The Paperless Web Worker

Exaggerated dreams of the “paperless office” have been around for so many years that they’ve even spawned their own jokes (“The paperless office will become a reality about the same time as the paperless toilet”). But according to a recent article in the New York Times, we may finally be reaching the point where the paperless home is a reality for some cutting-edge people. Given that many web workers see no distinction between home and office, it’s worth thinking about what it takes to be a paperless web worker.

In many ways, going paperless comes easy to the web worker. Our correspondence is naturally via e-mail; our reference materials are online or increasingly available as e-books. But there are some particular ways to leverage technology that can help reduce the need for paper even further.

More Monitors = Less Paper – We’ve discussed the productivity benefits of multiple monitors in the past, but if you have sufficient screen real estate, they can cut down on your paper use as well. Instead of printing out reference documents or design sketches to refer to while you concentrate on part of a complex project, you can spread them out over your virtual desktop. With enough screen space, there’s no need to use paper for temporary copies of things.

Scan and Shred – Even if you’re not generating paper yourself, you probably can’t keep it from coming into the office. But you don’t have to hang on to most of it: scanners like the Fujitsu ScanSnap can quickly turn just about any paper into searchable PDF files. My own daily workflow now includes running incoming paper mail through the ScanSnap and then through a shredder. Recycle the shreds and you can at least cut down on the trees-to-filing-cabinet pileup. You may want to check with your accountant or lawyer about the advisability of hanging on to a few things, like signed contracts.

Backups Rule – As you move towards the paperless world, you need to take backups more seriously than ever. You really don’t want a hard drive failure taking out essential tax documents just before you get audited, or destroying the only copy you have of a customer’s design documents. Take the time to put together a solid backup strategy with multiple layers of on-site and off-site defense.

I don’t think I’ll ever go 100% paperless in my own household: I’m too much of a sentimentalist to get rid of cards that were handmade by the kids, and there are over 5000 printed books on my shelves. But in my web work, I’m already there. How about you?

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