As letters become emails, notes become text messages, books become Kindles and the majority of our photographs stay digital, it is easy to think that paper now only plays a bit part in our lives. But even if paper no longer plays a central role, could you live your life totally paper free?
If you take a moment to think about every piece of paper you handle in a day, you'll see the paper soon stacks up. Here, for example, are just some of the paper items that passed through my hands today:
• My morning copy of the daily paper
• A receipt for a cup of coffee
• A colleague's birthday card
• A report that I had to review
• 'Post-it' notes on my desk reminding me of important tasks
• Handwritten directions to my afternoon meeting
• A scribbled shopping list
While there are digital versions available for all of the above, we still rely on paper for a high proportion of our information sharing. Sometimes this is for aesthetic reasons, for example, a physical birthday card still seems more special than an e-card. However, much of our paper use is simply ingrained in our culture - we are used to receiving some documents by post, for example, and we like to scribble our shopping lists on the backs of envelopes. Our paper habits are hard to shake.
Despite the paper habit, today's digital age offers us the chance to a smarter approach to paper. In the business world, you hear of firms that aspire to becoming 100% paper free. This sounds extreme - and it is. A completely paperless environment is not without significant challenges - and it is not always best practice. In fact, going paper free poses a significant challenge to every day working life.
Imagine having to open a word document every time you wanted to jot down a note to yourself, or not being able to print off a report to proof read away from the hubbub of your desk and computer. If a client calls in and you need to transfer them to a colleague, a paper sheet of extension numbers in front of you feels far more accessible than having to search through folders for the required information. And then there is the potential issue with suppliers and clients - just because you're paper free, it doesn't necessarily mean they are.
For many of us there is less paper around. Indeed, recent research suggests that one in ten employees in the UK would now describe their office as paper free. At the other end of the scale, however, a similar number are describe their office as "paper chaos". For many, the paper free office may well remain a pipe dream. And yet there are benefits to working smarter with paper. A realistic approach would be to reduce the paper in the workplace - think less paper rather than paperless. Going paper light is about gradually reducing your dependence on paper by introducing a managed and cost-effective digitisation programme.
While this change would come from the top of the organisation, you could expect to see improvements to your working life:
Reduce the paper mountain - if yours is one of those desks where the paper tsunami looks likely to swallow up your computer and spill out onto adjacent workspaces, then gaining an understanding of what paper you need regularly and storing the rest securely elsewhere is going to help you to work more efficiently.
Keep control of paper - Digitising copies of key paper documents and making them readily accessible on the company's hard drive might be far easier than taking on the paper chaos you made of your filing system.
Keep your secrets safe - research shows that close to half of us have seen confidential employee or business records left behind on photocopiers and printers, or left out on desks, including documents relating to colleagues' salary or bonus details, performance review or appraisal information. Reduce this type of information risk by really thinking before you print and then carefully considering how you store and ultimately dispose of the information. The rubbish bin at home might not be the safest place to dispose of your employers sensitive information.