The paperless office is a concept that has been floating around the business world since the 1970s. Despite initial projections that it would become the standard in office practices within a few short years, after four decades the concept remains as far-fetched and unrealistic as it was when it was first theorized.
While the digital industry is seemingly hell-bent on eliminating paper from the workplace in the name of economic and environmental sustainability, the truth of the matter is that there are very few successful examples of offices that do not use any sort of physical documents. Certainly, the cloud has allowed businesses to expand their accessibility and work from remote locations, but at the end of the day, the workplace has still not managed to rid itself of paper – much to the chagrin of the tech guys.
With all the technological advancements that have been achieved over the past half-century or so, beginning with the invention of computers and culminating in the adoption of mobile devices into most of humanity's daily lives, it might be somewhat surprising that traditional office functions have not entirely moved to a digital format. But there are actually quite a few reasons why this is not currently – and may never be – feasible.
What went wrong for the digital movement in the office
TechRadar spoke with Andrew Hall, marketing manager at printing solutions firm OKI, about the overt failure of electronic alternatives to take control of the business world. Hall explained that most companies simply need paper in the workplace, as employees and clients alike place great value on hard copies of reports and documents. Because of the workforce's inclination toward a tactile product, the source said he does not believe that a truly paperless office will ever be fully attainable.
Citing research conducted by OKI Systems U.K. about paper usage in the workplace, Hall pointed out that 92 percent of 2,000 respondents still use some kind of printing on a daily basis. Nearly half of them reported that they printed more than ten pages every day. He dismissed the notion that workers would increasingly abandon paper as the bring-your-own-device movement grows in popularity and implementation. Even though 24 percent of those polled indicated that they use their own smartphones and tablets for work, 45 percent of them also said that they use these devices to print documents at the office. Rather than replacing paper usage, technology is actually assisting workers in printing more easily.
Hall also suggested that, even if the paperless office were a feasible and probable goal, it might not be such a grand idea, after all. He cited the fact that in many industries, regulations and compliance requirements dictate that hard copies are a simple necessity of business. Paper documents are inherently more secure than digital options – no one has ever successfully hacked a physical spreadsheet – and as hackers become more sophisticated and advanced in their strategies, it's really just easier to avoid the headache of subscribing to a handful of different security strategies.
In addition, many businesses aim to cut costs by eliminating paper from their offices, but investing in software is hardly cheap. Instead, there are ways to limit the expenses associated with the printing that is necessary in the workplace.
Don't ditch paper in an attempt to save money – use it more efficiently
Instead of trying to eliminate paper from your office entirely – a move which has proven to be unfeasible and a logistical nightmare – focus on making your usage more efficient and effective. For example, ZDNet recommended setting your office printer to the "economy" or "draft" option. A simple switch like this could help save money on printer ink, which can be quite costly over a long period of time. The source also advised limiting color printing, since color ink is even more expensive than black and white.
Printers also usually have low-power settings that can limit energy consumption, which serves to not only cut your expenses, but also lower your carbon emissions. ZDNet noted that laser printers are far more efficient for offices that need to print often and in bulk, so if you are still using an inkjet, it might be time to consider an alternative.
The paperless office is proving to be very similar to the flying car – we have technology capable of achieving it, but do we really want to? An airborne collision is a horrifying thought, and the fact that the sky would be filled with traffic is equally unpleasant. Though the widespread implementation of the paperless office would not have such severe ramifications, of course, it could very well disrupt business practices and prove to be more trouble than it's worth, given the various security issues that would emerge from it. Instead of looking to save money by ridding your workplace of paper, making your printing services as efficient as possible could be more lucrative.