Paper-free office: In Germany, almost a quarter of a ton of paper is consumed per person every year. Sounds like a considerable amount that is worth reducing. The paper-free office is a concept that starts at the workplace. However, this approach involves much more than simply “saving paper”. It helps to preserve resources and reduce costs. And further, working becomes more efficient.


The idea behind the paper-free office

Behind the concept of the paper-free office is the switch from printed materials to documents that can be stored and edited electronically. As part of the advancing digitisation, this approach seems obvious.

Considering the growing communication, paper-free working in companies gains additional relevance. Until now, the protracted search for documents and information has caused time-consuming processes in many businesses, which can be eliminated by working digitally.


Why the changeover to a paper-free office is difficult

Papierloses Büro

A Freelancer works paper-free at a laptop in the office. | Foto: undrey / fotolia.com

Completely switching to a paper-free office requires consistency and involves time-consuming tasks. Companies that implement the paper-free office, store all documents in electronic data memory. Likewise, they are only transmitted electronically.

Legally compliant electronic signatures are used for this purpose. It is necessary to digitise all existing business documents. Before scanning, they should be sorted to achieve correct digital assignment.

Unnecessary paperwork can be shredded. This sorting process is especially time-consuming and means additional work on top of the regular work.

However, the actual transition to a paper-free office comes with the adoption of a digital document management system. Such a system can be complex and requires the employee’s familiarization with it. Good stamina is important for this change.

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What are typical problems of a paper-free office?

 

Umstellung papierloses Büro - digitale Dokumente

The switch to a paper-free office is not easy for everybody.

Digitising existing documents is probably the biggest obstacle and can take a lot of time and effort. In contrast, the benefit of finding them later on more quickly in the digital memory, often proves to be too small.

However, this context varies from company to company.

The keywording that comes with digitisation can be another problem. If the descriptions for documents are not inserted accurately or if employees do not adhere to the instructions, they will not be found or only with difficulty during later searches.

After all, problems such as a power failure or the inaccessibility of important servers are ubiquitous in the paper-free office. Even though this usually happens very rarely, in this situation, the entire system cannot be used. As a result, the arising work cannot be done.


What costs can be saved through the paper-free office?

For companies, the paper-free office provides attractive opportunities for cost savings. Not only is the consumption of paper reduced, but above, the complete use of printers and print cartridges or toner gets irrelevant.

Fewer office supplies are needed for handling and storing documents, such as folders, pens and binders. In addition, companies that go paper-free gain a lot of space because less rooms are needed for archiving documents. Therefore, more space is available for new workplaces.

Under certain circumstances, it even becomes possible to have no workspaces at all and save on rental costs. Overall, the paper-free office provides great potential with the digitisation of processes. The optimisation leads to more automation and thus reduces costs.


Which companies are already working paper-free?

Few companies have fully implemented paper-free working so far. The Dutch IT company Decos is one of the pioneers. There is no paper in the entire company building; all documents are digitally processed, stored and archived.

The concept of the flexible office, which is closely linked to paper-free working, is already becoming more common. Companies like Siemens or Vodafone, for example, eliminate more and more fixed workplaces.

Employees completely put away their documents in the evening so that the desk can be used by a colleague the following day. By that, companies are saving costs with the flexible office.


Facts and data about paper and the paper-free office

 

Keine papierloses Büro: Ordner auf dem Schreibtisch

Daily life in most companies is not paper-free, rather there is a large number of folders on the desk.| Foto: Andrii Kozachenko / fotolia.de

  • First reflections on a paper-free office were already in the seventies.
  • At that time, the production of paper worldwide still counted around 130 million tonnes.
  • In 2005, paper production rose to 367 million tonnes. By now, the amount of paper produced is over 440 million tonnes.
  • Germany is one of the world’s leading paper producers. Almost half of all trees felled on an industrial scale are processed into paper.
  • Resources are consumed in the production process: 7.5 kilograms of wood, 130.20 litres of water and 26.8 kWh of energy are needed to produce 500 grams of standard office paper.
  • CO2 emissions of 2.6 kilograms are caused in this process.

These figures show the importance of saving paper.


Examples for working with the paper-free office

Examples of implementing the paper-free office are technologies that effectively reduce paper in companies as a medium of information and communication. Document management systems are at the heart of digital administration.

This type of software system includes comprehensive functions for processing digital documents, from digitisation to document research.

The market for document management systems has developed strongly in Germany in recent years. Other examples are online communication media. These include devices that visualise, duplicate, and distribute information.


Problems with the paper-free office

 

Smartphones Tablets Büro

Smartphones and tablets are perfectly usable in the paper-free office. | Foto: katie_martynova / Fotolia.com

The requirements for the paper-free office are the same as for offices in conventional companies. In particular, there are strict requirements for the storage of documents. Therefore, when scans are made, it is important to ensure that they are legally secure:

  • There should be proper accounting in accordance with the “Principles for the proper management and storage of books, records and documents in electronic form and for data access” (German directive, short: GoBD).
  • This applies particularly to documents held in safe custody for the tax authorities.
  • Electronic documents must be stored securely. This should be the equivalent of storing paper documents, which are usually stored in a locked cabinet.
  • To fulfil security standards even for a paper-free office, it is helpful to work with specialised service providers.

Tools for implementing the paper-free office

From a technological point of view, cloud-based document management systems form the basis for digital archiving.

The concept of “Software as a Service” (SaaS) is also helpful. This software does not get installed on the local computer. It runs on servers that can be accessed in the cloud from anywhere in the world.

In addition, numerous tools are available on the market that facilitate the implementation of paper-free working. The following selection provides an overview of some of these programmes and apps.


Projekt management

Cloud-based project management tools such as Trello, Podio or Jira, support businesses in a wide range of areas.

The areas of application range from customer administration to direct communication or development. Files can also be exchanged with the web-based software.


Data transfer and its storage

Dropbox, WeTransfer and Google Docs are ideal for the digital storage of files. The file hosting services allow access to text files, graphics and more from different locations. The files can be accessed by several employees.


Online notes

Evernote replaces the notepad. The programme for smartphone, laptop and PC allows ideas and thoughts to be collected and used on all installed devices. The user account synchronises and updates all programmes.


Scanning

The smartphone app Scanbot is a tool for scanning documents. The scans can be uploaded straight to the cloud.


Working mobile

Digital, paper-free working enables a high level of mobility for employees. Modern transmission technologies, powerful end devices such as smartphones and tablet PCs as well as software such as Voice over IP (VoIP) make mobile communication a breeze.


Switching to a paper-free office and its accompanying costs

Switching a company to a paper-free office takes time and a lot of effort from the employees. They have to scan old documents which can take weeks or even months.

Furthermore, new software systems become necessary, and a document management system has to be installed. Usually, a contractor should be hired for this. There are additional follow-up costs for maintaining the system.

Employees may have to be trained to become familiar with the necessary know-how for the software. This can cause other additional costs that the company may have to bear in order to convert to a paper-free office.


Our summary: The paper-free office

A paper-free office is a good idea, but one that is quite difficult to implement. And even if completely doing without documents made of paper is not easy to realise, it should still be a desirable goal to work paperless. Less resources are consumed, work processes become more efficient and in times of digitalisation, implementation has become much easier.

The paper-free office has many advantages: Employees can work flexibly; all necessary materials are accessible on the laptop and companies save costs by becoming paper-free. The future definitely belongs to the paperless office, if not to the paper-free office.

The post "Instruction for a paper-free office" written by:

Stephan Forstmann

Experte für Home Office und gesunde Büroarbeit

Stephan is from Dresden, Germany. He is a founding member of Deskonia since 2009.

Stephan is a home office worker since 2013 and became a home office expert. He shares his experience and publishes various tutorials for a better life at the office und creates tutorials on topics like ergonomics and communication.

In private, he is also very passionate about photography. He loves to chat about photography-gear and composition an. Stephan also published a lot of photography tutorials.

If you want to get in touch with Stephan, you can easily reach him via e-mail: forstmann@bueromoebel-experte.de.

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