Have You Achieved a Paperless Office?

From PostScript and PDFs to electronic forms, digital signatures, and tools for collaborative workflows, Adobe’s contributions have helped to advance digital publishing.

Remember when we first began dreaming of the “paperless office”— the efficient, de-cluttered, and sustainable alternative to a world of overflowing file cabinets and depleted forests? The idea is as appealing as ever, but despite the latest in hardware, software, and connectivity, as well as updated laws and cultural shifts, the reams of copy paper and bulky printers still encumbering many offices demonstrate that we haven’t yet achieved the dream.

The vision of a paperless office came to light with the beginnings of the personal computer, but in those days we still lacked the technology to turn that vision into reality. Today, it’s a different story — digital publishing can accomplish more than simply eliminating those piles of paper. It’s about managing information — and involves issues like sustainability, storage, security, collaboration, and organization. And we have smartphones, PDFs, and electronic forms and signatures to get us there.

The concept isn’t perfect, of course. It’s important to acknowledge that we’re consuming more power to run our electronic devices, for example. Also, in some work environments, providing a computer station for every worker simply isn’t practical or affordable. Still, turning to digital publishing technologies instead of paper offers tremendous benefits.

It’s more than time to retire the fax machines and remove the walls of file cabinets. Adobe’s digital products can help bring companies that are ready to make the transition closer to realizing a paperless future.

From PostScript and PDFs to electronic forms, digital signatures, and tools for collaborative workflows, Adobe’s contributions toward digital publishing enable organizations to re-architect their business processes to transition away from paper.

Re-architecting business processes — tools to get the job done.

The international law firm Perkins Coie has taken advantage of Adobe Sign to streamline internal processes, save time and money, and deliver more value to clients.

“The firm’s long-standing, paper-based process of capturing signatures on documents used to consume valuable time in document tracking and management,” says Dan Puterbaugh, senior legal advocate for Adobe Document Cloud. “With Adobe Sign, the firm saw an immediate decrease in the time needed to secure digital signatures for contracts, while significantly reducing the use of paper.”

“Adobe Sign has cut the time to complete multi-signature documents from days to just minutes and eliminated a lot of hassle,” Rick Howell, the firm’s chief information officer, adds. “The flexibility of digitally signing on a variety of devices makes it easy for everyone, particularly people who are out of the office.”

The process of sending and tracking large files — formerly a clumsy and burdensome process — can be streamlined, too. Acrobat DC helps by allowing you to send, receive, and track files on the go, all within the same program.

“Acrobat DC allows you to send and track large files securely, without the hassle of email attachments,” says Lisa Croft, group product marketing manager at Adobe.

Sending via Acrobat DC is more secure than email, too, because you can see who has viewed or downloaded your file.

Your phone’s camera is a another powerful tool. You can use it to capture, electronically sign, and send any form — providing convenience for everything for the signing of important legal documents to something as simple as your child’s permission slip for a school trip. “The app allows you to fill, sign, and send any type of form easily and in seconds,” Lisa says.

With just the tip of your finger and a smartphone, you can provide a digital signature — another innovation that could make the paperless office a reality in the very near future.

Another way to go paperless is to take advantage of the integration between Dropbox and Acrobat DC, which makes it easy to store and edit PDFs.

The workflow of creative agencies, which rely heavily on tools that create a seamless collaboration experience for their clients, provides a useful example.

“Dropbox enables agencies and other creatives to share presentation decks, videos, and other assets with clients around the clock and on the go,” Lisa says.

Let’s say you work with an agency that uses Dropbox, and another version of the presentation you’ve been working on is available for review. Simultaneously, your PR department has asked for a copy, but you don’t want to send something editable.

The Dropbox connector allows you to perform standard operations such as open, save, create PDF, export PDF, and attach to email. And now your PR department can collaborate and review on the PDF file using the rich set of commenting tools available in Adobe Acrobat and Reader DC.

Cloud storage and security permissions offer another way to limit unnecessary printing.

Permissions increase the flexibility of your document security. For example, by customizing the permission settings, you can enable or disable users from performing certain actions (such as printing, editing, or copying text).

Beyond the security benefits, this also stops people from wasting paper by printing documents unnecessarily.

The benefits of going paperless.

A paperless office greatly benefits the environment.

“The average U.S. office worker uses about 10,000 sheets of paper each year — the equivalent of a 100-foot-tall Douglas fir,” explains John Friedman, an author and sustainability expert.

We’ve also seen that a paperless office can mean so much more than saving paper — it offers businesses better security, collaboration, and organization.

Storing files in the cloud also means fewer filing cabinets and storage units. Fewer cabinets means a less cluttered work environment and the potential for lower real estate costs due to smaller office space and less need for expensive off-site storage.

Reaping the rewards.

With all the benefits a paperless office can bring, why haven’t we made more progress? It’s unlikely that anyone prefers the whir of a fax machine and the slamming of file cabinet drawers. More likely, it’s “habit, inertia, and resistance,” according to Richard Randall of New Level Advisors.

But for those who are ready to take on the challenge — and reap the rewards — Adobe technology continues to pave the way.

Read more stories of innovation from Adobe’s 35th anniversary series.