Since the 70s, the paperless office has seemingly been forever on the horizon, yet stacks of paper continue to burden companies across the nation. Is the possibility of a paperless office still within reach?

The concept of a paperless office has been years in the making–nearly 41 to be exact. In the June 30, 1975 issue of BusinessWeek an article titled “The Office of the Future” started rounds of paperless office predictions. In the article, Vincent E. Giuliano asserted that “by 1990, most record-handling will be electronic.” Other leaders were a bit more pragmatic in their assertions. Former president of Redactron Corporation Evelyn Berezin (who is best known for designing the first computer-driven word processor) stated, “It will be a long time–it always takes longer than we expect to change the way people customarily do their business.”

Four decades later, we’re still chasing the paperless office dream.

Transforming myth into reality

I can tell you from first-hand experience that going paperless is by no means impossible. The Centric Digital office is a paperless work environment and we’ve been that way since inception. This often comes as a shock to other business leaders. Whenever I bring an executive or client into the office for the first time, they’re always amazed to see our all-digital operation in action–some react as if they’ve just seen a unicorn. My question to them is always, “Really? In 2016, you think it’s impossible to be paperless?”

In the height of the Digital Era, we’re not lacking the means to eliminate paper from the workplace, but we are lacking the mindset.

The benefits of paperless

Companies need to reinforce the benefits if they’re going to create a culture that relies on digital for communication.

From a customer standpoint, going paperless can save all parties time and money. Take the financial industry for example–they are one of the slower industries to embrace digital transformation. Many financial institutions today still send out trade confirmations by mail–even if you’ve opted out of paper statements. Not only are they wasting money on paper, ink, and postage, they’re also paying the salary of the employees managing that mail process. These costs roll down to the consumer who pays for it all in the form of higher fees.

From a business process standpoint, imagine what you could eliminate and improve by having a paperless office. You could say goodbye to costly Xerox repairs, office supply orders, mailing and receiving paper checks, and wasted employee time.

Furthermore, prohibiting paper in the office forces information to be 100% digital, where you can make endless amounts of backups, and easily increase transparency. Not to mention, top talent wants to work for digital and tech-savvy companies. According to an Adobe survey, 68% of respondents said, when deciding where to work, it was important for a company to operate mostly electronically. Furthermore, 76% stated they were impressed by companies with a strong digital presence.

Attracting top talent, more profits, better efficiency? I’m still not sure why paper is around in offices at all anymore.

The formula for going paperless

You might think the secret to a paperless company is purely technology–it’s not. Well, not entirely. Thanks to products like iPads, smartphones, cloud services, DocuSign, Evernote, and Google Drive, the ability to go paperless is highly accessible. Yet, even with all this tech, companies continue to rely on paper. It’s not because they don’t have access to the technology, but because they’re lacking the policies, organizational structure, and discipline to change.

In order to go paperless, companies need to rewire the way they think and operate. The decision needs to be made and enforced across the organization, and everyone needs to work together to enforce paperless policies and procedures.

At Centric Digital, this even impacts how we interact with outside vendors. Any lawyer, accountant, contractor or vendor/partner we work with is told we don’t accept or write checks–everything we do in regards to payment is done with ACH. We even force our vendors to use our cloud-based file systems to share documents with us, preventing them from mailing us copies of anything. The result? We never get a stitch of paper from any of our vendors or partners and our external workflows are extremely efficient.

Our paperless policy has become part of doing business with us. If the vendors we work with won’t adhere to these policies, then we’ll find new ones. So far, our vendors have been more than happy to accommodate.

An exception to every rule

Of course, there are exceptions on when and where it makes sense to go paperless. When we were in the process of publishing our book on Digital Transformation, Revive: How to Transform Traditional Business Into Digital Leaders, we made the decision to have printed copies of the book made. We did this because the majority of the publishing industry is still reliant on print books so in order to get our message out, we needed to bend our “no paper” policy.

So, are you using paper because it’s an old habit or because it makes strategic sense to your specific business or project?

Yes, the paperless office has been a very long time in the making–but it no longer has to be. With the numerous amounts of software, services, apps, and technology available today, the only thing we need to do is make the decision to go paperless–and the discipline to see it through.

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