Ever since I can remember, all descriptions I have heard or read about an “office of the future” included a common attribute. The future office is always, without fail, paperless.
No paper is needed in the mythical office of the future because all information there is managed and stored in digital format. That sounds completely plausible to us because the technology to do that exists right now.
Unfortunately instead of using less paper, today’s offices use a lot more paper than offices did when people first started talking about a “paperless office”.
We can think of a million reasons why every organization should ditch paper and go totally digital with their information. Among the most obvious:
All those and more are good reasons for organizations to be totally digital. But let’s face it. There are also specific circumstances when digital is NOT better than a paper document. I’m specifically thinking of me (located in the U.S.) trying to calculate and file my income taxes every January/February.
In that instance, paper is definitely preferable because, for me, the good old “paper trail” has no easily accessed digital equivalent.
While we’re not perceptively closer to achieving the paperless office, there is some good news. According to Aeon, we hit Peak Paper in 2013 and worldwide usage has been slowly trending down ever since.
But even so, Wired magazine said of global paper usage a couple years ago:
So why is it so hard for individuals and organizations to give up using paper, even when we know with certainty that doing so makes complete sense?
Surprisingly, there are a lot of reasons. They may not all apply to every person or business, but they have enough collective appeal to us that humans are unable to let paper go.
And finally, if humans become frustrated we can get temporary emotional release by tearing paper to shreds, or crumpling it and throwing the wad across the room. Try that with your computing device.
It’s fair to say that digital devices share some of the above attributes, but certainly not all.
Another, less discussed topic related to giving up paper usage is this: Simply going digital doesn’t solve an organization’s information management issues. Which issues am I talking about? Here are just a few:
Moving an organization’s paper-based information management bad habits to the cloud just makes it easier to continue engaging in those bad habits. It also will continue producing the poor outcomes that those bad habits produce.
It’s been rightly pointed out by many others that rising generations are more digitally oriented and comfortable with less paper use. It’s probably up to them to solve our paper-usage conundrum.
The paperless office? It’s not arriving any time soon. A more realistic goal for individuals and organizations is reducing our paper use. Minimizing paper consumption by better storing and managing information is not just realistic, it’s absolutely doable. And that’s something we can all get behind.
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