Paperless Office? No. Less-Paper Office? Yes.

In 1978, Frederick Wilfrid predicted the now unrealized “paperless office.” From then until 2008, print volumes in U.S. offices continued to grow. Then, the great recession hit and we saw our first decline in print volume.

There was a brief recovery as the economy improved, but then office print volume started to decline very slowly. This was a time when managed print services (MPS) as well as new document workflow solutions grew rapidly though American corporations.

At present, office print volume is declining at a rate of about 2% per year. But paper, Keypoint Intelligence/InfoTrends believes, will continue to play a significant role in businesses in the years ahead.

Optional printing still has value for many workers

Recent Keypoint Intelligence/InfoTrends research explored what and why people print in the office. One interesting finding was that 44% of their office printing is “optional.” In other words, a good chunk of their printing is conducted because they prefer to read and edit documents on paper. This was even true for the youngest office workers.

Scientific research does reveal benefits of print—optional and required alike. There is some evidence, for instance, suggesting that a significant share of people read faster, comprehend better, and spot errors more readily when the document is printed on paper.

While studies are ongoing, one conclusion appears to be that people read and comprehend material better in the medium that they prefer. In other words, there are “screen people” and there are “paper people.”

In the interest of worker productivity, Keypoint Intelligence/InfoTrends does not believe that prohibiting optional printing would be in the best interest of many companies. But that doesn’t mean that rules-based printing software should not be put in place to help users make good printing choices. This software can help them choose the best printing device, as well as settings, to lower costs but not worker productivity.  

Required printing: What documents are part of a business process?

The other 56% percent of office printing is performed as part of an established workflow for a job process. This is where professionals can help companies of all sizes determine if a business process might best be converted to digital.

Below are the documents most likely to be printed because the current process requires a print, according to Keypoint Intelligence/InfoTrends research:

  • Documents requiring a signature
  • Customer billing/invoices
  • Proposals/contracts
  • Forms and applications
  • Marketing materials
  • Spreadsheets

In many cases, these required prints may (or must) persist. But in other cases, there’s an opportunity to shift the business process to a more digital way or working. For example, in the case of the top four most commonly reported documents (i.e., documents requiring a signature, customer billing/invoices, proposals/contracts, and forms and applications), there are non-paper options that can streamline or speed up the process as well as reduce errors.

There are multiple options for digitally signing a document, including contracts. There are also multiple ways to fill in forms and applications from the keyboard. In addition, billing and invoicing can be completed digitally.

IT and office document technology resellers have become expert at helping organizations identify when a business process document might most effectively be converted to a digital format to reduce costs, man hours, and subsequent errors. They also are aware of the various laws that may impact how a document is approved and kept secure.

Keypoint Intelligence/InfoTrends research has shown that large organizations have strongly embarked on that task. Seventy percent of businesses with 500 or more employees have taken steps to automate document-related business processes.

 Among those companies with initiatives in place, the top three reasons are (in order):

  • To increase efficiency
  • To reduce paper usage
  • To decrease costs

Be realistic

Interestingly, we noted above that on average—across company size categories—56% of printing is required. But looking only at companies with 500 or more employees, the share of print that’s optional versus required is split 50/50.

A smart look at business processes has mostly happened in larger businesses. So we can say that this kind of initiative will likely reduce some, but not all paper documents. The key is to approach the process with an IT or office technology partner that knows your business as well as the best tools for various scenarios.

3 takeaways

  • Optional printing has value, but rules-based printing can reduce cost without impacting worker productivity.
  • Print as part of an established workflow should be analyzed to determine if digitization could save time, cost, and the possibility of error—while keeping in mind the needs of the document recipient and/or applicable laws.
  • No changes need to be all or nothing: IT and office technology resellers can help make changes to paper and workflow where it makes the most sense.


Image sourced from Alto Digital

The Paperless Office vs Paper-less Office