Truly Paperless

By , February 23, 2011 5:02 pm

by Philippe Cloutier

When we hear that an organization has gone paperless (or is considering it), we often think of cancelled book, newspaper, magazine, and other print subscriptions. More often though, it means an end to paper records, constant printouts and a focus on improved electronic archiving, storage, and access.  More importantly, the move to a paper-free existence is a commitment to a new way of life.

It takes more than a fancy statement and the voicing of environmental concerns to enact change in institutions and individuals. A friend of mine works at a bankruptcy trustee office in Nevada, and their organization is mostly paperless. The paper records they generate are mainly for the court and case files. Typically, one case file is not very large and fits within a manila folder. Print also become necessary when attorneys review documents, making mark-ups and notes. In general, work is done digitally and stays digital.

The difference in their environment stands as a stark contrast to most offices. Each employee has three monitors, two 18” and one 24”, with some having four monitors. Digital record storage is automated by software that organizes files into the appropriate folder within a documentation database. Although the program to go paperless began in 2004 and should have taken a year, it took 5 years,  the main reasons: scanning old records, changing habits, and implementing the right technology.

Going paperless can be scary. A culture change of this magnitude requires more than the latest technology. It demands consistent training and proven incentives. Improved efficiency, better work-product, cost-savings, and a developed understanding of technology are a few of the incentives inherent in a paperless office. It’s the kind of program that would have to come from the top down. Shareholders, directors and managers must be on board, leading by example. Drastic change requires drastic and complete measures.

Not all of us have three monitors, and work routine may suffer if we attempt to test out a paperless workday. Moreover, institutional changes/mandates may never take place. While workplace excuses for paper are easy to secure, the home is the one place where we can make a sizable difference. For further reading on the homefront battle, check out the NY Times article: Pushing Paper Out the Door.

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