With the continuing advance of technology, one of the more recent trends of the 21st century has been the so-called paperless office. A paperless office is not actually completely paperless, but rather uses a minimum of paper and converts as much documentation as possible to digital form. A paperless office has both advantages and disadvantages, both of which should be considered by an organization considering a transition from conventional record keeping.
Digital files require much less physical space than paper files, and are much easier to keep organized. In addition, archived digital files are much easier to access than archived paper files. Digital files can be readily shared among many users at once, and accessed from remote locations, enhancing work efficiency.
Fewer paper files means less paper used for duplicate copies and for general record keeping. This factor makes a paperless office more environmentally conscious in most instances. For online magazines and other publications, publishing digitally means the elimination of inks which contain heavy metals, solvents and other substances that are harmful to the environment.
A paperless office is only as efficient as the software and hardware used to store the records allow the workers to be. Software bugs and equipment breakdowns can cause major disruptions to the workings of a paperless office. The maintenance of the software and hardware of a paperless office is also a concern; information technology (IT) staff or consultants are often a necessity, as well as technicians to service the hardware on a regular basis.
As with any transition, the transition to a paperless office often involves a learning curve, especially in an office environment where employees are not already computer savvy. Data entry errors can be costly and can result in major problems. In addition, data entry and filing errors can result in mis-categorizing records, making it difficult or impossible to find them at a later date.
Digital records can be vulnerable to unauthorized access, either by hacking or by lax security on the part of staff. Especially with sensitive legal and medical records, data loss can result in significant liability for the company involved, especially if negligence is implicated. Disposing of digital records presents a special difficulty, especially in a shared network environment. Simply erasing a file does not completely delete a digital record, just as tossing a document into a trash can does not prevent someone else from retrieving the paper later.