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The Still-Not-Here-Yet Paperless Office Going paperless is an investment that has proven its worth.

By Ben Zimmer Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Earlier this month, the White House released a report showing the negative impact global warming has on our overall health. The report details how climate change affects human health and can impact our future, but the question remains: What can we do about it? In the face of an overwhelming task, there is one simple thing all organizations can do to embrace environmental stewardship: go paperless.

In spite of our increasingly digital world, paper still plays a massive role in our lives; and it continues to have a huge environmental impact. The U.S., with less than 5 percent of the world's population, consumes more than 30 percent of the world's paper. Reducing the amount of paper we use reduces greenhouse gases and conserves natural resources, but it can also reduce business costs. The U.S. spends approximately $460 billion in salaries just to manage paper-driven information overload, and reports that the cost of using paper in your office runs from 13 to 31 times the cost of actually purchasing the paper. That's not including overhead costs for storage space files spanning years of business transactions or the time spent performing tasks that could be simplified or eliminated along with the paper. These numbers are pretty hard to ignore.

Related: Boost Productivity With These 4 Tips for a Paperless Workplace

It may be tempting to think of the paperless office as a failed pipe dream left over from the "90s. Despite the strides our society has made in reducing paper waste (no more fax machines), many industries have yet to embrace the power of paperless. Advances in technology have allowed us to streamline and "go paperless" in real or meaningful ways. But the last time you visited your doctor, you likely saw those familiar walls of files behind the reception desk. You may have even completed your medical history form with pen, paper, and clipboard. Law offices and courts still rely largely on paper forms stacked on desks, archived in rooms full of file cabinets and dragged on carts to and from court by hapless paralegals. Evaluate your own office. How many bills still arrive regularly via postman? Would your team be able to operate without your copy machine and your monthly paper order? The EPA reports that the average office uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year. Despite the rapid and worldwide availability and adoption of technology, we just can't seem to let go of paper.

Related: Going Paperless Is Still in the Future at Many Businesses

There are some common misperceptions surrounding the idea of a paperless office that serve to overwhelm and discourage many businesses from taking on the task. Many worry that customers and employees won't really embrace paperless, that going paperless means all customers must use paperless methods, or that it's too costly or time and resource consuming to undertake the transition. Going paperless is an endeavor that requires some commitment, but as the numbers -- and our customers' experiences -- show, the benefits outweigh the costs every time.

In the rental and housing industry, property management staffs are still spending countless hours per year processing paper rent checks. And it's not because renters prefer to pay by check. According to a survey by the National Multihousing Council, 79 percent of renters preferred to pay rent online or via smartphone, but Entrata's own data showed only 32 percent of residents Entrata served were taking advantage of paperless, online payment options.

Since it was clear renters were clamoring for an easier way to pay online, we created an improved payment solution that would save time and costs for staff and be better utilized by residents. We facilitated conversations with the most successful paperless payment adopters and were able to uncover several consistent practices to boost online payments. The key was in keeping the technology simple, designed by a UX team and not by engineers, and providing apartment community staff with adequate training and marketing tools to encourage new and existing residents to begin paying online.

Related: 7 Clean-Tech Companies That Solve More Than Environmental Problems

Since the launch of Entrata's paperless program in April 2014, communities across our 3 million-unit portfolio have seen an average of more than 80 percent online payment adoption. And, earlier this year we moved nearly a billion dollars in electronic rent payments in a single day, beating the previous record from May 2014 by 24 percent. Plenty of benefits accompany this exponential growth. Companies using the technology have spent an average of 65 percent less time processing rent and have seen a 50 percent decrease in rent delinquencies on average.

The idea of going paperless may seem like a cliché in 2016, but it's never cliché to reduce business costs, increase customer satisfaction and help the environment. Whether it's a mobile app, a robust Web platform, a cloud storage option or other technology tools you can implement to cancel your company's monthly paper order, paperless is an investment that has proven its worth.

Ben Zimmer

Co-Founder and President of Entrata

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