A Major Step Closer to a Paperless Office

Two thirds through a teaching semester MPOW decided it was a convenient time to refurbish our whole floor of offices and ask us to work from home for 6 weeks. The exact date of moving was not known but for several weeks I have been reducing the contents of my office of 19 years ready for packing. It has presented the perfect opportunity to move significantly closer to a paperless office with electronic documents shared productively in the cloud.

I’m proud to report that I have reduced my physical office contents to 3 boxes each exactly the size of one drawer of a filing cabinet. My new office will benefit as it will be reduced to the Australian academic staff standard of 12 square metres or a rabbit hutch as I prefer to call it. The 3 boxes contain everything; books, theses, files, papers, wall plaques, clock, small computer equipment like cables, mice, keyboard, speakers, webcams, headphones and stationery knickknacks.

Books have gone from over 500 to less than 10, 3 of which are those I have authored. [I access all my IT books online these days via Books24x7 and Safari.] About 8 bookshelf metres of conference proceedings, box files and the usual stuff in ring binders including lots of overhead slides from the 1970s and 1980s all bit the dust. 9 full filing cabinet drawers were reduced to 0.25 of a drawer – that was all I had actually looked at in the last 12 months. 23 old conference bags were reduced to 2. Out of over 100 optical disks about 3 survived. I kept 1 USB headset/mic and discarded a dozen or more old analogue headsets, mics and speakers. It feels wonderful. [For those wondering I discarded all my printed journals 2 or 3 years ago.]

IMG_0189 (100x75)I could do more but I just had to keep the oldest artefact, my 1968 Oxford DipAdMath dissertation on memory garbage collection procedures some of which still apply today. On the other hand the many programs and data on a half inch magnetic tape generated on a Unix box in tar format and brought from my previous institution in 1989 had to go – I know of no magnetic tape readers within hundreds of kilometres!

My electronic collection of teaching, research and admin information only extends from the mid 1990s. Together with personal information like photos, music and videos the 180 GB electronic collection sits on my impressive Windows Home Server at home in duplicated storage. This is accessible securely from work and indeed anywhere on the Internet. In addition I have a growing collection of information in the cloud across repositories of links, slides, notes, blogs, wikis, doc stores, contacts, ebooks, and several other types of online information all of which is shareable, social and can form the basis of communities of interest. I dread the thought of trying to calculate just how much personal information I now rely upon in the cloud.

I have been meaning to write this post for a week or two. It was the twin triggers of seeing the ABC Future Tense podcast on the paperless office appear on my iPhone yesterday and the stimulating Kathryn Greenhill (@sirexkat) tweet about the same today that spurred me into action. Despite the very odd American intro chosen by presenter Anthony Furnell his guests Matt Moore and Richard Watson agree the paperless office is a work in progress that will never be finished. They suggest the less paper office is achievable and electronic storage and retrieval bring many benefits. Nevertheless they point to 3D piles of paper on desk and floor giving us a unique perspective not available even on multiple monitors. The tactile nature of flicking through pages with consequent serendipitous information discovery also cannot be reproduced on screens even with multi-touch.

With campus wi-fi coverage now complete it has been possible for me to take just a netbook (and no paper) to meetings for quite a time although constant prodding of meeting chairs is still needed to provide papers in electronic form. The situation is improving all the time. Software like Evernote make note taking easy and keeps the notes (text, audio, image, video) all in one online searchable repository with powerful import/export capabilities. Now for many meetings only an iPad is needed although it is still limited in the online information types it can display and I find reflections from overhead lights and windows in many meeting rooms annoying.

So with the last day in my old office tomorrow I go confidently towards the very, very much less paper in my new office some 6 weeks from now. By year’s end I will know whether I have succeeded in keeping up or improving my productivity. Another post on the subject awaits.

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About Michael Rees
Academic in IT interested in Web 2.0 and social media

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