Insights

Paperless offices: are they finally feasible?

Written By Indirect Sales Director, Adam Sullivan

London 03 June 2021

The concept of the paperless office was first considered in the mid-1970s, when great strides in computing technology led to the assumption that in the future all documentation would be digital. But here we are, almost five decades on, and we’re still not there yet. In fact, it might even be that we’re printing more than ever before.

These days, print is incredibly accessible. It’s now more common to find that every member of staff has easy and direct access to a printer, whereas when the idea of the paperless office first came about (and for quite a lot of time afterwards) the company print room was still the only place where hard copy was produced, by a team of trained specialists.

The existence of the print room – particularly where approvals were required as part of the process, owing to the relatively high cost of document production at the time – meant that it was less likely resources were wasted on unnecessary print. In contrast, with reams of documents now easily created at the push of a button, it’s all too easy to print something when we don’t really need to – wasting paper, ink, and electricity in the process.

The appeal of the paperless office isn’t hard to understand. Aside from removing any expenditure on print consumables, there are also other ongoing costs to be cut in terms of hardware and even in helpdesk and servicing (because, of course, as printers age, they tend to behave less admirably – not to mention the fact that user error, or software that hasn’t been updated, can cause a rise in support tickets). Of course, there’s also the frustration – and business interruption – that arises when an important document is needed in a hurry, but there’s a paper jam, or the ink requires topping up, and the printer just won’t perform. Then there’s the fact that piles of paper clutter up desks, while offices filled with filing cabinets (to wrangle all this paper into some kind of order) look pretty cluttered, too.

Electronic documents pose none of these challenges. But does that mean a paperless office is a better option? Not exactly.

Printed documents are easily shareable. You just hand them over and they can be read, without worrying about compatible format, software, or device. Hard copy doesn’t rely on a laptop, tablet or mobile having enough battery, or being hooked up to a reliable internet connection. In fact, it’s not uncommon for people to take a print-out as a backup version of their presentation to an important pitch or meeting, just in case there’s some kind of issue with the technology on the day.

Additionally, some view printed documents as having greater permanence than digital files – they can’t be accidentally altered, or easily deleted (either by an accidental slip of the mouse, or hard drive failure). Some people prefer print for its ability to be put under literal lock and key, rather than be under the protection of a cyber security system that is seemingly less tangible.

But in fact most of these perceived drawbacks can be tackled with a holistic approach to the use of cutting-edge technology, so in many situations print is not the only solution – though it can be handy to have the option in certain circumstances. Rather than aiming for the absolute of a paperless office, many now agree that a journey to ‘paper-lite’ is actually best when it comes to sustainability, cost control, and business efficiency and productivity.

In the paper-lite office, a managed print solution ensures that unnecessary documents aren’t created – rules can be set for individual users, while data capture ensures habits can be monitored and improved where necessary, and follow-me print functionality prevents the age-old problem of documents left forgotten on the printer (improving security, too). Maintained under a contract, the printer fleet (which can often be consolidated compared to its predecessor, where print management software is deployed) experiences less down time, and often offers improved quality output, compared to previous hardware.

Digital document management is also key to the paper-lite office – where there’s a virtual option that is genuinely preferable to print, people will use it. Document scanning and storage, for example, can lead to much quicker archive searches, with keywords used to call up the exact file in seconds, while digi-sign facilities can streamline approvals processes. Additionally, secure cloud storage means that workspace and document access is the same whether a user is in the office, or remote – whether they’re working from home, on the road, or in the middle of a meeting with a client or supplier. The right choice of hardware and software also ensures that document sharing is quick and easy, with no concerns about format or compatibility.

The paperless office may be achievable in theory, but there is an argument that says this sort of absolute isn’t the best overall solution for business. Print still has a place in the 21st century office, and to try to remove it entirely is a kind of false economy, owing to the drawbacks of not having the option of hard copy. It’s far better – from a resource and cost efficiency perspective, as well as in terms of productivity and efficacy – to create a working environment which utilises an optimal balance of print and digital.

To find out more about how we achieve this tailored balance to suit each individual organisation we work with, contact our team on +44 (0) 207 2 400 800. 

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