Question for my readers…

So, the other day I was talking with a friend of mine about the overall desire to go paperless. More and more companies try to print less in their day to day business but reality is, that a lot of large companies, are far away from going paperless. We are 8 people in our studio, 8 different businesses and hardly anyone ever prints anything here. (I am in charger of replacing the toner, so I know!) My friend told me that in big companies, paper still rules.

So, we were thinking about solutions. What are specific steps companies/yourself are taking to go paperless? Are devices like the iPad helping? Are collaboration technologies the solution?

Can you tell us how you do it? What your company does to get you to print less? What works?

43 Comments leave a comment below

  1. Email signature could also help I guess.
    Mine is

  2. You might want to have a look at this post on the Living Principles site. A post about a CIO’s journey towards being paperless in a large company.

  3. That email signature made me laugh. And thank you for the link, Syamant.

  4. Where I work, every conference room has a computer/LCD attached to the network. Anyone can just login to their desk computer from any room. Employees are strongly encouraged not to bring print outs to meetings.

  5. I work at a financial services corporation so some of this may be quite industry-specific…
    Our printers are set to print double-sided by default (tho this can be a double-edged sword because if you print, say, a letter merge, you often forget and end up printing twice, heh).
    We’re encouraging our customers to go paperless (some products don’t even offer paper anymore).
    A lot of our logs are electronic where they used to be paper.
    We also have the “think before you print” email signatures but honestly I doubt they make a difference to someone who prefers paper.
    Then again in other areas we’re so shockingly backwards. Emailing a statement copy to a customer who’s not set up online means having it print, then scanning it. Dreadful.

  6. I work as a web developer for HP; I rarely print anything anymore, with a few exceptions: my web coding cheat sheets are printed and hanging on my cubicle wall for easy reference; family photos are printed and hanging as well. Beyond that it is mostly just a notepad for quick notes and calculations that I don’t want to wait for excel/word/etc to open. However, having people in our office that work in the printer division, they obviously use a lot of paper for testing and the like, but we DO have a recycle/shred bin for paper that is emptied weekly. I think until the computer is just as fast or faster than writing it down or taking it with you, some paper will always be used.

  7. Often times I’m asked to sign a document, scan it and email it back. I usually sign it on my iPad with a finger, rotate it 0.25 degrees in Photoshop so that it looks authentic, export to PDF and email it. Works every time.

  8. When they come out with a tablet that can effectively work as a replacement, that is cost effective, for pen and paper. Until then printing with be unavoidable for larger companies that edit, several rounds of, everything they do.

  9. I run a paperless home and office. The Fujitsu Scansnap is fantastic for this job. All my paper mail gets scanned and shredded, the PDF files are then added to Evernote. I can access my documents anywhere – on my Mac, my iPhone and through a web browser. Evernote OCRs content to become searchable text.

    There’s some items I must keep on paper (for identification purposes for example) but there’s really not much paper left in my home! It feels good to have less clutter and there’s a benefit now of having my documents backed-up in multiple places – my Mac, my back-up and remotely with Evernote. If I ever need to provide a copy of anything I can email it straight to someone from Evernote.

    The has worked faultlessly to date. Go for it!

  10. I’ve worked at interactive ad agencies for the past ten years and paper is as strong as ever. Paper has a strong political value. Bringing printouts to meetings is part of literally getting everyone on the same page. There’s a transparency of motivations and agenda if everyone can look at the same thing. And more importantly be seen to be looking at the same thing.

    Paper is a great totem. Paper can be destroyed and the act of destruction can be valuable. “This idea is dead” or “For the good of the project I’m not tied to my own idea”. Paper has a short life but a valuable one.

    One of the most critical reasons to have single sided paper print outs is so they can be turned over and new ideas sketched out or personal notes be made. “Here, let me give you this and not get it lost in your email”. No piece of paper is sacred. In the words of Seth Godin “Thrash at the start of projects, not the end”. Paper is a very “thrashable” medium.

  11. I think the heaviest obstacles in the way of paperless offices are 1) the signature-based trust system and 2) “old people”, or at least the types of folk who like to print out emails, long articles on the web, etc to take home or to the coffee shop with them.

    Basically as long as reflective display technology (e-ink, pixelqi’s stuff, etc) is still in its infancy, paper really doesn’t have any competitors. While younger generations might be ok with digital light emitting displays all around, those generations won’t be in decision-making executive positions for another 30 or so years.

    I still cringe every time I read something like “the iPad is changing how relate to printed material in office environments”. That may be true about ONE small company in the SF bay area, but the rest of the world still can’t afford those iPads/Kindles/whatevers.

    We need to start thinking about affordable paper replacements.

  12. oh and sorry about the typos/missed words :)

  13. I work at a design consultancy with about 30 people in the office, and we do a fair amount of printing. At any given time, there could be a dozen different projects for different clients going on. In our “war room”, we have magnetic whiteboard walls and movable ones as well to put up sketches, photos, renderings, etc. for each project. Having this physical pin-up space is important; when you go back to the physical area to continue work on an existing project, your brain receives subtle cues to access the things you were thinking the last time you were there, and the conversation continues seamlessly. It’s easy to collaborate when you can look at all the work at once and can see what others have contributed.

    For our process, the only suitable replacement would be some kind of large, mobile display board that could be accessed by multiple computers at the same time – you could post your work to the display board and then rearrange, highlight, and annotate on the actual display.

    Thanks for asking!

  14. too true. the best thing for us has just been simply to hire more tech savvy people who don’t mind reading, editing, and sharing from their computer rather than printing out. not so much about solutions than it is about behavior. (though, google apps really help us out too. oh, and less meeting where you have to bring materials)

  15. Google docs helps us, especially since you can access it from anywhere. We also keep everything on the server for back-up.

  16. As a vet you still need paper. We are able to examine everything in the blood, but the different machines aren’t compatible all together, so we still need to print. The price to synchronize …. too much!

    At least everything has to be paid cash or with card, so we don’t send any bills. A papersaving way to get our money.

  17. I saw a couple of people who have made the same point as I will, but it is important enough to reiterate.

    People make the difference.

    I teach at an elementary school in California. All of our memos are sent by email & stored online for future reference. We have communal file servers to encourage shared documents & editing, etc. However, there are plenty of people (admittedly, many older, but many my own age [31] too) who print out every document. Our previous principal did no printing for us & encouraged everyone to review things on the compupter. Our new principal? Not so much.

    The biggest step to US going paperless would be education – showing people how to do it & going over it with them enough times so that they feel comfortable not printing things out.

  18. Laptops! iPhones! Portable technology!

    Having recently worked in a surprisingly paper-centric environment, I’ve found that a major reason for printing is portability. I dislike it, but when you give your staff desktop machines and ask them to join a meeting in the conference room, it’s the only way to share!

    I’ll never stop using paper as a part of the design process, however. There is something about letting my ideas free in the loose form that doodles represent that cannot be equated in any other medium. I look forward to Christmas each year because I get new Sharpies.

  19. I think the general answer is that the cloud can help people go paperless — beyond even printing [think of the resources used on analog music, books, movies].

    But for printing specifically, Google documents, spreadsheets and presentations makes it almost unnecessary for us to ever print. You can be working in or viewing a doc at the same time as your colleagues [or both at the same time!].

  20. Let employees keep their own information on paper, but require shared information to be electronic. You’ll get rid of almost all the paper you use, and you’ll have less resistance than if you simply said “no more paper”.

    To get anyone to change anything, you have to reduce friction. A source of friction in going paperless is that your computer screen becomes the only work surface, so everything has to fit there. Even though I have multiple screens, that rubs me the wrong way.

    But the bulk of paper in an office is used for sharing information between people — filing, records, and so forth. If you can make that information electronic, you’ve done the environment and your operating costs a big favor. The remainder of office paper is used for second-class information that doesn’t need to be kept electronically, or kept at all, such as personal notes that you write while you work. But it’s these notes, and the process of using them, that cause people to be most attached to paper. So let them keep it.

    For example: I allow myself a stack of index cards for personal notes, and that’s all the paper I need. An index card is easy to jot notes on while I work, and it’s easy to dispose of when I’m done. It feels natural to just recycle an index card when I’m done with it — unlike tearing a page out of a notebook, for instance.

    A side effect is that anything I write by hand feels like second-class information, because that’s the kind of thing I write by hand. If some information is important, I’ll give it the electronic storage it deserves. So this practice reinforces good habits, too.

  21. When I started working for the company I currently work for we were 15 employees, and I had to order about 10 boxes of paper a week, we are now 40 employees and I have managed to cut the ordering down to 10 boxes a month.

    We are a transport company, and the biggest thing was switching from paper delivery receipts to electronic ones, that in turn cut most of our paper use since then we also added faxing from our PCs but also we added every form we have and delivery receipt to our websites and encourage our customers to go there.

    We also put up an intranet for our employees so that the customer services guides were made obsolete.

  22. I work at a university, more specifically in the publishing house at the school, it’s been hard, but we’ve eliminated a lot of uses for paper. Can you believe that?! We don’t edit the books by paper, only by .doc and .pdf and yes, the ipad helps wonders! We print books only on demand, which actually sucks because we could be losing suppliers such as BN and Amazon, but it’s really been worth it (especially for some books, if you get my drift…). I’ve tracked how much money we’ve saved in the last year and it’s thousands….and it makes you feel so much better too ;p. I may have ‘accidentally’ broke the department copy machine once or twice too, forcing others to use a scanner (mind you, using it appropriately by only scanning so many pages from each source). We’re also working on formatting e-pub and making apps, but hoping the com sci department steps in to help. With those added, we’ll save even more! We only share files by email or too. Hope it works out for you too! Love the site!!

  23. I helped a previous employer go paperless by teaming up with one of the IT programmers and turning Microsoft office’s OneNote into virtual file folders to replace all of our new, incoming client paper files that everyone in the office could work on and access.

  24. Here in Brazil, recently they enacted a legislation on electronic (instead of mechanical) timecard system that, paradoxically, obliges machine owners to print a receipt for every time the employee enters or leaves his job. In this case, that’s because material proof is needed when taking the company into court. However, it is more paper than the mechanical timecard system – one sheet for an entire month.

    For any court, paper rules supreme – not that I agree with that legislation, the mechanical timecard, using ye olde sheet, probably presents less flaws than that electronic system (receipts probably easy, easy to make and question the database, database easily, easily modifiable by employer).

  25. Take the printer out of the office for a week.
    You’ll either figure it out or realise you actually need it.

  26. I’d love it if my work could go more paperless. I’m a high school math teacher. There is TONS of technology out there that would make going paperless much easier. I’ve experimented with giving quizzes and tests electronically. The one problem we run into is that none of our computers ever work right when we need them to. And that’s a travesty in this day. And when you are giving a quiz to 25 students, the computers better work when it’s time. And the other problem is that most of our students don’t have computers or internet access at home either.

  27. iPad… iPad … iPad!

    Also if you are a company that HAS to use PDF forms for whatever bizarre reason please make sure you actually set the thing up as a form so people can fill it in on screen. PLEASE don’t force them to print it and fill in manually.

  28. Speaking as a student that works in two startups, I actually don’t run into many situations where I have to print anything, which is a blessing considering my printer died several months ago and my scanner is nearly dead – not that I miss them.

    The close-calls are usually NDA and contract documents that need a signature, where I just use my signature that I had scanned into an image months ago (I don’t have to physically send these documents mind you). Most of my professors accept electronic copies for assignments too. For receipts and such I either keep them in Gmail if they are emailed or attach them to said item in 1Password if I had to download them. Most paper receipts I get are unimportant and thrown out.

    There was only one time this year where I absolutely had to print/scan something and I had done that at the local university for 10 cents.

    As for reading/creating, I still prefer reading physical books and writing in my Moleskine. But I have transferred some of that stuff over to Simplenote and Kindle to save a few trees (and $$$). Instapaper has also changed my long tradition of printing articles to read later on the bus.

  29. The problem at my office is that our email system is set to delete saved emails after 6 months, and I cannot find a way to override this. So if there is an email that needs to be saved long term, the only solution is to print it out and file it. And a lot of short-sighted individuals print EVERYTHING, “just in case”.

    This email expiration was put in place in order to conserve server space in a money saving effort, which is ridiculous when you consider the amount we spend on paper and toner.

    Oh, and every document sent to the printer comes with a coversheet, as we are not competent enough to sort through documents and retrieve only our own. It really sickens me.

  30. Three that work well for me.

    1) Fujitsu ScanSnap Scanner. Unlike any document scanner I’ve used before because it’s super fast, double sided scanning of documents. Auto align, auto creation of multi-page PDFs, auto OCR .

    2) Evernote. Send output of ScanSnap into Evernote. Seamless experience.

    3) PDFPenPro software (for mac) or similar, lets me edit PDFs, digitally add a signature etc.


  31. Indeed, Fujitsu ScanSnap combined with Evernote is one mighty solution.

  32. A combination of TeuxDeux, Basecamp, Backpack, Highrise and Google Docs has made me completely printing-free, and helped me organize my life. Yay!

  33. Paper will never completely go away, and aiming for ‘paperless’ misses the mark.

    Read this article here about the need for paper when working:

    Basically, paper gives our brains something that computers, or online reading never will. Why are we trying to get rid of a technology that’s thousands of years old, and works?

    From an enironmental standpoint, I think we should be aiming to reduce uneccesary paper usage rather than all paper usage. There are times when paper is still king, lets not get rid of it just because people waste it.

    What’s the cost of having all those computers running (and they do run longer than they need to) vs. the cost of a piece of paper?

    From a social point of view, I wonder what an electronic counter above the office printer listing the number of sheets a user is printing for the whole office to see versus the average number of sheets, or a running count of the sheets printed daily vs. the average, would be.

  34. I am very excited about iPad concept, but if it replace personal computers.

    Otherwise, how electronic devices can be equal substitution to paper? In ecological sense, especially with paper recycling possibility? It can look nicer (maybe), but..

    I think simplification and optimization of processes and needs are the solution.

  35. In my office, the single largest reason for lots of printing is that some people just have a habit or a strong preference for printing things. Reading on-screen may hurt their eyes, or it just may be force of habit. Either way, people print because they want to read it on paper, or sometimes because they see it as a way to make sure they keep the document for future reference. Anecdotally, many of the must-have-paper crowd are older, so maybe paper will just fade over time (see what I did there?)

  36. Thank you all so much for your amazing input!

    I feel strongly that cloud based services like Google Documents are helping us use less paper. What other services do you see helpful in doing so? What emerging technologies will make a paperless office reality?

  37. Lawyers love paper. We print everything. Even drafts are printed before they are sent via email for a last check on hard copy. No solution in sight.

  38. Consciously we are all wary of printing less, and do think twice if emails and such really need to be printed. We are a small lighting design studio (three people) but often work with architects and interior designers were large A2+ print outs rule. Often plans need to be printed at least at A3 (to maintain legibility) to be marked up and checked, and we are required by law to keep final plans (hard copy) for something like 20years!

    Longer documents are also easier on the eye printed than on screen, and until iPads become much cheaper I can still only really read paper on the train!

  39. Mmh as long as my boss prints out every single e-mail (!) I see no top-down possibility improvement. Even though the “think-about-environment-before-printing” line was introduced in our e-mail signatures was introduced recently. I dare to say young people tend to print less.
    In my business (financial services) I guess only a benchmark about printed pages linked to salary increase or bonus would change anything… ;)

  40. For me, half the problem is that I need something I can carry around with me. I solved that problem by getting a UMPC; basically a netbook about 3.5″ by 6″ or so.
    I can fit it in my pocket, so it’s always with me, and it runs all the programs I need to view docx, html, pdf, and more.

    If you always carry around a large purse or bag, an iPad might work better for you.

    I just wish Bluetooth would work easier, so I could share files with someone else at the press of a button. There are always flash drives, too.

  41. The biggest kicker for me, at P&G, has been making the culture paperless. If we avoid paper handouts and follow up with an electronic copy by email, we’ve won.
    If we can take all our old “knowledge documents” and scan then into electronic copies, we’ve won.
    If we can conquer PC backups so we aren’t scared to go electronic, then we’ve won.
    If we can use Microsoft OneNote to “take notes” on our documents, we’ve won.
    If we could move to electronic lab notebooks and data entry, we’ve won.

    I could go on forever… it’s adjusting the culture to be paperless. Heck, if our CEO can do it anyone can!

  42. I don’t like paperless.

    I’m kind of a classical guy, even though I feel as if I am married to technology. I still handwrite my essays before I type them, and prefer a hand delivered note over an email. And I’m only 20. Shit.

    I rely on technology in almost everything I do. But something about eliminating paper frightens me.

    Academia going paperless is one of the scariest things I can think of. Online learning = bad news.