I didn’t work in an office space for a couple of months, so I nearly forgot how people in the office are. Being back, I’ve been confronted again with things like office humour and today’s buzz words. The moment I heard someone was writing a blog article about going paperless, I immediately suggested writing a counter-article about it and defend the paper’s honour! Because a paperless office does not exist.

The paperless dream

After the introduction of office computers in the 70s, the magazine Business week wrote an article in 1975 about the future of the workplace and the paperless office. The idea of having monitors around for your calculations and documentation gave the idea that almost anything could be done with them, and that paper wasn’t necessary to do your daily work. Storing data on floppy disks and archiving them this way, instead of loads of paper, made the concept even better. It’s forty years later, and everybody in the offices works on computers, data is stored in the cloud and companies are trying to be environmentally friendly. Yet, people are still using paper.

The love for paper

Experience. Feeling. These are the words that explain why I, and I think most other people as well, still use paper. The warm feeling of flipping through a filled notebook or new book is impossible to compare with the feeling (or a lack thereof) of reading on an e-reader or monitor. If I need to review a document, I still print it out for a simple reason that it is easier and more fun to write and draw with a red pen on paper. And although the annotation system in text editors works perfectly, the overview on a printed document is better and more rewarding. Think about meetings. Telephones, laptops, tablets; it can all distract from the main purpose of a meeting. Although it can enhance the experience by giving a proper presentation, how many of us have been distracted while we were checking our email? If we bear in mind that we all try to invest our time the best we can because it’s a scarce resource, wasting everybody’s time in an unproductive meeting is not recommended thing to do.

Why I am refusing to go paperless

Of course, I use a computer for 99% of the things I do and could possibly do on a piece of paper, but I refuse to use the term “paperless” because it should never be a goal. My goal is to work as efficiently as possible, and the solutions to go completely paperless is just too expensive (500-dollar paper-tablets are awesome). Using a laptop in a crowded train is terrible, I want to see a face of the person I’m in a meeting with, and post-its on a wall are giving a better and quicker overview of the status of a project than an online board.

Solutions: How to go paper-light instead of paper-less

Writing in a notebook
"I still go around with a notebook in my hand in order to make notes and scribbles. And trust me, I’m not the only one."

If you decide to replace paper with digital solutions, make sure it creates value for you and/or for your business. For example, the management information of a digital Agile board can add value to your project. In our office, we also use a lot of digital systems to enhance our business performance (you can read more about the apps we are using in my colleague’s article), but that doesn’t make us paperless. I still go around with a notebook in my hand in order to make notes and scribbles. And trust me, I’m not the only one.

The future of paper

Receiving an e-mail in the 70s was a technological wonder. Today, everybody is sending out messages without a blink, whether for their birthday or to ask their partner when they will be home. Receiving a paper birthday card is nowadays special. Paper has been around for centuries and we will all keep on using it in the near future, while the digitalization of the office will continue. Paper will likely disappear one day, maybe we will replace paper with an environmentally friendly artificial material, or maybe tablets will get easier and better in use. Maybe something completely different will happen that we cannot even imagine at the moment, and that will influence the paper to disappear. I don’t know. But for now, do what feels that best. Don’t limit yourself with rules and labels. Use paper when there is no digital alternative and be digital when it is handy. And if you are planning your marketing strategy, send a paper Christmas card this year instead of an email. Your customers will be more touched.