Anyone Using Paper in This Digital Era is the Reason a Paperless Office Only Exist in Theory

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Achieving a paperless office has been a common thought and work environment that most of us have been looking forward to in over two decades now. In most recent years, the idea of a paperless office was touted so much that almost all research at the time pointed towards more companies confirming that they would adopt a paperless routine, with others saying they would consider reducing their use of paper. It was all good and those sensitive to the environment were also relishing in the hope that less trees would be cut to facilitate for the use of paper. But looking at the workplaces of today, it is clear that we are nowhere near achieving a paperless office than we were years ago. It is just another existing theory that is yet to become reality.

It is astounding that with the growth and uptake of technology, we are still reluctant to let go of buying thousands of rims of paper for daily office use. From internal memos, proposals and reports, it is not enough for most executives to have a digital copy at their disposal; most are still fixated on a printed copy of the same presentation that is already digitally available. If this does not count as paper wastage, then I am not sure what does. The Kenyan government has even made it a priority to use physical applications when it comes to jobs, tenders and almost every other service.

This photo below showing government officials manually sorting through job applications is an eye sore for anyone advocating the need for a paperless office.

Judicial Service Commission staff sorting through job applications. c/o Daily Nation

Judicial Service Commission staff sorting through job applications. c/o Daily Nation

Why organizations are still fixated on using Paper

According to a recent study done earlier in the year by Epson Europe, 84% of employees felt that a paperless office was unrealistic. Among the reasons given to support the need of using paper in the office, employees said they were more comfortable reading and editing reports and brochures on paper than they are on a screen. They also cited that editing a printed document was much less erroneous than an electronic document. (I’m sorry…what?) I don’t know about you but this already feels like an excuse to continue using paper even when it is not really necessary.

Don’t get me wrong; I do share in the opinion that reading and retaining information is easier on printed paper than from an electronic one, but this too is all about adapting to new technology and all its aspects. Most of us are too afraid of embracing new ways of doing things and that is why organizations are still stuck believing that they need paper in their daily office use.

It baffles me that some organizations still require employees to clock in and out of work by signing in manually on a book. Once one book is filled, they replace it with another one instead of adopting new technology and implementing the many systems available today. Why do we have new systems being launched to ease office operations if they won’t be put to use? Isn’t better efficiency what every organization seeks to deliver?

Still from the Epson survey, it was revealed that 86% of employees claimed that if there ever was a ban on using print, the move would limit their productivity. Now, I understand the attachment that could exist from years long of using printed paper for almost everything and the fear and unrest that could emanate from a ban on paper in the office. But isn’t linking an employee’s productivity to the current misuse of paper a bit of a stretch? If you were to take time and evaluate the number of times in a day that you use paper and pick out only the important times you actually needed to, I believe the results would shock you.

Most people print out paper documents, not because they really need to but because there is rims of paper available and printers to do the work. It’s the notion of; if it’s available, why not use it? Research shows that organizations continue to spend billions on buying paper, even when it is very clear that not much is needed. According to World Counts, an organization dedicated to providing environmental facts and live statistics, demand for paper is expected to double in size before 2030. And to think the aim of touting a paperless office was to help reduce the usage of paper across the globe. It then remains clear that even as we transition into a world of augmented reality (AR) and embrace the new heights of technology, we are still held back to technology that existed thousands of years ago.

Instead of trying to focus on what can be done to cut down on the use of paper in offices and as a result try and salvage the environment (yes, I used the environment card), we are the same people advocating for the need to remain in a backward world where paper clutter is the order of the day.

Is there hope for a paperless office?

Some organizations have indeed tried so hard to cut on using paper. Most of this is notable when you walk in to an office and your request is put into the computer rather than scribbled down on paper. Other buildings are also including a visitor log in system where instead of physically signing on a visitor’s book at the guard’s desk, they take in your information like name, phone & ID numbers and other details and key it into the system. This way if you ever return, they can have your details ready instead of going over the whole routine again. If you are one of the people excited about seeing a paperless office for every organization someday, then you will have to admire this.

I do believe there is hope for paperless offices, but the government and other corporations still stuck on using paper need to find better ways of achieving whatever satisfaction it is they are fixated upon. The fact that job applications and tenders to government offices have to be made manually on paper and delivered in person or by post is a big concern than needs to be sorted out. There is so much better efficiency that exists with good systems and the latest touting of online services through ecitizen is an example. iTax is another major move into better digital use by government and my wish is that they can incorporate this new realization in their daily office use and operations.

While the broad aspect of a completely paperless office is far from attainable, organizations need to focus on incorporating work systems that are already available. Physically signing in to work on a book should not be acceptable, neither is physically going through paper applications or manual filling of forms where other digital alternatives are available. Organizations need to forget about how they have always done things and open up to new ideas and systems. Only then can we achieve optimum productivity in the workplace and serve clients and customers better.

What is your opinion on the topic?
Selipha Kihagi
Selipha is a writer living in Nairobi, Kenya. On typical days you will find her typing away at her computer, while on best days she is caring for someone other than herself. She writes about any topic that sparks her interest and hopes to inspire change one word at a time.
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