Is the ‘Paperless Office’ finally here?

4 years ago

The first time I heard people talk about ‘the paperless office’ was about 15 years ago, when I worked in the web team for British Airways in Newcastle.

At the time, it seemed like a rather abstract concept that was still a very long way off and most of the discussions focused on printing less and having fewer bits of paperwork on our desk.

Sage in the Cloud
However, the concept has been around much longer. If Wikipedia serves me right, an early prediction of the paperless office was made in a Business Week article in 1975 which suggested that “office automation would make paper redundant for routine tasks such as record-keeping and bookkeeping” due to an increase in the number of PCs being used around the world.

Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go to plan as improvements in printers and photocopiers caused the worldwide use of office paper to more than double from 1980 to 2000!

Are you a ‘Knowledge Worker’?

Even just a few years ago the concept of working completely in ‘the Cloud’ was still alien to most people who were used to working on a PC at a desk with a printer in a physical office. But it feels to me like the stars have aligned and we’re finally at a stage when the modern ‘knowledge worker’ can work completely online and be more productive too!

On a personal note, although I’m based at Sage’s office in Newcastle, my working day begins on the bus into work as I use my smartphone to catch up on news and information being shared on Twitter. When I arrive at the office, I have a desk with a docking station for my laptop but can work from anywhere in the building as we have Wi-Fi throughout (the breakout areas and comfy chairs in the atrium are always full of people having meetings and working on their laptops).

The nature of my work (digital marketing, blogging and social media) means my office is wherever I am. All I really need to do my job is my laptop, my smartphone and an Internet connection. I’m still guilty of printing some documents off to read (old habits die hard) but I do this much less than I used to and could quite happily stop altogether without it having a negative impact on my work.

And I’m not alone. Widespread broadband and Wi-Fi coverage across the UK combined with the proliferation of laptops, Macbooks, smartphones and tablets means that huge numbers of people now have the basic tools they need to work from anywhere and at any time. Although I still spend most of my time in the office, I now have the freedom and flexibility to work from home, a café, a co-working space like Campus North in Newcastle, a library, on the bus or train.

How business is moving to the Cloud

Big software providers including Sage are also embracing the change and thousands of start-ups and small business owners are signing up to cloud-based accounts and payroll software (like Sage One) each month, attracted by the lower cost and increased flexibility.

There’s no doubt that Google has been absolutely pivotal in bringing the Cloud to the mainstream – with over five million people now using their paid-for Google Apps for Work service which offers an online alternative to Microsoft Office. If you’re not yet ready to pay, Google Drive is a free internet storage space where you can upload files and documents for others to view and edit and there’s something magical about seeing everyone in the team all working independently on a document and making additions at the same time! Not to be outdone, Microsoft launched Office 365 in 2011 which is a subscription-based version of Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, etc that can be used online, on your PC or laptop or mobile.

But it’s not just big business that is pushing the cloud agenda. There are thousands of great apps, tools and services that you can use to boost productivity and increase collaboration (many of which are free or very low cost). Twitter and Facebook are two obvious examples of free services that you’re probably already using but SproutSocial is a handy tool we use for managing multiple social media profiles within Sage and Trello is a great way for our Sage One team to set and manage daily tasks in two-weekly ‘sprints’ of work.

Many of you will be familiar with Skype but the Sage One team is increasingly using Google+ Hangouts as a way to hold meetings across multiple geographical locations and to share information with our customers. On a personal note, I like using Evernote on my phone to jot down ideas for new blog posts.

So, could you move your entire business to the Cloud and work in a paperless office? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.