The Challenges of Going Paperless

Yesterday, I had a guest post on the Evernote Blog about paperless team meetings. Partially in response, David Barber wrote a post called “Why Technology is Never as Easy as They Say.” You should go read his post because there is a lot of truth in it. Two points he makes, in particular, ring true: (1) corporate bureaucracy often makes it difficult, if not impossible to install or use what is considered “non-standard” software; in many instances, this includes software like Evernote or Google applications. (2) Even when use of such software is permitted, it can be a challenge to get an entire team to embrace something like paperless meetings. Personality types alone vary widely.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

4 thoughts on “The Challenges of Going Paperless

  1. I haven’t read David Barber’s post yet but I totally agree with your comments and find a bit of relief in reading your them and realizing I’ve had many of the same. I work for a water district where the tide is changing and tablets and other technologies are being implemented but there are still a lot of printing and photocopying at the same time. Personally I do my best to be as paperless as possible.

    Leading by example is what I can control immediately and slowly I find others asking “How do you do that?”. It’s a start.

  2. Good points Jamie.

    One thing I didn’t really make clear in my post was that I’m not letting any of the obstacles slow me down. I agree with you, is important to run with the paperless/technology torch and hope others will follow.

    My dream is that someday I will be able to attend a meeting and have everyone looking at a file on a projector screen or smart board. The way it is now we have people sitting around the table, each with their own 20 page .pdf file.

    Someday…someday.

    1. What’s funny is that I got started with the whole paperless thing out of frustration. I’d gone through the 1990s in IT, hearing about the “paperless office” but never actually seeing one. Where were those meetings with people using smart boards and projectors and no printouts? I wondered if it was possible, at least for me. Challenge made, challenge accepted. :-)

  3. I work with some managers who still advocate a paper desk diary, even when they have remote workers. They are the same age as me but it’s a different mindset.
    We switched corporately to google last year and this has highlighted the mindset differences considerably.

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