THE MYTH OF THE PAPERLESS OFFICE
Heard the one about the paperless office? Didn’t think so. Despite its much-heralded arrival and the proliferation of mobile devices and online storage and services, businesses in the 21st century still have plenty of reasons to keep paper records.
INFORMATION YOU NEED TO KEEP
Business owners are required to store employee, financial and legal records, as well as a host of business information including policies and procedures. The government also suggests storing records of customers, any customer or business disputes, quotes, marketing materials and insurance policies – basically anything connected with running a modern organisation.
There are legal requirements for such records to be stored for certain periods. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) requires companies to keep records for seven years, while the Fair Work Ombudsman needs employee records kept for the same period.
CAN YOU REALLY GO PAPERLESS?
Paper or hardcopies are often the original copies of documents, which may be required if used as evidence in legal matters. Paper records can also support any electronic records if there is a dispute over the electronic version. However, electronic copies of records are now generally accepted by government departments such as ASIC and the ATO. Such records must be a “true and clear copy” of the original and be stored on a computer or other device that is backed up.
Electronic records provide the benefit of being easily searchable, as well as occupying less physical space than boxes of paper records. However, while paper records can decay over time and be susceptible to water damage, excessive sunlight and other threats, data stored on hard drives or USB devices is also vulnerable to corruption and can face privacy and security risks.
Think of it this way: we can still read the Magna Carta and the Gutenberg Bible – in fact, we can still read ancient Egyptian papyri – but it can be troublesome reading digital data that’s over 50 years old. Sometimes that’s due to the physical formats becoming obsolete and sometimes it’s due to the dreaded bit rot. Either way, it’s an illusion to believe that paper is perishable and electronic is eternal.
PRESERVING YOUR PAPER FILES
To preserve documents in paper form, the National Archives of Australia (NAA) recommends using archival paper, particularly for key records needing to be kept more than 30 years, or those subject to court action. But to be safe, and provide redundancy, you should also scan your documents to produce high-resolution digital files for preservation and access, particularly when multiple digital or hard files are required. In this regard, document scanners can be a useful tool in a digitised records management system.
Storage is another key consideration for paper documents, given the risk of fire, flood, theft and humidity damage. If your organisation, want to store paper documents, it’s best to keep them between 20°C and 24.4°C with a relative humidity of 35 to 55 percent, preferably offsite in a secured storage facility.
While electronic record keeping offers many benefits, paper is still very relevant in the digital age. Fortunately for modern businesses, technology has made keeping a paper trail easier than ever.