On the face of it, the first point may seem like the more challenging of the two, but I’ve found that it is getting a team to embrace a common solution to be the most difficult challenge. As a software developer, I’ve gone through countless requirement gathering sessions, and its difficult enough to get a group of people to agree on a common feature set, let alone changing a process from something familiar (paper) to something much less familiar (paperless).
Going forward, where I think we’ll see the biggest gains in the corporate paperless movement in the near-term is in two overlapping populations:
- Digital natives–that is, people who were born into technology. My kids, for instance, who have been using iPhones and iPads and other gadgets since they were 2 years old.
- Small, agile tech startups. I think of smaller tech companies like Buffer, FiftyThree (makers of the Paper app), and many of the companies you see featured on Lifehacker’s How I Work Series, embrace technology (including paperless technology) as a means to be more competitive and agile with fewer resources.
Of course, many of the companies in #2 are made up largely of digital natives and so there is a natural acceptance for technology. In larger corporate environments, you have two battles to fight: (1) corporate bureaucracy, and (2) a greater number of “digital immigrants”–people who did not grow up with technology and who struggle to embrace it for a variety of reasons.
What the smaller companies will do is lead by example. This is what I try to do with my own team. I work in a big corporate environment, but I have been paperless there for well over three years now, while paper is still a big part of the workflow. In small way, I think, I’ve demonstrated how the things you do can be streamlined by going paperless, and that frees up time for the most enriching and reward type of work, the creative work. Not everyone embraces this, and that’s cool.
I call what I do going paperless because it is kaizen, an ongoing process of continuous improvement. I have emphasized from the start that while an individual goes paperless, the world around them still produces paper and paper will still come into their system. You have to move at your own pace and comfort level. Your whole team may not embrace paperless meetings, but neither does that mean you have to give them up. Small examples of efficiency can go a long way.
These days, I’m known around my office as the “paperless” guy, and woe’s the day when someone happens to catch me with a piece of paper in my hand. (Even if it is a paper that someone else has given me.) This may not seem like much, but I’ve seen less and less among my teammates over the last few years.
It’s a start.