January 27, 2015

The Benefits of Your Town Office Going Paperless

A paperless town office can do a lot of good on a number of levels. Primarily, making the move to a paperless office means reducing a lot of excess waste; secondarily, it means turning your office into an exemplary modern working facility.

A paperless town office can do a lot of good on a number of levels. Primarily, making the move to a paperless office means reducing a lot of excess waste; secondarily, it means turning your office into an exemplary modern working facility. After all, why waste piles and piles of paper each week simply keeping things “traditional?” Going paperless is beneficial for everyone, not just the town board, but also your town residents. It is not at all difficult to pull off.

Going Paperless: The Modern Way

Changing your note-taking practices and agenda packet sharing methods to electronic, paperless activities is a process that depends heavily on your specific technology. Whereas the paperless office of 5-10 years ago would have needed to synchronize every file to a communal folder or hard drive (like a USB stick), today’s paperless town office can simply access the saved files through the cloud via mobile devices, tablets and laptops as needed. This not only saves reams and reams of paper, reduces the amount of toner cartridges you have to buy for the town laser printer, but also can save the time and hassle of having to collate, staple and pass out packet files in the meetings, especially if most of the paperwork will be trashed or recycled after the meeting ends. Therefore, the on-going costs of running the office will be diminished.Consider printing off your regular agenda packets before and after each meeting for all attendees. Where now you may go through a full ream of paper for each meeting, your future paperless office can share the same information through people's smart phones, tablets through cloud computing. Depending on your own office needs, computing the total amount of money saved will be unique, as there will be an initial up-front fee if your town provides for a Kindle reader or tablet device for each board member.Before deciding to change the entire office system to incorporate something like a Kindle reader, and Apple iPad, or a Samsung Galaxy table, it’s important to ascertain which are the most embraced and functional technologies currently used by staff. While most mobile devices, including those listed above, can handle receiving a PDF attachment via email or via a link on a web site, the application called Dropbox (www.dropbox.com) is probably one of the best file-sharing services for easy of use. Dropbox offers a free version that has 2GB of space. This is probably going to be sufficient amount of disk space for most town offices.

The Costs of Office Re-Systemization

Another important consideration for your choice of staff devices is cost; specifically, can staff members who prefer to use their current devices choose to do so? If not, are devices and applicable software to be supplied by the town office? Devices cost between $99 and $299 per piece, while most necessary software applications, like Dropbox, will be free. Warranty coverage can help with repairs and replacements, but a Samsung, Kindle Reader or iPad will eventually need to be replaced at cost over the years, but given that the device really only needs to access and display PDF files, any of the devices should last more than four years. Also, consider whether your office will pay to connect each device to the internet or not. It is common for a municipal office to provide a public wifi signal, which would allow the packet files to be available for download during the day of the meeting, without requiring board members or residents to remember to download them from home prior to the meeting.

Personal Use Policies

The modern paperless town office has eliminated stacks of ubiquitous paper, but brought in another, unexpected guest: policies for use of personal devices. As paper goes away and more mobile-connected devices come in, office staff will need to observe regulations about when and where they can check their personal email accounts, social networking accounts and perform quick personal tasks online. Will the town specifically have a policy that prevents a board member from using Facebook or from playing the CandyCrush game on a town-supplied tablet? Will the town policy allow for a personal email account to be added to the device for checking and sending emails? And if so, is the device available to have its contents (emails, attachments, apps) open for open records law? These are questions that need to be addressed internally or with the advice of your town attorney.The transition won’t be as difficult as you may think, because so much of the technology you need to go paperless is already in use. Training everyone to be on the same virtual page will be a digital piece of cake.Image: Helloolly