One way a small business can stay competitive and be a strong recruiter, retainer, and developer of the next generation of talent is to make sure their systems feel current, not dated; fast, not slow; efficient, not plodding.
Moving to a paperless system achieves all of those things, and it’s likely to create the kind of work environment that boosts employees’ productivity and overall satisfaction, while also attracting new business. Why does it matter if employees are happy? A 2015 study said happy employees are 12 percent more productive.
“Any time you’re going through changes, people will hesitate and may not want to move forward with the change,” says Robert Nelson, district director of the Small Business Association (SBA) of Massachusetts. “But often what happens is once people start embracing the change, they ask, ‘How did we ever do it the old way?’”
With National Small Business Week here, these are a few ways small businesses benefit by making the paperless leap:
When paper files are scanned and digitized, they are assigned keywords that make it easy to search for information within the file and among similar or related files. So when an employee needs to find customer or client information, the search is quick and, if it’s urgent, it can be done from any device. Staff can also share files and information quickly among authorized co-workers. Employees no longer have to rely on co-workers to file information in the correct folder or file cabinet and they can assist customers more easily.
Once an office goes paperless, employees can access digital files at home or on the road, any time of day or night—improving their work-life balance and decreasing commute times, resulting in a happier, less-stressed staff. Several studies have linked long commute times with less energy, poor health (especially cardiovascular health), and increased stress and dissatisfaction with life in general. Research has also shown that employees with less flexible schedules experience greater dissatisfaction with their lives.
In an office that relies on paper files, the risks are endless: Someone’s poor handwriting gets misread; a document gets filed in the wrong cabinet or wrong folder; a customer’s credit card information is exposed or copied improperly; a vital record is accidentally trashed. Safe and secure storage of digital files removes these minor but annoying stressors for staff.
Lugging around paper files and filing them away in bulky cabinets can be time-consuming and tiresome work. When small businesses reduce the tedious task of filing and paper management, they free up bandwidth for staff to spend time on more creative, complex, and fulfilling work that can help grow a business. A study by the Harvard Business Review found when employees dropped tedious, menial tasks and opened up their schedules for more value-added work, they were more productive and, in some cases, their sales increased.
“Once they transition to a digital system, staff are happier because it leaves more time in the day for them to focus on critical business actions and outcomes rather than troubleshooting manual day-to-day business processes,” says Matt Booterbaugh, senior operations leader at Iron Mountain, the Boston-based records management and storage company.
Moving an office to a digital system can boost staff morale simply by signaling the business is committed not only to best practices, but also to sustainable, green practices. The average worker uses 10,000 pieces of paper a year, and it takes a 115-year-old tree to make just half a box of paper. Millennials are now the largest share of the U.S. workforce, and this group has identified sustainability as an important value in their work environment. Going green has been the buzz for businesses big and small, and transitioning to a digital system helps contribute to any business’ sustainable initiatives. Knowing that they’re helping to create a sustainable work environment can make for more fulfilled and happier staff—and environmentally friendly initiatives make small businesses more attractive to potential new hires and a customer base.
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