The paperless office

This content is 2 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

For decades, the paperless office has been a panacea, sought out by businesses far and wide. Ever since computers became a part of our daily work, there have been those who have prophesised on how we will no longer need to use paper.

And yet, I still receive so much of the stuff. Sure, I can receive most of my invoices and statements electronically – and we all know how print newspapers and magazines are in a state of decline – but paper is still used extensively. Some people just prefer to interact with analogue media – my wife likes a paper book, for example, and never got on with a Kindle. And some business models rely on shoving pieces of paper through the letter box (try opting out of Royal Mail’s “junk mail” deliveries and you’ll find it’s a lot harder than it should be).

Digitising my life

Several years ago, I started to scan important documents at home. The theory was that everything gets scanned, and only the really important papers got filed in paper form – generally those that related to the house (mortgage, building works) or to me as a person (passport, certificates, medical, etc.).

The trouble was, that I got behind on my scanning. Years behind. Boxes of “to be scanned” and boxes of “might have been scanned – who knows”. And my old Canon scanner was not up to the task – too slow and with an unreliable document feeder. It was also connected to an old (slow) PC, and needed two powered USB ports to drive it (which was a problem on any of the newer devices that I had access to). Added to which, there’s still all the pre-scanning regime files that were stored in the loft until we converted that to living space (4 years ago…).

So, whilst I took a few days off over half term, I bought a new scanner. A 35 pages a minute super-duper Wi-Fi connected paper-eating monster from Brother… and I reworked my document scanning workflow. I’m now scanning through the backlog and thousands of pages of paper are being shredded and recycled each week. So much that I keep overheating the shredder!

What’s the point?

All of this is good – it’s making me feel good about the progress I’m making and my family will be pleased to have fewer boxes of paper in the spare room.

But then my friend Matt Ballantine (@Ballantine70) remarked that he didn’t understand – what did I need to scan? The only paper he gets in junk! And I started to wonder if I’m somehow unusual?

Matt has a point. Years of “business transformation” and “digital transformation” has meant that most of the companies I deal with offer options for electronic bill and statements. But not all:

  • Not all of my tax paperwork is digital. Increasingly it is, but not all.
  • I keep a copy of the latest Council Tax bill, and at least one set of recent bank statements for identity purposes. (Some organisations still won’t accept digital versions!)
  • DBS certificates, vehicle “log book” (V5), etc. are all paper documents (and odd sizes too).
  • Add to that the letters relating to investments, pensions, banking, etc. that don’t arrive digitally.

It’s still quite a lot.

Then there’s the backlog. Maybe I should have a big bonfire and be done with it. Except that my mental makeup won’t allow that. I need to sort through it and find *the important bits* and scan it all *just in case*. (I know. It’s just the way I am. Try living with me!). And, anyway, paper doesn’t burn very well, as I found a few years ago when I got rid of 20+ years’ worth of work notebooks that were a potential GDPR nightmare and just gathering dust.

A digital dilemma…

So, now my “paperless office” is getting closer. And I almost never print anything at work. But I create lots. Lots of documents that I write. Lots of photos that I create. Lots of digital files I download (instead of receiving printed copies) or scan (see above).

The trick is to make sure I don’t replace boxes and boxes of paper files with digital mayhem. A digital mess that’s spread across a variety of online services from Microsoft, Amazon, Dropbox, Google and Apple!

Advice and guidance is welcomed… comments are open below!

Featured image: author’s own.

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