Is it possible to have a paperless office?

The introduction of the IBM PC in August 1981 promised a digital future.

One where paper would become a thing of the past.

After all, why bother printing anything when you can just store it on floppy disks?

These are floppy disks, by the way:

Source: Wikimedia

And when email rolled around in the 1990s, everyone was convinced that the postal service would up and die within months.

But the world we wound up with is far from paperless.

And the postal service obviously didn’t vanish overnight.

In fact, paper consumption is increasing every year, with worldwide consumption coming to around 412.88 million tons.

So is it actually possible to have a paper office, or is the paperless office a myth?

What’s holding up the paperless office?

There are a number of factors involved.

The first of these is just sheer wastefulness.

Like that in the United States alone, over $100 billion of paper is used each year.

100 million tons of paper is used each year in the United States alone.

200+ million tons is used by China and Japan.

Which is around 100 million tons of it.

And almost 50% of that paper winds up in recycling bins, because the forms printed on it became outdated.

Another important issue is the way some companies handle paper documents.

Like taking incoming mail, scanning it, binning the original and then putting the printed copies in storage.

And this happens in companies where a chief complaint shared by management is how much paper costs.

The same managers who’ll print out their emails for “safe keeping”.

We’ve all worked with that person – the one who tells everyone else to stop printing while they’re sitting on their laptop printing out personal emails and pictures of cats.

The legal stuff

Would you accept that the deeds to your home are stored safely in a “digital vault” by your bank.

Or would you insist on a printed copy for your own records?

Attorneys follow the basic principle of, “In in doubt, print it out”.

That’s because the world simply hasn’t reached a point where a scanned copy of a document is acceptable everywhere around the world.

Basically, companies can and do have a legal obligation to keep hard copies of certain documents.

But there is a slow shift to digital happening for most documents you might need for legal purposes.

Digital documents aren’t forever

A major selling point for digital storage is that you can’t crease it, tear it, smudge it, or spill water on it.

Unlike paper documents.

But the problem is that storing something in a digital format does not mean that it’s suddenly beyond harm.

Files get corrupted, hacked or simply lost when a laptop gets stolen.

Entire databases of information are compromised and leaked online – these usually contain personal information like your name, email address and password.

The United States had 1,200+ data breaches in 2018, with 446 million records exposed.

Source: Statista.com

Which you thought was safely stored on a server somewhere.

Heck, you’re even encouraged to print out your private key for most digital cryptocurrency wallets.

Something they call a “paper wallet”.

So it’s entirely understandable why a lot of people insist on keeping a hard, printed copy of certain documents.

How can you reduce paper waste in your home office?

The first thing is not to try to come up with some grand gesture to eradicate all paper from your working life.

It’s simply not practical.

Lots of small changes though can have a huge overall effect on the amount of paper you use.

So, instead of printing out the PDF document to make notes on it, scan it and then email it back, use some PDF annotation software instead.

This alone can save you unnecessarily printing out a document that you’re going to throw in the trash a few minutes later.

Use e-billing as much as possible – most small businesses will have several bills each month that they simply do not need paper copies of.

Use email more.

And what we mean by that is that a lot of people still think that an email isn’t a legally binding contract.

But it absolutely can be.

So you don’t eve necessarily need a paper copy for certain, non-critical types of contract.

Just check the legality of email as legal tended in whatever country you currently reside in.

And then finally you should use something like the Rocketbook.

This is a “traditional” notepad, but with a tap of your pen your documents get uploaded to your cloud storage service of choice.

Once done, you simply wipe the page clean and start a fresh set of notes.

Using this technology means you could potentially ditch those notepads that you have to buy each month.

The pros and cons of a paperless office

Pros

  • You’ll have to buy less paper, so you save money
  • Less storage space required for printed documents
  • You save money on consumables such as ink or toner
  • Documents can be indexed and searched quickly once in a document management system
  • Higher overall levels of security
  • Documents are highly transportable i.e. cloud-based
  • Your office will be tidier

Cons

  • Certain documents need to be printed for legal purposes
  • Storing documents in the cloud does not mean they are 100% safe from harm
  • There’s a kinaesthetic benefit to working with paper at times
  • The cost of setting up a high-end document management system can be prohibitive

Is a paperless office achievable?

A 100% paperless office is a nice idea, but it’s simply not pragmatic.

It’ll never happen because there will always be a need to print something out.

But modern document management systems, Intranets, digital projectors and online training systems can dramatically reduce paper waste.

And as we said above, a number of small gestures can have a huge impact.

So all you’re really looking to do is reduce the amount of paper you use.

Not 100% eliminate it.