What is a paperless office? Definition and examples

If all your documents, written correspondence, reminder notes, etc., are in digital form, there is virtually no use for paper in your office. You therefore have, as the name suggests, a paperless office. The term is a concept in which paper usage is either eliminated completely or significantly reduced.

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Having a paperless office has benefits for operational procedures, employees, and outside the workplace. It is environmentally friendly and results in greater productivity.

The Cambridge Dictionary has the following definition of the term:

“A paperless office, classroom, etc. is one in which people store information and communicate with each other using computers, rather than paper.”

The Internet has changed how we work

Offices today look, smell, and sound very different to the ones that existed 45+ years ago. Offices used to be loud places with armies of employees, many of them smoking, bashing away at typewriters.

In one of our previous articles, Veronica Cruz wrote the following about offices in the 1950s:

“There was also a lot of paper then. Everything that had to be archived was done using paper. People wrote letters on paper, put them in envelopes, and either posted them or delivered them to other departments.”

“Today, offices are very quiet places. There are no typewriters and very little paper. In fact, in some offices, you do not see any paper at all. We call them paperless offices.”

Go green with a paperless office

To go green means to become more ecologically responsible and environmentally friendly, i.e., to take measures to protect the environment. Let’s look at some simple steps we can take to make our workplaces better for the environment:

Go paperless

If you are serious about becoming an eco-friendly business owner, it has never been easier to keep things paperless by going digital. In one of our previous articles, Alexander Joe wrote:

“From sending contracts and legal documents online to keeping your banking and invoices online, there are so many simple steps you can help make the move to paperless.”

Recycle and reuse

Have several recycling bins in your offices and encourage your employees to use them conscientiously. Purchase cups, saucers, knives, forks, etc., that are reusable.

Be a smart traveler

Do you really have to travel to your next meeting? Would you achieve the same if you held it online?  There are many steps we can take to reduce our carbon footprint.

Going paperless – teething problems

Going digital is fine as far as internal operational procedures and communications are concerned. If we all use the same software and hardware, it is easy. However, businesses and other organizations have to communicate with suppliers, customers, inquirers, the press, and other outsiders.

From the early 1990s until about 2010, we did not all have the same level of access to hardware, software, and telecommunications technology. I could not send emails to a supplier who had no online access or hold a video conference with somebody whose Internet connection was very slow.

This is less of a problem today. Significantly more workplaces have computers, mobile phones, and access to fast Internet today compared to a couple of decades ago.

The process of becoming paperless on a large scale took several years. Some people wondered whether going completely digital would ever happen. In 1999, Bill Gates, co-founder of the Microsoft Corporation, said:

“The paperless office, like artificial intelligence, is one of those any day now phenomena that somehow never seem to actually arrive.”

The future

In twenty years’ time, automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning will be much more advanced and more integrated in workplace procedures. We will all be part of the IoT. IoT stands for the Internet of Things; billions of devices, people, and animals will be connected to the Internet via wireless networks. Even pills (medication) will be part of the IoT. Children will learn at school that paper once dominated our places of work.

The paperless office will become an ambiguous term as more and more people work remotely, i.e., from home. The 2020 coronavirus pandemic accelerated the transition of working in the office to WFH. WFH stands for Working from Home. Maybe we’ll start saying the paperless workplace.