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The advent of the paperless office

The advent of the paperless office
(Image credit: Pixabay)

Managing important paper documents has always been inefficient - from the days of ink smudges on government bills, to a twentieth century world where sales contracts could require signatures from executives in multiple different geographies at a moment’s notice.

Today, Forrester Research estimates that companies still lose between 11-25% of revenues due to inefficient document management. That’s a lot of money to be losing at the best of times, but it’s a potentially devastating amount in the post-pandemic economy that we now find ourselves in.

COVID-19 and the global necessity of working from home has been a catalyst for businesses to move towards adopting digital technologies. This is ushering in a new era of distributed work, which I believe will finally automate workflows and herald the age of the paperless office.

Signing documents is more important than we thought

When we all worked in offices with printing capabilities and proximity to colleagues, many people didn’t think twice about managing paper document transactions (apart from those shocked at the waste paper piling up in the recycling bin!). Some companies were starting to see the value in digitizing processes like CRM and trialing online collaboration tools, but many still saw the ability to sign documents online as a low priority.

In this time where remote work is a necessity, signing documents has become a major pain and friction point on the path to generating revenue - as employees realize that signing new sales contracts, for example, is central to keeping their business on track. The process of signing sheets of paper is manual, slow and prone to errors. And it’s not just a problem uniquely experienced in working environments. Where filing mortgage papers might have felt routine before the pandemic, a young couple’s ability to safely buy their first property could now depend on their access to electronic signature.

The distributed world of work needs seamless processes

Everyone is talking about, and analysing, what a post-pandemic world will look like, with some suggesting that it could spell the end of globalisation as we know it. But while we might see a drop in international travel, for example, the workplace is likely to become more global, more distributed and less restricted by borders than ever before. We’re already seeing demand for remote working sky-rocketing globally, with LinkedIn recently revealing that searches using the filter preference ‘remote’ and key words such as ‘working from home’ has increased by 60 per cent since March.

Embracing distributed work means hiring people based on their skills rather than their location - so we’ll see many more teams working together across borders, languages and timezones. This adds an extra layer of complexity to traditional processes; we need to get ahead of these changes or risk losing precious resources such as time and money to outdated processes that aren’t designed for international collaboration.

Luckily, this is an easy problem to solve

eSign software makes the process of managing documents easier, faster, and (in the current situation) safer. In addition to having more reliable and faster signing of important contracts, an average organisation can save around 48 trees per year by going paperless. With employees in non-essential services unlikely to return to workplaces in the immediate future, businesses will have no choice but to invest in the digital tools to serve a distributed business model.

I predict that this will ultimately contribute to the advent of the fully ‘paperless’ workplace… And what’s exciting is that we’re already starting to see the proof. In March and April of this year, three times as many signature requests were made across HelloSign’s products as in the previous two months. And we’re constantly identifying new ways to help facilitate this change. For example, we recently launched HelloSign in localized languages across Europe and Asia, and strengthened our customer services in the region.

The ‘new normal’

Before the pandemic struck, only 30% of all documents created globally were signed online. Worse still, an average office worker in the UK uses 10,000 sheets of A4 a year. We shouldn’t be living in a time where document processing is costing businesses in revenue; instead, we should be looking for tools that will accelerate time to revenue.

For companies adapting to the ‘new normal’ in a post-COVIDworld, digitization of processes like document transaction management could be the difference between failure and survival.

  • Whitney Bouck - COO at HelloSign (a Dropbox company).