There was a time not too far past when the future of business was envisioned as being one without paper and photocopiers. In fact, the paperless office was a dream that seemed to be on the cusp of reality with the advent of computers and digital files. That was almost 40 years ago.
One of the harbingers of a paperless workplace was email. The very first email was sent way back in 1971. That was the beginning of what became a flood of electronic communications that promised to replace all types of paper-based communications. What happened?
The Counterintuitive Rise of Paper Use
It seems that the opposite occurred. Despite rosy predictions and quantum leaps in technology, paper in the workplace has refused to disappear as was once hoped. In fact, it seems to have increased.
The U.S. has less than five percent of the world’s population, yet we use more than 30 percent of the world’s paper, and paper consumption in the United States for the last 20 years has increased from 92 million tons to over 200 million tons.
One article noted that,
- The average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year.
- 45% of paper printed by office photocopiers end up trashed by the end of the day.
- U.S. companies spend more than $120 billion a year on printed forms, most of which outdate themselves within three months’ time.
Here’s a great infographic illustrating how much paper we use each day:
(Image courtesy of Esker.com)
A more sobering statistic is this one: Over 70 percent of businesses would likely fail in less than a month if they suffered a catastrophic loss of paper-based records due to fire or flood. This is a real possibility, as we know in Northern California after a series of devastating fires that have raged here over the last few years.
The Benefits of “Going Paperless”
Many businesses and individuals talk of “going green” and striving for a paperless workplace is a significant component of that. While being literally paperless is probably not realistic nor practical for most businesses, approaching something close to it is a great objective.
Various forms requiring “live” signatures will still be necessary as will numbers of other government forms, banking forms and a variety of other paper-based documents. Postal mail will still be used for the foreseeable future so stationary and envelopes are likely to remain a necessity.
Along with government entities and legal firms, the medical industry is awash in paper. And it’s not likely this will change significantly any time soon although strides are being made to greatly increase the digitalization of forms and records.
So, what are the benefits of transitioning to a largely paperless operation?
Digitalization saves money on, well, paper and toner for photocopiers, as well as postage, envelopes, file folders, and labor used for paper document management
Office equipment such as photocopiers and scanners can crowd a work room, leaving you cramped and in dire need of space. Standard file cabinets take up significant amounts of space as do “banker’s” boxes and other file storage units. Some businesses have so many forms and files to store that they must rent space simply to accommodate file storage needs.
Easier information transfer
Saving, storing and sharing file information is far faster and easier with modern document management software. A few mouse click is often all that’s needed to access or transmit a file, a folder or more from one computer to another.
Along with simplicity and speed, digitization and document management software provides far greater security than can ever be had for paper files in locked cabinets. Digital files can be secured with encryption, password protection, cloud storage and other digital safeguards.