The term ‘paperless office’ has emerged into the common lexicon over the last decade or so, but the phrase itself can be traced all the way back to 1978. In the almost forty years since the phrase was first coined, we’ve made steps towards a paperless work environment – but the idea of a totally paper-free office hasn’t yet materialised. Why is it taking us so long to put paper to bed? Is a paperless office actually a viable concept? Let’s take a look at some of the hurdles faced by office managers in their bid to go paperless:
The habit of a lifetime
For many workers, especially those that have become accustomed to certain processes throughout their working life, breaking the habit and going paperless can seem almost impossible. A recent survey by OKI Systems UK interviewed more than 2,000 office workers, and found that a staggering 92% of them still carried out some kind of printing on a daily basis. Almost half estimated they printed more than ten pages every day.
Compliance and regulation
For many organisations, the need for hard copies as evidence is crucial for compliance and regulatory purposes. This was a reason cited by 59% of those that took part in the OKI Systems survey – for certain businesses in particular industries, printing forms a crucial part of their compliance procedures, and any move to abolish paper in the office could require an overhaul of document management compliance policies.
Reliance on print
Certain areas of businesses still rely on print to perform basic functions. HR and Finance departments will often need to print out payslips or contracts which demand a signature. Sales and marketing departments receive exceptionally high ROI from using printed marketing materials like leaflets, direct mail and flyers. For these departments within larger organisations, the chance of removing paper altogether seems slim.
Digitisation is undoubtedly the way forward for many areas of business – but perhaps the utopic ideal of the paperless office is a step too far. Instead, businesses should be aiming for a ‘paper-light’ approach, where printouts are only made when absolutely necessary, with limits on how many files employees could print in a day. Steps should be taken to actively encourage more document digitisation – even with things like signatures, which can now be electronically procured. The totally paperless office might remain a distant pipe dream, but a paper-light environment is certainly an achievable idea.