Good news for print providers: the paperless office is unrealistic and undesirable

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Sometimes our future predictions are way off the mark. In 1989, Back to the Future Part II said that we would have flying cars and hoverboards by 2015. NASA said in the 1970s that we would have colonised space by 2000. And in 1975, Businessweek said that paper would be on its way out by 1980, and nearly dead by 1990.

None of these predictions have come true (and yes, we’re particularly upset about the flying cars, given how much of our lives we spend in traffic jams). Businessweek’s paperless predictions were particularly erroneous. The use of printing actually increased during the early years of the millennium.

It’s true that in the past few years, demand for paper has fallen. New technologies have reduced our need to use it. Computers, smartphones, tablets, apps, management software, electronic storage and the cloud have all improved the ability of businesses to digitise their processes, documents and records. The filing cabinets are getting smaller. However, new evidence suggests that a completely paperless office is unrealistic and, more to the point, people don’t actually want it.

The rise of paperless pessimism

In 2015, Viadesk surveyed employees in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany about their opinions on the paperless office. In the Netherlands, only 43% of respondents said that an office without paper was an attractive prospect. In Germany and Belgium, the numbers weren’t much higher: 46% and 52% respectively. Less than 50% of all respondents thought that a paperless office was realistic. 71% said that printing was still necessary, and 70% said that paperless working was not suitable for every project.

In 2016, an independent survey of over 3,600 employees across Europe was commissioned by Epson, and the findings were even more compelling. 83% thought that a paperless office was unrealistic, and 86% thought that a ban on printing would limit productivity.

So why don’t employees want to go paperless?

In an age of digitisation and automation, are these results surprising? Perhaps. Technology makes processes faster and lives easier. But the results aren’t suggesting that businesses are rejecting digitisation and automation, because they’re not. After all, demand for paper is down, and that’s because businesses rely increasingly on service management software, email, databases and cloud computing instead of laborious paper-based processes and record keeping.

But Epson found that 64% of respondents said they would rather read reports and ad brochures on printed paper. A variety of reasons were given for this: 53% said printed documents are easier to share; 44% said they are easier to read; and 41% said they are easier to edit. 62% believed that more errors could be made when editing an electronic document.

The fact that the majority of respondents said they would rather read paper reports is not surprising. A similar attitude is keeping alive the printed book. Nowadays we have e-books and e-readers, and yet hardback and paperback books are far from dead. In fact, the Publishers Association recorded the first drop in e-book sales in seven years in 2015, while printed book sales rose.

It’s because people don’t want to stare at screens all the time. Sometimes there’s just no comparison with a physical page. Paper lives because it’s loved.

What Epson and Viadesk’s surveys show is that while businesses are reducing their reliance on paper through digitisation and automation, they don’t want to abandon paper entirely. A paperless office is, by definition, an absolute. An office with no paper at all. But what we’re really seeing are offices with less paper. Offices where paper continues to be used at times when it is appropriate or desirable.

The implications for the printing industry

All this is, of course, great news for manufacturers, printing companies and those who provide printing and copying services. It’s means their core business isn’t going anywhere.

At the same time, copy-print services providers need to be alive to the fact that demand has dropped and costs are higher. In order to turn a profit and keep up with the competition, they need to adapt. Have a read of our previous article, which explains how managed print services software is the key to solving the profits problem currently facing the print services industry.

Evatic MPS is a particularly well-established solution for optimising printers, copiers and the businesses processes relating to them. For more information, please contact us or send us an email at sales@evatic.com.