Poor Michael Scott.
Besides being insufferably arrogant and incompetent, the main character on the U.S. TV series The Office was also in denial. When a business school student asked Scott how his company – fictional paper wholesaler Dunder Mifflin – had “adapted (its) business model to function in an increasingly paperless world,” this is how the bumbling executive responded:
“We can’t overestimate the value of computers. Yes, they are great for playing games and forwarding funny emails. But real business is done on paper.”
When Scott ordered the students to “Write that down,” they promptly typed his archaic words of wisdom into their laptops. That episode aired back in 2007. A decade later, how many businesses actually have gone paperless?
The paper(less) chase
In a 2015 U.K. survey of 150 small business owners, 18.7 per cent said their companies were completely paperless and almost half (48.7 per cent) were considering it.
When the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) surveyed 190 of its global members in 2016, 25 per cent had gone paperless, a big increase from 18 per cent in 2015. (It’s worth noting AIIM is a non-profit group advocating paper-free business practices, so its member companies may be more inclined to ditch paper than most firms).
It’s tough to tell exactly how many businesses have phased out paper because all the numbers are self-reported in informal surveys. Based on various studies like the ones above, it looks like somewhere between 15 and 25 per cent of businesses worldwide have probably given paper the heave-ho. What motivated them to do that?
The pros of going paperless
Environmental protection is probably the most obvious reason to ban paper at your office.
According to The Paperless Project, a corporate coalition promoting greener business practices, 45 per cent of the paper printed in offices is discarded the same day it comes off the printer. Although many offices recycle, the organization points out paper fibers can only be recycled 7 to 10 times before fresh pulp is required for paper production.
Aside from helping to save the planet, going paperless can save you time, money and office space.
The Paperless Project estimates U.S. businesses collectively spend more than $120 billion annually on printed forms. It also suggests the average four-drawer filing cabinet takes up nine square feet and costs $1,500 per year to manage, with every set of 12 filing cabinets requiring an additional employee to maintain them.
Two studies commissioned last year by Brother (yes, the printer company) found the average company racks up $34,843 per year in printing costs. The same researchers said a company handling 5,000 printed pages per month spends about $27,000 per year just to manage all those printed documents.
Now that you know the environmental and financial benefits of going paperless, let’s look at how your business can get there.
Technology tools taking over
Many of the paperless technologies we use at work have been around for years, like email, voicemail, texting, instant messaging and scanners that convert documents into formats like PDFs so they can be distributed electronically.
More recently, cloud technology has opened up a whole new wave of paperless possibilities for businesses. Cloud-based tools like Slack and Google Docs allow people to collaborate on files and share them in real time without a single scrap of paper.
Cloud storage gives businesses the ability to save, access and move enormous amounts of content via a paperless service that can scale up or down as their needs evolve. Cloud-based invoicing and accounting services can eliminate most paper bills and receipts. Unlike paper documents, digital ones can be accessed and shared remotely on mobile devices.
Still got sticky notes cluttering your desk? Cloud-based task and calendar apps can replace them by automatically reminding you of that 10 a.m. meeting, acting like your very own virtual assistant.
Speaking of meetings, they no longer have to involve paper either. People can take notes on laptops, tablets or digital whiteboards and share what’s on their device screens – even with remote participants – through various apps.
Signing on the dotted line has also become paper free. E-signature apps like DocuSign enable you to create or collect virtual signatures that are legally binding under Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.
As with all digital content, of course, businesses must try to ensure the privacy and security of their paperless data and networks.
All of these benefits and tools make a paperless office seem not just possible today, but perhaps even preferable. The downside? No more paper airplane contests with your coworkers.
Up Next: Looking for other ways your office can cut costs? Check out 7 Ways Your Business Can Save Money