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The paperless office has long been mooted as the next step progressive businesses will take to improve professional and conscientious workplace operations. As early as the 1970s, experts have suggested that office printers and paper reams will soon be discarded, and intangible alternatives will be sought.

However, even as online storage and cloud services continue to grow in functionality and popularity, the modern office still feels oddly incomplete without the whirring presence of the printer and in-trays full of reports, memos and handovers. This suggests that prediction of an impending paperless office could be as misguided and ambitious as NASA’s belief that astronauts could be calling the moon ‘home’ as soon as 2020.

So almost 40 years since the paperless office was first tentatively suggested in business circles, are we actually any closer to it becoming a reality?

Where Have We Gone Paperless?

Perhaps the most obvious trend towards a paperless future is the dwindling performance of the printed press. Not only has the Independent recently become the first national newspaper in the UK to have gone completely digital, but almost all national and regional titles have recorded significant reductions in readership in recent years – with more and more people deriving their daily dose of news and gossip from online sources.

In fact, national daily newspaper sales fell by half a million in the year ending April 2015 – signifying a huge reduction in paper consumption.

This is backed up by a 2012 survey, completed in the US, which indicated that people were most willing to reduce their consumption of newspapers. Almost half of all those questioned indicated that they were prepared to ditch the daily paper, closely followed by the 45.9% who stated their intention to reduce their use of magazines.

Beyond this, only just over a third stipulated that they’d look at reducing their use of forms, contracts and documents – indicating that the majority were unprepared to alter their work and office-based tasks. This suggests that it is attitudes and not technology which is inhibiting the adoption of the paperless office.

Why Are We Resisting the Paperless Office?

The benefits of the paperless office are well-publicised, helping reduce our reliance on trees to create the office staple – so it is easy to justify the argument to do away with the printed docs, memos and files. However, even potentially protecting the environment is not enough to justify going paperless for the vast majority of individuals and businesses.

Office suppliers, Printerland, believes the reasoning lays in the efficiency of paper: “People know and trust the printed document, and like to have something tangible in their hands. Print outs are reliable and trusted thanks to their physical presence. Heading to a meeting with cloud-stored information relies on access to the cloud, the cloud functioning and programmes syncing correctly – whereas travelling to the same meeting with the same info printed on A4 paper is reliant upon no external factors.”

The alternatives to paper in the office have emerged as a supporting cast, operating in tandem with the printed documents. The shiny new kids on the block have not yet attained the reliability of the old guard, and will not displace them until they do.

And so, this answers the original question, the paperless office will only come into effect once the technology replacing the paper (invented circa 100 BC) is deemed just as robust and reliable as its grand forefather.

By Scott Beaman, Content Marketing Manager