Less Paper in a Few Easy Steps

April 29, 2008

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You don't have to be a pack rat with overstuffed file cabinets to realize the benefits of a paperless office. The paperless office may be a pipe dream, but minimizing paper in the office is easily achievable.

What ever happened to the "office of the future" and the promises of the "digital office" it offered?

For decades, people have been proclaiming the imminent arrival of the paperless office, due in no small part to the introduction of the personal computer and the World Wide Web to the workplace. The ubiquity of the personal computer was supposed to free us from the chaotic sea of paperwork overflowing our desks and cabinets.

Yet all it seems to have done is create more paper, as anyone who basks in the incandescent glow of a blue screen and clicks "Print" each day can attest.

In fact, research shows that the Web has increased the amount of printing done today. In the average organization, the use of e-mail alone causes an average 40 percent increase in paper consumption, according to the authors of The Myth of the Paperless Office. Based on industry estimates, document management company Macro 4 claims printing costs companies between 1 percent and 3 percent of their annual turnover.

The paperless office seems as remote as ever today. So what do we do, then? Eliminate the use of paper completely?

No. The key to the future of the digital office, according to Popular Science recently, "is not so much a paper-free environment but rather one that is less paper-dependent."

To that end, here are just a few simple steps nearly every workplace can take to cut down on paper use/waste in the workspace.

1) Don't Need it? Recycle it Old magazines, outdated marketing materials, extensive notes for completed projects, files from former clients and temporary paper (like notes taken while on the phone) can probably leave your office forever. Review the paper that can go, and send it to the recycling bin.

The American Forest and Paper Association estimates that the typical business generates 1.7 lbs. of material per employee per day, much of it high-grade, recyclable paper. Yet a poll for Randstad USA found that, overall, 77 percent of the 2,079 respondents said they recycle, but only 49 percent said they do so at work (Source: The New York Times, March 2008).

2) Handle Electronically Convert incoming paper to digital. Using an Internet-connected computer to get statements and pay bills electronically eliminates checks and paper bills and statements. Move as many of these functions as you can to electronic. Use personal finance or accounting software to handle your business' finances electronically.

Prepare and file invoices on your computer and send them via e-mail or electronic fax. With electronic faxing, you can send and receive faxes directly from your computer via e-mail or the Web. Incoming faxes from conventional machines are converted to digital images and sent to the recipient's e-mail box.

Today, most important to the endeavor of cutting down on office paper is a good document scanner, says Popular Science. With a scanner, you can create digital images from paper documents, save them as PDFs and then store them electronically on your computer or share them with others via e-mail or on disk. If your client agrees, sign paper contracts, scan them and send them back via electronic fax.

3) Paperless Document Management and Backup Although you can eliminate paper, you can't eliminate information. Even without paper, you'll still need to store and find files, send information, keep information confidential and ensure you have backups of important files. To accomplish this, you'll need a secure electronic file system, an easy filing procedure, a regular back-up process and the software and hardware to make all of this happen.

With a modest amount of local or network storage, much of the paper documents, photos, engineering plans and any other byproducts of felled trees can be converted to digital form, and the user could store all the information necessary to get the job done successfully in digital form. And then, when it's no longer necessary, recycle the remaining paper.

Resources

How Paperless Home Offices Work by Diane Dannenfeldt HowStuffWorks.com

Clicking, at Last, on 'Don't Print' by Lisa Belkin The New York Times, March 20, 2008

Making a Paperless Home Office by Matt Ransford Popular Science, March 25, 2008

Three Steps to the Paperless Office by Dan Costa PC Magazine, March 27, 2008

6 Tips for a 'Paperless' Office by Joseph Anthony Microsoft Small Business Center

The Myth of the Paperless Office by Abigail J. Sellen and Richard H. R. Harper MIT Press, 2001

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