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The Unrealized Paperless Office and How to Change That

May 27, 2014

 By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

Computers were supposed to make our lives easier and bring us more leisure. Ha, that’s a funny one.

Today, instead of having more leisure we have more screen time. We are chained to our computers at the office, and when we leave work we now often check back in with the office via our smartphones. While some might argue that we’re more efficient than we were three decades ago, it is hard to argue that we have more leisure time.

The same is true about talk that email and digital files would reduce paper usage. While newspapers may be in decline most places outside India (which, strangely, has seen its newspaper market grow in recent years), paper usage overall has not been dramatically reduced thanks to the digital revolution. Back before computers we typed and hand-wrote more, but the volume of paper use has actually increased thanks to how easy it is now to generate and print documents.

Added paper use need not be the case, however.

Delivering on the promise of reduced paper use through technology can happen, but only if workers and consumers change their habits a bit. Reducing paper use and its associated costs is simple with a few key adjustments.

The big adjustment is changing the culture of paper use.

In an office where paper documents coexist with digital documents, and there’s no time or cost penalty to using paper, it is little surprise that workers continue to print and work with paper documents.

Reducing paper happens when digital is easier and less costly. We’ve kicked the habit of sending snail-mail in favor of email, but only because email is faster and costs less. If we do the same for other types of paper documents, so too will these papers start to disappear in favor of their digital counterparts.

That means reducing the number of printers in the office, and cutting down on incoming and outgoing paper use. Move toward having a single printer in the office, and have it in a far corner. Counter-intuitively, make it hard for workers to use it from their computers.

Also, cut down on outgoing paper use by moving toward electronic invoicing instead of sending out printed invoices, and reduce incoming paper by only accepting payment and signatures electronically, and by moving to a digital fax solution such as FaxSIPit’s fax-over-IP (FoIP).

If using paper becomes inefficient and more costly, workers will automatically adjust to digital solutions that are cheaper and easier.

Computers haven’t given most of us lives of leisure or taken away paper, but at least the latter of those two goals is possible with a little effort.


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