In a January 6th, 2014 Wired piece, Greg Milliken poignantly asks if the paperless office has been a 30-year-old pipe-dream. That's how long the business world has been trying to go paperless - and without much success, it seems. And the statistics he provides on paper consumption solidly supports his claims. Rather than reaching paperless utopia, we have actually reached paper mania. According to a Forrester Research statistics Milliken sites, we print 1 billion copies of paper daily.

So, no, we are not quite there yet. 

For those of us who joined the workforce before the explosion of the internet and all the high-tech advancements that followed thereafter, our attachments to paper is tragically real. Information, indeed, just doesn't register as well when we are reading it on the computer. Instead, we understand and process information best when we are reading it on a piece of paper - when we are highlighting and scribbling, when we are flipping back and forth between pages. It's no wonder then that the push for the paperless office has been largely elusive. And for many observers, including Milliken, it will continue to be an elusive pursuit for sometime to come. And by sometime, we'd have to assume some time after 2025 - after the year the technology savvy Millennial Generation are set to dominate the workforce. Unlike the generations before them, this much-observed and talked about generation, has very little attachment to paper.

In some instances, they even abhor it. 

And as bizarre as it may seem for the rest of us, their preference for online reading and processing is obviously a good thing: the paperless office has tremendous benefits. We have always known the benefits, of course; we've just been too high on paper to follow through. Thanks to the smartphone, iPad, Kobo and whatever else that has just come out, they'll never have the chance to abuse paper like their predecessors. The benefits to the environment will finally be realized and businesses will be in a position to significantly reduce their costs on real estate, paper supply and labour. Efficiency is, perhaps, the only benefit that will not be automatically realized with this generation. While Electronic Document Management Systems certainly provide easy filing and access of information from just about anywhere in the world, only care and diligence reinforced at the highest level can guarantee the theoretical efficiency promises of the paperless office.

If documents are not filed in the correct folders and naming conventions are not adhered to, businesses will continue to confront the same paper-related inefficiency issues with the paperless office (i.e. spending hours going through different folders, looking for misfiled documents). And those organizations that have already implemented some form of Electronic Document Management System can attest to the importance of good filing habits in the march towards the paperless office - something we need to keep in mind as we look to restructure and enhance the file management process. And though the business world today no longer speaks of the paperless office, we are probably committed to reducing paper today than ever. We have moved the goal post closer and have fittingly called it paper-lite. Rather than trying to radically alter our filing systems and behaviour overnight, we are now aiming to reduce paper where we can and sticking with it where we can't. 

We have also added "agile" and "hoteling" to the agenda -  with the goal of making desk ownership a thing of the past. Where employees have previously been assigned to a personal working space, complete with desks and walls, which they are able to call their own, the agile movement seeks to transform the office space into a hotel-like environment. No ownership - just temporary use of space. Just like how we would book hotel rooms ahead of time, employees, under such scheme, are expected to book their working space in advance. They check in when they arrive and check out when they leave. It's a scheme that envisions the maximum use of space, allowing businesses to significantly save on their real estate costs. 

It might have taken 30 years, but it looks like the push towards the paperless office has started in good earnest.

The Paperless Office - are we there yet?