The Paperless Office: Fact or Fiction

I try to run a fairly environmentally conscious office. We recycle everything possible, use low-power CLF lighting, work on laptops and LCD monitors exclusively (with the exception of our server), and only turn on the (water cooled) AC when we really need it. We’re not exactly “cutting edge” on the environmental front (like Adobe for instance), but I try to do what we can.

It occurred to me today that the one area that we have been really successful is in paper use. We are essentially a paperless office. We don’t even have a printer in the office, and I don’t really miss it. Documents are all passed around electronically via an interesting combination of SVN, file sharing, email, and bluetooth. Everyone has a second monitor, so it’s usually fairly easy to reference one document while working on another. The only real paper we use is notepads that people use to sketch ideas and take notes. Even that is being partially replaced by tools we’ve built in-house like “gTimer”, gTodo, gDocs (our internal shared notes tool), and others.

I’m lucky right now because my condo is only a minute away from the office, so the occasional item that really needs to be printed (contracts mostly) just gets printed at my place and walked over. I think when we move I’ll set up a printer in the office, but keep it off the network to minimize the temptation of printing things off for quick reference.

I thought this was kind of interesting, because it made me think back to my first web job where we printed mountains of documents, and this was during the height of the “paperless office” hype. I’d be interested to hear if other people are also finding that their dependency on paper is decreasing as screen resolutions increase and the technology for sharing and organizing documents gets better.

Grant Skinner

The "g" in gskinner. Also the "skinner".



  1. We never use paper. This is mostly a product of the fact that our “office” is actually several home offices spread throughout the country. 99.9% of what we do it electronic except for checks, which, for reasons unknown, people are still using. (I personally haven’t written a check for personal reasons in quite some times, but I digress) We use a combination of custom tools and Google Docs. We chat through IM and use digital white boards for brainstorming. You might go so far as to say that more than a paperless office, we are an office-less office. Just three guys, with laptops, working together long distance. (We have a shared skype account with skype in and an asterisk box to connect it all together) – No one can tell that we aren’t all right together. Except for now, since I just said so.

  2. Our office is split into developers (flash/php) and admin (accounts/project managers/etc). The developers are pretty much paperless, except for all the schedules, summaries, outlines, plans and whatever else the admins want to pass out.

    For some reason they still seem to think that a hard copy schedule sitting on your desk is more likely to be adhered to then an electronic one.

  3. Phillip Kerman July 23, 2007 at 7:20pm

    I had an editor once insist on me printing out my chapters when I was considering different sequences–it never did much for me. But, the thing is that you actually do use different parts of your brain when you write with a pen and paper. I like planning projects on a pad of paper… most importantly away from the computer. In fact, I can often solve problems better by stepping away and doing it on paper.

    It’s cool to be as low impact as you can. The thing is, paper isn’t really a huge problem when you compare to something as simple as car or air travel. Without any statistics to back this up, I’ll bet if one were to walk, ride a bike, or take public transportation to work just one extra time every month or two they would have a greater impact than skipping reams and reams of printed paper. I guess my point is that channeling efforts can make a difference too.

  4. Where I am now at Organic, I hear the printing humming all the time. I’m not a militant, but I personally print nothing here at the office. Most, if not all, documentation can be passed digitally.

    I have a pad of paper where each page is so crammed with lines, boxes enclosing ideas and arrows pointing from one corner to another with notes, it looks almost archaic. Like I’m writing some kind of alchemy. However, it’s entirely for my reference so if you don’t understand what it, that’s totally fine with me. It brings me back to my illustration days.

    Mind you, at home I have a laser printer AND a photo printer. But I defy anyone with a baby to not print photos of said child occasionally. That’s right, I DEFY you.

    Fortunately, my wife is also conscious of paper waste and is extremely judicious in what she prints. Her Flickr page is packed full of baby pics. Ah Flickr, the new fridge door.

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  6. Our office is similar, we have a printer but most of our documents are passed around on SVN, flash drives or our project management system.

    Another thing we’ve started to look at is this awesome word processor in Flex that lets you share documents with other people.

    If you click on the pencil on the bottom right you can sign up for beta preview, they respond pretty fast.

    Enjoy the web word processor and great blog!


  7. Thanks for this great post. I printed out 50 copies of it and handed it out to everyone in my office!

  8. That’s amazing, I work for a document management company and I can’t imagine an office without a printer. Sometimes you just need to hold something in your hands.

    And this coming from someone that, when someone is going to tell me a phone number or address on the phone, I say “holdon a minute, let me bring up a text editor”.

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