Whether it's a conscious decision or not, every business relies on forms in some way. Whether you're collecting information from potential customers, setting up meetings with clients, or paying employees, you're most likely using forms to complete some crucial processes for your business. Unfortunately for the planet, many businesses are still using paper for these forms.
But using this much paper isn't just bad for the environment, it can be detrimental for your business. That’s because your business relies on workflows to operate efficiently, and paper forms are slowing them down.
In this blog post, we'll be looking at some of the ways paper forms can slow your workflow to a crawl. Let's jump in.
To the uninitiated, the idea of a workflow can seem pretty abstract. You might even think it’s a concept that only applies to large, enterprise-sized businesses but that isn’t true. Workflows exist in businesses of every size. Here’s how Unito defines the workflow:
A map for getting routine work done in the fastest, most efficient, and most satisfying way possible.
By this definition, many of your business’ operations fall within a workflow. If you’re a service, everything from following up on a lead to giving your boss visibility on what you’re doing is a workflow. If you’re a retail business, just getting something on the shelf involves a workflow.
When you start thinking about individual actions as steps in a larger workflow, you can more easily find ways to improve them. That’s what workflow management is all about.
Now let’s get into how paper forms are affecting these all-important workflows.
Workflows are all about speed. Consider onboarding a new employee. Finding the right applicant already takes a huge amount of your time and resources. Once you’ve found the person you know is the perfect fit for your business, you want to get them on the job and crushing it as soon as possible.
Hiring someone can be a long process with multiple moving parts. Part of that process is giving your new hire access to all the documentation they need, from their contract to the legal documents they need to complete.
If any of those documents are only available in hard copy, you've just found the slowest part of your onboarding workflow. Imagine your new hire has to sign a contract and an NDA, and both need to be authorized by someone else in your business. How long do you think it'll take to get that form to where it needs to go — probably a file cabinet somewhere?
Compare that to using an electronic document that everyone can sign from their computer. How much easier is it to send the link to this document by email to everyone you need a signature from?
Here’s a hidden cost of paper forms you might not have considered; how much physical space they take up. If you’re a brick-and-mortar business, you’re probably using every single square inch of your location. You need room for your employees to work and a place to receive customers. If you’re in retail, your backstore is probably stuffed to the brim with inventory. And if you’re running an online store, well those paper forms are still stashed somewhere.
Because your workflow doesn’t just happen online, not having enough space to do what needs doing can really complicate things. If your employees need to cross your store to complete a task and they’re constantly knocking over crates full of hard copy documents — that they then need to clean up — your workflow is literally being blocked by paper forms.
One of the biggest culprits for this is paper invoices. In that small game store, we had to keep all the paper invoices we received and print out the few that were emailed to us because we did business with an accountant that required hard copies of invoices for their books. That’s why our invoices were literally kept in these big crates we had to lug around.
At Unito, we use digital tools for invoicing. All expenses are digitized and forwarded to our resident financial expert, who can then manage our books. We pride ourselves on being agile and flexible, and there’s nothing less agile than a row of filing cabinets.
One of the main flaws of a paper form is that it can only exist in one place. Even if you make fifteen copies of a form, those copies each only exist in one place at a time. Unfortunately, that’s a limit of the laws of physics, and there’s not much we can do about that.
But with a digital copy of that same form, it can be accessed by multiple people simultaneously, no matter where they are. If your company’s policies and guides are mainly available in a printed format, that’s the only way your employees can access it. But if they’re digital and live on a communal Google Drive or even Confluence, the team members who need access to them can easily get to it.
At Unito, these documents are all housed on a Google Drive that’s public for everyone in the company. Need a form from HR? Download it and fill it out from your desk without bothering anyone or needing to figure out the office printer. Need to read up on the vacation policy? We have a guide with all that information that anyone can access, at any time.
After all, no one is getting a form filled out just to have it get lost later or to spend days looking for it. Forms have to be where you need them when you need them. Making them digital streamlines your workflow.
Every paper form has an environmental cost. Not only that, they’re costing your business more money than they’re worth. Keeping workflows efficient means saving time, but also saving money.
How much are you paying to print off the forms you need on a daily basis? Have you factored in the cost of the printer itself, the paper, and the ink? What about filing? How much are spending on filing cabinets?
The monetary costs of paper forms don’t stop at the physical things you have to pay for in order to maintain them. Whenever you need to find a specific form in paper format, you need someone to go and find it. How much is your time worth? How much time do you spend looking for paper forms on a weekly basis?
Paper forms seem more convenient and appear less expensive. Switching to a digital form software like Paperform can seem like an expensive hassle, but when you add up all the hidden costs you’re paying, both in time and money, for printed forms, the value proposition becomes clear.
Knowing that paper forms are a problem is all well and good, but how do you actually make the switch? Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a digital solution for your online forms:
Read this comprehensive guide to compare the best form builders on the market in 2020.
There are very few instances where you absolutely need a hard copy of your forms. When you digitize your forms, you’re killing the slowest part of your workflow, and making sure your processes are transparent and accessible to anyone across your business. And Paperform makes this transition a breeze.
Nicholas Bouchard is a marketing copywriter at Unito, a workflow management solution that integrates work management tools like Jira, Trello, and Asana. He absolutely carries a copy of The Elements of Style with him everywhere he goes.
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