Guide to going paperless for construction companies

February 6th 2020

How do you go paperless as a construction company? Paperwork is increasing in the construction faster and faster as the need to prove that you’re meeting compliance and regulations increases, as well as the need to deliver insight for project management. To combat the hassle of paper forms, you may have considered going paperless as an option because it saves time and money, as well as simplifying your data collection and improving the accuracy of your form data. Here is how you can make your construction company go paperless?

1. Go through and filter your old paper documents

The first step to going paperless is an audit of all your existing paper forms. What you identify is what paper documents are important to keep, and which paper documents can go to the shredder. A lot of construction companies have a habit of keeping every piece of paper, and while a lot of them are important, not all of them need to stay. 

Going through these paper forms is a time consuming process, but it drastically simplifies the conversion from paper to digital forms by eliminating the quantity of odd-ball one-off documents that aren’t necessary for you to keep.

2. Categorise your similar paper documents

The next step is grouping your paper documents. To start, you’ll want to separate your paper documents into these two broad categories:

  • Records: Such as receipts, letters, and invoices.
  • Forms: Such as inspections, checklists, or any data you get your team to fill out on-site.

You need to seperate your paper documents into these categories because you will likely handle transforming these categories into digital documents differently.

Next for your forms, you want to group them by similar form templates. A form template is the blank copy you use to fill out your paper forms, for example you may have a form template for a safety inspection or compliance checklist that you use to fill out data on-site.

3. Research software and technology solutions

Now it’s time to choose where you will store these documents digitally. To truly go paperless, you not only have a solution that can store the documents you have now, but future data or documents as well.

For storing data records these plenty of options depending on what kind of records you have to record. Xero is great for receipts and invoices, and you can use something like OneDrive or Google Drive to store your records too. The main thing to consider is how you receive these records, and how you can simplify or automate storing these records in your digital solution.

For recording and storing forms, you want a data collection solution, ideally one that works on mobile so it’s easy to record data on-site. There’s plenty of mobile data collection solutions, such as Locale Central, to pick the one that’s right for you consider what kind of data you need to record for your forms, and if the options you’re considering can store that data in the way you want it. Other features to consider is if it’s possible to export your data, and if you need a mobile data collection app that works offline.

To find the right option for recording and storing your forms, give a variety of data collection apps a try to see if it’s a right fit for your company. Most data collection apps offer a free trial of free version of the application, you can create an account with Locale Central for free.

4. Convert your paper form templates to digital

After picking a solution for recording and storing your forms, the next step is converting your paper form templates into digital ones. For every form template you want to store in the application and record, you will need to create a digital version of the form.

To simplify this process, I recommend taking a blank copy of each of the forms and for each field in the paper form writing down what sort of data you expect. For example, if you have a field for “Inspection Time” you might write down that you expect “the hour and date the inspection was done”. To make this easier, you may also want to collaborate with the rest of your team to see if they have any suggestions that could make it easier or more accurate to record the data.

The next step is taking each paper form template and creating a digital version of the form in your chosen application. The steps to carry that out will depend on the application you choose to use, but most have some sort of user guides or support team to help make the conversion from paper to digital easy.

5. Digitally record or store your old documents

After you’ve converted your paper templates into digital ones, the next step is recording or storing your old documents and data. For records, this will most likely involve scanning and uploading your paper records to where you have chosen to store those.

For paper form submissions you could either fill them out in your data collection app, or scan and store them with the rest; which option you choose would depend on how important it is to you to have your form records all in one place.

This step is a lot of admin work, and depending on the size of your company and how quickly you accumulate more paper documents, you may want to hold off on this step until after your team has already started recording data with your paperless solutions.

6. Create an implement an action & training plan for your team

Paperless solutions, and even technology in general for construction companies, only work if your entire team adopts it properly. To make it easier for your team to quickly understand and use the new technology you’re introducing, create an action & training plan that brings them up to speed.

The action plan should be a set of documented processes for your team to follow that records data in the way and place that you want it. For example, your action plan for documenting a project sign-off may look something like this:

  • Download the email as a PDF
  • Open OneDrive
  • Save your PDF copy of the email in our “Projects” folder, with the name of the company and date in the filename.

Creating these action plans gives your team a quick reference for carrying out these new processes, just make sure these action plans are easy to access.

Your training plan should include who needs to be taught what, and how you’re going to teach them to use this new technology. Typically, this will involve a 15-30 minute seminar where yourself or another expert in the new technology shows everyone how to record the data on their phone or any other steps they need to take in person, so the team can understand how it all works. 

As part of your training plan, I recommend also taking the time to install any applications you need on your mobile phones as a group, so that you can help each other find the right app, download it, and log in.

7. Schedule or begin the transition

After you’ve created your digital forms and set up your processes for recording data without the need for paper documents, the next step is to transition to your new way of doing things. For some companies, you can flip the switch immediately, for other companies that are slower moving this can take weeks to get everyone and everything ready to swap over. Create a plan that works best for your team, considering how you can make the transition as smooth as possible.

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