The Paperless Office: Will It Ever Become a Reality?

The paperless office has been prophetised for decades. The idea is that one day, technological advancements will make paper obsolete in the workplace.

But despite endless predictions that we would all be living an entirely paperless existence by now, as well as impressive technological advancements over the years, paper has proved to be surprisingly stubborn.

So will the paperless office ever become a reality?

The Growth of Screens

Screens play an increasingly important role in our lives. Ever since the now ever-present smartphones made an appearance, we have been inseparable from screens. Tablets, televisions, touch-screen kiosks in stores and restaurants, digital signage – we are surrounded by screens.

And advances continue to be made all the time. Screens are getting better, brighter, clearer – and more like paper. We also have e-books and e-ink that recreate the experience of reading on paper.


Advantages of the Paperless Office

  • Environmental benefits: many proponents of the paperless office point to the environmental benefits of reducing our reliance on paper. If we use less paper, we in turn cut down fewer trees.
  • Efficiency: instead of sifting through heaving file folders to find the relevant document, any digital document is only a few clicks away. Likewise, there is no need to stand by the photocopying machine shooting reams of paper out (that let’s face it, will probably end up in the bin soon anyway!), as colleagues can share information in a matter of seconds.
  • Productivity: digital workflow software also helps to boost efficiency for day-to-day office tasks and improve interdepartmental collaboration.
  • Reduced overheads: businesses can reduce overheads as well if they choose to switch to a paperless office. This is not only because they will need to buy less paper, but because they will not need to replace ink cartridges or maintain printers, too.
  • Globalisation: the benefits are accentuated in an international setting. By standardising the processes of sharing digital information, businesses can simplify cross-border communication and trade.


Why the Paperless Office Has Not Happened … Yet

Despite all of the advantages of a paperless office described above, many people still want to hold onto the ancient art of paper.

The average employee uses more than 10,000 sheets of paper a year, which equates to an annual cost of $80-$100!

People often like to hold hard copies in their hands. In the office, many people still prefer to hold onto reports, letters and documents. They may also need to interact with third parties who have not yet adopted digital methods of communication and so will need to revert to printing.

Some businesses may be scared off from the paperless office because of the time it will take to transfer all their existing paper records to cloud or hard drive storage, despite the long-term benefits of this initial time investment.

Technophobes may also be worried about how to use new hardware and software. That’s why it’s important that businesses invest in training if they wish to switch to an entirely paperless office.


The Paper-Light Office

Given the ingrained nature of paper in many offices, it may be more realistic to aim for a “paper-light” office.

Your business can increase efficiency and reduce costs by introducing some digital processes, but without totally banning paper.

You may wish to start by digitising sensitive documents and by embracing digital signatures.

Of course, we’ve already made great strides towards the paperless office. If we compare the office of today to that of only a few decades ago, it’s clear how far we’ve come. Businesses that want to increase efficiency and reduce costs will do well to continue embracing digital processes.