Reducing or eliminating paper at the office has so many potential business benefits that it’s hard to believe companies of every size still consume so much of it. According to CNN, American workers print, copy, and fax trillions of sheets of paper per year. When you consider the other pulp products — sticky notes, notepads, envelopes, pamphlets, business cards, calendars, paychecks, and legal documents — that routinely cross our desks, we really do use an inordinate amount of paper.
By minimizing our paper trails (if not going entirely paperless), small business owners can lower expenses, increase productivity, enhance customer service, free up storage space, and enable people to work remotely. Here are five ways to curtail paper consumption in your office:
1) Forget fax machines – Send documents as email attachments and receive traditional fax transmissions in digital form on your computer. “All you need is an Internet connection,” Tom Walker says on SaveDelete.com, where he’s compiled a list of the ten best free online fax services. Need to put your John Hancock on some form or another? No problem. Mark Shead, the business-management consultant behind Productivity501.com, explains how to sign documents digitally.
2) Shun sticky notes – Although they seem like a clever substitute for a whole sheet of paper, the adhesive on the back means that sometimes sticky notes can’t be recycled. “I walk into so many offices and see the desk covered in a sea of sticky notes that it almost makes me cry,” tech journalist Dave Johnson confesses on BNET. “For $50, you can bolt a dry erase board to the wall beside your desk and actually organize all those little notes you’re sticking to every flat surface in the room.”
3) Avoid printing – “Most of us print emails, documents, and all just because we have access to a printer,” notes Anurag Bansal, founder of the technology blog Knowliz.com. “Emails are supposed to be read onscreen. Why do you need a printed version?” Print documents only when necessary and always preview a file first to avoid errors and reprinting, he suggests. (You’ll not only save paper, but ink cartridges and maintenance, too.) Another option: To grab online information, print or save web pages as PDFs.
4) Collaborate online – Enable teamwork to happen virtually, without passing around paper notes, master files, or schedules. “If your small business is just getting started with online collaboration, the free version of Google Apps is an excellent place to dive in,” Zack Stern writes for PC World. “It includes email with a large amount of free storage, sharable calendars, document editing, and other tools.” For other options, check out Computerworld’s review of 20 more free or low-cost collaboration tools.
5) Eschew checks – Save paper and postage by paying everyone electronically. If you’re a sole proprietor, sign up for online banking, paperless credit-card statements, and an e-payment service like PayPal. File your taxes electronically. If you’re running a larger operation, use an online tax and payroll service such as Intuit’s. On the flip side, request electronic payments (including direct deposit to your bank) from your clients.