When I joined Canon in 1986, the paperless office was already being discussed during sales training and was expected to become a reality sometime in the 90s. In 1986, the first laser printers cautiously made their entry into the office environment and replaced the noisy daisy-wheel and dot matrix printers. The much quieter laser print with its beautiful print quality led to a huge increase in the number of prints and the suppliers of this equipment rubbed their hands with delight as the number of A4 print sheets increased each year. Meanwhile market analysts and agencies such as Dataquest and InfoSource, however, continued to insist that the paperless office was just a matter of time and that this would become a reality before the turn of the century (2000).
In 1996 the new Interpolis office in Tilburg (the Netherlands) was designed and Eric Veldhoen laid out the concept for the workplace, the basic principles being flexibility, balance and CoCon (communication/concentration). These first developments are now known as The New Way of Working 1.0 – from office garden to flexible working. From the outset it was clear that a good IT infrastructure was going to be important and that employees should be able to login from anywhere in the building. Each employee was given a trolley (mobile drawer unit) so that everything that was necessary to perform their work could be kept in there. Meanwhile, more and more was being printed and information services increased exponentially. Needless to say that the advent of the Internet in the office environment brought about an explosion of information which increased the demand for printing even more, as well as the demand for more color, which escalated costs further.
At present less and less is being printed percentagewise than 10 years ago, but that percentage must be seen against a quantity of available information that is hundreds of times greater than then. The question is whether the demand for paper is gradually declining? The years of graphs that show a declining curve do not take the new generation C (Connected) into account who are connected to the Internet throughout the day, engaged in social media, and getting their information through their digital devices. It would not surprise me that when this generation enters the job market, we will suddenly see a sharp decline in printing. The current gradual decline in print volumes combined with the rise of the New Way of Working and ongoing digitalization (stimulated by the Government) means that surely something is going to change in the office environment of the future. Companies that provide products and services for the office environment will need to adapt their business to keep up with these changes in order to stay ahead of the game. Print suppliers will need to focus on Document Management Systems, providers of Archive Systems focused on solutions for storage in modern offices.
The time for paperless offices is surely coming, though I dare not mention a date. The introduction of the New Way of Working concept is increasing steadily and also evolving; you can work anywhere and at any time you want, and have access to your files and work documents. It’s great to witness these developments and to wait and see how the office environment will evolve in the next 25 years.