Most office workers say paper is crucial to their jobs.

Despite all the trappings of the digital age, the paperless office has never quite arrived - and chances are it never will.

An independent survey conducted by research company Perceptive, says half the companies questioned admitted they cannot be paperless and still function effectively.

It showed companies considered the idea of removing printing and paper from their operations was more of an aspirational idea than a practical prospect.

The survey, carried out on behalf of print and imaging supplier Brother International (NZ) Limited, was conducted in August, sampling over 800 employees and more than 600 key decision makers in New Zealand businesses.

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"Our survey showed 85 percent of employees see print continuing to be a critical part of functioning effectively in their job," says Brother's chief operating officer and director Matthew Stroud. "Most are printing every day, with almost 90 per cent of those questioned printing at least a few times each week."

So will our offices ever be paperless? Should paperless or 'paper-light' be a goal?
"The paperless office is one of those innovations that has been predicted since 1975," says Stroud. "It promised to help businesses become more efficient and reduce costs.
"However, nearly half of those organisations actively working towards a paperless office noted they realistically cannot do so and still function effectively."

Stroud says the Brother survey revealed nearly a third of Kiwi businesses are aiming for paperless offices with 29 per cent of employees saying it would be easier to store and manage documents while 28 percent cited environmental benefits for doing so.

However, the research shows more than 50 percent of employees prefer to do things on hard copy when it comes to reading, analysing and editing documents.

"This means there is still a role for print to play in productivity, even if document management systems are digitised. In fact, a good document management system should facilitate efficient printing and reviewing of documents, as files are better organised and easier to locate," says Stroud.

"The environmental argument isn't so clear cut either," he says. "While paper production of course consumes trees, many paper-producing forests are sustainable and effectively absorb carbon. The key element being a robust and sustainable supply chain that eliminates deforestation and nurtures the farming element."

Using electronic devices, even for storage reasons, requires ongoing energy, says Stroud: "A 2012 New York Times article estimated digital warehouses and data centres worldwide consume approximately 30 billion watts of electricity."

International research points to the continued use of paper in offices. In the US a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study - The Myth of the Paperless Office - said there are psychological reasons humans prefer paper over information presented on-screen.

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"Paper is tangible - we can pick it up, flip through pages to pick and choose what we read," it said. "We can spread pages out on a desk arranging it in a way that best suits us; often it's easier on the eye to read off paper than on a screen."

Stroud says one concept gaining traction is the 'paper-light' office.

"Becoming paper-light eliminates an over-reliance on paper as the primary medium for information management giving quick and easy access to documents," he says. ""It encourages a reduction in paper use while still advocating paper where it helps employees to work smarter and more efficiently.

"For example, a multifunction printer could be used to scan everyday documents directly to Cloud storage, but print other documents for editing or important reports and presentations.

"Perhaps we should be viewing paperless and paper as contrasting solutions; solutions to be balanced according to office needs."

Many modern printers and other office technology are designed to to reduce energy consumption, with features such as sleep / deep sleep modes or the ability to print multiple pages on one sheet. Suppliers are also increasingly off-setting their carbon emissions. Brother is the first printer company in New Zealand to achieve carboNZero certification, one of the world's first internationally accredited greenhouse gas emissions schemes.

Digital, Paperless, or Paper-Light - which best meets the needs of your business? Find out here.