The Paperless Office: Is It Possible or Just a Pipe Dream?

An office worker looking through stacks of paper on their desk

The idea of a paperless office isn’t new. 

It started around 50 years ago as a slogan for IBM 2260. They proclaimed the computer terminal as the forerunner of the “office of the future.” 

In 1975, Bloomberg Businessweek published an article based on the same concept. They wondered if desktop terminals could hold information and predicted the rise of paperless offices. 

Fast forward to 2022, and paper is not as commonplace as it once was. But will an entirely paperless society actually happen anytime soon? Let’s dive into all the possibilities. 

The Driving Factors Behind Going Paperless 

In the good old days, files were stored in cabinets and storage boxes. Retrieving information, especially if it had been misfiled, took weeks to be tracked and fixed because it had to be done manually.

 

 

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That’s why the fresh idea of locating and processing information digitally (and within seconds) was captivating in the 1970s. But aside from the convenience digitalization brings, there are other motivations behind going paperless, including:

Reduced Environmental Impact 

On average, an office worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper per year. If offices go fully paperless, our need to cut more trees and the carbon footprint we leave behind would drastically be reduced.

 

 

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Cost Savings 

Companies spend about $120 billion a year on printed materials. There’s no denying paper costs money, so going paperless is believed to save on costs.

Optimized Business Processes

With increased technological capabilities, businesses can optimize their processes by going digital. Recordkeeping and financial systems are easier to manage, and remote collaboration becomes easier too.

Document Security 

Going paperless does not only makes documents easier to manage—storing documents digitally also offers better document security

Other Factors 

Other factors that push people to go for a paperless office include more efficient customer service, tidier offices, and more time spent on productive tasks instead of manually looking for files.

Why Paperless Offices Never Happened 

With all the technological advancements at the tip of our fingers, some find it almost strange how we haven’t let go of paper entirely. There’s more than one reason why paperless offices never happened:

Force of Habit

Old habits die hard. People are accustomed to using paper for everything: signing documents, taking down notes, printing reports, etc. 

For some, the feel of reading and writing on paper can’t be replicated (just like how reading stories on a tablet can’t compare to reading a physical book). For them, something seems to be lacking if a document or report hasn’t been printed. This makes paper very hard to do away with.

Legal Obstacles 

Habit is one thing; a legal requirement is another. Despite how common electronic signature services are, it’s still standard for some companies to require physical signatures—like in loan agreements and contracts.

Compliance regulations in some industries also require the retention of hard copies of certain documents or for them to be physically mailed to individuals.

Perceived Cost of Digital Systems 

Not everyone can afford to replace paper with digital systems. They may be more economical in the long run, but some don’t have sufficient resources to buy the required number of computers, the needed software, etc., to make the transition.

 

 

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The Struggle or Reluctance to Learn New Technology

Even with complete digital systems on hand, companies still need to train people on how to use them. This is especially true for old-fashioned employees and companies who find it extremely difficult to learn new technologies.

On top of that, it would be difficult to go paperless if their clients are not. There are still some people out there who prefer analog ways. Imagine a person who relies on trusty bank checks rather than online transactions. How would a bank be able to cater to such a client if they’ve gone paperless? 

Other Companies are Not Paperless

Another factor that’s holding society out from a paperless office is if other companies are not paperless themselves. Even if you’ve eradicated paper altogether from your own company, you’re still likely to receive documents, paper mail, etc., from other organizations.

You would need to put measures in place like scanning and converting documents into a digital format—and many companies aren’t ready to take on the hassle.

 

 

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Printing Costs Went Down 

Unlike in the 80s, when printers were still expensive, the proliferation of printers and photocopiers caused the price to go down, making it easier for companies to purchase them. 

Improvements in printing technology—everything from Bluetooth-enabled printers to laser printing—has made the entire process much simpler. And because printing documents is practically effortless now, there’s less of a desire to switch to a paperless office.

Will a Paperless Office Ever Happen?

For sure, the ambition is there, but many companies that aim to go paperless still seem to get caught up in huge piles of paperwork. 

Even those who have transitioned to electronic/digital form haven’t escaped the chaos of document management. Employees are still going through the same old drags in productivity, such as remembering which folder they saved their documents in. 

Ultimately, a paperless office will happen if your company makes it happen.

“Paper-light” Instead of Paperless 

Going paperless is a journey. And after 50 years or so, it seems to be a very long one. 

With the long list of things holding us back, most companies will never go truly paperless—at least, not anytime soon. But we don’t really need to completely get rid of paper to contribute to a reduced-paper society.

Individuals and organizations all over the world can go “paper-light” or actively reduce the amount of paper they consume instead. Any step taken to reduce paper consumption, especially when done collectively, will still have a positive impact on the environment.

 

 

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Delivering Environment-Friendly Document Management Solutions 

If you’re not ready yet for a paperless office because you don’t have the budget for a digital system, your next best option is to look for the most up-to-date document management solution.

Busys’ sister company, Integr8, delivers document management solutions that will make your business more productive and more sustainable at the same time. We’ll bring you one step closer to a paperless office in the most organized and efficient way possible. 

Get in touch with us today to know more. 

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