One of the biggest trends in business today is the paperless office. Some companies are making the shift in an effort to be more environmentally sustainable — an important goal, given that nearly 40 percent of all of the paper used in any office is thrown away. Cost savings is another huge driver of the paperless movement. Data indicates that the typical filing cabinet holds up to 20,000 pieces of paper and costs, over time, as much as $25,000 to fill. And given that those cabinets take up space in the office, and require employee time to maintain, the cost of maintaining each filing cabinet can reach up to $2,000 per year.

Many businesses have already made great strides toward reducing their paper usage, by switching to online statements and billing, encouraging employees to reduce their paper consumption, and using electronic tools to share information rather than printing out memos, agendas, etc. In fact, it is these advances in technology that are making the vision of a paperless office a reality. By investing in some new tools and services, going paperless becomes easier, and rewards go well beyond what you receive from your business credit card for using the plastic instead of mailing a paper check.

1. Internet Fax

Using the Internet to send faxes via email is not really a new technology, but it’s made significant strides in recent years. In businesses that rely heavily on faxing, such as health care and finance, using an Internet fax platform to send documents securely right from your computer saves time and money. The concept is quite simple: The user logs in to the Internet fax service, enters the destination fax number into an email format, and attaches the documents, which are then sent to the recipient.

Depending on their setup, that could be a traditional fax or their own email inbox. Internet faxing eliminates the need to print unnecessary documents and makes it easier to store and organize received documents, not to mention it is more secure than a traditional fax line.

There are a variety of electronic fax companies out there, and the one you go with depends on your business. If you handle information that must remain secure, such as health care information, try Concord Fax. They offer HIPAA-compliant online faxing, along with the ability to send a fax via any Internet-connected device. Another popular choice is eFax, who offers similar options and mobile faxing to Concord.

2. Mobile Payments

Small businesses are embracing mobile payment systems at record rates. The ability to accept customer payments via a phone or tablet eliminates the need for cumbersome and expensive cash registers and credit card terminals, and receipts are delivered directly to the buyer’s email inbox, eliminating the need to print receipts that can be easily lost. While admittedly, receipts and sales slips comprise only a small part of a business’s annual paper usage, mobile payment systems’ other features, like automatic reporting, eliminates even more paper for the back office.

Square is one of the leading companies that handle mobile payments. With Square, your company will be able to handle the newer chip-enabled credit cards and even NFC payments, like Samsung and Apple Pay. Another option is Flint, which doesn’t require you to purchase an additional reader to scan credit cards.

3. Cloud Applications

The cloud is proving to be a key tool in the shift to a paperless office environment. Applications that allow employees to share, store, and edit documents in a secure environment eliminate the need to print documents for sharing and storage. Cloud applications also increase security: When employees can access the material they need from any location, they do not need to email work via unsecure networks, or print pages that can easily be lost or stolen.

There are plenty of cloud apps out there that allow co-workers to seamlessly share their work with each other. Dropbox is one popular and common option, but can be limiting for larger companies. One option for sharing work and easy communication is Yammer. Software developers should look into Atlassian Jira, which will help simplify project management and tracking issues.

4. Mobile Applications

Much of the paper that is used in offices is for photocopies. While email, shared network drives, and cloud services, important documents can be easily shared without printing, but there are other materials that need to be disseminated aren’t available electronically. Mobile applications can take away the need to scan and copy documents like applications, notes, and receipts.

Using your devices camera, and an app equipped with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software, you can easily scan and store documents electronically, and send them to others without making copies. Some of the most popular mobile apps include Google Drive, Cam Scanner, and Scannable by Evernote.

5. Digital Copiers

While it is possible to have a completely paperless office, many businesses still have to produce some paper documents. A digital copier connected to your office network can help you reduce paper usage and storage space. Many copiers function as printers and scanners, allowing you to create digital files of important documents that you can automatically call up right from the copier itself. This eliminates the need to print a document before bringing it to the copier, saving a significant amount of paper every year.

For small to medium-size businesses, the Brother MFC-8510DN is a popular digital copier and offers the ability to print from your smartphone through a variety of apps like Google Cloud Print and Brother’s own app. For larger companies that might need to crank out a ton of copies at once, Xerox’s WorkCentre 5325 is a perfect option.

Going paperless is a major undertaking for many businesses, one that requires a complete change of both mindset and behaviors from everyone in the organization. However, with these tools and a commitment to not using paper, it is a very achievable goal.

Tom Parillo

Tom Parillo

I am interested in all things technology, especially automation, robotics and tech that helps change how society will live in the future.