Opinion

What businesses should expect from the paperless working environment

7 min read

03 February 2017

Thanks to significant technology advances, firms across a variety of sectors have made movements to improve their digital roadmap and working environment.

When it comes to the changing working environment, going digital has been high on the news agenda over the past couple of weeks after it was announced that SMEs were to submit their quarterly tax return online from this year as part of the government’s programme to become fully paperless by 2020.

Of course, a week later, this was retracted after the Treasury Committee suggested the digital tax project could be “a disaster”.

This public back and forth among Whitehall officials highlights the barriers that are still in place to achieving a “paper-light” working environment. But it shouldn’t be this way. The shift to paper-light encourages businesses to be greener and enables more flexible working for employees in today’s digital economy.

In recent months, we have seen various business sectors adapt to the developments in new technology and the digital era that we now find ourselves firmly living in.

This must continue if leaders of small businesses are to achieve digital maturity within two years, as a study from Coleman Parkes suggested, however, with HMRC seemingly backtracking on its targets, SMEs will have to work hard to achieve digital maturity and a resultant working environment, especially if they have to needlessly print their tax returns.

According to a working environment study conducted by Kyocera, the average UK office worker uses 45 pieces of paper a day, with two-thirds of that considered as waste.

Enterprises are now forced to face the reality of wasted costs and environmental concerns, combined with the simple fact that in light of recent, high-profile data hacks, the customer is demanding improved security when it comes to storing their personal information.

The banking sector paved the way by granting its users secure and seamless access to online banking, with the introduction of fingerprint authentication to allow access from certain devices such as iPhones. It is clear that most sectors are reevaluating the ways in which customer data and information is stored and secured.

While this move towards a paperless future and working environment has been hailed as a significant driver of positive change, we must consider more than just how the majority of individuals would like to process and access documents.

Therefore, rather than referring to the abolition of the use of paper entirely, paperless should in fact result in the reduction of the overall reliance on paper in the working environment.

This is because a significant percentage of the population, from office workers to members of the public, still rely on traditional forms of communication – and may not have access to the internet or the skills required to complete digital forms online.

A more tech-savvy approach is to go paper-light, a process that can help automate many processes in the working environment and drive efficiency across the board. In the enterprise, automation software is especially important to remove the risk of human error in the documentation process – a potential benefit to us all.

However, with the rising influence of technology, security is understandably a significant concern. A concern not misplaced when considering that UK businesses could face up to £122bn in data breach penalties when new EU legislation comes into effect in 2018. Safeguarding personal information and sensitive data both digitally and physically has become paramount.

But, what is not considered is that the security of physical documents is just as much of a concern as the security of digital documents. Think about how easy it is to accidentally leave a confidential file lying around on the train, or the possibility of someone reading details over your shoulder in public.

Furthermore, the outsourcing of documents is a significant problem in some sectors. Whilst paper looks set to remain a feature of the office for some time to come, now is the time to dispel the myth that digital is less secure if we are to innovate as an industry.

The good news is that the technology is now readily available to all businesses to make this transition as smooth as possible. The rise of cloud services and virtual data rooms have made the sharing and access of documents amongst authorised people completely seamless.

Tablet devices, for example, can securely display a range of documents, without the risk of each individual document getting lost or read by the wrong person. This kind of technology is at our fingertips and has the power to streamline the very fabric of how businesses today are run.

However, going paper-light does not just have security benefits, it can help small to medium-sized businesses to implement the infrastructure which will enable them to grow into larger brands. Allowing employees to work remotely is another strategy which can be engaged with to both increase productivity whilst also reducing paper.

If employees are able to work away from their desks or even away from the office, they will engage with colleagues less, causing less distraction and printing less re-edits out which will eventually be wasted.

The working environment opportunities in going paper-light are vast – from increased efficiencies, safer and more secure storage of files to even the space-saving benefits from cutting down on the filing cabinets and shelving space.

With increasing competition, now is the time for businesses to well and truly adapt to today’s developments in technology and smart data storage.

This will boost working environment agility, competitiveness and reduce costs in the long-run, also reducing carbon footprints and equipping employees with access to vital information securely and using the device of their choice. The security concerns of yesteryear should no longer restrict us from the potential of a digital tomorrow.

Chas Moloney is director at Ricoh UK

Image: Shutterstock