'Paper-lite' makes sense as home-working continues

Editorial Type: Opinion Date: 10-2020 Views: 830 Tags: Document, Scanners, Healthcare, OCR, Scanner, Brother PDF Version:
Remote working as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic could turn out to be the catalyst that revives aspirations for a fully paperless office, argues Andy Johnson, head of product and solutions management at Brother UK

The concept of the paperless office has been a dominant trend in document management for years now. However, the mission to become fully paperless was found to be an impracticality for many businesses.

Last year, we conducted research with 800 employees and managers in the private sector looking at the way they're using scan and print solutions both now and in the future. A key finding was that managers are striving to become more 'paper-lite' by striking a balance between their use of paper and digital documents. 'Paper-lite' was the new 'paperless' and, by proxy, the key trend to watch in document management.

But working life as we know it has since been upended by COVID-19. One positive in it all has been the value employers have found in remote working, as staff enjoy a better work-life balance. There's also some consensus that office workers can work as effectively at home as they can in the workplace.

This shift in the way we work could revive aspirations for the paperless office, as staff are more likely to need remote access to documents, with some impracticality behind moving physical documents between workspaces. But questions remain about just how practical a fully paperless approach would be.

KEEPING WITH 'PAPER-LITE'
The paperless office is a concept where businesses are seeking to use less paper to achieve a range of efficiency, security, productivity and environmental advantages.


"The majority of managers surveyed said they couldn't function without paper, and almost three quarters of employees claimed that printing documents increases their efficiency at work. Today, anecdotal feedback from end-users suggests the practicality they find from physical documents hasn't changed post-COVID. However, the need for scanning has increased with a greater need to access documents remotely."

However, our study in 2019 found an imbalance between desire and action when it came to businesses reducing paper. Three out of five (61%) of the 800 managers and employees polled said they are striving to use less paper and that technology provides superior alternatives to many paper-based processes. At the time, just 14% of the sample said they had actually managed to decrease print volumes over the previous two years.

The practicality of physical documents was holding back ambitions to cut paper use. The majority of managers surveyed (63 per cent) said they couldn't function without paper, and almost three quarters (71 per cent) of employees claimed that printing documents increases their efficiency at work.

Today, anecdotal feedback from end-users suggests the practicality they find from physical documents hasn't changed post-COVID. However, the need for scanning has increased with a greater need to access documents remotely.

The benefits of integrating more scanners into document management systems were already well understood last year. Our research found that nearly two thirds (64%) of employees agreed that scanning documents enables a more efficient way of working, and more than a quarter (26%) reported that their use of scanners had increased in the previous two years. UK sales of scanners were also up 10 per cent year-on-year between September 2019 and January 2020.

Print and scanning trends of today point towards a catalysing of paper-lite trends, rather than wholesale changes towards going paperless.

THE SUPPORTING TECHNOLOGY
Indeed, paper-lite is being made achievable by the growing sophistication of document capture solutions. Our scan devices for example, can now process up to 5,000 pages a day directly to email, email server and cloud services - allowing businesses to easily integrate documents into workflows and supporting a much more efficient way of working.

Most recently, we've supported ambitions to become paper-lite with the launch of our fully portable DSmobile range in January this year. The range of scanners are designed to enable users working in small and home offices to reduce their paper use and easily capture, edit and share documents digitally on the move.

Print and scan devices are also being integrated with software solutions to support seamless workflows. Last year, we launched Brother Software Solutions, a suite of programmes to enable more efficient working. This included Barcode Print+, which provides employees with the ability to print barcodes within documents without the need for a specialist or dedicated barcode printer. It's particularly suited for companies that often use barcodes for document management.

It's bolstered by our barcode scanning software, which makes processing large numbers of standard documents, like order forms or proof of delivery records, far more efficient while also reducing the opportunity for error.

Brother scanners also come with powerful PC and Mac software that unlocks the information in the images using Optical Character Recognition. That means anyone with a desktop computer, laptop or tablet can search the text using keywords, edit and update the document, add comments, mark up amends and share it with colleagues. You can even extract tables or numerical data to other software programmes.

SECTOR PICTURE
Sector picture Paper-lite trends have had traction outside of the private sector too. In healthcare for example, practices are benefiting from the model with support of scan technology. Digitisation of documents means that clinical data can be shared across the NHS, leading to higher-quality clinical care. Healthcare managers are eagerly grounding efficiencies in the way staff work as capacity is stretched from COVID-19. Effective document management is where little gains can make big differences.

Across every sector however, security remains a key worry - and this is likely to grow as more organisations embrace remote working. Our 2019 research found that 37% of managers have concerns about the security of printing documents at work. Encouragingly, document management systems are also increasingly robust. We've introduced PIN protection functionality to our devices to help keep documents confidential for end-users. It's important that customers understand the security features of both scan and print solutions and how they can be used to deliver maximum security.

AN OPERATIONAL NECESSITY
There are a range of Brother print and scanning technologies that businesses can adopt to become paper-lite, achieving productivity, efficiency, cost, security and environmental benefits.

Even as working life is upended, the paperless office may ultimately prove to be a myth. But while paper-lite was previously an ambition for firms, it's perhaps an operational necessity as we shift more towards remote working.

More info: www.brother.co.uk