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?


Yay for Paperless Office

I went paperless recently — I was shocked how quickly I was able to scan in all of my files. It really only took a few hours with a high-speed scanner, and now I have access to all of my files from everywhere, they’re all backed up and I will never lose them.

Brian Edwards

It’s interesting that computers have actually led to the use of more paper, not less since it’s so easy to print stuff out. I find huge stacks of paper on the family printer that just piles up. Why did this stuff get printed out? I keep thinking that tablet PCs should do away with the need to print and write stuff down for those with a pen fixation. In my case, I have managed to eliminate a lot of paper by moving information to my Nokia E61i smartphone, and I’m thinking hard about a Kindle to get rid of printed books. Still, in meetings everyone sits around with a printed copy of agendas. And when it comes to signing contracts, it’s typically fax, print, sign fax, even though there are affordable online signing services like DocuSign available.


I print all my receipts as PDFs and keep them in a place on the computer which is backed up regulallry to my USB drive and automatically and remotely to the .Mac service. Now if only more local shops would email their receipts, then I would be truly paperless. Of course if I buy more online then I’ll be more paperless.

Brian Sherwood Jones

I have paper for diary record of the day as I do it, a day book for meetings, and a note book for jottings for a book. Print and shred for document reviews.
As regards scanners; camera to digital document is getting better with finereader 9 – also TopOCR (not tried yet); might get rid of the flatbed apart from high quality work.

Now people have gone electronic, any paper has to be of a high standard – Kristine isn’t alone.

Joe Flood

In my last job, I switched cubes four times in two years – once every six months. My fourth move returned me to the cube I had started in. Random.

After the second move, I ditched all my paper files. They were filled with notes and articles on years-old projects which were completed. Since I work on web sites, it seemed absurd to have a huge cabinet full of paper. Everything I really needed was already on my computer or a network drive.

Plus, I realized that paper stuck in cabinets was useless because I never checked for information there. Instead, I looked on my computer.

So now all my work is electronic. I keep a single pile of paper on my desk which is like an archive. Every few months I cut the pile in half and throw the oldest stuff out. I also have a few slips of paper on my desk related to active projects.


So much of the paper we generate is through forms, applications, etc. For example – it drives me nuts every time we have to deal with our public school – we have to fill in 100s of forms; not only that but every form requires me to duplicate information.

I stumbled upon a great internet based application that could solve the problem if it is picked up. It is called Middlepost (

Not only does it have a great tool to create forms online – it also has an eSignature feature. This could potentially avoid having to use faxes or endless FedExing back and forth.

This could be one step closer to both the paperless home AND paperless office.


I’ve managed to switch a lot over, but my head is still old-school when it comes to writing. A pen and a pad of paper seems to be the only thing my brain can work with, particularly when I’m working on something like satire. The pen seems to pace better than the keyboard.

I’m hoping the more blogging I do, the more the mental flow will become more comfortable with a keyboard. Less paper scattered around, more room for toys. :-)

Khürt Williams

I strive for a paperless wife … er .. I mean’t life. But my spouse … she loves paper. Lot’s of it. I find little pieces of it everywhere. Little stickies that seem to multiply. The children of large scraps with long forgotten phone number, shopping list and to dos.


Pulp fiction… I love paper, I love my drawing pad, I love die cut stationery, I love to receive thank you notes and Christmas cards and most of all I’m upset with anyone that forwards an email Wedding Invitation. Where’s the romance?

Don’t get me wrong Paperless offices make me happy! Stuffing documents and important papers in an overstuffed file cabinet is the worst!

The environment is very important and I agree to save a tree, but the little luxury’s such as card art are important too… where’s humanity going? Lifeless and still?


I’ve become paperless in the new company where I work purely for one reason: I couldn’t find the IT guy to fix my connection to the printer. I know it’s a lousy excuse, but I found I managed to survive paperless.

On the contrary, there’s a lot of paper involved in my home office. I have (horrors!) seven “active” notebooks (two Moleskines, two cahiers, a Rhodia, and a small notebook, and a “little black book” that is actually a medium-sized organizer), which I use for many things–I compartmentalize myself too much, I guess. I have a notebook for all to-do lists and one for addresses. One is a personal journal while another is my reporter’s notebook. I’m afraid I am actually becoming wasteful. Is this bad? You’re welcome to give me a virtual slap. :)

Sampath Dassanayake

I am managing a project which automates the back office operation of an equity brokerage. And we have managed to eliminate the paper trails from their daily operations to a great extent.

They are used to filing paper trails for every operation they do. They do that for the sake of the audits. And also, in thier existing systems, the approvals happen on the paper copy.

By introducing online approvals and also audit trailing every action we have eliminated paper based approvals and the need to print and file every approval. Not they are moving in to a system where they are doing electronic approvals and storing the electronic record for the audit.

Personally, I work paperless on my ISC career. I only bought a printer last year. I have all my documents on soft copy and never take a print out unless I am required to sign it and send it back!


Great update on a long gone by pipedream. Though , I must say , the mighty Oprah has been talking allot about getting rid of toilet paper…you know , a quick shot from the ‘ol fountain. And we all know about her power of persuasion over popular culture…”Oprah commands ye!!!!!!”

I have also been using notebooks to jot down ideas and find that , recently , I have started to combine this with my cell phone recorder to put the noodle through it’s paces. The ideas eventually do end up in front of my camera , and then into my movie editor , so I would say that I am 50-50 on the paperless front. That’s allot of trees! Ah….trees ;-)

Brian Carnell

I cannot emphasize enough how pleased I am with the Fujitsu ScanSnap for scanning documents. I’ve owned about 10 or 12 diffeent scanners over the past 10 years, and this is hands down the best for that purpose. I’ve scanned probably 30,000 pages on this thing and been extremely happy.

You will still need a flatbed scanner for photos and things like that.


The NY Times article mentions a growing number of cheap, document fed scanners, yet the only one that gets any mention is the Fujitsu ScanSnap. It looks great, and it’s cheaper than it’s predecessor, but $295 isn’t that cheap.

Anyone know of any inexpensive (<$100) document fed scanners?

Tony Wright

Hrm. I just moved down to Silicon Valley for 3 months (part of YCombinator). We have 3 people working out of an apartment with a whiteboard. Looking around, I notice that not ONE of us has drawers, paper on their desk, or a trash can nearby.

It’s do-able, I think. :-)

Richard Rinyai

I think that we should go paperless. The problem is that more and more companies are following the Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) method of doing business, which asks companies to keep paper copies of what they have, just in case they get audited.

Having more than just one backup copy, whether it be digital or paper-based is always a good idea.


Richard Rinyai

Amrit Hallan - Content Blog

I’ve tried doing work with both paper and without paper and my personal experience is that I work better if you use less paper and more computer/laptop. The only drawback of not using paper — up till now — was that I couldn’t take random notes but my new cellphone has solved this problem too. The moment I need to remember something or the moment I am hit with a new idea I record it into my cell phone. Of course I miss writing on the paper but I think it is a small price to pay if you want to save paper and consequently, trees.


Personally I like having a notebook with me at all times to jot down ideas. I’m not always in front of a computer screen and I like being able to put some of the thoughts that come to me on the subway(for example) down. In the end a lot of these thoughts do end up in the computer though. Very slowly I think the paperless office is becoming more of a reality.

Mr. Crash

I sometimes quite like paper for my creative process…

Sometimes it’s very nice to be able to stash the phone, the music and the steady deluge of moving pictures in a draw…

And just disconnect.
But still get somewhere.

Very liberating.
That being said – give me colour e-ink, with obscene battery life, capacitive touch and some kind of wireless and I doubt i’ll be completely loyal ;-)

For other stuff though?
Paper isn’t really necessary. Though I do love my books still.

Grant D. Griffiths

I have been championing the paperless for some time. Not only on, but also on my other blog, A paperless office and the home office are a natural fit. Not only is it a great way to save on file space and wall space. It anables the home office worker to always have their office with them when they are not in the office. It also enables me to collaborate with my virtual assistants and share the office files with them without the need of having to use “real” paper. I have also found that client/customers appreciate the paperless approach too. We exchange documents via email and paperless fax on a daily basis. And, with the paperless office, using tools like basecamp also work hand in hand.

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