In 2012, a regional VA office in Winston-Salem was in so much disarray from paper that it “created an unsafe workspace for employees.” A report from the Inspector General found that there were 37,000 claims folders stored on top of file cabinets because there wasn’t any space left in them.The disarray put the VA’s data and confidential information at risk, and with no organization, files were easily misplaced or damaged. Even more outrageous, the weight of all the office’s paperwork exceeded the load-bearing capacity of the office “and appeared to have the potential to compromise the integrity of the building.”
This (admittedly extreme) example of obscene paper consumption happened 37 years after the introduction of the personal computer and subsequent BusinessWeek article, “The Office of the Future.” The article analyzed the emergence of digital technology and predicted a future bright with office automation. One of the industry experts interviewed for the story envisioned that the use of paper in business for records and correspondence would be declining by 1980. He even went on to claim that “by 1990 most record-handling will be electronic.”
It’s clear than 4 decades on, most workplaces are far off from the paperless office they predicted. While digital technology has proliferated, documents, letters, and other forms of paper communication have yet to be replaced wholesale by electronic communication. The most positive breakthrough we’ve had was when American consumption of paper dropped by 20% between 2000 and 2009. Digital technology has helped reduce paper consumption, but most businesses still rely heavily on printing. They believe that going entirely “paperless” is incredibly unrealistic.
Environmental Impact of a Paperless Office
Even if a 100% paperless office feels out of reach, the American public’s concern for the environment continues to intensify. In 2017, 75% of U.S. adults said they wanted to help the environment in their daily lives. There is also a growing expectation for businesses to be socially and environmentally to Rubicon, Americans use 650 pounds of paper a year on average. U.S. businesses use around 21 million tons of paper each year and throw out enough to build a 12-foot wall from Los Angeles to New York City (that’s 2,794 miles if you were curious).
Public outcry over these statistics has led to many making a conscious effort to reduce their paper consumption. While most businesses are nowhere close to eliminating paper altogether as BusinessWeek optimistically predicted back in 1975, 72% of enterprises have “some paper-free processes in place and are planning more.” From electronic signatures to digital file storage, digital technology has empowered offices to lessen their environmental impact.
Business Benefits of Going Green
Embracing digital technology means that businesses are not only helping the environment, but also improve business operations. There are several benefits to reducing paper records and reporting, like….
- Reducing Costs
While it may not seem like reducing paper consumption would have a significant impact on cost savings, the money really adds up. An average employee uses 10,000 sheets of paper per year at a cost of roughly $80 per year per employee. This calculation doesn’t even factor in the price of ink or printer maintenance! For every dollar a company spends in printing costs, it will spend another $6 handling and distributing that paper.
- Mitigating Human Error
Approximately 3% of all paper documents are filed incorrectly and 7.5% are eventually lost. Managers report that they spend an average of three hours a week looking for papers that have been misfiled, mislabeled, or lost. Digital documents are much easier to organize and locate, saving wasted time and efforts.
- Improving Accessibility
Electronic documentation can be accessed in a matter of seconds, greatly increasing the speed of information sharing. By not having to manually dig through files or stacks of spreadsheets, you can drastically cut down on wasted time. You can also access files anytime and anywhere, allowing for greater flexibility and the freedom to work remotely.
- Facilitating Collaboration
Digital filing also leads to easier and better collaboration. Documents can be instantly shared with everyone in the organization, allowing for greater transparency and faster communication. You don’t have to manually hand over documents or make multiple copies of one report. Stakeholders can view, and often edit, electronic documents at the same time.
- Increasing Security
Organizations can establish internal and external rules for how users access data. This gives businesses greater control and a new layer of security for their information. When documents are just sitting in a filing cabinet, it can be easily accessed and stolen, costing you a lot of money. There is also a high cost associated with shredding services for documents with sensitive or private information.
- Real-Time Access to Data
When reports are hosted online, they can automatically refresh and update when your data does. For example, iDashboards connects directly with your data sources and updates in real time to ensure they will never be outdated or inaccurate. These live updates save you time and money because you do not have to recreate reports and print out a new ones every week.
- Generating Actionable Insights
Most paper reports do not address the goals of the company because there is no good way to aggregate data and use it effectively. Digital dashboards provide a single repository of information that make it easy to visualize and analyze your data. They can also help bridge that gap between raw data and actionable insights, providing you with the KPIs crucial to your success as a company.
Want to learn more about electronic reporting? Check out our free guide, Everything You Need to Know About Dashboards.
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