Twenty years ago everyone was talking about the paperless office. With the introduction of personal computers, email attachments, electronic document delivery and relatively inexpensive server storage, we were expected to be part of the paperless office revolution. It never happened.

Twenty years on and there is still a large amount of paper being generated and exchanged. The Environmental Protection Agency states that the average office worker generates approximately two pounds of paper and paperboard products every day. That is a lot of paper.

People continue to consume paper documents and reports and give various reasons why they need to print:

  1. I have a need to have the physical document at my desk.
  2. I don’t know how to access these on the computer.
  3. I don’t trust the computer to have a copy of the document when I need it.
  4. If I can’t hold it, then it isn’t really there.
  5. We have always done it like this in the past and don’t want to change.
  6. Management does not want us to change (It’s an age thing)

Yes, there were some successes in the creation of a Portable Document Format (PDF) and forms that people could send through email and come out the other side somewhat true to the original. This allowed long and mixed picture and text documents to be sent to different computers and still look like what the writer had intended.

messy-office-desk-paper-clutterAnother promising development was web forms. This allowed easy access to anyone collecting information to get user feedback quickly and efficiently from a web page of questions. But there are lots of examples where users never changed habits and continued to follow the same paper hungry practices. I have one client where every morning a staff member walks the office with a trolley. She collects reams of reports produced by the software during an End of Day process even though these reports are all available on-line. “Management likes the paper version”, she said and I do what I’m told to do.

Is it the age of the user that is preventing people form moving to a paperless office? Have the old school managers been the hold-out to this advancement to the more efficient document management practices we have today? If it is simply a generational issue than over the past twenty years we should have seen steady progress to a more paperless environment, but this hasn’t happened. Tablets and eReaders are the tools of the new generation and offer big advantages over laptops to make information even more portable and easy to access. Is the younger and greener generation moving to a paperless environment? Sadly no. Studies show that even young people today like the physical book over the electronic form. “62% of 16-24s prefer books as physical products”

Studies show the physical act of holding paper and reading though printed documents works better for your brain. We actually absorb more of the material and read faster when looking though printed material. Both the right and left side of the brain are working together, holding the book, flipping the pages and moving our eyes around each paragraph to absorb the materials in a printed document helps us be better reads.

“The implicit feel of where you are in a physical book turns out to be more important than we realized,” says Abigail Sellen of Microsoft Research Cambridge in England and co-author of The Myth of the Paperless Office. “Only when you get an e-book do you start to miss it. I don’t think e-book manufacturers have thought enough about how you might visualize where you are in a book.” (Source:

tablets vs e-readersIt is the tactical feeling of the physical book or paper that helps us absorb the material more easily. Studies also show this is true for new generations. So eReaders and tablets are great for storage and travel, however, many prefer to have the physical book when travelling. On a beach, a magazine with of lots glossy photos still wins out over an eraser. It is all about the feel of the magazine and layout of the photos and text on the page that make it an enjoyable read.

Maybe a balanced approach is best. You can reduce the printing and photo copying you do at the office and use on-line storage and email links to files when you need to share information. And when vacation time comes along – go treat yourself to that nice hardcover and a couple glossy magazines. Just leave them behind for others when your done with them. That way you can have your physical reading and still feel good about helping to save the plant.

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About the author:

Beckard president Dave Savard brings extensive management, business planning, and operational expertise to the company, gained through two decades of public and private sector management experience. Dave’s ability to diagnose client operational problems and provide effective, practical solutions has earned him the enduring loyalty of clients. He is also known for a deep commitment to customer service, ensuring that client needs are not only met but that client priorities are considered in future product enhancements.  In his role as company president, Dave holds responsibility for operations, planning and customer service. Dave has a degree in Economics and Law from Carleton University.

Beckard Associates is a full service ERP and Wholesale Distribution Software company providing Accounting, Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools to companies across North America. We write blog articles that inform and educate are clients and colleagues. If you would like to learn more, please visit us at

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