Is the Paperless Office Possible?
The paperless office, like the omnipresence of telework (and those jetpacks we were promised), is one of those innovations that's been predicted for decades and yet seems to always recede into the future.
As GreenBiz reports, paper use in America actually dramatically increased in the two decades after BusinessWeek first called for the paperless office back in 1975. The good news, according to the site's State of the Paper Industry 2011 report, is that we're at least using less paper since 2006.
So maybe we're turning a corner. With the rise of cloud applications and devices that keep us constantly connected, a large swath of small businesses are coming closer to paperless status than every before. Those that curb their old, dead tree habits, do so for a number of reasons but realize a plenty of side benefits from the effort.
The Virtual Team
Not everyone who pushes to go paperless does it out of green inclinations. "We're from British Columbia, so we like to cut down trees," jokes Jim Secord, the CEO of Vancouver-based online accounting start-up Kashoo.
Why did they push towards paperless then? "We're a virtual office. We have people spread all over, so it's absolutely critical to have a paperless system because there's not that centralized area where everyone can go and look at documents," Secord explains. To achieve their virtual system, the Kashoo team relies on Doxie scanners ("Brilliant for scanning receipts or contracts. It's not really industrial strength but it makes up for it in terms of straight convenience," raves Secord of the small, wireless devices), Google Drive and Evernote.
The results haven't just been a dent in the local logging industry. "People aren't spending time trying to search for things. It's online and easily accessible, so, from an efficiency perspective, it's absolutely fantastic," Secord says, adding "from an invoicing perspective, we issue an invoice via email and they pay electronically, so there's no check being cut, coming back. You get paid a lot faster."
The Green Brand
For Anthony Construction, a small, Austin, Texas-based design and construction firm, a push towards less paper was partly a way to burnish the firm's green credentials. "Frankly saving space and time," were the most important considerations in the company's efforts to reduce paper use, project manager Kip Kypuros explains, but this "coincidentally works with the industry and national 'green' buzz."
Accomplishing its paper-saving mission, for this company, was less about tech and more about attitude. "The tools have been available for years," Kypuros says. "It really is teaching everyone that it is not necessary to print or have paper." It's worth the effort, as less paper allows Kypuros to "work less, smarter and hopefully increase my dollar per hour value."
The Social Entrepreneur
When four students at the London School of Economics from an unlikely quartet of countries—Kazakhstan, Italy, Tanzania, and Germany—teamed up for a social entrepreneurship project to produce audiovisual materials for NGOs, paperless processes proved essential.
"We are 90% paperless. This wasn't the original intention but happened naturally since members of our organization are now located around the world. We united for the project whilst at Uni, but after the academic year was over, we all moved to our home countries or decided to travel," founder Yuliya Kogay explains.
Being paperless allows the team to keep costs low and funnel more resources towards the organizations they serve. How do they ensure things run smoothly without paper (or a shared continent)? They started out with a patchwork solution composed of Evernote, Gmail, Skype and good old Word, but soon "realized that Gmail didn't allow us much structure. We moved most work to Podio, where we could track progress, keep things in order, and exchange PDFs," Kogay says.
Could cutting your paper consumption be a sideways route to more efficient work?
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.