Steps for a Reduced-Paper Workplace

There's much buzz about having a "paperless office".  Many companies look at the vast amount of paper that they create and think that it would be a worthwhile goal, but feel that it would not be a practical achievement.  Rather than trying to eliminate paper, focus on reducing it.  Enter the concept of a reduced-paper workplace.  The goal of the program is to streamline business processes to not only reduce paper usage, but to increase productivity and technology ROI.  This is accomplished by re-tooling existing processes and procedures, meeting employees' needs, and adapting corporate culture.

In most cases, once a procedure or policy is set up and working in a company, it has a tendency to morph itself into a set-in-stone law, rather than a guideline for normal operations.  Often when an employee is asked why they're performing a task a certain way, the response is along the lines of, "That's what the procedure is."  Policies and procedures by nature can be amended and otherwise changed to fit the company's needs as long as they meet the requirements of applicable governing bodies' standards (ISO, FDA, SEC, etc.).  With that in mind, look at a process that generates paper and see how the printing is involved with the procedure.  Does the procedure specify to print a copy of a document for retention, or is it just used in an intermediate step and later scrapped?  Most archival printing output can be captured and turned into PDF files without ever being printed in the first place.  The files can be stored on a server and get backed up for disaster recovery purposes.  Most intermediate printouts are either used for copy typing or transportation purposes.

Copy typing is one of the ways that paper is generated for intermediate or otherwise short-term uses.  Typing courses have for many years primarily taught typing skills by having students look at typed or handwritten letters and type them using their keyboards.  This results in workers gaining a natural comfortability with transcribing data from a written source by typing.  How can this be focused towards using non-paper techniques?  If a user is used to copy-typing, having a second monitor to read and copy-type from can reduce the number of printouts generated for that purpose.  Yes, a second monitor may consume additional desk space, but will be offset by the reduced need for paper to clutter the real estate of the employee's desk.  Another short-term printout type is the printing of a(sometimes large) report for the ending summary or group total information.  Printing the report to a PDF file will gain the visibility without the paper.  Exporting the report to Excel or other analysis software will allow the user to manipulate the data real-time as they see fit, again without generating paper.

One of the biggest challenges in a reduced-paper implementation is the necessary change in culture to facilitiate the implementation.  This is at the employee, management, and even overall corporate level.  Most companies have the tools in place to run with reduced paper, but need to start thinking about paper conservation and how to boost productivity rather than continue on with "business as usual".  At times, users may need an occasional nudge to start the process.  For example, consolidating smaller individual printers into larger workgroup ones will start to encourage smaller copy and paste operations rather than printing smaller jobs because of the physical trip to the printer that would be required.  Once the idea has been seeded, the progression will gradually spread to larger items and other areas.  A similar technique can be applied to encourage employees to email PDF attachments rather than fax printed documents.

The question has been posed about what to do with existing printouts in the organization.  That varies from company to company.  The easiest solution would be to wait it out.  The documents will eventually pass their retention period and be recycled.  Digitizing the existing documents would make them easier to manage and retrieve, though does have a cost associated with it.  Companies that pay for document storage or are limited on space would be more likely to do the latter than other companies.