Imagine a Paperless OfficeJune 9, 2011
My apologies to John Lennon; imagine an office without paper. It isn't hard to do. No fax machines or personal printers. Perhaps a multifunction printer shared by all and wireless tablets before us.
If you work in a corporate environment or even a small office, no doubt you have seen and participated in this phenomenon. Well, at least attempts to realize the paperless office. Now, enter the wireless tablets such as the iPad and Zoom.
Some will say I have not seen a reduction. Where is it? Consider this. According to John Maine, Vice President of World Graphics and RISI, "each office worker consumed an estimated 106 pounds of copy paper in 2009, compared with 130 pounds in 2005. Employment in white collar positions actually grew 2% from 2005 to 2009 (despite the drop in 2009), yet this was more than offset by the decline in paper usage per worker." The decline has continued in 2010 and 2011.
Reduced paper usage in the office translates into fewer file folders, binders, organizers and so forth. Office superstores such as Staples are preparing for this transition not only by selling tablets but also by emphasizing auxiliary lines of business including technology and facility products.
Despite the nostalgic lament to have "hard copies" of information, companies are continually evaluating ways to reduce paper usage including double-sided printing and reliance on non-paper media for the distribution and storage of data. Although total eradication of paper in the work place is a long way off if at all, we should not underestimate the winds of change around us. With the introduction of tablets along with other similar devices like smart phones, and reliance on cloud computing, the movement will undoubtedly continue and even intensify.
On a recent visit to a local Fortune 500 company, I noticed one cubicle appeared to be empty except for a few minimal items suggestive of an occupant. When I asked about this, I was told, "Oh yes, he is the poster child for the paperless office. His relentless commitment to this personal credo through the use of scanning and his laptop actually makes him one of our most productive employees." I haven't seen him recently, but I would wager he is on the tablet band wagon by now.
The rapid proliferation in the quantity of data, research and general information creates demand for effective and efficient delivery methods, especially in the business environment. The inference is quite enlightening; information is precious and the means to receive and send it is valued and rewarded even more than we might imagine.
One of the most noticeable signs of this transition is the declaration by CNBC of Apple as the World's Most Valuable Company back in February. The previous number one was Exxon. Information delivery and management overtakes energy, at least in this poll conducted by investment dollars. This, one might say, is the latest example of building a better mousetrap in response to consumer demand. The path to Apple's doorstep is well worn and should be the same for HP, Motorola and others as they catch up.
What are we to make of all this? Access to information and the free exchange of ideas is liberating. When we make decisions, we hope that we have the most relevant, pertinent and accurate data available to guide us. Our ability to act or react to professional challenges as well as personal endeavors can only be as good as the information we have before us. For me, the lesson is not about the reduction in paper usage alone, although it is a laudable and fitting sustainable benefit. Moreover, I hope this reflects a continuing desire to collaborate and innovate while addressing the ongoing tasks before us creatively. What is fascinating is not the vision of a paperless office or the wizardry of the tablet, but the essence of what Lennon pondered. Imagine what is possible.
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