Preserve in order to find, not storing for the sake of it . The premise is as simple as it is logical. It’s typical of one of the many infallible pieces of advice that mothers give, although, in general, children don’t appreciate it until they become independent. But their applications are very varied, and can even be extrapolated to the field of paperless business.
Indeed, the prevailing digitization in the paperless culture is helping to professionalize the art of storage, especially with regard to the paper that cannot be dispensed with. The reason is that there’s documentation which must inevitably exist for legal reasons. But this does not mean that it must not take a toll in relation to space, security or time.
Documentation to keep in a paperless company
So, where to start? These are some of the criteria that help us to discern what kind of documentation must be printed and, moreover, kept, even if the culture of our office is paperless.
- Above all others, legal contracts and documents concerning tax authorities stand out. It’s even possible to add the material corresponding to the activity of a regulatory body, since bureaucracy is almost always the last to abandon the analogical.
- It’s also recommended to retain documentation regarding third party requirements related to both the company and the customer.
- Thirdly, there is the historical and/or foundational documentation prior to the boom of office automation (saving documents and deeds for later access in the cloud is not always possible), and whose value gives added prestige to the company.
- And there’s no doubt that the accounting and registry books with invoices, receipts and supporting documents must always be at hand in case of any requirement that may arise, since the General Tax Law establishes the obligation to keep all the supporting documents related to our tax obligations.
To recap: commercial, labour, tax documentation… However, the custody periods for documentation vary depending on their characteristics. Thus, accounting documents must be kept for a period of six years. Tax documents, according to the General Tax Law, have a four-year statute of limitations period – except in the case of tax deductions and losses, for which the period is extended to 10 years. In the case of employment-related documents, a minimum of three years – with the exception of security-related documents, which must be kept for at least five years. There may even be documentation that is not related to these cases, which at the time was processed physically and must be preserved in its original format.
Once the documents to be physically preserved have been catalogued according to legal or tax criteria, the next filter is to locate and destroy redundant, obsolete or trivial (ROT) documents. As obvious as it may seem, it’s inevitable that employees store certain personal files in the corporate space or mismanage them, which contributes to an excess of data that hinders the workflow and slows down the operation of internal servers.
“Sometimes up to 30% of the paper that is stored in companies fits the ROT criteria: redundant, obsolete and trivial.”
Several studies, in fact, agree that no less than 30% of the unstructured data stored by a company is ROT, making it the biggest challenge in data management. Its detection and suppression are vital to reduce storage costs, both on internal servers and in the cloud. They become unnecessary obstacles that can make it difficult at any time to locate the file we’re looking for. That lost document for which, in this case, we will not be able to pull the wild card of the mother that ends up finding something the kids cannot.
Difference between pre-paperless and post-paperless
Therefore, during the conversion of an office into paperless there’ll be two types of documents to consider. The archived history, which is documentation that has to be kept and is already printed, is defined as pre-paperless. And the already reduced documentation that will be generated from the implementation of the paperless office is defined as post-paperless. And this can divided, in turn, into two types:
- Hot documentation, which includes the files that must be kept physically in the office as they are used repeatedly.
- And the cold documents, which are documents that can be stored outside the office in the warehouses of specialised companies.
From this point onwards, you must act without contemplation. If the document in question does not fit any of the above assumptions, you have to dispense with it. Discard it, put it aside, recycle it… eliminate it.
So much insistence may sound exaggerated, but it really is not. When doubt is given shelter, the enemy appears… The famous ‘just in case’ that causes unnecessary and outdated documentation to continue to pile up in various corners of the offices.
But, be careful, the screening is only the starting point. A large part of the benefits of paperless are due to the facilities offered by the digitalisation of documents and their subsequent storage.
Two processes that should be governed by rules common to the entire company and not to a single department, no matter how beneficial it may seem to a particular work group. Because when an employee prints or saves a document, that document is not for his or her exclusive use. Rather, that information becomes available to the entire company. And, as such, it must be properly catalogued and stored to facilitate access to it, even if the first impulse is to save it in a folder on our desk.
“The famous ‘just in case’ is conducive to further piling up unnecessary documentation.”
Main criteria to be observed in the paperless company
Defining what it corresponds to, respecting classification codes, differentiating by degree of importance and respecting storage dates are basic concepts to ensure good traceability regarding both physical and digital documentation. There’s no difference here. Any oversight can cause a document to become untraceable, which translates into the loss of valuable time or, even worse, economic damage.
Choosing the right taxonomy can even have a positive impact on year-end financial statements. Especially in companies with a larger number of employees and, therefore, a higher volume of documents that become obsolete relatively quickly.
The internalization of these habits in the company is, in turn, a key lever for paperlessness, because the more confidence the team has in digital archiving, the less paper will be printed out in order to be kept ‘just in case’. The squaring of the circle comes when irrelevant documents are recycled rather than simply destroyed —an added value of paperless that will result in the reduction of tree felling, water wastage and gas emissions needed to create paper from scratch.
If you want to read more about digital alternatives to reduce paper consumption in the office, click here.