Is the paperless office possible?

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Despite 20th century predictions to the contrary, we don’t yet live in a cashless society. Nor are our offices paperless. Dean Evans argues that by using modern technology effectively we can at least achieve a ‘less paper’ office

It’s tempting to say that the idea of the paperless office is impossible to achieve. But that hasn’t stopped organisations from trying.

Bexar County in Texas hit the headlines earlier this year with its plans for an all-digital library. Opening this September, its BiblioTech forgoes physical books in favour of a library of 10,000 e-book titles plus thousands of articles from online databases. Visitors will be able to access this content using e-readers, desktop computer stations and laptops.

Is Canada the home of the first paperless office?

In Vancouver, forward-thinking digital agency Idea Rebel touts itself as a truly paperless office. As The Globe And Mail reports, there are no printers, ‘pay stubs are e-mailed to employees, notes are taken on tablet devices and whiteboards get heavy use. Designers are allowed to bring in a pad of paper, but they have to take them home with them at the end of each day.’

Paperless offices in the UK: the slow march

Closer to home, there’s a slow but definite march towards using less paper. We can already bank online, opt to be sent electronic bills, and file tax returns electronically. The Justice Minister Damian Green has announced that English and Welsh courtrooms will be fully digital by 2016 with a common IT platform and digital data store. While schools like St. Mary’s College in Blackburn are experimenting with email schemes to replace the letters they regularly send home to parents.

With all this in mind, how ‘paperless’ can modern accountancy get and what can we learn from the businesses and organisations that are already trying to reduce their paper consumption?

A new breed of tech-savvy acountants

If you’re a regular reader of my blogs, you’ll already know that technology is enabling accountants and accountancy firms to improve efficiency through virtualisation. There’s a new breed of tech-savvy accountants who communicate with their clients via Skype, work with digital documents, and rely on bookkeeping software like QuickBooks Online and Xero.

Rather than chasing a paperless office, we should be working towards an office that uses ‘less paper’. Investing in a good widescreen monitor like the £300 24-inch Dell Ultrasharp U2412M, for example, enables you to see more of the documents you’re working with.

If you need to share a document, try using a collaborative online system like Google Drive or Dropbox rather than printing the document out. Just make sure you take the necessary security precautions. And if something needs a signature, there are paperless solutions for that too. Check out SignEasy and DocuSign.

Why you can’t always be paperless

Of course, while you can restrict and control the paperwork you generate, you can’t always do the same for the paperwork you receive. But that doesn’t mean you have to keep it.

Change the way you file by digitising any documents and letters you receive with a Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 A4 Duplex Wi-Fi Scanner (£395). Filing cabinets take up space. PDFs don’t. If you need to digitally capture account ledgers, the HoverCam Solo 5 (£350) will prove an invaluable tool. While you can quickly digitise receipts using a smartphone and an app like TurboScan (£1.49).

How to achieve a ‘less paper’ office

A ‘less paper’ office is certainly achievable, although it’s important not to lose sight of what your clients want from you. While a digital approach is eco-friendly and convenient for some, there will always be people who want an old-fashioned paper document.

The Keep Me Posted campaign is a case in point, arguing that ‘5.2 million households in the UK do not have internet access” and “41% of Britons worry that they might miss a payment if they didn’t receive paper statements’.

It’s not that we can’t achieve a paperless office – it’s just going to take a lot longer to get there than anybody imagined.

Dean Evans is a technology writer and fomer editor of TechRadar. You can read his other technology blogs on AAT Comment.

Dean Evans is Editorial Director at That Media Thing Ltd.

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