Paperless Office


Crikey, people read my blog!!

Rowan has asked me to expand on why I don't overly subscribe to the paperless office theory.

Well, I guess my thoughts are based around the behaviour of people. Let me say first, that as an Acrobat evangelist, I do believe that through use of Acrobat and the free Adobe Reader we can enable many many documents to live in electronic form only.

Indeed, I would clearly also prefer this method of working because of the many inherent advantages of using electronic documents. I won't bang on about them now because, to an extent, that's what this whole Blog is about.... but basically I'm a big fan.

But back to paper and why people still want it. I've often started seminars and presentations about Acrobat stating that I'm still a fan of paper, mainly to surprise the audience but I do follow up with reasons...

1. Paper is highly transportable, with the caveat that I'm not talking about a 5000 page Airbus maintenance manual. For many purposes it's a compact way of carrying data.
2. Paper doesn't need power, an operating system, or a device to work
3. You were taught how to use paper documents when you were 3, or 4 or 5 .. well you get the point.
4. When I send you a paper document, I'm confident that it will arive in the same format I sent it, the pagination won't have changed, font's will be correct, images won't be lost etc..

So, it's ubiquitous, transportable, has low usage requirements and we all know how to work it. I often state that "any electronic system you create to share information must be AT LEAST as good as a bit of paper"

(by the way, I believe Acrobat and PDF match my exacting criteria)

EDIT: Yup, it has been pointed out that Acrobat addresses point 4 in the list above. I really shouldn't write stream of conciousness blog posts. I guess that list is why I think paper is still valuable to people and I do think that as electronic alternatives go, Acrobat and PDF also do a good job of addressing point 1 (very transportable, think tiny flash drive) ... Point 3, well, I think most people are comfy using the free Adobe Reader these days.

Oh yes, the behaviour of people, I've watched people in offices, both for my work and in my hobby of stalking... (too much information?)

Anyway, pretty much everywhere I go, I still see people printing documents, why do they do this? Mainly it seems so that they can sit down and read through them. Often this is accompanied by changing the environment the person is working in, you know, move to a comfy chair, change lighting etc. So I think there's a real comfort factor to be had in reading paper based documents and a mind/mood change that can accompany working with paper.

I've also tried a number of different devices eBook readers etc, Laptops, Tablet PC's, handheld devices and I have to say, whilst comfortably being a child of the computer age, I still find them less comfortable to use for longer periods than paper.

Finally, I also consider the many different sizes and formats of documents. Whilst Acrobat can support documents of almost any size (a maximum document size measured in square metres) the devices we view them on impose constraints that mean we have to zoom and pan for very large page sizes. I see this a lot in the Architecture / Construction space.

Well, that was all a bit of a ramble, but I hope it made some sense. What I think I'm trying to say is that I believe in striving to minimise the use of paper, but I do believe that we will probably never reach a position where paper is eliminated from our workplaces.

Let me know what you think.


Also, while it's possible to add comments to PDFs (unless someone has disallowed it), it's quicker (and more expressive) to scribble on a piece of paper or a Post-It.

PDF only matches criteria 4 in your list, and does nothing to address the first three. That is why paper will always trump PDF in cases where those things are important (or until technology can over come them).

But I do believe people often print stuff that is totally useless. I've seen people that print ever email they get—what a colossal waste!

I rarely use my printer these days; I much prefer sending and receiving PDFs whenever possible. I just wish people would get on the digital signing bandwagon... And I could stop having to find a fax machine to borrow when something requires a signature.

Cheers Steve. I agree with all of your points. I guess I'm just more optimistic about the potential of technology to help us kick the paper habit sooner rather than later.

@foresmac, you're absolutely right, there is a colossal waste of paper. People need to think twice before they print -- maybe raising the price of paper would do the trick, make it more of a scarce resource, less disposable.

I pretty much use PDF or Word documents for everything that's in my control. The only time I deal with paper is when I'm submitting an application to some company/government departments and it can't be submitted electronically, or when my bank or other companies insist on sending bills through the mail, instead of electronically.

Stephen -- as you say, most likely, the healthy outcome of all of this is that we'll end up with a "less-paper" office, rather than a paperless office.

As you're pointing out, paper is still a useful technology, and PDF certainly helps by providing a similiar look/feel, allowing people to make the transition across to an electronic workflow. Insert cliche "TV hasn't obseleted radio, but they both do have their time and place. I wouldn't suggest watching TV while you're driving...."

However, perhaps a trifle more than you -- I think that the "mind/mood/paper when you were 3" issues are mostly generational -- and that you'll find the young ones of today quite carefree about those problems (mostly). My 13 niece reaffirms that to me on a daily basis.

As with Dave, I rarely use my printer -- in fact, I didn't have one until recently. And even that was for printing photos. But... it's out of ink now, and well, I haven't bought a new ink cartridge. It's been over a year. It's not to say that I never need to print anything, but it's so rare that I 'm happy to take a few bucks down to the local internet cafe and pay their fee of 20 cents a page. For 2-3 pages on some form I need to submit -- it's no big deal.

OK -- so the way that I manage to work (mostly) without paper is this: 1) use more than one monitor and computer. I use three monitors -- and from time to time four; 2) make your setup comfortable so that you are happy to (enjoyably) spend time in front of it without this being a chore -- whether that be a e-paper device, or plain old laptop/desktop; 3) make an effort to do so, go past your comfort zone -- just like you'd have to do when you learn to touch type or study another language.

BTW - Using software called Desktop Rover - (and I'm sure there will be others), I can drag my mouse across all displays using only a single keyboard. I also have a very "comfy chair" setup along with the ability access most of what I'm doing from many locations. As well as the usual email in my phone, pdf reader, etc...

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