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June 2, 2012

Paperless office: Is it truly possible?

In the 1970s, predictions of a paperless office were everywhere – as were households robots and flying cars which we kind of have now. So why are desks around the world still clogged with printouts and photocopies? Or is it just an illusion created by David Brent and Michael Scott that paper is still necessary?

We contacted a couple of paperless office advocates to see what they thought of the situation.

John Caughell is the Chief Vision Officer for Argentstratus and Chris Haycox is the IT Director at Metrofax, and they can both see a paperless future.

How much paper does the typical office worker use in a year?

JC – 350 pounds (NRDC fact sheet) to 750 pounds (ID2 Communications fact sheet) of paper for the typical office worker in annual paper usage. To put that in perspective, that is between 14,000 and 30,000 sheets of paper. Most research we have read says about 15,000 sheets of paper (about 400 lbs) per office worker.

CH – The average office worker uses approximately 10,000 sheets per year. It sounds like an outrageous number, but when you think about how often you print out items, lose them, reprint them again, or make copies for others in the company, it adds up.

What is the environmental impact of reducing this by 50/75/100%?

CH – From a decrease in the amount of fiber being harvested from trees to the impact there will be on the amount of paper in landfills. Trees provide a certain balance to the forest, and as we use more of these resources, we’re slowly changing the ecosystem.

JC – While we believe that cutting paper consumption will have an environmental impact, Argentstratus focuses on improving business productivity and process transparency.

Predictions of a paperless office were rife in the 1970’s – why hasn’t it happened?

JC – The primary goal is not to cut paper but improve productivity. [We have found] that over 70% of work hours are simply touching documents that often have no impact on the final work product. [A] business can now cut paper expense by $15,000 annually, but more importantly, free up an additional 1,000 hours a year per employee.

CH – It’s just on the cusp of really gaining traction. It has to do with the capabilities and technology falling into the hands of the right generation…people who were working in offices during the 70s could also be the same people who are/were executives within companies who have been a little resistant to embrace technological change.

Has technology now come far enough to be able to facilitate a truly paperless office?

JC – The short answer is yes; technology today easily supports a business embracing a paperless office approach. The issue really hasn’t been a limitation of technology, it has been a limitation of imagination.

via ZDNet

Will mobile technology be able to support this, or is it in fact an enabler in the process?

CH – I think mobile technology is an enabler. If there wasn’t mobile technology, we would be limited to only increasing productivity and efficiency within our office walls. The benefits of a paperless office are magnified when there’s freedom to travel, work remotely, and carry on with business when away from your desk. Without mobile technology, it would be difficult to instantly share files or send documents at the drop of the hat while traveling.

JC – Mobile technology will further the march of paperless because many of the documents we are used to holding in paper form such as newspapers, magazines and books, can now be delivered electronically and without having to store the digital image on the device. We think that the next big advance needs to be display technology that can sync with any mobile phone and allow interaction similar to a tablet without needing to carry a large display with you all the time. These types of displays will need to be everywhere: car dashboards, restaurant tables, kiosks at malls etc.

What is your vision for the future as far as the office environment goes?

CH – We’re already reaching a point where telecommuting and Skyping with remote teams isn’t looked upon as a burden anymore, and main business headquarters can stay lean in regards to space and equipment needed. I think that a truly paperless office will still take some time, but we’re making great strides in getting there.

What would you say to someone who thinks a paperless office is not possible?

JC – We say, as gently as possible, “It’s time to deal with reality.”

That just about sums it up – reality is here and it’s mobile and very paperless. How much paper do you use? Are you paperless (personally, I think I actually almost am)? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter (both paperless options).