Paper Records Management - Best Practices & Hacks for 2017

Scott Hambrick
Posted by Scott Hambrick

Welcome to the digital age. With more and more firms moving to digital solutions for their documents, many companies are stuck in “limbo” between digital records and paper documents. This can make managing your paper documents a logistical nightmare.

Consider the journey a single piece of paper makes around your office. Perhaps it arrives in the mail, is sorted by a receptionist, takes an elevator trip to accounts payable, lingers on a desk for a couple days, is opened, read, scanned in, and then makes a trip downstairs. Then, it might end up in an overflowing filing cabinet packed with similar documents. Or, if your company is short on filing space, it may end up in a shoebox. Then the document sits and waits to be covered by several other related and coffee-stained documents until you need to call it up for review two years later.Paper records management best practices

Sound familiar? Taking your paper-centric office into the digital age may seem overwhelming. It’s a process which may take your company weeks or months to implement. So, what document management steps can you take in the short-term to increase reliability, productivity, and profit? Here are 11 paper records management hacks you can implement this year: 

1. Assign a “Gatekeeper” to Control Your Records

Do you know the exact location of an invoice from 2015? What about a contract record from last week?

Assigning a gatekeeper – or document controller – is essential to creating an organized, efficient, and compliant records management system. The gatekeeper will have many responsibilities as it relates to your document management process. Here are a few highlights of this role:

  • Accountability: Everyone who generates or handles a document is held accountable by the gatekeeper. This decreases instances of misplaced or mishandled records.
  • Training: This specialist will develop and informally train all your company’s employees on the proper archiving, indexing, and retrieval procedures.
  • Pinpoint Retrieval: The document controller will act as liaison with your storage vendor and will be able to pinpoint exactly where a document is at any given time. This eliminates wasted time searching for documents that could be in data storage, in the file room, or on the CFO’s desk.
  • Records Retention Budget: The document controller will be responsible for renting file room floor space and delivery costs. In addition to box, file folder, storage, and other expenses related to records budgeting. They will also approve delivery and rush delivery expenses.

With just a few hours of monthly maintenance, the document controller can improve productivity, profitability, and save your company hours of manpower. Not to mention, the controller can swiftly address compliance and audit requests.

2. Choose the Correct Box – It Makes a Difference

Retaining records is not just a matter of storage. It’s also about security, efficiency, and ease of retrieval. If your filing room is a jumble of mismatched monitor boxes, copy paper boxes, shoeboxes, and assorted envelopes, you could be looking at a compliance and auditing nightmare.

Selecting the correct box is crucial to your records management success. A box that is too small or too large can crush and deform your documents. And you may be tempted to add inappropriate files to larger boxes to save space. This makes retrieval inefficient and time-consuming.

What are the qualities of a good records box? The appropriate box will exactly fit the records being stored. Standard boxes come in legal bankers, letter bankers, letter/legal, check bankers, and other sizes. Choose a box that fits the needs of the contents. A good records box should not be too heavy when full, and should be able to successfully store between 35 – 75lbs of paper weight.

Try not to choose boxes with glued seams. These can degrade over time and tend to burst as they age. Instead, look for one-piece boxes with a strong lid integrated into the structure. Be sure the box is labeled both on the side facing the center of the room, and on the lid as well for ease of access.

3. Create a Schedule of Regular Deliveries

Your document controller should create a schedule of internal and external record deliveries. Choose a day of the week that fits the structure and schedule of your organization for recurring deliveries. You may need to choose a daily or twice-daily service, depending on your business needs. Then, create and circulate a memo that lets everyone in the office know when routine document delivery and or pickup is.

This way, your document controller has full authority over whether rush deliveries are appropriate. This can cut express expenses drastically while holding employees accountable.

4. Find out How Much Your Storage Space Costs

How many square feet is your file room, warehouse, or storeroom? How much per square foot does your storage space cost annually? What are the costs after you include utilities, taxes, insurances, labor, and overhead?

A very modest 15X20 foot file room can cost as much as $6,000 in rent alone, never mind additional expenses. Choosing the right location can help you make productive and profitable decisions about your company’s record retention.

A records storage facility can store the contents of a file room for as little as $100 per month. Making a small change in location can seriously impact your company’s bottom line.

5. Get Rid of Documents When Appropriate

Speaking of overhead costs, filing and pulling files can be a labor-intensive activity. To minimize overhead costs of your storage, schedule regular purging of documents as soon as they are eligible to be purged. Removing less active files quickly makes it easier to find misfiles that may arise. You can purge documents for storage in an offsite data storage facility and organize the contents by year.

Once the inactive files are out of your scope of work, your daily filing productivity will markedly increase. This also helps to prevent compliance issues with unauthorized viewing of files.

6. Limit Access to Your Records

Not everyone should have access to every document. In fact, many compliance regulations mandate this. Use your document controller to limit exposure to potential liabilities. The controller will know your office’s policies and maintain a chain of custody for each document. This increases accountability among end users and makes it much easier to deal with breaches in confidentiality and privacy.

Moving documents off site can also be an enormous boost to security. Any facility that is off-site ca be an enormous boost to security. And your clients can rest assured that their confidential information is supervised at all times under lock and key.

7. Establish a Retention Schedule and Procedure

To be safe, most documents end up being kept for ten years. After ten years, the person who generated the document is likely long gone, and the risk involved in destroying the record too early is decreased.

Scheduling the destruction of important documents doesn’t take a great deal of time when the document is created, or being filed. A good retention schedule will describe the document, when it was created, when it should be destroyed, and who should sign off on the destruction when its retention life comes to an end. Not sure where to start? Here is a recommended document destruction procedure:

A Suggested Document Destruction Procedure

  1. The document type must be determined. Is the document an invoice, an HR file, an old lease, or a stock certificate? This is the most important factor; an expense report does not need to be kept as long as a lease contract or workers compensation claim.
  2. Reference your company retention schedule. (Risk management or your attorney will help prepare this.) The retention schedule will let you determine the destruction date based on the document type.
  3. When the destruction date nears, request the responsible parties to sign off on the destruction of the document. This “signing-off” is necessary because pending litigation, billing disputes or other circumstances can lengthen the useful life of the document. Only the “responsible party” would have this info.

After everything checks out, give Data Storage written orders to destroy the documents, and request a certificate of destruction upon completion of the work.

8. Automate Destruction of Documents

After a retention schedule and destruction procedure is available, you can automate the execution of your destruction procedure. Once a month, quarter, or year, print a report listing all the documents ready for retention review. Then, execute the destruction procedure at that time. Destruction should be scheduled for the same time or times each year and carried out faithfully. Delaying this process can result in excess storage expenses.

9. Refile, or Don’t Refile

Filing archives can present a huge problem. If you are only copying a record, it should properly be refiled. If you add to a file, or use it in the course of ongoing work, you should revisit the destruction date and find a new home for that record. Here are a couple of examples.

Example 1: A doctor’s office requests an inactive record to fill a patient’s request for information. The staff locates the file, makes a copy and now needs to decide where to put it. Because they haven’t added anything to the document, they should refile the document in the original box. This way they save shelf space, and eliminate the possibility of keeping the duplicate file years longer than intended.

Example 2: CorpCo. Inc. requested a file on a terminated employee who is suing for wrongful termination. The attorney copied the entire file. Where should she put it? If they send the file back to storage, there is a good chance the original document will be slated for destruction. The legal action this document is involved in should change the document’s destruction date. It should be kept with files of a similar lifespan, ideally with files from the same lawsuit.

10. Do Not Store Records in Self Storage

Self-storage facilities can seem a convenient and inexpensive way to store your records. But they are not ideal. Self-storage companies often cannot prevent the storage of gasoline, paint, propane or other hazardous and flammable materials in the same building as your records.

Termites, rodents, and inclement weather can also damage your self-storage documents.

In order to store efficiently, appropriate shelving is crucial. The cost of shelving, labor to erect the shelves, and labor to drive to and from your office to access storage can make the cost difference irrelevant.

Storing your records with a dedicated storage center makes the most sense from a cost and safety perspective. A facility like Data Storage has round the clock staff available to answer questions, provide advice, pull files, fax information, merge and purge files. They can also shred documents, pick up or deliver records, and sweep the floor. You can’t get that with a self-storage facility.

Paper records are economical and efficient means of storing information. Careful management and implementation of the above ideas will help to ensure that your records management functions are productive and cost effective for years to come.

11. Ask for Help When You Don't Have the Staff or Expertise

Companies like ours exist for a reason: Sometimes it makes sense to outsource the task of records storage and management because it's cheaper, easier, faster or more secure. Feel free to contact me anytime if you have a quetion or would like some help. 

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