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Paperless Office Resources: Is a paperless office realistic?

Look at your desk, what do you see? Paper? Lots of paper maybe? According to Reduce.org the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper per year!

Does your company have a ‘paperless office policy’ or maybe a ‘tidy desk policy’? Increasingly companies are moving to a paperless state, requiring staff to print as little as possible and shred/recycle documents once used for a meeting or report.

But can an office truly be ‘paperless’?

It’s a very big task, to remove all paper from an office would mean no printed reports, no work sheets, no records. All these things must be moved to a digital format. There’s plenty of companies that will help you with digitising your existing ‘offline’ documents. Here are just a few companies that provide these services if you’re looking to go down this route:

What benefits can a paperless office bring?

There are many reasons a business might want to go paperless. The most obvious of these is to be environmentally friendly or ‘green’. Green credentials are being looked for by many companies when selecting another company to work with, just in the same way that they might check for ISO accreditations or corporate responsibility information.

You’ll also find that in the long run you’ll save money. Printing is expensive, paper and toner all add up not to mention the space you use to store all your printed documents – office space is expensive.

A better office environment is likely to be a result of a paperless office, once you’ve rid the office of clutter, papers on desks and box or filing cabinets then all that’s left is the desks, vending machines, plants and people. A far cleaner and nicer environment to work in.

The pitfalls of paperless

Technology will obviously play a big part in any paperless office and there’s bound to be initial costs with setting up and system like this. You don’t just need a scanner and someone willing to sit and scan every document you’ve ever printed. Remember that you need a proper document management system, these allow you to search through the text you’ve scanned in, not just look at a picture of each page.

People are bound to be a challenge. Turning an office of ‘regular printers’ into an office of people who’s first instinct is to email or save their document on a computer network is an ongoing task, and often something that needs regular monitoring and training.

System downtime or even system failures can lead to you losing all your documents. Another good reason getting a professional document management company in to look after your historical records is a great idea. They’ll know all about backups and even backups of the backups. The same goes for your day to day computer network and the files you store there. Your IT department or outsourced IT should be doing very regular backups to save you in case the worst happens. You don’t want to enter the office to find a flood or fire has destroyed all you historical data.

Paperless offices so far…

Whilst the idea of a paperless office has been around for many years (1975 was the first mention of it – an article in BusinessWeek magazine), there are very few completely paper-free office environments today.

Paper usage in offices since the year 2000 has decreased by just 1% per year according to the National Association of Paper Merchants, not very dramatic and possibly a measure of just how few offices achieve the holy grail of ‘paperless’.

Paperless office resources

So to answer the question posed by this blog post, no – a paperless office isn’t realistic for most companies. A more sensible approach may be a ‘less paper office’ – something discussed by the GreenBiz blog here.

Let us know in the comments if your office is paper heaven or paper hell. Are you planning to go paperless or do you think there’s a limit to it and that you’ll always need a small amount of paper in any office?

Photo credits: Paper stack by Sean MacEntee (Flickr), Printer by Bru76 (Flickr)

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