The Paperless Office - Is It A Myth?

In the early 1980s the world was introduced to a new term - the paperless office. The appearance of electronic calculation, transmission and storage devices was meant to bring to an end the endless mountains of paper that all offices, small or large, generated. The idea was that all the documents that had to be printed and stored could now just be sent on floppy disk, scanned, faxed or e-mailed.

From an environmental point of view this meant that there would be less deforestation and logging for the production of paper. The "green" faction loved this.

The paperless office also struck a chord with office managers all over the world because they viewed it as a huge cost cutting exercise for their companies - less paper meant lower office expenses full stop.

Did this ideal become a reality? The answer is both yes and no.

Emails and Scanners

Let's look at email for example.

Yes the introduction of email meant far less snail mail being sent. It was instant and far cheaper than regular mail and the copies of all communications were stored on the hard disks of the company or individuals computers.

Did it save on paper? No! Why? Because office workers (and some office managers) insisted on printing out their emails for filing. Despite any legal or procedural reasons for this it instantly defeats the aim of achieving the paperless office.

Let's look at scanners and the paperless office.

Yes scanners allowed companies to convert warehouses full of old documents into digital data that could be stored on a few CDs or DVDs. Legal offices especially embraced this new technology.

Did it save on paper? Not really. Why? Because all these companies again insisted on keeping at least one paper copy of their documents just in case. Now document storage companies are enjoying a boom in the era of the paperless office. Ironic eh?

One of the weirdest examples I've seen is recruitment agencies. They ask potential candidates to email their CV or Resume to them. When it arrives the recruiter then prints the document so they can scan it into a document management system. Doesn't that just seem crazy? It totally defeats the purpose of having the document management system in the first place.

The main reason that the paperless office has failed, to a certain extent, is us. Humans like to be able to hold things. We're tactile. We tend not to trust what we can't physically see. So even though we have all the technology to make a paperless office a reality until we take steps in the right direction we're still going to be buried underneath that pile of paper every single day, month and year to come.