The paperless office: how going paper-free can change your life

Printers and Problems

It’s safe to say that not many people would call themselves a fan of printers. A necessary evil in most offices, they seem to cause more grief than good, and when they don’t do as we’d like, it’s a nightmare. It’s often quoted that printer ink costs more than blood - some people buy a new printer when their cartridges run out of ink, as it’s cheaper than buying new cartridges on their own. Unbelievable!

Then there’s paper itself - it gets expensive, if you want the stuff that isn’t see-through or coarse like sandpaper. The environmental impact of a paper-based business can’t be ignored, either. The paper industry is the 5th largest consumer of energy in the world, and it takes a cup and a half of water to make a single sheet of paper. It’s not really enough to paste a “please do not print this” message on your email signature if you’re going through a forest’s worth of paper each month.

We like saving energy, time and the environment here at Timetastic, and we believe going paperless in the office - and elsewhere in life - is one of the best ways to do this.

Living a paperless life

Here are four aspects of life that we think benefit the most from a digital switch.

Bank statements. Arriving through the letterbox at least once a month, they might as well drop straight into the shredder. It is important to keep on top of your business (and personal) finances, but of course, you don’t need to have these printed. Almost all banks, for personal and business use, offer paperless statements, available online and through an app. Not only are these more accurate, as they’re up to date, but often more interactive and useful. Some automatically categorise your transactions and expenses - miraculous.

If paperless isn’t an option, maybe it’s time to change your bank!

Ticketing is another area that is slowly catching up. Getting out and about often involves booking your travel (air, train, bus) and paying for entry to a venue.

Surely you’ve had this experience - thinking you’ve paid £20 for an event ticket, then getting a £4 booking fee, a £3 venue restoration fee, and unreasonably high postage costs. And if you don’t want them posted to you, they have the cheek to add on a fee for printing your own tickets at home!

So, digital is the way to go - especially as not everyone has a printer. TheTrainline now caters for mobile tickets on most of its routes. When you go to an event, many places are happy to scan the barcode in your phone’s email app. The only time this doesn’t help is when you want to sell a ticket to someone else, but a digitised ticketing future might help combat the scourge of ticket touts inflating prices to a ludicrous degree, which can only be a good thing. There's the potential that running out of phone charge will get you in trouble, but you’re much less likely to go through the dreaded panic of leaving your tickets in the wrong jacket pocket at home.

Note-taking can be an art form in itself, with a long history of systems and techniques for getting ideas into a logical, structured archive. The writer Ryan Holiday suggests using a commonplace book for ideas - a system of cards, arranged into themes, kept in a sturdy box. While it works well for him as a creative writer, it’s not so great for the needs of businesses. For more disciplined, structured business work, where the ability to get ideas down as quickly as possible is key, paperless is the way forward.

Evernote has been a staple of the digital worker’s toolkit for many years now, and keeps getting better. There’s now a host of competitors - for example, Bear is well-suited to note-taking for creative writing, Dropbox Paper has powerful file-sharing capabilities, and Milanote is best suited to open-ended research and planning.

The online tools in G Suite by Google comprise various collaborative systems for note-taking and idea generation (and they integrate with Timetastic!). Airtable is great for all kinds of spreadsheet productivity (think a more versatile, colourful Excel) and Slack and Discord are the new kings of team-based chat with the ability to search messages and interest groups.

Requesting leave at work is a chore when paper’s involved. First, you have to find the request form, then print it, then fill it out, then give it to the manager, then they read it, choose whether to approve or not, and input it into the spreadsheet, and fill out the wall chart. What a nuisance! We think there’s a better way - paperless holiday requests.

Yes, we’re going for a bit of shameless self-promotion here, but saving paper is totally our thing. Timetastic is a paperless staff leave planner that streamlines your company’s leave request process. Less hassle, tidier filing cabinets, and a better environmental footprint. How about that?

The future of paperless work

We’re not anti-paper. Just like vinyl records had their resurgence, paper did too - look at the book industry, which is no longer dying as some predicted it would. Luxury magazines printed on thick paper stock are common in newsagents. The simple joys of handling finely-crafted paper are known to us all. We wouldn’t advocate everything in life be constrained to a screen, but we do believe in the freedom that going paperless brings to an enjoyable, efficient office life.

So what does the paperless office of the future look like?

We’re heading in an exciting direction in terms of multimedia technology - think video conferencing, holographic group chats, noise cancelling headphones, VR headsets, AR projections and the like.

New developments in material science suggest we can now project light from thinner, more flexible surfaces. It’s possible we might see a set of curtains that become a giant TV screen one day (say goodbye to your sleep if that comes around). In the office, you could imagine the walls themselves projecting charts, graphs and visualisations. Timetastic might even be accessed through Minority Report-style floating holographic icons.

One thing’s for sure though - we probably won’t go back to paper.

Main Photo: Samuel Zeller on Unsplash