Paperless doesn’t mean less paper

Paperless strategy gone wrong

Having been around the block a time or twenty. I’m very familiar with the business cases and common motivations behind going “paperless.” Frequently, the problem is that “less” is actually “more.”

One of the warning signs I see is the proliferation of printers. Twenty years ago, it was very common for an office to have a people to printer ratio of 30:1 or more. Today, it seems like we’re moving closer and closer to a 1:1 ratio. If we’re implementing all of these impressive “paperless” initiatives, why are we buying more printers and printing more? Is it the comfort factor of working with paper? Are the solutions not well conceived? Or, as I see so often, we just aren’t taking full advantage of the features included in a given system or software solution. Of course, this all goes back to core I.T. governance issues resulting in a poor return on investment (ROI) and increased total cost of ownership (TCO).

Generation gap?

With so many millennials and Gen-Z’ers entering the workforce, you’d expect them to push these results back the other way. They grew up in the small screen age and should be completely comfortable working in that way. Are we indoctrinating them in the ways of the paper generation and as a result stemming the change? We’ve all seen that resistance to change is a factor and we’ve all heard the phrase, “We’ve always done it this way.” That can’t be our mantra any longer.

Words matter

I’m not saying that paper is inherently evil, but I do think we’ve been a bit less than honest with ourselves about these initiatives over the last decade or so. So, to combat any possible stigma or negative perception about “paperless” projects, I’ve decided to re-brand these efforts as “Paper Free.” I feel that this establishes a clearer and more concrete goal for these initiatives.  From the outset, our objective should be well established and communicated to the team we do not intend to reduce dependence on paper we intend to irradicate it.

What’s the difference?

So it’s all about the mindset. We have to make a conscious and intentional switch in how we plan, implement, and measure success in these endeavors. The desired outcome must be transparent. The processes and technologies that we apply must enable our ability to work with zero paper required. Culturally as an organization, we have to embrace “paper” as a dirty word. We must put these old ways behind us just as we’ve done with so many other archaic practices. For example, touristy situations aside, when’s the last time you rode behind a horse in a buggy? Right! We accept and utilize so many modern conveniences to their fullest extent. We have to think the same way when it comes to paper in our workflows.

A radical shift

One of my many challenges has been with handwritten notes. For many years, I depended on the small 5×8 portfolio that I always had nearby. With the recent improvements in the current generation of the Apple iPad Pro and Pencil, I finally have a “Paper Free” solution to my note taking needs. By the way, the app I’m using is OneNote. Since we are an O365 shop, it just made sense for me to stay with a Microsoft solution. So where I’m going with this is this. The hardware technology is ready. The software solutions are ready. Yes, there are significant costs associated with some of these tools, but it is a necessary investment.

There’s a connection we can all make here. Whether you are an I.T. leader, a software developer, a business professional, a line manager, or CEO, we have to do our part to make that radical shift breaking with tradition and embracing the future.


Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear about your “Paper Free” initiatives in the comments below.

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