We have scanners, we have portable digital cameras and we have cloud; we don’t lack the software to create digital files.Working in real time through networks and online services is easier than ever, yet do you know of any office that has gone completely paperless? Probably not.

With all of this technology the ability to go paperless is there, but we haven’t done it yet. Why?

Paperless office?

Paperless office? (Photo credit: Terry Freedman)

The Advantages of a Paperless Office

The reasons why people should go paperless seem pretty straight forward. First of all you don’t spend money to buy paper.

Then you don’t spend money to buy ink, so you could save a considerate amount in printer supplies.

Next is the amount of space you save by not accumulating binders and binders with files that people rarely look at.

Tablet

Tablet (Photo credit: Mikeymikez)

It’s also a lot easier to find something that is stored digitally than it is to look through rows and rows of paper archives. You can easily make back-ups of digital archives, thing which you can’t really do easily with physical ones – if you were to make copies of paper archives you’d probably scan them anyway.

It’s a lot faster to update spreadsheets and documents online than it is to scribble things down on a piece of paper and then go back and modify things.

With all of these advantages, we should have already forgotten what paper is. So what is it about this paper element that defies us so much?

The Advantages of Using Paper

The real problem with a paperless office isn’t the digital media, it isn’t its practicality or qualities. It’s in how it is used.

Call it force of habit, but a piece of paper and a pen are often a better interface than a monitor, a mouse and a keyboard.

It’s easy and intuitive to pick up a piece of paper and start scribbling on it. When you go to meetings and take notes you are more likely to write on your notepad than on your tablet. Further it costs a lot less for a company to give notebooks to their employees than it is to give them a tablet.

Computer monitors are heavy, they emit light that can tire your eyes and you can’t really bring them with you. Yes, you can bring your mobile with you, but for business either you don’t use  your mobile at all, as it’s personal, or if you are given a business mobile it’s for people to call you. Plus they are not the quickest option if you want to jot down some notes.

Notebook Rings (for June 1, 2010) [75/365]

Notebook Rings (for June 1, 2010) [75/365] (Photo credit: Brenderous)

The advantages of using paper are mainly related to human interaction and they seem to exceed all of the economical advantages that a digital office offers. This is why the death of print and the use of office supplies like printer toner cartridges, to name one, is exaggerated.

Some jobs are just better performed on paper too. If you are an editor it’s a lot easier to spot mistakes on a printed piece of paper rather than on a monitor. If you are a designer you still want to sketch things out before you hit the computer (well, not literally).

Making the Transition

In some ways it’s harder for older offices to go paperless than it is for new ones. The cost of a new infrastructure can sometimes impose a bigger cost than simply keeping those paper archives.

It would cost the National Archive almost £260m to reduce the amount of paper they produce every day just by 20%.

So for established companies going totally paperless can be a lot harder than for the new ones that start with a proper IT structure, where a cloud and digital filing system is already in place.

Yet, unless you give each of your employees a PADD a la Star Trek, you are still going to have people scribble on notepads instead.

In light of all this, while a paperless office is certainly possible, it still seems to belong to the world of science fiction.

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