How work design will help you quit paper

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When people work off-site, taking a look at how paper fits into your workflows can open up new ways for your people to participate – and boost productivity. Here’s just one scenario.  One of your managers is in a hotel room in London, getting ready for a meeting tomorrow.  Then she realises: those carefully annotated notes are sitting in a binder on her desk, back in Canberra, where it’s currently 3am.

What if those notes had been scanned and saved to the cloud, so she can access them straight from her iPad? Or even created on her iPad?

Research published by the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) surveyed the impact of paper-centred processes on off-site workers.  The report is absolutely clear about one thing:

'eliminating paper is the only way that remote, teleworking or mobile staff can be given the ability to monitor, participate or reference in-process work.'

Of the organisations that took part in the survey, 20% reported that paper processes made it harder for staff to work from home or on the road.

Interestingly, when asked the main reasons they didn’t use paper-free processes, 10% said that they couldn’t easily take digital records home, or work on them on the train.  Are people printing hard-copies to get around work restrictions on saving files for off-site access?

How do you treat paper records in your business?

As a work strategist, I often see people relying on electronic tools to capture information.  Which approach do you use for a paper record?

  • scan it
  • take a photo of it
  • type in the paper information into another format
  • do a voice recording?

You may be in the lucky few who've managed to go paperless altogether.

For people are out in the field, some common tools for capturing records were:

  • portable scanners
  • mobile apps for scan and capture (I use one called scanner pro)

Workflows: a better way to capture your paper records?

It’s helpful to look past particular tools, and consider workflows.  Can you design your processes so that scanning happens closer to the physical 'office'. You can:

  • scan at the door
  • scanning in advance of the process - edit a scanned copy
  • scan for archive after the process - on retrieval of paper or scan on exiting the process, back scanning of paper records
  • ad hoc scanning

Can your people let go of paper?

We can impose a scan and capture process, but it won’t work unless we address the human factors.

Paper is PERSONAL.  We can print off a report, put it in a folder, and feel that lives in a space we own.  This desire for ownership runs up to the senior levels in an organisation – and can hamper efforts to go paper-free.

A quote from one participant in the AIIM survey was very revealing:

'Management wants paperless but everyone is unwilling to give up 'their' paper. Hence, no real commitment. We have only had success with 'new' processes where we started as paperless. Even then you have to be constantly on guard against individuals sneaking paper into the process.'

Where work design can help

There can be a big gap between how we think people work and what they actually do. For paper-free change programs to succeed, we need to understand what’s going on ‘below the surface.’ Work design will help raise hidden factors like ‘holding on to paper’ so you can create a plan to address them. Understanding people at work – including how they use paper - and factoring this into the work design is a must if we want to go paper-free.


Miles, Doug. (2013). Winning the paper wars: capture the content and mobilze the process troops AIIM industry watch: AIIM Market Intelligence,.