I visited a local fast-food outlet recently and could not help but notice the ‘Lever Arch’ binders in the small office behind the counter. A small two-drawer filing cabinet was also located below the desk.
It made me wonder – in this day and age when pretty much everyone has access to the internet including via their smart phone, why are there any paper records?
And, why is it so hard to ‘go digital’, when so many better and safer digital options are available?
Reasons for not going digital
People probably want to keep paper records in this digital age for a few fairly common reasons, all of which I’ve encountered over the years.
- Ease of access. It is much ‘easier’ to access a record if it’s in the folder with an obvious name, like ‘Rosters’.
- Speed of access. You can access a paper record in a couple of seconds. Accessing the same record on a computer means logging on then searching or navigating to where it is stored (potentially including on personal removable storage devices).
- Easier to archive. At the end of a given period the records can ‘simply’ be placed in an archive box and sent off for archiving.
- Keeping digital records is too ‘hard’.
- The company doesn’t offer any other option.
- ‘Computers are hard’.
- No obvious or pressing business reason to go digital.
- A preference for paper, or belief that paper records must be kept.
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Keeping paper records can be risky
Keeping paper records can be all well and good, unless this sort of thing happens:
If you keep paper records when better digital options exist, you are taking a calculated risk that doing so is ‘OK’.
Of course, not all businesses (a) store the only copy of their physical records locally or (b) burn down (including by being constructed in fire-prone areas). However, these are not the only risks. Other risks include:
- Flooding, from burst pipes, storms, or floodwaters. Water-damaged records are not easy to recover.
- Damage from falling objects, including trees or other objects falling from the sky.
- Theft or vandalism.
- Business closure and leaving records behind in the abandoned building.
- Any combination of the above.
What’s the back up for physical records?
What’s the back up for these paper records when disaster strikes?
Generally, unless the physical records have been transferred off-site, or they are the printed version of a digital original that can still be accessed, there isn’t one.
Is there a better, digital way?
Printed records are likely to fall into several broad categories, each of which can be managed in their own way. For example, in the business above:
- Policies and procedures, including ‘operating manuals’ and similar types of instructions are likely to be the printed version of digital originals. They can be made available on the company intranet or, if one doesn’t exist, sent via email.
- Financial records (e.g., invoices). Again, these are likely to be the printed version of a digital original. If they were in printed form when received (e.g., by mail, with a delivery), the company should (a) ask for digital copies to be sent by email, or (b) scan them and store them digitally.
- Rosters and general documents relating to groups of employees (as opposed to individual staff ‘files’). Rosters could still be printed for display purposes, but the original should be kept in digital form.
- Staff files. The format of these may depend on the organisation, but there should be no reason for ‘local’ staff files to be kept in an organisation that has a centralised HR system.
- Other types of business documents. If necessary, these could be scanned and kept in digital form.
And, of course, all of these could be kept in Office 365, including SharePoint for document storage and MS Teams for teams chat, including for front line workers.
Additional training and support may be required to help these areas ‘go digital’.