You’ve realized that paperless meetings are faster, safer and greener. You’re ready to take the plunge. But where do you begin? Experienced pros recommend the following five steps to make a lasting paperless transition.

  1. Plan the transition.

Before going shopping for software and laptops, map out the road ahead. Will your organization use paper as a backup for laggards? If so, will that arrangement last for a set time only? Or will you require everybody to make an abrupt change?

The plan must also strategize how to get buy-in from all of the meeting attendees. Consider who resists the change and think about what would address their concerns. Are they afraid of looking stupid if they don’t know how to use the technology? Do they simply not like change? Brainstorm ways to meet them where they live so the transition does not leave them feeling left out in the cold.

  1. Choose software carefully.

Without some research on your part, you may end up with software that lacks features you will wish you had. What would you do if you invested in a software system and then found that it did not provide the maximum protection for your data? Or if it became a dumping ground for disorganized information through which nobody could navigate? Would you double your cost by starting over to get what you really needed?

Meeting management software needs three central features to prevent costly buyer’s remorse:

  • It takes security as seriously as you do. When you put your meeting documents online, are they easy to find by anyone who knows how to use the internet? Are they on “the cloud”? The highest standard of best practice is to keep them stored on a private, cloud-based server with full 256-bit encryption. Many software providers leave your data unencrypted or provide less robust 128-bit encryption. If you use ordinary file-sharing sites to post documents (e.g., Google Docs), most of them keep your materials on the public cloud, where they are easily penetrated by bad actors.
  • It makes materials searchable. Because you will no longer have to consider the cost of copying and postage, you will be able to create board packets with far more reading material. Your portal should provide an archive with free unlimited storage of past meeting minutes, historical documents, relevant legislation and media reports. When a reader wants to dig deeper on a topic, she has extensive background material at her fingertips. Surely, more information is better than less. The problem is that the reader might have no way to find what he needs among all those pages: It becomes the digital equivalent of a hoarder’s closet. The best software stores your documents in a fully searchable archive. With a meta-search, typing a simple keyword finds every incidence of that term across an unlimited number of files in any format.
  • It keeps confidential material segregated from other materials. Boards see highly sensitive information that many shady characters would like to get their hands on.

Can you be sure that those documents will stay safely under lock and key? Software with role-based authorization eliminates human error by making different versions of documents accessible to different audiences. When a designated “executive” clicks on an icon for a document, she gets a detailed version. When a member in the role of “public” clicks on the same icon, he sees a scrubbed version – every single time.

  1. Ask for help.

It takes time to learn to leverage every tool now available to the board. You may also encounter technical emergencies: Something doesn’t connect or a new message appears that confuses users. When that happens, you need emergency roadside assistance.

When you call for help, though, what will you find on the other end of the phone? An answering machine? A message directing you to call during office hours instead?

Not all software comes with knowledgeable, personable customer service at a moment’s notice. BoardDocs leads the industry with award-winning responsiveness 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If nobody picks up when you call, someone well trained will call you back within just five minutes.

  1. Train people.

Soon your board will be reading archived documents online, marking agendas with virtual post-it notes to guide them through meetings and making synchronized group edits to documents. First, they will need up-front training, as will their successors. Make sure you select a software company dedicated to continuous training. BoardDocs provides copious webinars, videos and support for any training needs that may arise.

  1. Be prepared.

Whereas you once needed endless hours assembling and mailing bulky board packets, you now need only minutes to set the scene for the meeting itself – but neglecting the preparation is not an option. Paperless meetings need enough outlets for the number of users who may need them, backup charging cables and power adaptors. Early the day of the meeting, you also must check that the meeting room has working Wi-Fi.

Paperless meetings are well within your reach. Don’t take a smooth transition for granted, though. If you look before you leap, you will create the scaffolding for years of paperless meetings that transform the way you do business.