I don't need to sell you on the environmental impact of going paperless in your organization. You've heard it before. And yet, despite an altruistic desire to save the planet, only a very small percentage of the community association management industry has actually taken the plunge and gone paperless.
Going green isn't enough incentive to overcome the reasons that are holding you back from going paperless.
It is possible to go paperless without spending a lot of money to get started. And for every filing cabinet you don't fill, you are saving thousands per year on printing, copying and storage costs. According to The Gartner Group, a single 4-drawer filing cabinet costs $25,000 to fill, and $2,000 per year to maintain. That's a lot of dough for a lot of paper.
And saving money is a very good incentive to start your journey toward a paperless office now.
You don't have to go entirely paperless all at once. In fact, it will cost you a lot more for not that much more of a benefit if you do so. What you can do is set a cut off - a start date from which point you will begin your paperless journey. Keep the filing cabinets you have on hand. Let them expire gracefully. Every seven years you can get rid of the old documents that you are no longer required by the government to retain. As each year goes by, you will see a need for fewer and fewer filing cabinets as your documents are more and more accessible electronically.
Planning is Key
Electronic files do you no good if they are all stored on Mary's laptop. You will need to have a cloud storage or network server prepared to store all of your documents. You'll also need a shared organizational structure so those files are easy for everyone to access. In his class on going paperless at the CAMfire Conference, Mickey McGuire recommends creating a comprehensive folder structure (pictured, right) for each association you manage.
In addition to setting up a good structure for your new electronic files to go, you'll need to invest in a good scanner that your team can use to scan documents that they do not receive electronically. You should also make sure that key employees also have access to the full version of Adobe Acrobat. The free reader isn't enough, as they will need to be able to edit PDF documents so they can separate out single pages, fill in forms, convert paper forms to electronic, etc.
Another key element in this equation is a CAM software* that supports a paperless environment. You'll need to make sure that your CAM software stores copies of all documents it generates electronically.
It's important that compiled versions of the documents are stored so they are legally admissible in court, as opposed to a software that generates a document anew whenever you need it. For example, if you generated a statement for an owner today, the balance, history, etc would be accurate as of today's date. If you then made a journal entry for yesterday's date that affected that owner and printed the same letter again, it would show the new journal entry in the history, meaning it is not an exact (legal) copy of the letter that was originally provided to the owner.
(If you are a TOPS user, you're in luck - TOPS automatically stores a copy of every owner facing letter, statement and document it generates.)
Good to Haves
Ideally, you want to reduce not just the paper you are maintaining, but also what's going out and what's coming in to your office.
- For management, that means making sure you have an email address for as many of your homeowners as possible. Just by emailing violation letters instead of mailing them, you can save a bundle on postage and printing.
- For AP, that means signing up for electronic statements from all of your regular vendors, where possible.
- For AR, it means setting up an online payments solution for homeowners. It's also a good idea to invest in a web portal* that will provide owners with access to their balance and account information.
(*TOPS Portals gives you both the account access and online payments for all of your homeowners.)
Flipping the Switch
Once you've got all of the pieces in place, you come to the hardest part of the process - changing human behavior. It really can be hard to break lifelong habits of your employees (and yourself!) like printing out emails. The easiest way to break bad habits is to take away the toys. By this I mean, take away the printer.
Set a gatekeeper, a person in the office that will be the only one authorized to print, and make the rest of the team go through them if they want to print. Your team will discover very quickly how little they actually NEED to print, and how much was simply convenient.
See the Presentation
Going paperless is definitely doable in your organization. It takes some work and dedication, but the savings you make and the improved perception of your company by potential clients is well worth the effort.
Catch the full presentation from Mickey's CAMfire session on going paperless below:
*Image credit: Dave Snowden via Flickr