The Myth of the Paperless Office

I’ve been hearing empty promises for actual decades.
Remember Wang word processors? How about WordStar?
For years and years the folks marketing these products have been dangling this nirvana of the “paperless office” in front of our faces.
No paper documents flitting about, no filing cabinets clogging up precious real estate, no document storage boxes (or rent to hold them), just a well-organized digital repository to store and share all of our company data. Simple, streamlined, efficient.
Will 2018 finally be the year this vision becomes a reality?

The benefits of going paperless

There’s a lot to say for digitizing your data; the further we move away from paper files, the closer we move toward:

  • Better security
  • Better backup
  • More effective collaboration
  • A smaller carbon footprint

In other words, we’re minimizing our risk of data loss while boosting our team’s productivity and helping the environment. Not a bad set of outcomes.
A paperless office is a smart and prudent goal for businesses to have, but it’s a lofty one.

Why it isn’t going to happen

We have a ways to go before we get anywhere close to going truly “paperless.”
In the same way that older generations aren’t ready to give up their BlackBerry or their Rolodex, those in the workforce today just aren’t ready to give up paper.
This includes millennials, who you might say are on the cusp; they’re comfortable consuming and manipulating data in digital form, but grew up doing much of their schoolwork on paper like the rest of us. (And some, like my daughter, wouldn’t be caught dead with an e-reader.)
We still like having something tangible to look at and to share and to feel.
And since printers have become so cheap, it’s easy to pump out our documents and give ourselves that satisfying feeling of permanence.
Perhaps as Generation Z takes over – the ones who had computers in their preschools -- we’ll start seeing some significant progress toward going fully digital.
But for now, we’ll keep our paper just the way it is, thank you very much.


As originally published in the American City Business Journals

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