Can you work without paper in a paperless office?

Corinna Lines | March 28, 2017

Fax machine on desk

Freelancers in the 1990s were so grateful for fax machines. Image by Shal Farley / CC BY SA 2.0

In the 1990s people got quite excited about ‘teleworking’. Before computers and wifi ruled the world, freelance workers rented space and equipment at business hubs in our local communities. People used communal printers, photocopiers, and fax machines. Faxes were a revolutionary way to work remotely without clients having to courier work to you, however laughable that may seem now.

The internet changed all that, and suddenly you didn’t need enormous equipment to work remotely. But, even 10 years ago, people still mainly worked at desktop computers, with everything  plugged in and all their equipment in one place. So much for the paperless office.

Paperless office: myth or reality in the wireless age?

Wireless technology has again changed the way we work — and once more people are talking about ‘the paperless office’, working on screens, and using electronic storage rather than paper files. Obviously sound arguments exist in favour of saving trees and storage space.

But I’m not convinced that pens and paper are becoming obsolete. Look at the large chains of shops focusing on stationery, such as Warehouse Stationery, Typo, OfficeMax, Smiggle — targeting students and businesses (and those of us who are suckers for pretty stationery).

Colourful stationery on a desk

Stationery weaving its spell. Image by Pixabay / CC0

So when do we need paper?

The advent of ebooks, Kindles, and the rest has brought debate about our ability to adapt to reading on screens. But for peer reviewing, editing, or proofreading, I still print out documents and work with highlighter pens and pencilled notes, before making electronic changes.

I know that I miss far more errors when reading on screen, even though my eyes are expert at spotting mistakes.

So what do you do if your employer wants you to ‘go paperless’? I suggest you look at the purpose of any paper you use. If paper is part of a working process — whether spread out on a table with a team reviewing it, or just you editing or checking it — that means you have a good reason to use that paper.

But if the purpose is storage, you’ll find that saving documents electronically in an organised way, with careful file labelling, is a great way to store work efficiently and be one step closer to a paperless office.

From trees to vegetables

As for that ‘wasted paper’, I shred all documents when I’ve finished working on them for confidentiality reasons. We use the shredded paper in our compost bin to create air pockets and add carbon to the mix. So it’s going back to add value to the environment — and our vegetables.

Write offers a range of training, online and in workshops, to help you write well from the start, reducing the amount of work (and paper) needed to refine documents.


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