Record Retention Best Practices: 5 Things to Consider for Paper Documents

Compliance officers, information managers, records mangers, legal departments, and librarians are just a few examples of positions that have completely different roles and things that keep them up at night, but one thing in common: they are in charge of managing the organization’s records. Even though majority of company communication is done digitally, organizations still have a significant amount of paper documents which can pose compliance, legal and cost ramifications.

Creating a plan for how to manage your paper records, whether they are active documents or stored for archival or other purposes, should be included in your document management strategy.

Best Practices for Managing Your Paper Records

Before diving into creating or updating your policy, take a minute to consider the following questions to help get you started:

1. Do you have your house in order?

Before you dive into scanning every single paper document, first you must understand your company’s long term goals when it comes to document retention, storage and compliance. This will help you determine which records need to be digitalized, discarded, or kept in the original format. Also take into consideration how documents will be stored moving forward after the records are digitalized.

2. Is your retention policy up to date?

Communication between different departments is very important too. For example, Human Resources, finance, and legal will have a different set of responsibilities, they will likely not be on the same retention schedule and their respective records may require different levels of retrieval and/or storage.

Storing information that is outdated or otherwise not necessary is potentially a liability. A few hours of attorney’s time is money well spent so that you can have a solid retention schedule, destroy what you don’t need and improve storage costs and document retrieval/access. While you are at it, look at your e-records too. That bucket of records or information is growing at an even more rapid pace than paper.

3. Where are all your paper documents and how many boxes you are storing? Have you thought about budgeting for scanning or scoping paper scanning needs?

Once you have your objectives for the project and understand your goals, make sure you take the time to assess the costs associated with converting documents to the digital format. When creating a budget, make sure you have a thorough understanding of where your paper documents are currently located, and how many documents need to be converted to the digital format.

Road to better compliance and reduced legal risk is a process, not a project.

Start with the highest priority documents that need to be more easily accessible and plan from there. Scanning vendors are happy to access your current state and assist with the planning process. The best part is that initial scoping is almost always free of charge. Occasionally you might have to pay a few hours of consulting, but in exchange for a nominal charge you will receive valuable information about your records and a plan forward. Road to better compliance and reduced legal risk is a process, not a project.

4. What is the cost of storage and retrieval?

While the cost for digital storage can be significantly lower than keeping the hard copy documents, there is still a cost associated with storing your records electronically. Make sure to understand your options for storing and securing your digital data so you can make an informed decision about what is right for your organization.

Keep in mind that there is also a cost to retrieval of your documents, which can add on some additional costs.  By knowing what the process is for handling the retrieval process, you can anticipate and control the costs associated with it. If a legal department needs a box or boxes from storage, what is involved? What information needs to be accessed digitally? Are there any indexing requirements? Is there an internal resource chasing paper documents around the office? Or are your documents sitting in storage, and the storage company is charging for retrieval and delivery, then re-filing when done?

Knowing the necessary time to track down important documents and the cost associated with that process (people + (over)storage) will help you create an effective strategy for digitalizing records.

5. What are my next steps?

Once you have all of the necessary steps mapped out, and you have all the necessary information, the next step is to conduct a detailed document review of your paper documents. The goal of this is to categorize which documents need to be kept in the original format or shredded before the scanning phase. For example, you may want to start with HR records and sample those first. From there, you can focus on legal documents and other important files. If you aren’t thorough enough it can become costly if you scan unnecessary documents that have no obvious value.  Once the review is complete, to the extent that one is possible, further steps can be taken to digitize important paper documents and further improve compliance, reduce storage costs, reduce unnecessary overhead and retrieval fees etc.

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