Research shows we’re no closer to the ‘paperless office’ – so what happened?

The concept of a 'paperless office' has been around for at least 35 years, since British-American information scientist, Frederick Wilfrid, first envisioned it in 1978 in his book 'Towards Paperless Information Systems'. More than three decades on, in the midst of the information age, you would think we would be there by now – but far from it.

Research conducted by printer firm Epson has revealed that physical page is still a central part of daily office life. The survey of over 3,600 European employees found that 83% felt the ‘paperless office is unrealistic’.

Printouts are preferred to electronic documents because workers feel the need to share and hand out reports and brochures and edit and annotate them. In fact, a majority felt they’d be more likely to make a mistake when editing an on-screen document than having a printout.

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A similar piece of recent research, by information management specialists M-Files, which looked at small businesses, found that more than three out of four are still wedded to paper.

77% of UK business still store and manage paper records, with 19% stating that they kept all records in paper format, while 58% currently stored data in both paper and electronic format. 

83% of those in Epson's survey said that a ban on printing would 'limit their productivity.' But despite all this, research also showed that inefficient printing systems could be limiting productivity even more.

Across Europe, office workers spend nearly 19 hours every year walking to and from printers, Epson claims, marching over 110 kilometres in the process. In the UK, the average distance to a printer is 13 metres – second only to Germany in the 'printer Olympics'. How can we fix this if we're not prepared to part with paper?

According to M-Files, UK businesses are more than aware of the productivity gains that can be made by migrating to an electronic format. But they are constantly facing pressure to improve efficiencies, optimise business processes, ensure compliance and reduce cost. The challenge for many is to cut their dependency on legacy paper-based processes and deliver real business transformation.

'Over the past few decades, the transition from paper to electronic document management has not solved the issue of being able to quickly find the documents we need,' said Julian Cook, director of Business, M-Files.

The top three reasons businesses are considering storing documents in electronic form are to improve business processes, enhance operational efficiency, reduce storage space and reduce overall cost.

But all too often companies have just migrated their existing paper filing systems into digital form, and as a result are still suffering from the same drags on productivity.

'With the growth of the cloud and the increasing use of mobile devices offering new tools for enhancing and improving information management, the answer is not just migrating paper files to digital form,' he continued.

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'Without a strategic approach in place for more effectively managing information, businesses are often doomed to replicate the same inefficient processes. What is needed is a new way of thinking and creating more effective systems to store and manage data.'

And for those who still need tangible printed versions of documents, Epson recommends a distributed printer fleet, with unites placed closer to workgroups, to increase employee efficiency.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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