The paperless office, is it a myth?

With everything in the office happening electronically through email and data storage online, you should be able to look around while you read this and see not one scrap of paper in your office. Have you had a look, what can you see?

I bet you can see an office full of people sitting at their computers, doing everything electronically, yet they still seem to be surrounded by mountains of paper. Why is that?

Well contrary to popular belief, technology hasn’t reduced the use of paper in the office at all. In fact, a study in 2012 shows that, worldwide, we have increased our use of paper by over 50%. That’s quite some distance away from our goal of helping the environment by going paperless. So how has this happened?

In short, through printing electronic documents. We send everything over email now, businesses even get their bills electronically, so why do we still feel the need to print out everything we receive? Well, the use of technology to send documents and information doesn’t fit in with what most people are required to do with them after they drop into their inbox.

A few examples include:

Documents and emails needed for meetings. Many of us work from desktops, rather than laptops and tablets, so when we need to take something to a meeting what do we have to do? Print it out.

Financial documents.

This is another great example where electronic documents don’t quite fit in with today’s business practice. Accountants and finance departments are legally required to keep copies of certain documents for a number of years; many don’t do this electronically. Instead they have shelves full of box files and what are these all full of? The documents that they received electronically and then printed off so that they could meet the legal requirements of the business.

Forms and contracts.

Although businesses are getting better at sending forms that can be completed and signed online, the majority of the time you still have to print the form off to complete it. If it’s a legal or financial form this then needs to be filed to comply with company or legal requirements which means printing it out.

Technology is improving to allow us to carry out more of our business online. However, it seems that in order for offices to become truly paperless, we would make more progress if we focused on business practice rather than technology. We need to put the tools and business practices in place to allow employees to carry out their role electronically and still be able to meet the requirements of the business.