The Paperless Office: Future That’s Already Here
The office of the future is already here. There are no hover cars in the parking lot and only a few of the more eclectic IT workers are wearing silver jumpsuits, but these things have never been the definition of the vision. Ask anyone what they see in the office of the future and they'll first tell you what they don’t see: Paper. Right now, at this very moment, we have everything we need to create the paperless office.
Yet virtually every office in the world today still uses more paper than is necessary. That’s not because they’re out of touch with reality – it’s because they’re out of touch with each other. Even if an office goes entirely electronic, its workers still have to deal with other offices that haven’t. It’s a transition that will take a dedicated effort over a period of time, but it is possible today, and there are some important reasons to bring about the revolution.
First, there’s efficiency. Electronic documents are more easily created, more easily edited, and more easily accessed from off-site locations. Documents stored in a single central location can be accessed by every employee in a relative instant. Relative, that is, when you compare the time it would take to electronically search without leaving your workspace with the time it would take to physically locate its paper-based counterpart.
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This efficiency is found in the form of an Electronic Document Management Systems (EDMS) – the core component of a secure and efficient office with an electronic workflow and a reliable, off-site backup system. Combined with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and data capturing software for the creation of searchable electronic documents from existing paper records, your office will have everything it needs to operate in a paperless business environment.
At least, it will have everything it needs to operate in a paperless in-house business environment; however, as you continue your transition from paper-based records, you’ll find that even the stingiest of colleagues and clients can be convinced to work via electronic documentation. Not only does this help to move the business world towards its paperless ideal, but it also allows your company to work with clients more efficiently than slower, paper-based competitors.
Another source of efficiency is found – or not found – in lost and misfiled documents. In a study conducted by Pricewaterhouse Coopers, referenced here by the Laserfiche Institute, these amount to 7.5% and 3% of all documents, respectively. In an EDMS environment, documents aren’t just automatically sorted and stored, they’re also securely backed up and easily searchable.
The same study goes on to note that companies spend an average of $20 inlabor to file a document, $120 in labor to find a misfiled document, and $220 in labor to reproduce a lost document. The cost associated with paper-based documents exponentially increases with volume, and exponentially increasing costs are not sound business decisions – especially when there are extremely conservative alternatives.
The savings can even be taken as far as the conservation of office space. If the typical office document averages approximately 50KB of disc space, a relatively small, relatively inexpensive 100GB hard drive can store around 2 million documents. That’s the equivalent of 200, 4-drawer file cabinets in a 2.5-inch notebook hard drive.
Depending on whom you talk to, this is all beside the point. The global end-goal of the universal paper office is found in the environmental savings. For every 10 million sheets of paper that are saved each year - approximately the amount generated by 1,000 office workers - we can save 2,500 trees per year.
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That's 2.5 trees per worker per year, and 100 trees per worker over a 40-year career. According to Nalini Nadkarni of The Evergreen State College in Washington, the Earth currently supports about 61 trees per person. As you can see, paperless offices can help to turn the tables for our shrinking forests.
The reality is that everyone can win in the world of the paperless office. Even companies that must focus on the bottom line above every other concern are finding that electronic document management is the smarter, faster, cheaper way to conduct business. There’s no need for concession on either
side of the environmental aspect in a conversation about the paperless office.
We're still a long ways off. There's still a great deal of work to be done, and most professionals still find themselves having to deal with paper in the day-to-day affairs of their business. Yet until everyone achieves the paperless office, there are still alternatives that can reduce costs while benefiting the environment.
Until paper disappears from the world of business, green printing is a real solution to a real problem. “On demand” printing can reduce excess costs, and recyclable materials can virtually eliminate the environmental footprint of waste produced by business.
By using environmentally friendly printing practices and paper stocks produced by manufacturers that comply with the sustainable International Standards of Environmental Management (ISO4001), we can help to keep the world on track as we traverse the gap between technological achievement and practical adaptation. Sound business thinking, progressive policies and practical management are the tools that will usher us into the age of the paperless office.