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5 Reasons Your Business Should Go Paperless and 5 Ways to Do It

By: Kim Naylor Cours, Regional Manager

HR software can make going 100% paperless achievable—without compromising compliance.

How much time does your HR department (and everyone else in your company) spend managing the many physical documents related to employee records?

According to Gartner, employees spend between 20 and 30 percent of their work week managing physical documents or document-based information. That’s roughly 12 hours a week spent managing paper. Keep in mind, this statistic doesn’t apply specifically to HR and since HR is one of the most document-intensive areas of a business, it stands to reason that HR professionals spend more than 12 hours a week dealing with physical records.

Let that sink in for a moment—you probably spend at least 12 hours a week (if not more) dealing with paper.

Managing physical documents takes a lot of time and keeps HR professionals stuck in a kind of task-driven limbo. This often prevents HR from playing a more strategic role in your organization. Rather than alphabetizing files, you could be meeting the needs of your employees in meaningful and transformational ways.

No wonder too many companies treat HR as an operational department that adds little value to the business: you’re too busy working through small paper transactions. It’s time for HR to take a seat at the table.

Five reasons your business should go 100% paperless:

1) Sustainability
Even though companies attempt to minimize their carbon footprint, most continue to use a high volume of paper. In a study conducted in 2016,  Wakefield Research found that 73% of the “owners and decision-makers” at businesses with fewer than 500 employees print up to four times daily. The study found that HR departments, along with legal, and accounting, are decidedly paper-centric.

Wood products (like paper) rank among the top four commodities responsible for over half the world’s tropical deforestation. According to the Dogwood Alliance, an organization committed to protecting forests, up to six million acres of forest in the southern portion of the United States are cut down each year to manufacture paper and wood products.

As you print another document at work today, think about the impact your HR department has on our environment and consider the volume of HR departments nationwide still using paper. It will be an enlightening moment.

2) Productivity
Let’s circle back to the data from Gartner referenced earlier. According to Gartner, workers spend between 20 and 30 percent of their work week managing physical documents, which is roughly 12 hours a week.

Additionally, Software Advice found that during the average work week, employees spend at least six hours just looking for paper documents. In contrast, employees who work in digital environments were found to waste virtually no time searching for physical records.

Digital environments not only make your employees more efficient but also allow them to complete the tasks they were hired to perform… and perhaps even help them reach their goals! Employees who achieve their goals are happier and more productive. And they stick around.

3) ROI
It’s no secret that paper and paper-related products are costly. In addition to the time employees waste searching for lost or misfiled documents and the resulting decline in productivity, you can almost hear the money going down the drain.

Going paperless allows your company to save dollars. You eliminate the hard cost of paper and paper-related expenses, your employees gain more time to focus on company initiatives, they have digital tools to make work easy, productivity goes through the roof, and as a result, you’ll see an increase to your bottom line. This may sound oversimplified (and to some degree it is), but the ROI of going paperless is real and substantial.

4) Digital Transformation
Digital transformation is the catch-all term for what’s been happening to business over the past decade. Digital technology easily integrates into all areas of a business and has fundamentally changed how companies operate. This impacts every business, regardless of size or industry.

And it’s not just about technology – digital transformation is also about people.

While workers may be fearful of this emerging digital world (with the notion that robots are desperate to steal our jobs and the concern about privacy in the digital age), technology is helping us mold a more efficient, less wasteful, and ultimately more productive future. Going paperless is yet another way for businesses to embrace digital transformation. As your company sets out to modernize legacy systems and technology, you’ll want to make sure they don’t forget about HR.

5) Information Security and Disaster Recovery
People are laser-focused on digital security but often overlook the insecurity of physical records. Think about the sensitive information contained on just one piece of employee documentation: social security number, name, address, phone—everything required to steal an identity.

“When security breaches make headlines, they tend to be about nefarious actors in another country or the catastrophic failure of technology. These kinds of stories are exciting to read and easier for the hacked company to admit to. But the reality is that no matter the size or scope of a breach, usually it’s caused by an action, or failure, of someone inside the company.”—Marc van Zadelhoff, Harvard Business Review

And, as much as we’d like to trust our employees, most security breaches are an inside job.

Imagine this scenario: The Form I-9 of a new hire is resting on your desk when you’re pulled away to extinguish a (metaphorical) HR fire. The form is in full view as a disgruntled employee strolls past your office. Recognizing an opportunity, the employee quickly jots down your new hire’s SSN, name, and address.

Here’s another scenario:
You left your new hire’s Form I-9 on your desk and it is in full view when the overnight cleaning crew makes their rounds… you get the picture.

In the event of a disaster, human-made or otherwise, all of your physical records are at risk. If documents are signed and stored electronically, even if your office is wiped out in a flood or a bad actor wants to steal sensitive data, your files are intact and secure—stored safely in the cloud.

Five ways to go paperless:

1) Digitize Your Onboarding Process
Eliminate paper waste with new hires by automating your employee onboarding process. This includes W4’s, direct deposit authorizations, handbooks, employment agreements, and more.

2) Ditch Outdated Technology
It’s time to move away from antiquated tools like fax machines, printers, notebooks, ledgers, and legacy technology systems. Getting rid of outdated technologies and replacing them with digital tools is a critical step along your journey to becoming a paperless HR department.

3) Make All Your Meetings Paperless
Don’t let employees show up for a meeting with paper in hand. Not that you should shame a worker who sits down with a notebook. You could instead encourage sending handouts around as PDF attachments before the meeting, rather than arriving with a stack of handouts.

4) Share Documents in the Cloud
There’s no reason for anyone in your company to share information via paper. Use a cloud-based document sharing platform like OneDrive, Dropbox, or GoogleDrive and invest in a collaboration system like Slack, Glip, or Microsoft Teams to enable your teams to work together and share information in real-time, regardless of where they are.

5) Invest in HR Software
If you do nothing else on this short list, invest in an HRIS system. While not all HR software platforms allow you to go entirely paperless, many do.

Doing things the old way will keep you from bringing your HR department out of paper-pushing purgatory. If you want to become a driver of employee engagement and build an outstanding culture, you need to invest in a tool that not only saves you and your employees time but also enables you to go paperless and remain compliant.

The time to go paperless is now.

Despite the digital tools available today, most businesses are drowning in a sea of paper. Going paperless facilitates the kind of business transformation needed to survive in today’s competitive digital landscape and sets HR up to take a seat at the C-Suite table.