Nobody likes printers – as the designated interface between the digital and physical worlds, they are fraught with problems – they are clunky, slow, hard to operate, and frequently broken. Furthermore, the ink and toner they consume are among the most expensive liquids on the planet, worth more than fine wine and human blood. That’s to say nothing of the hidden costs of wasted employee time, and the cost of physically transporting hundreds of pounds of paper documents around every day.
Most people associate a paperless office with expensive, unreliable equipment, and constant breakdowns. However, one step towards an ideal paperless office that can be made for minimal cost is to distribute e-readers among your employees. Modern e-readers are very cheap (often less than a hundred dollars per unit, retail), very reliable, and very practical.
Thanks to the use of modern ‘e-ink’ technology, e-readers like the Nook and Kindle have properties very similar to paper, and a battery life of weeks. Most of your documents will be plain text with few graphics, which is a situation ideally suited to compact e-reader screens. Suddenly, much of your paper distribution infrastructure is obsoleted, and can be eliminated at an enormous savings to the company.
The infrastructure for e-readers ranges from minimal to already-in-place. Often, email and document servers you already have in place will entirely satisfy your needs. In an e-reader office, if you need to get a document to certain employees, you can simply email the file, and they can open it absolutely anywhere where there’s internet access, and read it on their e-reader instantly. Your files are already online! All you have to do is to put tools into your employee’s hands to allow them to access them.
Further, where e-readers edge ahead of laptops is that they’re hyper-portable, are practical for employees to slip into their pockets and carry everywhere, and are not tied down by power outlets thanks to their long battery life – they have the flexibility and low cost of an electronic device with most of the key properties of old-fashioned paper
Obviously, some of your documents are too sensitive to trust to electronics (though you should never underestimate the value of business cryptography), or simply too graphics and formatting heavy to be displayed on an e-reader screen. However, there are low hanging fruit here that most companies are failing to take advantage of. Unlike videoconferencing, telecommuting, and other business technologies that aren’t quite a total win yet, there are essentially no downsides to using e-readers for internal document exchange. The technology is more than ready for mass adoption in the business sphere, they’re easy for your IT department to secure, and they’ll rapidly pay for themselves.
Better, since e-readers don’t change very much or often break, there’s little reason to constantly be upgrading your equipment, as you do with company phones and laptops – one device will continue to save you on printer ink and document distribution infrastructure for years and years, which is an investment in your businesses’ communication that’s hard to beat.
Sara Wells writes about tech and gadget news, and blogs on behalf of iPhone 5s insurance brand Protect Your Bubble.