“If man may now be considered as having reached a high state of civilization, his gradual development is more directly due to the inventions of paper and printing than to all other factors.”
This quote is attributed to legendary paper historian Dard Hunter. For any fans of the written word, it carries a romantic sentiment. Love letters, education, even worldwide literacy are all possible because of the ability to put ink to paper.
Paper allows us to take what’s in our heads and disseminate it throughout the world.
In Bard’s quote, he seems to be using “paper and printing” as a way to describe communication, which is rapidly changing. But Bard died in 1966, obviously missing out on advancements in the Internet, and it makes us wonder: Do we need paper anymore?
From the standpoint of literal necessity, the answer is no. The majority of companies do not need paper, as they could make do with desktops, laptops, tablets and mobile devices.
As a matter of preference, well, we can’t really say—that’s up to the individual.
But in terms of practice, paper is still very much alive in the business world. In this post, we’ll examine the current status of paper in the office, what a paperless environment might look like, and give a few tips on how to start a paperless movement at your company.
Current Paper Usage
Recently, the demand for paper is down—Worldwide demand for P&W paper fell by 2.6% in 2015, according to RISI, and it’s projected to follow a similar trend. This isn’t surprising, but what’s interesting is that when you zoom out over the last 20 years, paper usage is actually up 126%, according to the Paperless Project.
Here are a few interesting facts from the same Paperless Project report:
- The U.S. has less than 5% of the world’s population yet consumes more than 30% of the world’s paper
- The U.S. uses approximately 68 million trees each year to produce paper and paper products
- U.S. companies spend more than $120 billion a year on printed forms, most of which outdate themselves within three months time
Apart from the environmental aspect of paper waste, you can also see that shuffling papers can have a negative impact on the P&L of a business. So while paper usage is trending down slowly, there are still plenty of effects that paper usage is responsible for.
Which leads to the question...
Why Aren’t We Paperless Already?
Is paper usage a generational thing? Or perhaps is it specific to a certain industry? While there are certain instances where the government requires you to maintain paper records, this is becoming more rare. Mostly, paper usage is driven by preference and not a mandate, even though the idea for a paperless office has been around for a very long time.
In a 1975 article published in Bloomberg Businessweek, George E. Pake, head of Research at Xerox at the time, theorized a TV-display terminal with keyboard sitting on his desk where he would “...call up documents from my files on the screen, or by pressing a button.” That was more than 40 years ago!
The paperless office has been just around the corner for as long as anyone can remember, but we’re still not there yet.
While paper usage is driven by preference, it is also (ironically) driven by technology. According to The Myth of the Paperless Office, new technology doesn’t necessarily reduce the amount of paper we use, but rather increases or shifts the ways in which we use it. Believe it or not, the invention of email actually increased paper consumption by 40%.
Adding technology won’t reduce the reliance on paper by default, but with the proper technology, you can not only reduce paper, but improve your processes.
What Would a 100% Paperless World Look Like?
There’s a reason a cluttered desk is the classic symbol of disorganization—unfiled papers look messy, create stress, and allow important tasks to fall through the cracks. But is putting all of those papers into a filing cabinet really that helpful? A truly paperless office offers many more benefits than just less paper.
Fewer mistakes - Each misfiled document costs $125. Each lost document cost $350 to $700. Large organizations lose a document every 12 seconds! That is an incredible amount of money tied up in mistakes, all of which you could be using to improve your P&L or passing through as savings to your customers.
More security - If all your files were wiped out by a flood or a fire, would your business be able to survive? 70% of businesses would fail within three weeks if their paper-based records were destroyed in one of those scenarios. Yikes. Cloud technology is able to provide redundant backups where this type of catastrophic failure is not a concern.
Digitalization - In addition to reducing paper consumption by digitizing your documents, businesses can also completely overhaul their processes and automate redundant tasks once you get rid of all your paper. In fact, digital transformation at your organization can be a catalyst for all types of innovation.
More space - For every 12 filing cabinets you add to your office floor plan, you’ll have to add another employee to manage of all the files contained within. A computerized, searchable filing system cuts down on physical space, but also ‘space’ on your bottom line in terms of extra full-time employees.
And if you miss the idea of putting pen to paper, touch-sensitive paperless tablets might be able to offer a more tactile solution.
Looking for a more practical solution for going paperless? We have you covered.
Tips For Going Paperless
Going paperless at most organizations doesn’t happen overnight. It’s more like pushing over a soda machine—you have to rock it back and forth a few times before that final shove topples it. If you’re looking for a few quick wins in your quest to go paperless, here are several ways you can chip away at paper-heavy processes that are fairly easily switch over to digital.
Invoicing and billing - Most of us are already using online banking in our personal lives, and there isn’t a legitimate reason you can’t do it at work also. The practice of “e-invoicing” has a 10-20% year over year growth rate, but paper invoices still reign supreme. Savings from electronic invoices range from $4-8 per invoice.
Document storage - Google, Microsoft, and Dropbox all have sophisticated solutions for online documents that allow you to store, share, and collaborate with ease. Personally, I can’t even fathom lugging a box full of papers or files anywhere.
Scanning and faxing - OK, we know most people are hip to this game, but perhaps we can help you take in a step further. Dropbox Fax was actually the first product created at Dropbox Sign, which allows you to send faxes from your computer, sans fax machine. You can even keep your fax number, if that’s important to you. You can try it for free here.
Meeting notes - When you scribble notes on a legal pad during a meeting, do you actually ever use them again? Many people do not, and instead end up with more filing cabinets filled with poor handwriting on outdated projects. Consider a digital solution like Evernote that allows you take the notes and take a host of different actions (such as filing or sending) through connected apps. Additionally, Evernote allows you to take a picture of a whiteboard with your mobile phone, then it will read the text and transcribe it for you.
Electronic signatures - You knew we would get to this one eventually. Get your contracts signed faster by opting for an electronic signatures over fax or snail mail. Apart from cutting down on paper waste, signing contracts electronically lets you speed your process to revenue. You can even configure an electronic signature to kick off an array of automated actions. Here are some examples from our Dropbox Forms product.
So what do you think—can you envision a paperless office at your organization? What would it look like?
For a deep dive into turning your paperless office pursuit into a full-on digital transformation, check out our Digital Strength program—A free 12-course educational program that provides motivated changemakers with the knowledge and resources needed to push change initiatives forward. Learn more in this blog post.