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Status Quo: The paperless office

As far as online surveys by the Fraunhofer Institut go, the situation is black and white: paper is becoming less important in the workplace as the digital era takes hold. Many operations simply no longer require materials to be printed out, as most texts are processed on a computer, mobile or tablet. For years now, we have preferred to send files digitally rather than making sure they get from A to B in hard copy. The prognosis: By 2048, companies will have barely any paper at all.

This offers clear advantages:

  • The environment will thank you!
  • And also your pocket. Less paper is used, less toner, less power, the list goes on…
  • Communication is quicker, easier and more direct.
  • Operations become more efficient. Instead of sending something from the computer to the printer and then going to pick it up, everything can be done at the click of a button.
  • It becomes much easier to keep things in order as there isn’t paperwork lying around everywhere. Files are stored digitally, are easy to find, and can be retrieved from anywhere.
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But the reality is…

So what is the reality of all this in an average office? Paperless offices are few and far between. Behind the desks, cupboard after cupboard is stacked high with invoices, contracts and other paperwork that all has to be kept. Stacks of paper and full notepads can be found all over the place, on desks and in storage compartments. This is a situation that virtually everyone will be familiar with. So is the paperless office nothing more than a pipe dream or is it actually wishful thinking that could soon become a reality?

The paperless office already exists

Dutch IT company, Decos, for example, has been (almost) entirely paperless since 2011. Most recently, in fact, it even dispensed with toilet paper in favour of a water flushing system that is popular in the Asian regions. A bit of an unusual concept for us Europeans, but anyway – back to the subject! The only piece of paper that Decos receives in the post comes once a year from the tax office. There are no printers or copiers any more, as all documents are processed, saved and archived digitally. What’s more, to make it easier for people to work from home or on the go, data and documents are saved off on servers in the cloud. Decos even sticks to its basic prerequisite of ensuring everything can run digitally when it comes to choosing business partners and service providers.

But is it really possible and logical to voluntarily adapt to this type of business model? How much sense does it actually make to ban paper from the office entirely?

Many people don’t want to go the whole hog

In this age of digitalisation, people in Germany are slowly but surely starting to take a more digital approach to their work. A large proportion of the paperwork that used to be found in the workplace is no longer created, as documents can be produced on the computer, sent via email, and validated with a digital signature. There may have been some criticism at the outset over whether everything was actually secure, but the technology has come on leaps and bounds in recent years with regard to protection against hackers and other cyber attacks.

In some areas, however, it’s hard to get used to not having a pen and paper to hand:

  • Taking notes is a good example. Many people like to take handwritten notes in a notebook during meetings or else simply prefer the feel of real paper. This is likely to remain the case for the time being. 


  • Many people find it easier to make corrections if they can see them on printed paper. 


  • When brainstorming, it’s quicker and easier to make a note of good ideas if they can be written down. This is where whiteboards and flip charts offer an ideal solution. What’s more, whiteboards and flip charts can both be used in a range of different applications.

There’s still a long way to go until the paperless office becomes a reality. In many sectors, it would definitely make sense to start doing away with paper right away! In other industries, however, it would be better to wait and see how our habits change.