The paperless office has long been talked about and hailed as a utopia for office productivity. Their are lots of costs associated with the use of paper, the obvious cost is toners and inks which have steadily been rising year on year but there are hidden costs such as the cost of space required for filing cabinets and staff time to store and retrieve paper copies as well as lost sales due to inconsistencies between paper copies.

Large companies have good reason to fear the conversion between paper and electronic documents, the scale of the conversion is expensive and full of potential problems. Despite this many have taken the electronic route and are now reaping the benefits.  For small businesses however, the change can be made gradually and the cost spread over time.

Although some offices only print what is required it still amazes me to see paper recycling bins full to overflowing in many of the offices that I visit.  This got me thinking about why people are printing rather than viewing documents on screen and what benefit does a printed version have over an electronic version. I came up with the following:

  • The entire page can be seen in a single view.
  • It is easy to refer to a document whilst typing a response.
  • Notes can be added as you read.
  • It is easy to share the document with someone else.
  • A hardcopy can be filed for safekeeping in case the electronic version becomes damaged or lost.
  • It is portable and easy to read when out of the office.

So how could a business address each of these issues to encourage its staff to make less use of the printer?  I have put some simple ideas below, many of which could be implemented individually and would pay for themselves very quickly.

  1. A monitor arm allows the screen to be rotated to a portrait view, this allows an A4 document to be easily viewed on one screen.
  2. A second monitor can be used so that responses can be typed and researched whilst still viewing the original document.
  3. Modern software such as Microsoft office products and PDF editors allows the addition of comments to be made with ease.
  4. There are many ways to share a document electronically both within the office and with mobile and home workers. Network storage, servers and cloud computing are just 3 possible solutions.
  5. Offsite backups are relatively cheap and in addition to storing a copy off-site it is possible to keep multiple versions of the same document to protect it.
  6. Mobile devices such as laptops and phones can access documents remotely and securely allowing them to be read and amended at any time or anywhere.

It is unlikely that the paperless office will suit every business but it does make sense to invest in some of the solutions.  The savings that can be made in running costs and the increase in productivity will pay for the investment quickly and leave your bottom line looking healthier.

It would be great to get your view on this article and whether you see potential or problems from implementing paperless systems?