7 steps closer to a paperless office
Ah, the unfulfilled dream of the paperless office! Whether or not it is really practical to eliminate all paper from the office environment, it’s certainly possible to greatly reduce the amount of it floating round your agency by adopting some of the practices below. Take a quick look around your own desk and those of your colleagues right now – most of that paper is necessary for you to run your agency, right? OK, have a read at this article and look around again. You’ll likely have a different perspective.
1. Scan documents and save them to electronic storage
Incoming post usually falls into three clear categories – (1) act on it, (2) file it for reference or (3) bin it. The third one is easy, though remember to shred it first to keep any confidential information from identity fraudsters. Items which need archived for reference should ideally be scanned and filed in electronic format, either against the appropriate record in a property management solution such as RentPro, or in general electronic storage such as Google Drive or Evernote, from which they will be easy accessible again when required. The final bundle, the items which need acted upon, will progress either into this electronic archive or the shredder when completed. Digitising documents also makes them easily shareable, reducing the temptation to photocopy them for further distribution.
2. Send PDF statements by email
One of the most common sources of paper usage (or wastage, more like) in a busy letting agency is statements. Reams of pages printed off to be sent to tenants, landlords, and suppliers not only clutter up your own office, but do you think these people really want to be receiving loads of paper statements? Some people do, certainly, but let them print their statements off if required. Even if their desks are littered with print-outs, at least your office isn’t. PDFs are, as the name suggests, easily viewed, navigated, zoomed and searched on screen, and sent to the relevant people by email in a readily-accessible format with one click.
3. Use web-based management software
Ledger books, printed receipts, statements, paper copies of tenancy agreements and brochures should be artefacts resigned to the past at this stage. Using a dedicated property management package, ideally a web-based solution which you can access anywhere, anytime via your browser, will help you reduce if not eliminate the need for printing out and carrying round trails of paper to enable your day-to-day management and accounting. It will also make it easy to share these documents electronically to the relevant people, so no need to distribute paper copies any more either.
4. Opt for electronic signatures
Initially digital signatures which didn’t involve someone taking out their pen and signing literally on the dotted line were met with scepticism, not just in the letting industry but on a much wider plane. However, digital or electronic signatures used by tenants and landlords to secure a tenancy agreement are equally admissible in legal terms as traditional wet signatures, without a fraction of the hassle. No paper version need ever exist, and the required parties can sign the AST via email, quickly and easily, meaning no time-consuming face-to-face visits are necessary.
5. Make payments online
More and more payments are being made and received online, either by bank transfer or online money-transfer services such as Stripe or PayPal. No more cheques, remittance notes, statements and invoices sitting in piles for lodging and reconciling. No more postage, envelopes and trips to the post office or the bank. Nobody doubts the security of making online transactions nowadays, provided they are conducted via reputable services, and they process much faster with instant confirmation via email. Payments can be taken in so many different formats that it practically enables collection of money from clients any time any place, via email or smartphone.
6. Use a second monitor
This one might sound a bit technical, but it’s readily available to anyone who has an external monitor to hook up to their laptop, or a second monitor for their PC. One of the most common reasons people cite for printing material on paper is that it makes it easier to cross-reference data with information already displayed on screen. By using a second monitor data can be displayed on one screen while the additional monitor can be used for the main task at hand, be that accounts preparation, reconciliation or data entry.
7. Embrace the portability of mobile devices
I think we all agree that the days of having to print out and carry documents, agendas and other files to various meetings should be behind us, now that we have virtually all of our personal and business data immediately accessible in the cloud. Resisting the urge to print anything that can be accessed on your ever-present mobile or tablet device could make one of the biggest impacts on your office’s paper wastage. Take your device to your viewings, valuations and any other appointments. Even in the office showing people information on the tablet saves printing as well as looking professional and modern.
On reflection, when we consider the overall objective of respecting and preserving the environment whilst maintaining efficiency and productivity, maybe we don’t have to chase the elusive dream of the paperless office after all. Perhaps we can settle for a “paper-light” office, using the right technology in the right place to store, generate and exchange information in electronic format wherever possible, without getting too uptight about eliminating paper altogether. Look around your office again now having read these few points; hopefully you’ll now see ample scope for decreasing paper usage in future.
A dedicated web-based property management package such as RentPro will not only get your processes and information really organised, but it will go a long way to clearing the clutter in your office and in your head, and efficiency and productivity can only improve.