make their money by selling ink cartridges. This can hide the cost per page of printing.  When you make the director aware of the true cost it should discourage this activity.  You can also consider moving the printer to a less private area and start sending complex and confidential documents by e-mail, minutes of board meetings financial reports etc.  Combine this with comprehensive and discreet training will soon have them on side.

Outside your organisation

For paper documents that originate I would like to split into three categories.

1.    Documents that originate from your existing customers, i.e. those people or organisations that you have previously been in contact with.
2.    Documents that originate from the general public or people/organisation you do not know.
3.    Documents that are sent out by your organisation.

We will be coming back to these three types of document in later editions of this guide.  In this first part I want to just offer some quick and simple options.

As we discussed before the best strategy uses both a carrot and a stick, make it harder for your customers to use paper and reward them when they use alternative communications methods.  Let’s take bills as an example, in the UK when paying an electricity bill consumers are offered a discount when setting up a paperless payment method.  Newer companies such as mobile phone providers now make paper based bills a chargeable option. This is similar for other transactions, bank statements etc.  As a further encouragement many companies now offer guaranteed response times for questions submitted by e-mail where no such guarantee is available for written questions.

What strategy you decide to implement to reduce paper from your known contacts often depends on your “position of power”.  Let us take the retail sector as an example.  In most cases the suppliers to a large retail chain will do whatever is necessary to have their products on the shelves, this gives the retailer the power to dictate that all transactions (invoices, delivery notes etc.) are electronic. However the same retailer does not have the same power over their customer and will have to allow both electronic and paper based transactions.

When dealing with the general public it is easy to think that paper is still the best, this is not necessarily true.  Image a company who collects market research data, the ones who stops people in the street to ask for their opinions on new products.  In the old days these researchers would have been furnished with a clipboard and pen, today they are more likely to have an electronic tablet and stylus where they can collect the required response and electronically send the data for instant analysis.  However the more forward thinking market research companies are now using other technology to collect this information.  The most popular being using SMS messages on a mobile phone.

Let me ask you a question.  If you walked down your local high street and asked the people you pass if they are carrying a pen or pencil and then ask if they are carrying a mobile phone, which of these questions will result in the most positive responses?  Now ask yourself if it still necessary to use paper when dealing with the general public.  This is also a topic we will be returning to later in this guide.

The next topic in this guide will look at what the existing paper documents are being used for and look at different ways of removing them from your business.