10 Smart Reasons Why You Should Use Digital Forms

I tend to have a notebook, piece of paper, or pen ready to jot down a note in an instant. I find it satisfying to write, sketch, and organize my thoughts on paper.

However, there are many aspects of my life and my job that are not improved by using paper and pen.

When I’m taking notes in a meeting that need to be shared with a group at-large or I’m organizing a project, I need to have an electronic version to keep everything well-documented. Whether it’s collecting data at an event, gathering answers that need be shared with multiple constituents, or budgeting finances, digital tools provide the framework for reliability and accuracy in my work.

Do you need digital forms and processes? Simply put: Yes.

There are collaboration tools and software out there that are built to solve your exact problem. More importantly, you don’t have to rely on homegrown software that can only be fixed by your IT staff, who are already busy.

Here are 10 reasons why transitioning to digital forms will make your work life a lot easier:

1. Drive better decision-making with real-time analytics

Take the guesswork out of understanding how your department or office is really performing. Which students aren’t you engaging with right now? Could you be budgeting your time, resources, and money better with specific student organizations or support services?

Answering these questions in the momentand not a month or year from now — during an office assessment is not only key to retaining students, but to helping your team obtain feedback immediately and become the most efficient they can be.

2. Implement a cost-savings mindset

New software can seem like a big up-front investment, it’s true. The time and money involved can be overwhelming, but the investment in your future time is worth it.

What is the cost associated with filing — and then finding — paper documents? It’s an invisible cost that we don’t see day-to-day, and it adds up over time.

Take this example: One employee spends 1 hour each day on a paper process, whether it be filling out forms, collecting them, or entering data manually, and they’re being paid $20 per hour. The employee is wasting roughly 250 hours each year, and your organization is spending anywhere from $5,000 – $6,000 annually just on the labor cost of paper forms alone. Now imagine what the cost would be for a larger team.

Software brings your team incredible value professionally, and it ends up saving you money in the long run.

3. Create clarity and inclusivity through well-organized processes

Paper forms can be hard to fill out, but it’s even harder to read messy handwriting. And when it comes time to organize paper forms, 7.5% of documents printed are lost and 3.5% of documents are misfiled.

Additionally, paper forms aren’t 100% accessible to the blind and visually impaired, or those with physical disabilities. Many digital technologies are required to be accessible to people with varying ability levels, and, according to the World Health Organization, 1 in 7 people have disabilities worldwide, so it benefits everyone when you consider each end-user, or person who fills out a form.

4. Save time, time, and more time

At some point, your paper forms will need to be compiled into a larger chart, report, or analysis that will simply need to be organized in a software or excel spreadsheet. How much time do you really spend on transferring information from paper to digital each week?

Here’s an experiment for you: Track how much time you and your team, together, spend time on e-mail, paper forms, and processes throughout the day. Could your team’s workload be lessened if you were using an intuitive software?

If you spend 2 hours a day managing email communication, that’s 10 hours a week — and that’s only if you’re checking email during the weekdays. That’s 40 hours each month spent checking emails.

One whole week out of your month is spent solely managing your email.

Realistically, when I was in a student affairs position, I was spending most of my “down time” responding to email, which probably equated to much more than 2 hours per day. Catch my drift?

5. Minimize risk

Moving to a digital data collection does not have to be risky. Digital forms are more safe than a filing cabinet (and, if there’s a fire, won’t go up in flames). The Paperless Project estimates that “more than 70 percent of today’s businesses would fail within three weeks if they suffered a catastrophic loss of paper-based records due to fire or flood.”

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Cloud storage is a great way to preserve data, even if your laptop or computer itself is compromised.

6. Incorporate conditional logic

Students no longer have to go around and receive multiple signatures for important documents, and staff don’t have to wait a week to receive an important document in their mailbox. With custom approval workflows, all parts of a process can be digitized: from signatures, to contracts, and even the long-standing carbon copy.

Every in-person paper process can be replaced with an automated process. Instead of students or colleagues darting back and forth to multiple offices throughout the day, every form can be approved by the right person and updated within seconds, all from the comfort of…anywhere.

7. Increase student engagement and responses

Generation Z students are filling out forms on-the-go via mobile, or even during class on their laptop. If we’re forcing students to physically enter an office to pick up a paper form, we’re already doing a disservice to their lifestyle. It can be tough for them to make time to get to your office while managing life responsibilities, like holding multiple jobs, traveling off and on-campus, and attending classes.

Digital forms can integrate with student organizations, which means that you can directly see which students are attending events, filling out forms, and providing feedback. Maybe you’re unintentionally missing an entire group of students, but you may never know without seeing the hard numbers.

8. Centralize processes and workflows

Any time a paper form needs to be changed, it’s a waste of a lot of paper. Getting documents into different stakeholders’ hands for review takes a lot of time.

And have you ever dealt with the stress of understanding someone else’s filing system after they’ve left an organization? If those documents are stored on the cloud, they’re easily found through search functions, so information is never lost.

Digital forms are mobile-optimized, updated in real time, and accessible by multiple parties, eliminating unnecessary meetings and emails.

9. Build sustainable practices

Did you know that we have cut down about 2.47 million trees every day to produce paper since 2014? That’s roughly 900 million trees per year. It’s a pretty terrifying statistic.

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One of the top reasons (beyond saving the planet) that student affairs departments decide to go green is to save time and money that go towards things like purchasing paper paper, ink, and the upkeep with fixing printers.

10. Share unique and embeddable form URLs

Being able to embed URLs in an e-mail, on a website, or easily share links with students and colleagues is incredibly helpful.

Because forms can be filled out on-the-go, you can have data in the palm of your hand in a matter of seconds. With Presence forms specifically, students can fill out forms without ever having to log in, or they can use their institutional account to verify their participation in a form or survey. By removing the additional login step, you remove one barrier toward engaging students effectively.

Go Paperless With Presence

If you’re still using paper forms, really ask yourself: Why?

Start looking at all of the processes in your office. You can probably automate most, if not all of them.

While many institutions try to create digital forms in-house, they often overlook the amount of time it takes to create software from the ground up. Although it may seem like a cost-benefit to your team, the long-term goals could be misplaced without proper resources.

Software companies who create forms, on the other hand, specialize in staying up-to-date with current software specifications around accessibility, 24/7 customer support, and focus on creating top features to stay ahead of the industry.

Invest in a tool or software that will stay up-to-date as students come and go from campus.

Presence is a software designed to help student affairs professionals take your paper processes and go paperless. Best of all, it integrates with campus events, making your process from start to finish extremely intuitive and streamlined.

Drag and drop with ease. Share with coworkers and students. Start collecting insights and save time. Schedule a free demo with a member of our team to see all that digital forms offer. You focus on engaging your students, and we’ll take care of the rest.

Kayley Robsham

About the author: Kayley Robsham is the former Community Engagement Manager at Presence, the complete student engagement platform. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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