The concept of a paperless office has been around since the mid-1970s, yet paper is still one of the biggest barriers when it comes to corporate digitisation.
Whilst office walls are no longer lined with jam-packed filing cabinets, business paper usage continues to grow year on year. According to Record Nations, paper consumption in the average business rises by as much as 22% each year; doubling paper costs in under 3.5 years – surprising figures, given our recent, rapid digital transformation.
The average office worker is still said to print up to 10,000 sheets of paper each year. To meet that demand in the UK alone, a forest the size of Wales (8,024 square miles) would need to be felled annually*. Now consider that 75% of printed paper will be thrown away^ and of that, 45% will end up in the bin the very same day# and 30% is never even collected from the printer at all.+
Digital processes are faster, more efficient and increase productivity; operating more sustainably has been proven to be good for your employees and your organisation’s bottom line as well as the planet, so why are we still so reliant on paper?
In an economy where maximising operational efficiency is vital, businesses understandably are looking to adopt paper-free workflows. The widespread adoption of cloud-based collaboration tools, legally valid digital signatures or visitor management solutions throughout the pandemic have seen these technological advances become smoother, faster and mainstream.
What are the benefits of a paperless office?
Aside from never having to battle with an annoying paper jam again, something most office workers will be grateful for, ‘going paperless’ can bring huge operational benefits.
As paper remains a relatively inexpensive expense, not all businesses account for the cost/hire of the equipment itself, ink, energy, mailing, or servicing and maintenance bills.
In 2019, global financial services company, Citigroup, determined that if each employee used double-sided copying to conserve just one sheet of paper per week, the firm would save a staggering US$700,000 each year.** Imagine the financial saving a printer-free organisation could make.
According to Forbes, U.S corporations spend a vast $120 billion annually on the production of printed forms, only for those prints to become outdated within just three months. Using free software, such as Google Forms, businesses can make sizeable printing and administration cost savings.
COVID-19 has given businesses little choice but to innovate and move away from inefficient paper processes. The unforeseen speed of this technological revolution streamlined business efficiency and agility; digital offices appeared anywhere there was an internet connection. Collaboration, automated workflows and substantially reduced administration leaves more time to strategically drive businesses forward.
55% of workers say that administration regularly consumes at least one full day a week.
The State of Workflow Automation Report. Formstacks.
Easier to lose and harder to locate than digital files, Forbes estimate that when using paper processes, a typical office worker spends 30% – 40% of their day searching for printed documents – a substantial drain on resources.
Improve data security.
Sending physical invoices, forms and agreements can be an unnecessary, wasteful expense in the digital world> With the UK government’s push to make tax digital, finance departments are embracing cloud-based systems, such as Xero or QuickBooks, improving efficiency and tracking.
Moreover, printed documents can also be a significant threat to security if mislaid. Just last year, a highly classified Ministry of Defence dossier relating to Russia was found at a bus stop in Kent. Whilst your company files may not contain matters of national or global security, they will likely contain your sensitive data.
Become more sustainable.
An estimated 75% of office printing ends up in general waste.^^ In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, paper products still make up the largest percentage of all materials in landfill; despite being one of the most recyclable products.
The impact extends beyond the trees felled or waste generated. The paper industry itself remains one of the world’s largest air and water polluters generating sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide. The paper waste in landfill also produces methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than CO2.##
Whilst it can be said that our data centres have an environmental impact, the tech giants have responded to criticism by building servers located in cooler climates and renewable energies.
Grow your business.
Beyond something required for regulatory purposes, boards are recognising the impact that good environmental and social practices can have on their ability to attract and retain talent, their market position and their business growth.
In 2020, multiple surveys concluded that two-thirds of consumers actively sought out ethical brands++ – doubling the findings of Unilever’s 2017 survey 3 years prior, which suggested that one-third of global consumers chose brands that demonstrated social responsibility. Corporate organisations also seek partners whose business values align with their own.
Furthermore, better customer experience scores can be achieved through digital technologies to improve delivery times. For example, when Santander switched to an e-signature system for new account holders, processing time was reduced by 83% following a 97% reduction in paper forms.***
Are there any disadvantages of a paperless office?
Digitalisation means a vast increase of highly sensitive data residing on data centre racks, USB drives, internal and external hard drives, tablets, smartphones and other Internet of Things devices – making potential data security issues the biggest disadvantage of the fully digital model. Alarmingly, a huge percentage of UK organisations still do not dispose of their redundant IT assets correctly, risking a data breach, a damaged reputation and the legal consequences under EU and UK GDPR.
2021 was the costliest year for data breaches in 17 years,^^^ making it more important than ever to protect company data through secure IT asset disposal. Professional IT asset disposition companies guarantee complete and secure data erasure using the latest industry techniques and best practice.
If transitioning to a digital strategy, it is important to find a reliable ITAD partner who can regularly sanitise end-of-life IT assets following upgrade cycles. As they live and breathe both GDPR data destruction requirements and e-waste compliance, you can rest assured that your business will not experience any data governance issues. You will receive that all-important ITAD chain of custody. Whether using a data centre decommissioning or mobile device recycling service, each device cleansed will receive its own individual IT asset disposal accreditation certificate. Once data erasure is complete redundant IT equipment can be upgraded, redeployed or recycled. You’ll also receive the residual payments for any components that re-enter the circular economy.
One of the common digitisation objections is concerns over platform or technology malfunctioning. Of course, software can crash and become outdated or unsupported – so consistent reinvestment in the technologies that replace all that paper is vital. This all-costs money, when budgets are already stretched.
An audit will help you identify existing products in your tech stack to perform that function along with free-of-charge apps to boost productivity, like Apple Notes or Google Keep. Evernote and Otter AI also have free basic plans. Transcript technologies may not hear and record every word perfectly but efficiency improvements far outweigh the odd missed word.
A paper-free office will not be achievable across all industries. Some contracts require a wet signature by law, whereas other industry regulations may mean that your company is legally required to retain certain documents for a prescribed period. However, all companies can take steps towards creating a more digital environment.
With today’s digital technologies, a completely paper-free office is possible, but in reality, and for the majority, we are unlikely to see the complete disappearance of paper for some time.
However, reducing our reliance on outdated paper processes in favour of technological transformation will streamline processes, boost efficiency, productivity and employee wellbeing along with overall business performance. What’s more, your business will be rewarded with loyalty as customers support businesses that work towards a zero-waste future.
Consideration must be given to the full lifecycle management of your data-rich devices – what is your data management policy when your server racks and devices become end-of-life IT assets? Transitioning to a digital working model highlights the importance of asset disposal. Most IT asset destruction services will be able to offer advice on how to evolve safely without running into any data governance challenges, during transition or in the future.
*Toner Buzz, ^Computer Tech Pro, #Formstack, +Roadrunner, **Restore, ^^EPA, ##Forbes, IBM/National Retail Federation, ***DocuSign, ^^^Clario.
tier1 provide comprehensive environmentally friendly ITAD and IT asset disposal services, helping businesses protect company data and avoid any data security issues.
If you are considering transitioning towards a paper-free office ad have questions to ask your ITAD supplier, please contact us for advice – Call 0161 777 1000 or visit our contact form.
TonerBuzz. Envoy, Formstack, Proxyclick, Statista, EPA, Record Nations, Roadrunner, Lancashire Business Review, Restore, WiziTech, Forbes, DocuSign, Computer Tech Pro, Clario, The BBC.