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Whatever happened to the ‘paperless office’?

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Question: "I've been a temporary admin in many different offices since 2009, and I really haven't noticed the slightest reduction in the amount of paper all over people's desks, brought out in meetings, and in use all over the office. My boss just mentioned that he's thinking about starting a 'paperless office' initiative, but to me it doesn't seem necessary or even desired. I think we've all underestimated how comfortable people feel with paper and how much we still want it. Isn't a project like this just going to wind up being totally fruitless?" - Maeve, Accounts Payable

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Gwen August 4, 2015 at 2:26 pm

I think “paperless” is more of an ideal situation rather than a total reality situation. Yes, even your computer backup may need a backup and paper is it. Also, paperless is an idea that will be embraced wholeheartedly with the next generation of corporate bosses, CEOs etc. because they are growing up with everything electronic as the “norm”; 40 years and over are adapting to the idea of paperless being the “norm”.

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Lee August 4, 2015 at 12:59 pm

Maybe some questions we could ask are:
“Would this document in any other form be as useful/valuable?” “Are there technologies that can help me add as much or more value to my role that replace paper?”
This kind of thinking might spur positive changes in how we accomplish our tasks..

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Sharon August 3, 2015 at 11:22 am

I don’t think it’s possible to be paper free entirely. Computer retrieval of information isn’t infallible and a paper backup should be kept. It seems like many places, in an effort to become paper free or paper less are actually becoming paper more. Have you filled out a financial aid form (FAFSA) or student loan forms recently? While they encourage online submission, they require hardcopy verifications of nearly everything, defeating the purpose of electronic submission. Maybe the key is to have employees/companies become more responsible with how they handle paper-do you really need 5 or 10 copies of something when 1 copy will do?

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Gretchen July 30, 2015 at 6:03 pm

I like the term “paperlight”. It will be a very long time and much needs to happen before we become truly paperless. I only bring one hard copy of the agenda to most meetings. The majority of my group have a laptop.

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Kerri July 30, 2015 at 4:36 pm

We have done a lot to obtain a green initiative, but honestly, to say that we can go paperless is simply untrue. We have settled with the term “paperlight”. This allows us to expect occasional paper items like signed application forms, approvals and the like.
I have worked with several of our committees to initiate the no extra copies rule. It is understood that the Admin, me, will not be bringing copies of agendas/PowerPoints, etc. to the meeting. Those who would still like to have a copy, of course, are welcome to print and bring their own from their meeting e-mail reminder. Otherwise, we project a copy of the agenda on the meeting screen during the meeting for reference. This works amazingly well in decreasing the amount of paper waste from meetings.
We also have electronic committee shared folders with meeting information that all members have access to.
Electronic storage can also have drawbacks. Computers go down, files get corrupted, and files/folders can get deleted accidentally .
Paper may never, fully, be a thing of the past.

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Helen July 30, 2015 at 4:19 pm

Our company proclaimed itself as “paperless” but the unions forced us to use paper anyway. The only thing that has changed about the amount of paper used is the type of paper. As a recruiter, we are encouraged by corporate to use the online hiring system, but applicants prefer to walk-in and fill out a paper application. When we steer them toward the computer, they don’t do it.

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Donna July 30, 2015 at 4:18 pm

I snicker when I hear “paperless office.” Too many times we’ve run into a problem retrieving electronic files. Some regulatory reports go back 10 years and technology has changed enough that it is sometimes hard to find a device to read file file format. I’ve seen group e-mails that are received by the first person on the list and nobody else. Also, electronic files are a problem when kept with restricted access and both the file hold and their boss are out. At least you can sort through a paper file, not so with electronic folders. I know these problems will eventually be solved, but in the meantime, it is a balancing act between electronic communications and good old paper.

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Mark July 30, 2015 at 12:00 pm

The paperless office has been talked about for at least a decade or two. I don’t think it will ever happen. What I HAVE seen, though, is a reduction in paper. For example, when I started here there were a couple dozen types of reports that we used to receive in paper format. One alone was around 300-pages long each month. Then they began to be sent to us in fiche format, then microfilm, and now they are available to us online for viewing so that no printing is needed. But even with substantial paper savings like these reports, I don’t think the day will ever come in which nothing needs to be printed for signatures (for example) especially given the restrictions of electronic signature regulations.

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