Published 25th of March 2019

One of the biggest buzzwords of the past few years has been going ‘paperless’. Whether it’s retailers saying goodbye to receipts or businesses choosing to take digital rather than physical notes, the idea of reducing waste and doing one’s bit for the planet is certainly attractive.

However, few have questioned the feasibility of removing paper entirely from their business’ operations. A report conducted by AIIM in 2014 found that only 1% of European businesses had achieved a paperless office, with many citing compliance with regulations and personal preferences for working with physical documents as reasons for the lack of uptake.

Moving a business’ entire document trail online is, on paper, a good idea. Yet achieving it is unrealistic for most, and businesses risk delaying real change by becoming solely fixated on the idea of a paperless office when they could be taking a more measured approach.

Introducing the ‘paper-lite office’ - an environment that combines technology with traditional working practices to facilitate a more economical consumption of paper. By finding creative ways to forgo the need for physical copies, such as through proactive document scanning and sharing through cloud services, companies can reduce their environmental impact without sacrificing paper altogether.

1. Paper helps with record keeping

Research undertaken by Brother found that although 61% of businesses are trying to reduce paper consumption, 63% of managers admitted they could not function without it. Most businesses have established procedures in place that require a physical paper trail, one that would be too complicated and expensive to replace entirely.

Keeping a complete record of financial statements and having a system for storing sensitive company data is important for any business. While auditors now accept digital copies of receipts and expenses, a physical copy of those transactions provides a safeguard should anything corrupt the digital files and potentially leave the business liable to fines.

Indeed, the same report published by Brother found that 55% of employees still print documents for filing and record keeping. Many people prefer to have a physical collection of important business documents over a digital one or at least combine the two. We offer both document scanning services and physical document storage to our clients, many of whom use the former in an effort to become paper-lite.

2. People often prefer to work with paper

New technologies have made it easier than ever to take and share notes via the cloud. Applications like Google Docs and Microsoft Office allow users to collaborate on documents instantaneously, saving hundreds of hours in productivity. Indeed, according to the IDC a company employing 1,000 people wastes $48,000 (£37,000) per week, or nearly $2.5M (£1.9 million) each year, on finding and retrieving information, a figure that only increases when the data is stored on unique physical copies.

However, the fact remains that employees still prefer to work on paper in certain situations. For example, business proposals are still printed and distributed amongst certain companies, while both individuals and companies prefer to sign contracts by hand even though digital signatures are still as binding.

Moreover, employees who spend their days reading and editing documents might not want to stare at backlit electronic devices all day. Proofreaders and translators, for example, will know that checking for grammatical or factual mistakes is far easier in hard copy than online, meaning that these industries are likely to always use paper to some extent.

Despite the obvious advantages of working with digital documents, businesses should recognise that their staff people often prefer to use at least a mixture of paper and digital files, and should therefore have a document management system that reflects this. We offer a records-management software to clients that allows them to store, locate and request physical documents stored at our sites while also allowing them to upload files such as Word documents and images to the cloud.

3. Going completely digital leaves you vulnerable

While paper documents are certainly prone to theft, accidental loss and destruction in a fire, these circumstances remain relatively unlikely for most businesses, especially SMEs. However, power outages and WiFi connection problems are a daily reality for companies of all shapes and sizes.

If operating entirely without paper, a business risks losing unsaved data and potentially sales due to a sudden power disruption, a situation that could have been avoided if documents had been printed. Moreover, a WiFi connection loss would leave an entire paperless office unable to work, potentially leaving the company in a dire financial situation if left unresolved long-term.

Companies must also acknowledge the risk of cyberattacks. If an entire business works online, ill-intentioned third parties could potentially cause serious damage in a single data breach. While physical documents are also a major data breach risk, choosing to rely on just one or the other could be particularly dangerous.

Key takeaways

Most, if not all businesses should undoubtedly modernise their work practices through technology, both to improve productivity and reduce their negative impact on the environment. However, paper use is not inherently evil - excessive paper use is. Businesses should therefore find ways to become paper-lite rather than paperless, whether through scanning most of their documents before disposing of them securely, or by opting for cloud solutions for taking notes while still printing essential financial documents and contracts.