New research from Epson Europe has concluded that an office without paper would be ineffective and inefficient, and that print has an essential and lasting impact in the office environment. The study, designed to determine how people feel about paper in the workplace, measured the sentiment of over 3,600 employees across Europe, and the results are surprising.

The dream of the paperless office was a vision of the future when it was first proposed in 1978 by Frederick Wilfrid Lancaster. He imagined a future that entirely displaced print in the office in favor of digital solutions.

But what seems most surprising for envisioning the seemingly worker-centric boons of the paperless office is that employees don't actually want one. The Epson study found that an overwhelming proportion of surveyed employees, 83 percent, think that an office without paper would be "unrealistic." In fact, it might even be harmful: 86 percent said that ending the use of printing in the workplace would limit productivity.

Print still going strong
Though many office tasks are handled digitally, the universality of paperless offices imagined almost forty years ago has yet to materialize. In fact, the print industry is still growing, with no signs of stopping, even as print volume declines. 

Print has huge strengths that no electronic media could replicate – it's far less complex to pass papers from hand to hand. And though many employers use electronic document management, most of their employees like the flexibility of paper. According to the study, 64 percent of workers indicated that they would rather read documents on paper, with most respondents citing that the ability to share and edit physical copies makes them stronger than digital documents.

Many electronic documents require special tools or permissions to edit, but paper ones only need a pen. The cloud doesn't compare to personally handing a document to a coworker. The Epson Europe study also found that workers can better identify errors and other inconsistencies on paper better than on a screen, as 62 percent of respondents said that editing a document electronically is more likely to introduce errors.

Long live paper
This push against the paperless office makes sense: paper isn't just an intermediary step in the progress of business technology; it's an essential tool for conducting business and recording information. Even ignoring paper's ease of reading, editing, and sharing, the fact that an organization needs to keep so many documents in hard copy for legal and compliance reasons ensure that paper will stay around for quite some time.

As global futurist Jack Uldrich was quoted in the report release, "Every technology has unique benefits, and paper is no different; it's arguably the greatest instrument ever invented for conveying, sharing and disseminating information."

Though the study focused on European employees, it presented findings that have an impact on American office workers as well. The study calculated the productivity loss from employees going back and forth from the printer: On average, they walk a whopping 110 kilometers – almost 70 miles – losing 19 hours per year on the trek alone. That's half of a work week. In fact, U.K. employees walk an average of 13 meters – 42.6 feet just to get to the printer.

Brother International Corporation study had similar findings: large productivity losses due to the inefficiency of printer placement. According to the study, people were about twice as likely to engage in conversations with other coworkers while waiting for the printer as they are at the water cooler.  This leads to employee distraction and a drain on productivity, and additionally, it leads to a misuse of paper: employees in offices with centralized printers were more likely to forget about print jobs and less likely to use paper documents in meetings.

That loss to productivity can be mitigated, the source stated, with a fleet of printer hubs, placed close to groups of employees to increase efficiency and make hard copies just as appealing as digital ones.. Or, for businesses trying to reduce costs, partnering with a print distributor to handle all of an organization's print needs. Print distribution services give companies the flexibility to work with the print products they need while also giving them the expertise of experienced printers.