Office communication may be primarily driven by electronic mail and instant messaging, but nearly every office still receives and processes a tremendous amount of paperwork. Indeed, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average office worker handles approximately 10,000 sheets of paper every year, or an average of about two pounds of paper and paperboard products each day. Better office mail-management procedures can go a long way toward ensuring a smooth flow of internal and external communication.
Designate Appropriate Staff
Even small businesses can benefit from designating one person to handle all incoming and outgoing mail to ensure that nothing gets lost or misdirected on its way to its destination. The larger the organization, the more staff members should be assigned to receive, collate, distribute, and collect all company mail and packages. With email becoming a more popular choice for communication and distribution of official documents, handling paper mail can be just a part of an employee's job description, depending on the volume of mail that goes through the usual corporate-communications channels. For commercial deliveries (e.g., UPS, FedEx, DHL), the receptionist is generally the best person to receive and sign for incoming packages because of her prime location. It's usually not a good idea to hand over all other mail-management duties to the receptionist, however, because that responsibility would often necessitate that she leave her desk unattended for long periods of time.
Create Mail-Distribution Flow Charts
Managers and employees responsible for mail distribution should collaborate on developing guidelines—using flow charts, checklists or whatever format your company is most comfortable with—that all employees, especially the staff who will oversee mail distribution and collection, will follow. It should take into consideration every step of mail collection: gathering the mail at the central collection center (a P.O. box, mail carrier, corporate post office, package delivery personnel or conventional mailbox); collating at a specific location in the office designated solely for mail sorting; distributing either to departmental or individual mailboxes or hand-delivering to each office; collecting outgoing mail and ensuring that all outgoing mail is appropriately addressed and stamped; and keeping the mail collection/sorting area neat and fully stocked.
Provide Necessary Supplies
Make sure that the mail collection/distribution station has all the supplies the staffer needs to do his job. If your company is large enough so that mail distribution is more efficiently done using a central location, erect a sturdy mail/literature organizer or mail sorter with plenty of cubbyholes for each department or staff member and clearly label each one. Departments will require larger cubbyholes than individuals, so give them plenty of space. Keep a well-stocked cabinet or desk with tape rolls and tape dispensers; packing material; envelopes; return labels in different sizes preprinted with your company's address; mailing labels in different sizes preprinted with some of your company's most common mail destinations; time and date stamps; a package scale; pens; markers; storage bins; and a small hand-truck or dolly. Don't forget to include an industrial-sized shredder and recycling bins. If your company goes through more mail than one person can shred or recycle, consider contracting with an outside document management/recycling company to handle the work for you.
Keep Track of All Incoming and Outgoing Mail
Create an electronic mail-management system to track all incoming and outgoing mail. If your business is just you and an assistant, you can skip this step, but if you oversee a large department or company with dozens of employees, create a system that will keep track of the dates that mail comes in and, if necessary, for whom. It's especially important to create these systems if your company receives a lot of sensitive legal documents and packages. Items get lost in even small offices more often than you'd think; it's best to avoid these frustrating situations by creating a basic Excel spreadsheet, for example, that shows when a package came in and when it was claimed by its recipient or representative.
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