The Digital Workplace – Making the ‘Paperless Office’ a Reality
The COVID-19 crisis is driving a long-delayed move to a more digital business environment. It has drastically accelerated the implementation of digital workplace technology, and further demonstrated the potential of paperless work environments, where the use of paper is eliminated or greatly reduced.
Locally, the Dubai government’s Dubai Paperless Strategy, an initiative which aims to stop using paper in all internal and external transactions and with customers by December 2021, marks another major step towards making Dubai a smart city of the future. Led by Smart Dubai, the initiative will see the elimination of more than one billion pieces of paper used for government transactions every year – saving time, resources and the environment. 
As more companies look at ways in which they can become more sustainable and adopt a digital workplace, we examine the numerous benefits that going paperless can bring to the workplace.
Going paperless means that companies can easily eliminate a major contributor to their environmental footprint. Rethinking your workplace ‘paper’ will:
- Reduce workplace paper waste – Opting to use little to no paper and communicating via email and online platforms will reduce paper consumption and paper waste. We might think that the biggest problem we are facing is paper usage, but it is actually the waste generated by not being conscientious. 
- Reduce printing – Not only will you save on energy costs, but you also reduce the number of ink cartridges going to landfill, which are extremely harmful to the environment if not disposed of properly. Companies that need to continue using ink cartridges, can opt for refills instead of buying new ones.
- Saves trees, reduce water and energy – According to the Environmental Protection Agency, it takes 2,500 trees, 56,000 gallons of oil, 450 cubic yards of landfill space and 595,000 KW (kilowatts) of energy to produce 10 million pages of paper  – all of which can be eliminated by introducing smarter ways of working.
- Reduce stationery costs – When restocking workplace inventory and supplies, companies will notice that going paperless will actually reduce their overheads as they no longer need to purchase as much stationery like pens, paper, ink cartridges, staplers, staples and more.
- Enhance sustainable business practices – Going paperless can also provide indirect benefits, such as an improved reputation among customers and the public by playing a role in corporate social responsibility programmes too.
Going fully digital can also save time, freeing staff from administrative chores like printing, scanning and tracking documents and enabling them to focus on higher-value tasks.
- Digital documents and files are easily accessible and shared – If everything is saved on a connected server or a cloud-based platform, then anyone within an organisation can access, view and edit the file  from anywhere and at any time if they have permission to access.
- Time Saving – Teams can work on the same document alongside their colleagues in real time and adjust information accordingly using new sharing software (e.g. Dropbox, Google Drive & Microsoft OneDrive). Eliminating miscommunication and enabling teams to monitor status of tasks.
- Reduces physical contact – By reducing paper consumption and keeping everything digital and online, companies are reducing physical contact between colleagues.
- Enables remote working – ‘Working from home’ has fast become the new norm for businesses around the world. With limited access to the office and workplace resources, many businesses had to rethink what paperless resources are essential and can help get the job done digitally (e.g. digital forms / process / approval & signatures), no matter where the team is based.
The security benefits of a paperless workplace go beyond access rights. Implementing document management software also allows organisations to use electronic signatures, redact confidential information, create audit trails and more. 
- Secure important documents off-site – Important documents no longer need to be saved in file cabinets and organised alphabetically, instead businesses can opt to secure all their information off-site using cloud-based tools that allow for easier extraction of the information and can provide a double layer of security with extra authentication measures.
- Data backup to save documents – Having online documents assures data is always backed up – this is extremely important in the case of fires, water leakage, break-ins and more.
- Data and documents only accessible by authorised users – Not only is saving documents online safer, but it also means businesses can easily control who in the organisation has access to them by selecting authorised users.
- Audit trail – When businesses need to submit all their documents for auditing, online documents provide a trail that is easier to use, track and refer to – this will reduce any headaches, frustration or stress that may arise otherwise. 
Going paperless might not seem easy at first, but the benefits will outweigh the outdated physical habit eventually. Learning to adapt to smarter ways of working by going greener and implementing sustainable initiatives in your workplace is a long-term solution.
- Converting to digital filing reduces physical storage units – Reducing physical storage units will provide more floorspace, supply pantries and trash bins will also reduce clutter.  Decluttering the workspace can provide a cleaner environment for employees and this has can have a positive impact on overall productivity.
- Easier collaboration – Collaboration is one of the foundations of successful teamwork, and digital tools can help enhance this by allocating tasks, completing jobs and tracking performance with simple clicks rather than long team meetings.
- Improve business processes – Digitisation can make processes more effective and resource efficient. Aligning processes can deliver better value to business priorities.
Embrace the Change
At Summertown, we aim to be a leader in sustainable development, and since occupying our LEED certified workplace in 2010 we have always strived to use less paper and recycle as much as possible. Each year in our annual sustainability report we publish how much waste is generated at our office both by material type (plastic, aluminium and paper) and waste management route (landfill, recycling, composting). We also have a waste sustainability goal to achieve zero waste to landfill by 2030.
Like many small businesses the majority of our business forms and files are on a shared server and with the use of Microsoft platforms (like Teams, Outlook & Planner) it made it a lot easier to transition to a work from home scenario during the height of lockdowns last year. However, what we learned during the pandemic was that we still needed to digitalise more of our processes, and further reduce the need and number of documents we need to print and sign.
We have always strived to use less paper from a sustainability point of view, and this year we are taking further initiatives. Firstly, in late 2020, we implemented an online HR App for all our HR related forms and approvals. This new digital platform is available on both mobile and desktop, and for example, it enabled us to transfer our annual leave request and approval process to be fully digital. Secondly, in 2021, we plan to transform all our ISO forms into digital format and enable digital signatures for approval, to eliminate printing, scanning, and handling of these documents.
Every business has different needs for documents; however, the common theme is that all workplaces can transfer to a paperless office.