As you sit at your cubicle with piles and piles of paperwork that make you feel more effectively buried than an ancient artifact, you have to wonder, what happened to the paperless office?

Wasn’t there supposed to be a revolution that eliminated unnecessary waste?

Since a 1975  article in Business Week  quoted George E. Pake, then head of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, as saying there will be a revolution in the next 20 years, pundits have been proclaiming the arrival of the paperless office. Pake predicted that his 1995 office would be nearly paperless, as he would call up documents on screen by pressing a button.

Maybe it hasn’t been the revolution we anticipated, but you can make a substantial difference in your workplace – bringing tangible benefits to both you and the company’s bottom line.

The Cost

Protecting the environment is often a driver for reducing paper. You might well be part of the “go green” movement, but imagine being a selfish, miserly sort for a moment.  Reducing the paper in your workplace has significant productivity benefits and has a huge impact on the bottom line.

Consider these facts from K.J. McCorry’s “The Cost of Managing Paper: A Great Incentive to Go Paperless”:

  • The typical U.S. office worker uses more than 10,000 sheets of paper per year (two cases per employee)
  • It costs $20 in labor to file a document
  • Studies show more than 45 percent of paper filed is duplicated
  • A typical enterprise with 1,000 knowledge workers wastes up to $3.5 million searching for and recreating lost documents
  • A four-drawer filing cabinet costs about $25,000 to fill and $2,000 per year to maintain (according to WorkAwesome.com.)

The cost of printing documents is high, as well. Speaking at a business computing conference in London, Stephen Prentice, General Vice President of Hardware Research  for Gartner, calculated the cost of printer ink to be more than the cost of Chanel No. 5 or a good bottle of whisky. His comment prompted Australian artist Celeste Watson to redesign Hewlett-Packard printer cartridge packaging to resemble Chanel No. 5 packaging to highlight the absurdly high pricing of ink.

Creating a totally paper-free workplace is not possible and should not be the goal. Improved efficiencies, optimized business processes, and reduced costs are the main drivers to reduce paper. Reducing paper is not simply a matter of shifting the filing system from cabinets to electronic folders, though.  The growing trend toward moving data to a secure, modern cloud, along with the rise of mobile apps provide promising new ways to store documents; but, simply moving a bad system into the cloud is not the revolution we’re hoping for.

While reducing paper seems a daunting task, emerging technologies offer viable solutions. Document management companies abound to guide you through the maze of new technology. Acom Solutions and Paperless Environments are two Abila Product Partners who tout increased efficiency and significant reduction in cost of handling paper, as well as instant access to content through a document management system. And, some companies provide the scanning equipment as part of the solution.

Abila customer Emily Juilfs, accounting assistant for Community Action Partnership of Lancaster and Saunders Counties, explains that they still have everything on paper on the front end, although they’re scanning and attaching invoices to accounts payable transactions. “Budgets,” says Juilfs, “are always a consideration when evaluating a document management system, as they explore possibilities to eliminate all paper on the front end.”

Other Considerations

Paperlessenvironments.com cites increased emphasis on regulatory compliance as a driver for seeking methods to electronically automate paper-based products. With any new system, planning and cautionary procedures, such as a backup plan for disaster recovery, must be considered.

Steven Kachelmeirer, Auditing Professor at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business, advises that while electronic accounting documentation is perfectly acceptable, that documentation must stand up to audit scrutiny. In simple terms, this means that each element of the documentation has a well-defined audit trail, identifying the source of the information in a verifiable manner. Another vital aspect of electronic documentation  is a backup preparedness plan sufficient to reproduce all records in the event of technological failure or natural disaster.

On your path to reducing paper, use tools such as Google Drive and Office 365 to share documents internally. Mobile app Expensify captures receipts and business expenses, and tracks time and mileage for total digital expense reporting. Look for accounting packages which feature attaching source documents to transactions. Multifunction copiers have the ability to email documents and incoming faxes and pdfs. When paper is necessary, use two-sided printing.

Still waiting for the revolution? It’s here. Each step towards reducing paper will save you time, money, storage space, and clutter.