Does a Paperless Office Really Mean No Paper?

Steve Breault, Vircosoft Founder / CEO

There are a lot of misconceptions regarding the term ‘paperless office‘. Many believe that an office or work environment termed paperless will be literally devoid of any form of printed paper. Reality, though is somewhat different!

A paperless office should really be read as a less paper office. This term is more realistic in describing many offices and company’s today. People have been talking about achieving a paperless office since the 1970’s but in reality we are a long way from achieving the dream. Technology has developed at a fast rate and many innovations have reduced the need for everything to be recorded on paper but, as cutting edge as the new equipment is, it will never be able to completely eliminate the need for paper.

Not long ago everything had to be printed and stored in a hard copy. Now massive computer memories and new technology such as I-pads have reduced the need for printouts but many businesses will still eventually print a lot of information that they have stored on hard drives and the like. Despite the advantages in electronic storage many still need a tangible copy to refer to and many will often print out copies, ‘just in case.’

Paper use in business has dropped slightly for the last few years but there has also been an increase in the sales of household printer paper. Many companies will no longer print and forward an invoice, instead choosing to electronically invoice a customer in their attempt to move toward a paperless office only for the consumer to then print out the invoice for their own records.

In reality it will be nigh on impossible to achieve a completely paperless office. Recent studies completed by Hewlett-Packard have highlighted several reasons why paperless offices remain out of reach. Firstly, comprehension of information often results in documents being printed. Many find printed words on paper easier to understand than the same words on a monitor or screen. Secondly there will always be some ‘unenlightened’ staff members who refrain from using new technology to the height of its ability, again leading to more paper cluttering the office or workspace. Lastly, and on the same note, tradition will always hinder new beliefs. Many companies and businesses still feel better communicating with customers by using a traditional letter. Of course a copy of this letter needs to be kept and this is often achieved with a paper printed copy.

As more and more offices begin to see how using less paper may lead to reduced costs we will begin to see ‘less paper’ offices but it will be a long time before we see the two thousand year use of paper completely eliminated. Future generations who are more au fait with the use of electronic devices will grasp the benefits of hard drive mass storage but until the majority of people are enlightened offices will never be totally free of paper.

The move towards paperless offices is commendable but has yet to be achieved. Less paper offices are now the norm but it would be wrong to imagine a paperless office as a reality for now. In the near future, who knows?

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