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What Is Holding Back the Paperless Office?

timothy posted about 4 years ago | from the probably-all-the-post-it-notes dept.

Businesses 511

Drethon writes "CNN has an article (are we up to the millionth article on this topic?) asking if the paperless office has arrived. This got me wondering, what are the main things holding back the paperless office? Just off the top of my head, the main thing keeping me printing out documents is the ability to spread a dozen pages of a document under review out on my table and marking it up by hand. PDF and Word markups are not too bad but they still lack the ability to spread many pages out to look over at the same time and could be improved to make markup a bit less restrictive. I do find myself printing out less with the use of dual monitors to have source documents and work under progress up at the same time, perhaps something like Microsoft's tabletop computer used as a desk will let me have at least a paperless desk. I know there are other reasons why offices are not becoming paperless. What are your reasons?"

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Basically? (5, Insightful)

Corporate Troll (537873) | about 4 years ago | (#31559272)

Humans... We like to have a piece of paper in our hands, we can easily hand it to a coworker, we can scribble on it to take notes. I know it sounds oldskool, but for many tasks, a piece of paper is just superior. Sure, most of it is for temporary use, but paper isn't going anywhere. For many people reading from screen just isn't anywhere as comfortable as reading from paper. (That's why we still buy real books!)

People who bought the "paperless office" fad years ago were living in a dreamland.

Also, one thing to keep in mind. I have worked on large scale "scan documents from archives and the commit to big-ass proprietary content management systems". The conversion was extremely expensive, and the maintenance even more so. After all, you now needed expensive content manager Consultants, and competent DBAs (who have to be on call). For the paper version, you just needed one or two archivars. Just having tons and tons of paper sitting in a warehouse was was much cheaper, I heard later. These were Police documents, and they scanned in B&W... Photos were as such became unusable... I sure hope they'll keep the originals. I wonder who ever in his right mind approved that project.

Re:Basically? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31559310)

Process flow...

So how would you APPROVE a purchase or keep track of invoices, expense reports? Although there are software that do that, but paper is easier.
I can chase down my manager in the hallway instead of waiting for him to reply to an email buried under 1223+ messages.

Re:Basically? (3, Informative)

Jhon (241832) | about 4 years ago | (#31559580)

The "Paperless" office is less about "no paper" and far more about LESS paper.

Trust me -- in our office, there is a HELL of a lot less paper than there was even 10 years ago.

Re:Basically? (3, Insightful)

zuzulo (136299) | about 4 years ago | (#31559372)

Only one thing, really. Contracts and other signed documents. As far as i know there is no way to electronically sign formal contracts in a generally accepted fashion. If that capability was available i would never use faxes/scanners or paper again except in very rare circumstances ...

Anyone have a good approach to the legal signature problem?

Re:Basically? (1)

arethuza (737069) | about 4 years ago | (#31559452)

Using signature fields in PDFs can work pretty well - especially if you use an Adobe-rooted certifying signature applied to the whole document. Not open and not cheap though.

Re:Basically? (1)

johanatan (1159309) | about 4 years ago | (#31559464)

Why not write an algorithm that 'humanizes' a pre-saved signature? It could even be randomized/humanized (i.e., pixels pushed around) in such a way (i.e., by a private key) as to be verifiable by a public key (a la digital signing). So, given the randomized sig, a copy of the original sig, and a public key, one could verify if the randomized sig is valid.

Re:Basically? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31559492)


Re:Basically? (1)

anagama (611277) | about 4 years ago | (#31559402)

Personally, I don't really like how paper feels because when I'm handling a lot of it, it tends to dry out my hands -- particularly if it is still hot from the printer or copier.

In my office, we use a mix of digitized images, summaries stored in a database, and physical paper because each has qualities that make it good for specific tasks. As the GP mentioned, spreading out documents can be very efficient for certain tasks. For example, in my office we deal with a lot of medical records, many of which are hand written. Although we may receive them as PDFs, organizing those on a computer screen would be ridiculously slow -- it is much faster to print out the lot and sort them according to our needs. By the same token, if I want to know if I received a particular document some unknown number of years ago, searching the DB for the summary is way faster than digging a file out archives and thumbing through it, and being able to quickly access an image of that document is icing on the cake.

Anyway, I love technology, but it is appropriate to use it judiciously. If something is more easily done on a computer, by all means do it that way, but if it is more easily done on paper, it makes no business sense to do it on a computer. The reason the paperless office doesn't have 100% reign is the same reason the microwave oven has not replaced the old style gas or electric stove/oven -- microwave ovens do some things well, but they don't do ALL things well (or they do nothing well, depending on your preference for taste over speed).

Old saying (4, Funny)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | about 4 years ago | (#31559424)

"A paperless office is as useful as a paperless toilet. Some things would be impractical..."
OK, it's not that old a saying, but it's valid in a number of ways.

Re:Old saying (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31559660)

*snicker* he doesn't know how to use the 3 seashells

Re:Basically? (3, Interesting)

ScrewMaster (602015) | about 4 years ago | (#31559460)

Just having tons and tons of paper sitting in a warehouse was was much cheaper, I heard later.

I basically agree with your points, but there is a difference between a well managed document control system, and one implemented by bunglers. Plus electronic documents have the advantage that they can be backed up offsite somewhere: that warehouse full of paper may indeed be cheaper but it's not necessarily safer.

I've been involved in document control projects (primarily used for pulling manufacturing production prints) and you're right: paper is damned useful, for all the reasons you outlined. Consequently, I never made any attempt to develop or promote a paperless system because it a. wouldn't have served the purpose and b. would never have been accepted anyway.

All the software did was provide a convenient, searchable interface to servers full of untold thousands of engineering drawings (both Autocad DWGs and scans of paper drawings) so that they could be viewed on-screen and printed if desired. That offered the best of both worlds: quick and easy viewability for those that don't need a hardcopy, with a printout only a mouse-click away. No expensive content manager (the software didn't require any proprietary server-side component of any kind, and rendered all drawings locally), and no DBAs competent or otherwise.

The first version of that app was DOS-based and ran over dial-up, with about a dozen plants around the world using it, pulling files from a big Solaris server. That was back in the late eighties, and it ran for years without much need for maintenance (other than the occasional hardware upgrade or repair.) I eventually wrote a Windows version of the application, and they're still running it. They've gone through several major server and connectivity upgrades over the years, I've heard, but I didn't even have to be involved in that. They also have a disaster recovery plan in place, so even if the server room burns through the floor they won't lose their drawings. That's something you can't easily do with tons of paper.

Sometimes you have to think things through and realize what it is you don't need. Big-ass proprietary software vendors have a vested interest in locking you into hypercomplex, overbuilt systems that may or may not do what you want, but are virtually guaranteed to cost more than they're worth.

Re:Basically? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31559462)

It is humans.

Stupid humans that like forms.

Its really retarded, but I see a lot of people that like to write by hand and they have like multi-color pens and fill shit out. Wtf.

Metadata is important! (1)

dfxm (1586027) | about 4 years ago | (#31559468)

Humans... We like to have a piece of paper in our hands, we can easily hand it to a coworker, we can scribble on it to take notes. I know it sounds oldskool, but for many tasks, a piece of paper is just superior.

For a lot of my tasks, electronic records are better because you can attach metadata to documents to more easily search, sort and drive workflow. This then makes my tasks easier, quicker and less error-prone.

I feel like this is more of an issue with people not understanding what metadata is and what it can do for them rather than an issue of people liking paper.

Re:Basically? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31559512)

I still have to do a lot of research in the library. When I hold a book in my hand, I wish I could just type in keywords to search for the sections I wanted, and be able to e-mail myself the content so I don't have to lug these books around. And I would return a book only to realize I still need a quick look. What about a book in a foreign language that I wish could be translated on the fly, and maybe have my search term translated to that language to be searched? Library staff still spends a lot of time sorting and re-shelving books. If a book is mis-shelved, you might as well consider it lost forever. Books also need 24/7 air conditioning if you want to preserve them well.

Electronic document might be more costly to maintain, but I think people should realize not all documents need to be kept on a live machine. Most documents could be kept in offline media as long as we have an online index which is relatively small. The most popular electronic documents will be online. In effect, we make the offline media a part of the computer memory hierarchy, and apply locality principle to reduce the cost of maintenance and improve performance in practice.

I couldn't agree more. (2, Insightful)

floppyraid (1756326) | about 4 years ago | (#31559594)

There are some things that paper has that digital copies can never replace.

Many people feel that some pieces of sensitive information are safer on a piece of paper in a locked desk than they are on a drive on your network.

The feel of assurance one gets from a physical, actual, handwritten signature (sad to say but even a generic 'rubber stamped' signature has a better "feel" to it than receiving a generic pdf form regardless of what new digital cert/signature accompanies the pdf.)

If you graduated from a nice college, how would you feel if they just emailed you a PDF of your diploma? It wouldn't 'feel' the same printing it out and hanging it on the wall, for whatever reason. (I'd say it goes deeper than that, though. 1s and 0s aren't directly tangible in and of themselves. Since they are so easy to reproduce copies of them, there really isn't the same type of sentimental value. If you 'lost' a PDF book your girlfriend gave you, for example, you could redownload the exact same copy of the file over again-- and you would experience no sense of loss... However, if your girlfriend bought you a physical copy of the book, and you lost it, even if you went to the store and repurchased an exact same copy of the same printing of the same book-- it wouldn't be the same 'book'. There is something empty about the 1's and 0's, and, though I love the possibilities that technology makes available to us, I hope that never changes.)

Physical placement of actual papers registers in the mind. If you have a collage of papers above your desk with various phone numbers, IPs, or whatever, your mind usually connects with that easier than 'what file/folder is that in?', and it's easier to look up than it is to click through multiple folders. (It's less steps to look up, than it is to sift through).

I think that paper and digital copies compliment eachother. They each have certain advantages over the other, but they can never fully replace one another.

Nothing... (1)

u64 (1450711) | about 4 years ago | (#31559672)

The problems is those pesky irl humans. They want irl things by default.

Technically there's no need for 90% of all paper usage. But making
the change costs alot of training and trail and error. (Same problem that
prevent the world from swittching up to Linux)

However, for those that begin the change now, will get the rewards earlier.
And once the switch to paper-less (and/or all Linux) has been made, there's
no need to ever going back.

Try small scale, work out the bugs. Write down the costs and savings, people
love it when change is converted to a measurement they understand, money.

Try bigger scale only when the small scale has been properly mapped. Once
a tiny snowball begins rolling, it's hard for the backward people to stop it.

Paper! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31559280)

Well... that was easy.

What's holding it back? (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | about 4 years ago | (#31559284)

The essential utility of paper. We won't stop using paper until the last tree has been ground into pulp and pressed out into a sheet.

Re:What's holding it back? (1)

xtal (49134) | about 4 years ago | (#31559350)

There is absolutely no shortage of trees or other material to make paper or anything else.

Recycling paper is an environmental travesty. It should be used as fuel and new trees planted.

Re:What's holding it back? (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | about 4 years ago | (#31559584)

New trees are planted all the time, so that's not a big issue.

What is more of an issue is the fact that the electronic storage systems changes so much over time that document formats that were state of the art a decade ago are considered old and those format that were state of the art two decades ago are hard to present in a decent and reliable way.

And to read a document format that was created three decades ago you must have luck, find the right hardware and be able to find a person who understands the hardware and software that did create that document. And it's probably stored on an 8" floppy.

In the event you need to read a document format that's four decades old you will have to start a government project and call in cryptologists from NSA since every piece of that document is probably bit-encoded for optimal use of storage space and is using codes that you on a good day can be lucky to guess what they mean.

Re:What's holding it back? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31559682)

Yes because we don't need any trees to build and run computers ...

Basic tools (3, Insightful)

quantumpineal (1724214) | about 4 years ago | (#31559288)

You still have allot more freedom with a paper document. Our brains are just geared to use tools in the actual world rather than virtual objects. There's no real program that emulates all the freedoms you get form handling a physical tool. we are from the apes remember :P

Re:Basic tools (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31559420)

. we are from the apes remember :P

You're innovative spelling of "a lot" reminded me of that well before your ultimate sentence.

Re:Basic tools (1)

zappepcs (820751) | about 4 years ago | (#31559578)

Ok, I was agreeing with some of the posts but this thought that paper is a real world tool and the computer is not is patently false.
Does your paper check your spelling or grammar? Does your paper assist you in accessing related materials to the content on it? Does your paper remind you to follow up on the context of the content on it? Oh, that's a special kind of paper, right? Does your paper allow you to transfer a copy of it's content nearly instantly to another person, or group of people? I'll stop there. There are many things that paper cannot do. Just because a computer is not an exact replica of paper in no way means it is inferior. There was a time that our brains were geared for riding horses and wagons. Thankfully we managed to adapt to car seats and not feeding horses and cleaning up horseshit from the driveway.

Yes, paper will still hold nostalgic appeal to many. Do you see anyone walking around with a cassette walkman these days?

You would have a point if we could not figure out how to put the conveniences of that paper tool into the electronic tools. Others have mentioned that more screen space is helping, some document handling systems are helping. More changes to come will further help.

On the whole, the paperless office does not yet exist because people don't want to change, and are reluctant to change because the new tools don't have all the conveniences we created for paper. Sure, there are legal requirements, but since the moment that early man put charcoal to stone we have had the problem of forgery. No system is perfect. Sticking with one that is not as good as the replacements is .... well, human.

In short (2, Insightful)

Anrego (830717) | about 4 years ago | (#31559292)


I have yet to find anything that can replace the flexibility of a notepad..

Some stuff comes close (or even surpasses) in specific areas, but for general day to day stuff like taking notes at a meeting or scribbling out something to argue a point.. nah


There are still people.. lots of them.. who will print out emails to read them. No technology will fix this.

Re:In short (2, Funny)

owlstead (636356) | about 4 years ago | (#31559338)

"I have yet to find anything that can replace the flexibility of a notepad.."

You may have to wait for the flexible eInk displays that should be coming out in a year or so.

We've been hearing about "e-ink" since the 1970s! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31559626)

For fuck's sake, can you e-ink advocates finally give us something we can actually use, or maybe just shut your mouths until there's a usable implementation available?

Literally every year since the 1970s I've had to endure one of you guys saying, "E-ink will be available next year!" First that "next year" was 1973, then it was eventually 1997, and now it's apparently 2011.

No, there won't be usable e-ink displays next year. All we'll get is a shitty iPad.

Re:In short (4, Insightful)

Hylandr (813770) | about 4 years ago | (#31559638)

Quote: There are still people.. lots of them.. who will print out emails to read them. No technology will fix this.

Agreed. My place of work takes orders from the website, prints them and plops them into their ERP system. I have been brought in to fix this but there are active parties fighting me tooth and claw.

For too many reasons to list. Needing a "Human Glue" means job security.

- Dan.

Drawing (5, Insightful)

Lord Lode (1290856) | about 4 years ago | (#31559294)

Sometimes when working on some algorithmical or mathematical problem, I draw stuff on paper to visualize the problem better and find the solution. Drawing on a computer screen will never replace drawing with a pen on paper for that purpose for me.

Re:Drawing (4, Interesting)

raddan (519638) | about 4 years ago | (#31559474)

I made the switch to whiteboard, which I keep on the wall next to my desk. I find that it is better than paper, because paper is almost always too small, and it lets me discuss ideas with other employees a bit easier.

I tried "virtual whiteboard" with pen input recently at my CS department, and I found it very difficult to use, partly because the pen input device I was looking at was not the same thing I was drawing on.

Re:Drawing (1)

Lev13than (581686) | about 4 years ago | (#31559586)

I made the switch to whiteboard, which I keep on the wall next to my desk. I find that it is better than paper, because paper is almost always too small, and it lets me discuss ideas with other employees a bit easier.
I tried "virtual whiteboard" with pen input recently at my CS department, and I found it very difficult to use, partly because the pen input device I was looking at was not the same thing I was drawing on.

I've consulted for a lot of large and small companies, and their offices are littered with unused/broken/misconfigured digital whiteboard solutions. They just don't work.

For me, the two best methods of brainstorming are post-it notes on the wall (for logical structuring of ideas) and whiteboard + cell phone camera (for lists and diagrams). There are no higher-tech solutions that come close the effectiveness of these techniques.

Display size (2, Insightful)

Xugumad (39311) | about 4 years ago | (#31559296)

> the main thing keeping me printing out documents is the ability to spread a dozen pages of a document under review out on my table and marking it up by hand.

So, in short, the paperless office is waiting on bigger displays. Sounds about right to me...

Re:Display size (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31559368)

> So, in short, the paperless office is waiting on bigger displays. Sounds about right to me...

Not really. I work in an Engineering Consultancy and whilst 99% of our drawings and designs are done on a computer, we have to print out paper copies for legal purposes, archive purposes, construction issues, not to mention team meetings where 10 of us need to spread out 5 or 6 A0 drawings at the same time to compare, check, amend etc.

So, the paperless office will NEVER exist, even if they produce a table display the size of the room which costs less than a roll of paper.

Re:Display size (1)

Gorobei (127755) | about 4 years ago | (#31559436)


I'm kind of old school, so I only have 3 monitors + a notepad, maybe get 1 piece of paper a week (a confirm for travel or whatever.) More modern guys on the floor have 6, 7, or 8 21" flatscreens, zero paper.

Comfort (1)

SkydiverFL (310021) | about 4 years ago | (#31559306)

It's kinda like wiping or eating with your other hand. For our office, it boils down to comfort. We spend our entire lives reading books, flipping through newspapers, preparing reports and homework, signing contracts, etc., etc., etc. We are conditioned to have something tangible in our hands. So, when it comes to reading a 50-page document on an LCD screen, it feels unnatural. We can do it if we had to, but our brain simply feels awkward accepting it.

Doodles (5, Funny)

hivebrain (846240) | about 4 years ago | (#31559318)

When Word or Acrobat allows me to draw 3D boxes and other geometric shapes in the margins of docs, then we'll talk.

Paper and... (1)

dov_0 (1438253) | about 4 years ago | (#31559326)

Office printers. It's just too easy to prepare a document and hit 'print'. It's also incredibly easy to produce larger quantities with the good old photocopier. In short, while the human preference for paper has not diminished to any great degree, the ease of producing paper documents in large quantities has increased dramatically.

Reliability (2, Insightful)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about 4 years ago | (#31559332)

I've never had my desk crash, losing all pieces of paper on it. Contrast that to Windows.

When push comes to shove, I can always get a paper form to the person that needs it. Contrast that to relying on an Exchange server.

When a form needs authorization, having the right person sign it with a pen always works. Contrast that to trying to get digital signatures to work.

Re:Reliability (1)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | about 4 years ago | (#31559406)

I've never had my desk crash, losing all pieces of paper on it. Contrast that to Windows.

Desks can burn down, and it's fairly time-consuming to make a perfect copy of your desk and every piece of paper currently on it.

When push comes to shove, I can always get a paper form to the person that needs it. Contrast that to relying on an Exchange server.

When push comes to shove, you have more options than just Exchange Server.

When a form needs authorization, having the right person sign it with a pen always works. Contrast that to trying to get digital signatures to work.

Pen signatures can be forged or outright cut-and-pasted, even moreso if you allow them to be faxed. Digital signatures don't require the person to physically be there, and cryptographic signatures, handled properly, cannot be forged.

The reliability of digital versus paper isn't as celar-cut as you suggest, and it depends entirely what your priorities are.

Re:Reliability (1)

Frosty Piss (770223) | about 4 years ago | (#31559416)

I've never had my desk crash, losing all pieces of paper on it. Contrast that to Windows.

I must be running a "different" Windows than everyone else here. My Windows install has never crashed and lost my document. Indeed, it's never crashed on me at all.

Re:Reliability (1)

Anne Thwacks (531696) | about 4 years ago | (#31559610)

My Windows install has never crashed and lost my document. Indeed, it's never crashed on me at all.

Maybe you forgot to turn it on?

Standards? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31559340)

A lot of the paper in our office relates to invoice and billing, everyone wants everything on headed paper. It would be nice if there were a set of open standards for documents like this, with an acceptable way to easily digitally sign and verify documents for authenticity, and some kind of indexing tool to allow prompt searches.

Also like Drethon says, being able to print out a bunch of pages and spread them around is awesome, especially for hand outs at meetings, CVs when interviewing people, etc etc. Perhaps one of these super magic touch screen lcd tables that are in some labs at the moment could help with that one day ..

Also I just like writing things down on a notepad, rather than in to a computer!

A: The law. (4, Insightful)

hal2814 (725639) | about 4 years ago | (#31559344)

If you work in health care, at a law office, in insurance, in a financial institution or virtually anything else heavily regulated by the government, you must keep paper copies of most of your stuff. You just can't have a paperless office in those situations.

Re:A: The law. (1)

LWolenczak (10527) | about 4 years ago | (#31559422)

Also, anything that has to be audited/signed/checked off for process control/accountability, which relates back to regulations.

Re:A: The law. (3, Informative)

Red Flayer (890720) | about 4 years ago | (#31559644)

Also, anything that has to be audited/signed/checked off for process control/accountability, which relates back to regulations.

Not so. Approvals & audits can be documented via software, as long as the software is certified (which isn't that hard to do).

There are tons of software solutions out there for document management that can push documents through approval workflows, etc., that meet all standards for process control and accountability. I won't mention specific vendor names, but there are literally dozens of vendors that offer these systems at a reasonable price... and they have the SOx certifications to go with them.

Re:A: The law. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31559428)

That's not technically true a lot of the time, as there are solutions that have been approved for those situations. But practically speaking this might as well be true, because those systems are so expensive and troublesome to implement.

Re:A: The law. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31559514)

This isn't entirely the truth anymore. I work for several medical facilities. To comply with law, you have to have all of your medical records in a digital format. The hospitals that I use have completely ditched paper except for the purpose of handing the patient a receipt. Every medical station, every room has a computer in it that employees can use to document patient care and progress. They use screens located at nursing stations. It is getting to the point that you don't get paid unless all of your records are medical.

The only exception to this rule is a vet clinic that I work for. They are still mostly paper. This has more to do with management's unwillingness to learn "the computer". They do realize that if they ever want to sell the place, they are going to have to go all digital. Every now and then they make an effort to make the change, but it gets difficult since the people that run the place actually can't stand working on computers.

What is that thing paper you are talking about? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31559348)

Just wondering.

Resistance Of Change (5, Funny)

thechemic (1329333) | about 4 years ago | (#31559352)

I work in an office with 200+ cubes. We have all the latest office productivity tools. 99% of the employees have 10-30 yellow stickys stuck all over their desk for reminders. People seem somehow amazed and awestruck by my clean and streamlined desk that is clutter free and yellow sticky free. Sometimes people are even brave enough to ask "how do you do it? How do you work without... stickys??!!". I tell them about this technological miracle that was recently invented (years ago) called Outlook. Features include calendar with reminders and even... a task list! Amazed... my coworkers usually run back to their desk to place another yellow sticky on top of a recently expiring yellow sticky, that says "reminder, learn about outlook tool". I feel like I'm surrounded by spear-chuckers

Re:Resistance Of Change (5, Funny)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | about 4 years ago | (#31559458)

...this technological miracle that was recently invented (years ago) called Outlook.

You had me up until that bit.

Re:Resistance Of Change (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31559472)

Sometimes people are even brave enough to ask.....

The rest are not lacking in bravery. They just think you're a pretentious jerk with an attitude problem.

Re:Resistance Of Change (2, Interesting)

nlawalker (804108) | about 4 years ago | (#31559490)

I don't think it's always resistance to change. I frequently experiment with new ways of keeping my life organized and I almost always end up coming back to a system that involves paper, stickies or notecards, at least in part. Outlook tasks and calendar entries definitely have their place, especially when your whole office is using them, but it often helps me to have notes take up physical space in my life. After a long period of trying to deny it and "go paperless," I finally admitted to myself that spatial organization was incredibly effective and I needed to take advantage of it.

I tried the Hipster PDA [wikipedia.org] when I was in college and ended up ditching it because I didn't have enough actionable items to track to make it worth it, but my current job is full of little things to remember and act on, and I find it incredibly useful to have everything on cards - I can thumb through them, spread them out, sort them, organize them, etc. I can take the card for what I'm currently working on and put it next to me and help helps me focus a bit.

I love tools like Outlook and especially OneNote, but I find that when things get stressful or when I have lower-priority items, those tools become dumpsters for information that I drop things into and never sort or see again. My notecards are bite-sized pieces that I can organize how I like on a whim.

Re:Resistance Of Change (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31559544)

I quit my last job when my Outlook Todo list reached 500 entries.

Re:Resistance Of Change (1)

vlm (69642) | about 4 years ago | (#31559556)

99% of the employees have 10-30 yellow stickys stuck all over their desk for the password change of the week.

Corrected that for you.

Retention (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31559358)

Ask anyone that works in the medical industry.

It's just so hard to trust digital documents for life-long recording purposes like medical records. Thus, each time something is documented, two copies of it are made, perhaps one digital and one physical, and then copies of each of those are made, and then all are stored separately.

Unless everything in your business is throw-away, or you have all sorts of faith in your backup methods, it's the most stable method of retaining documents over a lengthy period.

It's necessary (1)

guytoronto (956941) | about 4 years ago | (#31559362)

Short of a fire, flood, or shredding, the documents in the filing cabinet aren't going anywhere. Electromagnetic data storage is the devil's tool!

Change as good as a holiday (2, Insightful)

Boronx (228853) | about 4 years ago | (#31559366)

Paper offers the chance to get up and walk around while reading or the chance to go to another part of the office to write.

Workflow (2, Interesting)

eggman9713 (714915) | about 4 years ago | (#31559382)

I work in an architecture/engineering office. Each department has its engineers/architects and its CAD technicians/designers. Our typical workflow has the engineer, ie me, quickly drawing out what I want on a blank plan, and the CAD guys make it happen so I can move on to other things. If I was going to draw what I wanted in the computer anyway, why do we need CAD guys? (hint: they are less expensive per hour, to be cynical. But that lets us get more work done overall).

Re:Workflow (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31559592)

You need CAD guys to make up for the complete and total lack of common sense that most engineers have.

My office is paperless for years (3, Interesting)

tftp (111690) | about 4 years ago | (#31559386)

I know there are other reasons why offices are not becoming paperless. What are your reasons?

I don't use paper at my home office. I have a printer for rare occasions, like when I want to print a backup set of driving directions for a long trip (the primary set being the GPS.) Some say they don't trust Windows (or any other OS, I guess) with their data. That's what backups are for. When was the last time you did a backup of all your papers, by the way? Papers are easy to lose and nearly impossible to find when you need them.

I have a scanner next to me, if I have a paper (like a manual on something I bought) I scan it and save. The paper manual may then be recycled. Less stuff to lay around and produce dust.

Even when I worked at a larger company (last year) the office was mostly paperless. All communication was done through email and IM and phone. I wasn't involved with code reviews, but meetings were done without papers - using a projector connected to presenter's notebook. The only paper I handled there was time cards, and that was only because of certain accounting regulations (it must be a physical document with a signature.)

Re:My office is paperless for years (1)

DamonHD (794830) | about 4 years ago | (#31559486)

I print out a handful of sheets per month on average; often because a legal document is involved and hard copy is required or sensible.

I take notes and sketch ideas on recycled paper, but even that is of the same sort of total volume.

For clients I usually have a paper note/log book, but even that is generally no more than about a page per working day, and on recycled stock where possible.

I'm almost paperless now.



when was the last time (1)

FudRucker (866063) | about 4 years ago | (#31559388)

when was the last time you took a computer monitor and folded it up and stuffed it in to an envelope, or in your pocket?
also a pen/pencil & paper does not require a battery / electricity

Re:when was the last time (1)

Aranykai (1053846) | about 4 years ago | (#31559496)

With inductive charging standards on the way, these concerns about batteries will likely fade as whole surfaces of desks/tables can be made to charge just about any electronic device from mice/keyboards to cellphones and even laptops.

Also, I prefer email over mail anyways. Why pay for the stamp if you both have internet access anyways?

It's half solved (3, Interesting)

jgreco (1542031) | about 4 years ago | (#31559396)

I've had flatbed scanners for a long time, auto-feeding, etc. Way back, scanning was very manual and OCR took a Really Long Time. That was a turnoff for many years.

These days, there are really good scanners out there (we just picked up a Fujitsu ScanSnap S1400) and the OCR isn't too painful on a modern box. The ScanSnap is color and double-sided with a large ADF - and blazing fast. I cannot picture too many improvements, except maybe a scanner that would unfold paper and remove staples... but the sticking point is still document management and access.

We're part of the way there. The largest remaining problems are software and people.

The upside? A banker's box of papers can be consolidated onto a quarter of a DVD - all searchable. I want that. :-)

We've been talking about this a lot lately (2, Interesting)

raddan (519638) | about 4 years ago | (#31559408)

primarily because a paper-based process is tremendously wasteful, expensive, and it cannot take advantage of many efficiencies of keeping documents in the digital domain. For our Boston office alone, we spend tens of thousands of dollars each year on paper, ink, and printer/photocopier maintenance.

What it mostly comes down to for us is screen real-estate; the ability to work from multiple documents at once is essential. We are piloting some very large monitors now (24"+), and the things we're discovering were somewhat unexpected from the IT staff's perspective. Most people, but especially older workers, intensely dislike the large screens.

Their complaints are along the lines of "it's too big" and "sensory overload". It seems that, with their previous displays, which were 15" LCDs, people could tuck their monitor away, and use the computer to augment their work. People universally liked moving from 15" CRTs to 15" LCDs because it made the computer even less obtrusive. However, a shift to a digital workflow is really quite a change, and the large screen reinforces that. It immediately confronts people with the fact that they really have to work on the computer now. Younger employees seem very eager to do this, but older employees, some of whom have worked with a paper process for 20+ years, really do not like this idea at all, and have even recently made childish proclamations like "I reserve the right to print something anytime I want!"

My sense is that this attitude will eventually pass, but it may be a generational thing. As younger employees move into more senior positions, we'll probably see paper go away. Obviously, I'm generalizing here, because some older employees, especially our graphic designers, LOVE the big screens. Their process has been entirely computer based for a long time already. Given that most of the actual work is done by younger employees, we may find ourselves giving the less senior people big screens, and let the more senior people keep what they have. They spend most of their time in meetings anyhow.

The paperless toilet. (3, Funny)

Charles Dodgeson (248492) | about 4 years ago | (#31559442)

Back in the 80s, I remember someone saying that a paperless office would be about as useful as the paperless toilet.

I'm not sure why I feel that this is true. But I'm hoping this discussion will provide insight.

Re:The paperless toilet. (1)

vlm (69642) | about 4 years ago | (#31559618)

Back in the 80s, I remember someone saying that a paperless office would be about as useful as the paperless toilet.

I'm not sure why I feel that this is true. But I'm hoping this discussion will provide insight.

Urinal = only works for about half the employees, even then only most of the time.

Also, there is the probably false assumption that office work is inherently useful work. Insert the "office space" movie quote "I'd say in a given week I probably only do about fifteen minutes of real, actual, work."

Surface computing (3, Interesting)

gilesjuk (604902) | about 4 years ago | (#31559444)

A whole desk computer is what you need, with easy ways of sending someone a document.

Imagine if you had a meeting room and the whole desk was a computer, but you could effectively bring your own computer display over to the desk? No need to bring your laptop, no need to bring a notepad with you.

Ok, we will need to move away from WIMP to make this possible perhaps?

You! (2, Interesting)

owlstead (636356) | about 4 years ago | (#31559446)

What's holding down the paperless Office? The answer is mainly: you. I've been working at my IT job for a few years. Almost if not all of my communication is by mail, phone or coffee machine. I normally do not read anything offline, and if I write anything down it's because I do the exercise to remember. Only top priority notes are kept, and they are directly typed into a document on the server.

I've recently had to host a meeting with 20 persons and I just used a laptop and a projector, The persons hosting the meeting before gave everybody a lot of paper (which 90 percent won't even read because they are not directly involved). I just gave them one double sided page so they could scribble some notes next to the items on the agenda.

I absolutely hate paper when I'm at work. Office documents need versions, need to be able to be pushed around, deleted and changed. You must be able to search through them quickly. Novels are much better in a book, but at work, I'll would prefer digital versions every time (even though paper even there certainly has its advantages).

Of course I do have double screens at work, something every IT person should have - if only to minimize costs.

Paper (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31559466)

Paper of course.

Ask the paper companies .... (1)

wsanders (114993) | about 4 years ago | (#31559470)

... that deliver 20,000 lb of paper to my workplace every few weeks or so. And the 1 printer for every 5 workers ratio is not getting any better.

Proof Reading (1)

Flere Imsaho (786612) | about 4 years ago | (#31559478)

It seems to me that no matter how much I spell and grammar check the crap out of something on my screen, as soon as I read hard copy I find mistooks.

What Is Holding Back the Paperless Office? (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 4 years ago | (#31559494)

Uhm...the abundance of cheap laser printers? (And I would rather see greater proliferation of cheaper e-ink devices.)

Better E-readers (1)

Kreela (1770584) | about 4 years ago | (#31559502)

I find myself printing out less since I got an e-reader, but it's still just for certain documents. Temporary stuff, mostly. If I could doodle and use colour that might cut it down some more. I don't think screen size makes a lot of difference for me, but it might for some people. You can't pass round electronic documents as easily, but what if someone built an e-reader that allowed you to dock with other readers and transfer files between them? That would change things (provided everyone in the office has compatible machines).

Why bother, just recycle (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | about 4 years ago | (#31559516)

90/10 rule - we're most of the way there, to get that last 10% will require a massive organizational and technological shift. Who cares, just recycle.

Fax Machines (and the people who insist on using) (1)

mavantix (16356) | about 4 years ago | (#31559520)

Working in IT, I hate fax machines. They're archaic technology, long sense replaced, but try and argue the point to an employee who believes they are the only HIPAA compliant way to sent information to another doctors office. Uhhg. I can't tell you how many times I've seen someone print something out to shove it in a fax machine and then shred it, and yes, there's a digital fax printer setup on the network and they know how to use it. Stubborn employees and the lack of management to enforce them to migrate to better technology.

Erasable paper (1)

mwvdlee (775178) | about 4 years ago | (#31559522)

Paperless office is probably never going to happen; paper is just too convenient.

The problem trying to be solved isn't lots of paper though, it's the environmental effects of printing and throwing away lots of paper.

There are currently some printers out there that handle special paper that can be erased. With a decade of R&D more we could have affordable, erasable paper and pens and markers to go along with that paper.

Late Adopters (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31559528)

What is holding back the paperless office? Late adopters e.g. people who still want to see paper copies of things. This often corresponds to age, but lets not go there...

Well what holds the paperless office might be... (1)

garompeta (1068578) | about 4 years ago | (#31559530)

...Staples? ;)

Re:Well what holds the paperless office might be.. (1)

pcolaman (1208838) | about 4 years ago | (#31559668)

Surprised it took this long for someone to state the obvious. Office Depot, Staples, etc do not want the Paperless Office, considering selling paper is one of the primary things they do. They'll do anything and everything to ensure that almost every technology product you use utilizes paper in some fashion.

Screen Size; Fragility of Data; Markup ... (1)

gordguide (307383) | about 4 years ago | (#31559552)

People print out documents because, for one, they want to view non-continuous pages. A monitor that could show, say 6 full pages might do the trick.

Another reason is to have a permanent copy; people all have a story where documents were lost due to some data-related problem.

Finally, some people want to mark up pages. Although there are ways to do that on a computer, vendor proprietary formats, cost of applications, and generally not really working as well as people want make print and the pencil by far the easiest solution.

A couple of things (3, Interesting)

Todd Knarr (15451) | about 4 years ago | (#31559564)

Some of the reasons I still use paper:

  1. Off-line use. I can refer to paper copies and make notes on them even when I'm not around the computer.
  2. Audit trail. Most document-management systems and e-mail systems have document retention policies that're under someone else's control. Sometimes I need to control copies of the documents independently of company policies (eg. anything related to HR, records that might prove inconvenient for management later (like my detailing of exactly why something they want to do is a Bad Idea), etc.).
  3. Change control. Many times documents can be changed in the computer and, while it records that there was a change, there's no record anymore of what the document said before the change. The paper copies in my drawer can't be changed and I can pull them out to prove that yes that was what was originally specified.
  4. Space. My desk's a lot bigger than the computer monitor, and I can lay out a lot more papers and diagrams on it than I can have visible on the monitor at one time. Very useful, that.
  5. Reliability. I don't have to worry about the contents of my desk drawers and noteboard going *poof* when a system upgrade goes south and it turns out the restore process requires things IT can't afford to do.

Re:A couple of things (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | about 4 years ago | (#31559670)

An electronic audit trail/change control system seems to be something that can be done, but maybe the currently available systems are too complicated to use.

Computers can be backed up for relatively easy restoration. A company that can't reimage a computer or restore it from a backup probably has deeper issues. Actual data files should be on a server as much as possible, and those servers should be backed up too.

Speaking for myself... (1)

Hortensia Patel (101296) | about 4 years ago | (#31559574)

Speaking for myself... nothing. I haven't printed anything either at the office or at home for at least five years. Not out of any technophile or tree-hugging principles; I just haven't felt the need.

Re:Speaking for myself... (1)

Anne Thwacks (531696) | about 4 years ago | (#31559640)

You obviously have never turned up at a Ryanair checkin without a paper copy of your paperless ticket!

Old people! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31559576)

Damn those dinosaurs!

A reader (1)

Ernesto Alvarez (750678) | about 4 years ago | (#31559622)

What I need is a nice, cheap, rugged and handy document reader.

Seriously, the number one reason I print documents is because I want to review them while I go to the loo, or because I want to grab something to eat and I'll read it while I wait or because I want to take the doc home and maybe read it while I ride the bus.

Basically it boils down to something:

  1. Cheap (if it breaks, I don't want to care too much about it)
  2. Rugged (I'm taking it with me on a possibly crowded bus)
  3. Standards compliant(I want to read a fucking PDF, that's all)
  4. No bells and whistles (no wireless, colour, whatever except for a standards compliant interface)
  5. Not a general purpose computer (read PDF, nothing more)
  6. Good battery life (I want it to last at least a week on two AAA NiMH cells, and no custom cells, see point 3)
  7. Did I mention cheap? (I mean it, USD 10 would be all right, might sacrifice cheap for rugged, but not for cpu power)

Basically, stick some memory, an ARM processor, a PDF decoder and a screen. In fact, forget about most of the memory, just some RAM and a SD connector as an interface, user pays for the memory card.

Prices & UI... (2, Interesting)

evilviper (135110) | about 4 years ago | (#31559624)

Paper is incredibly cheap...

At ~1 cent per page, how many reams of paper would it take to pay off a single tablet/eBook reader for a single person?
Answer: "Too many"

Tablets, so far, have been far too geared for the high end... Luxury devices. Meanwhile, the essentially free "Personal Organizers" that were flying off the shelves close to 10 years ago now, had everything needed, just in too small dimensions...

In short, once someone sells a 7" display, with decent pen-input, basic wireless, and a stupid-simple UI, for perhaps $25, then you'll see the last stronghold of paper fall away.

Until then, it will continue to be a trade-off... Is e-mailing this report okay, or will it need to be referenced in the next meeting, or by someone as they're walking around? Often, it's cost more to take the time to figure that out, than the cost of continuing to print it...

displays and ... paper (1)

Thad Zurich (1376269) | about 4 years ago | (#31559630)

1) Limited display surfaces. Computers tend to treat all displays as if they need realtime updates. An HDTV large-screen desk display that updates slowly can handle vast display requirements without taxing computer hardware, which is cheap anyway. 2) Paper. Incoming paper still has to be dealt with. Scanning does not imply OCR, does not imply search.

Computers break. Books don't. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31559654)

I mean, so as to be completely unusable. I have books that are torn, missing spines, water damaged, defaced, and they still work. With no other hardware. Even during a power cut, or on the beach, and without any kind of hardware, and no language problems even after centuries. Paper is just superior technology.

It's the lack of markup (1)

ka9dgx (72702) | about 4 years ago | (#31559656)

Paper allows markup, and so does papyrus. Clay tablets do as well, until they are dry or fired in a kiln.

Paperless "documents" can be made to support markup. Ted Nelson was talking about it in the 1960s. It's his inability to ship product (like Babbage before him) that kept his vision from being popularized.

When TBL got around to building the first web servers, and there arose a need for formatting, the term HTML got picked. The world was done a great disservice by the term HTML, which doesn't allow markup of text, let alone hypertext.

HTML has effectively banned discussion of old school markup, because for a large portion of cases, people didn't really need markup, they just wanted formatting, so they went along with the term. Anyone who wanted old school markup just had to lump it, because the programmers didn't think it necessary, and thus the code to implement it never happened.

It's the effective banning of the concept because everyone now thinks exclusively as formatting internal to original source material that makes it almost impossible to even discuss adding markup on top of existing hypertext by a second or more parties.

We need markup. The old school kind, and its this deficiency that makes paper so bloody useful even now.

Google hates linguistic forking, and actively suppresses it by it's very nature. This means HTML will never be about markup, and we'll have to invent some new way of talking about it.

So here we are, 40 years after Ted Nelson, and we still use paper when we need markup.

"Quality" Procedures = More Paper (1)

pandymen (884006) | about 4 years ago | (#31559664)

Quality procedures force those in my office to keep a record of their hand markups. We need to be able to document all of the checks that took place to get a document out the door...hand marked, initialed, and dated. Then, when we kick something up for approval to go out the door, I need to print out fresh copy. Project managers also like their own hard copies to look at. Basically, although I may not have a problem looking at documents on my computer, those responsible for the overall project do.

Easy answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31559666)

The suits. AKA the useless eaters.

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