Five tips for a paperless environment
Claire Middlebrook ACA, owner of Middlebrooks Business Recovery & Advice, reflects on the challenges and opportunities that a paperless office environment can provide.
The Arthur Anderson partner was on his cell phone when he said "Ship the Enron documents to the Feds", but his secretary heard, “Rip the Enron documents to shreds…”
As a trainee at the aforementioned firm, whilst I, clearly had no involvement in the shredding scandal, as a topic it has always been one I have shied away from for obvious reasons. Until that is, Middlebrooks Business Recovery & Advice (Middlebrooks) moved into offices that could not accommodate the luxury of hosting the circa 500 lever arch files containing several years of active insolvency cases.
There were several questions I had to ask myself, how do I properly file the documents? How do I locate it later when I need it? How do I easily provide a copy when required?
For those just starting out, they are minor issues, for an established practice they are huge hurdles which require to be overcome.
So, as the ICAS insolvency and restructuring news moves to a new digital era, I thought it might be appropriate to share my five top tips to anyone looking to convert to a paperless office.
The software package to be used is really important. Make sure a rigorous appraisal of paperless solutions is undertaken before making your selection. At Middlebrooks we have a software package that is integrated with our insolvency case management software, new clients created upon appointment are automatically opened within our virtual system.
Once the software package has been chosen, using naming protocols is essential. Although the software package is really good at finding documents, when you are searching through tens of thousands of them, a good name is essential! Training on the new system, even for experienced team members, is an important issue, and one that will be an investment in smooth running for the future.
Signing protocols are just as important when paperless as when using the Bic Biro. Most software packages have audit trails, so the last person looking at a document should be the signatory. Most countries now have laws in place that make electronically signed documents as valid as those signed with pen on paper.
With less space being taken up by outdated files, the office can be a nicer work environment. Dual monitors are the best way to assist in a paperless office. A scanner is also a must. Ideally a scanner that can quickly undertake dual processing is a worthwhile investment. Most packages suggest scanning documents as TIFF files for easy editing, but all can be converted to the more widely used PDF format when sharing.
Getting rid of old, outmoded methods of communication is another good idea when going paperless. Whilst sending a fax is becoming less common, some still do. At Middlebrooks we use an e-fax system, so fax messages are received and sent via our email system. At last count we had received 12 in 12 months! Online banking is also another useful way to convert to the paperless office. At Middlebrooks all payments are made via online banking, there are a few exceptions, the Accountant of Court being the most common. Even payments to the Scottish Court Service can be made by setting up a credit account.
One of the main barriers to an established office going paperless is the ‘it’s always been done that way’ approach. With the use of training, fun incentives to avoid printing and some necessity, we have ensured that the paperless approach is working.
Middlebrooks has already been recognised for this fresh approach. The judges at the Insolvency & Rescue Awards said we had ‘demonstrated uniqueness with our keen interest for new technology and a paperless office’ when we were awarded the title of Best Recovery Firm – New Start Ups in London during 2015.
Using the paperless approach is one tool to being more efficient and flexible in working practices. With increasing challenges for modern professional practices flexibility has to be considered even more seriously; paper is definitely in the past. The future is digital.