What paperless office? Fax machines refuse to die

Shredded paper

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The paperless office doesn’t seem any closer to reality as flying cars do. As connected as everyone is, it would seem that printing documents or sending messages on paper should be on the verge of extinction, but a new survey indicates that we’re still wasting far more paper than we should be.

To find out how offices are using paper, Nitro, a digital documents and workflow company, surveyed more than 500 office workers, balanced by gender and spread across all regions of the country. The results illustrate a trend in the general direction of a paperless office, but the harsh reality is that paper appears to be a hard habit to break.

According to the Nitro survey, 42 percent of respondents send faxes “most of the time” or “always” (see infographic below). What does that even mean? Are there still people who don’t use email, instant messaging, or any other form of digital communication? It seems unlikely—if not impossible.

Only 3.9 percent claim to “never” send faxes. Count me in that bunch. I own a fax machine that's collecting dust somewhere in my attic, but never use it. When someone requests that I fax something, it elicits a somewhat visceral response. I then explain that it’s 2012 and that we’ve evolved beyond faxing.

Flickr, Leonid Mamchenkov
We have the technology to make fax machines obsolete...but they refuse to die.

Printing a document, signing it, and then scanning and emailing the digital version is technically the exact same thing as using a fax machine. It doesn’t save any paper since you’re still printing a hard copy to sign, but it’s still more technologically evolved than a fax machine. The better solution is to adopt the use of digital signature technologies so we can eliminate the need to physically sign the piece of paper.

There are a number of bright points in the survey. Nearly two-thirds of respondents share between 50 and 100 percent of their documents electronically, and virtually the same number report using less paper in the office than they did five years ago. It seems we’re at least making progress.

Part of the issue seems to be generational. Almost eight in 10 workers aged 18 to 35 share documents electronically more than half of the time, but that number drops to 60 percent for workers 55 and older.

As younger workers who have been born and raised on the Internet mature, the use of paper could drop precipitously. Fax machines are already viewed as antiquated technology, but hopefully they’ll be completely extinct one day. Please, let it be in my lifetime.

Nitro, State of the Paperless OfficeNitro
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