The COVID19 pandemic forced many businesses to take remote working more seriously than ever before. Companies which were already well along the path to digitization generally found the transition a whole lot easier than companies which still depended on paper processes.
Now, however, digital-first businesses are increasingly discovering that there is still very much a place for paper after all. Here are some reasons why.
Paper is secure
Data is only as secure as its storage. This means that digital data is vulnerable to threats which just don’t apply to paper. Firstly, all digital files have to be stored in a particular file format. These formats can switch from popular to obsolete in a very short time.
For example, WordStar was extremely popular for a few years (between about 1978 and 1982) but then fell from grace. Now few people even remember it existed (at least not without prompting). More importantly, its file extensions are now archaic (although Microsoft Word can still open them). There are currently predictions that MP3 files will suffer the same fate.
Secondly, digital files must be stored in digital storage media. This can also become obsolete (think floppy disks). It can also be damaged by rough handling or poor environmental conditions. Last, but definitely not least, digital media are far more vulnerable to loss and theft than paper files.
The issue of theft
One of the reasons why digitization is so popular (in fact arguably necessary), is because digital storage allows for vast quantities of data to be stored in very small spaces. This has all kinds of benefits but does create an obvious security risk. Organizations can, should and must mitigate this by encrypting data and backing it up. Keeping at least one backup on paper can be a very astute move, especially for critical documents such as legal paperwork.
Paper is discreet
When a person uses a desktop or even a laptop, it’s obvious that they are giving at least part of their attention to the computer. A lot of the time, a computer-user will give the impression that they are more focused on the computer than they are on the other person or people in the room. This is practically unavoidable since the need for a screen creates a visible barrier which often hinders eye contact.
In theory, tablets can be a bit more discrete. In practice, generally, they aren’t much of an improvement. If you’re taking extensive notes, then you generally want to use an external keyboard. This essentially turns a tablet into a laptop with all that implies. Even if you’re using a stylus or the on-screen keyboard, you’re probably going to need to have your tablet propped up to some degree. Again, this creates a visual barrier.
Paper is life-proof
Electronic devices and liquid are not a good combination. In principle, neither is paper and liquid. In practice, however, the sheer cost of even budget-end electronics means that people need to be very careful with them anywhere near liquid. They also need to be careful around at least certain types of foods (e.g. anything which creates crumbs) and avoid dropping them. Paper, by contrast, can generally tolerate food and can certainly handle being dropped.
Given that the average meeting generally involves people drinking and sometimes eating, it’s easy to see why paper is the safer choice for note-taking. Under normal circumstances, meetings can also often be very crowded, so paper is the safer choice for dealing with the inevitable knocks, bumps and items being dropped or pushed off their resting places.
Paper is certainly the safer choice for on trains (and planes) where you not only have to think about how you’re acting yourself, but also think about how other people (and even animals) may behave. For example, if you’re going to have children near you letting off steam on a long journey, then paper is far safer than electronics.
Paper works without batteries and cables
This may not mean much when you’re at your desk, but as soon as you step away from it, battery life comes into play. eBook readers tend to have decent battery life (although even they have their limits) but it’s often awkward and inconvenient to convert paper documents to formats they can display. What’s more eBook readers only perform one function. This means that people may not want to carry them along with everything else they have.
Tablets (and laptops) by contrast tend to have much brighter screens. These can be dimmed to save battery, but even so, they tend to guzzle much more power than eBook readers. There are ways to deal with this, at least to some extent, for example, the use of portable battery packs. The simple fact remains, however, that if you want to be guaranteed to be able to read something whenever you want for as long as you want, you still need paper.
Paper works without the internet
On a similar note, paper works regardless of whether or not you can get online. This means that keeping at least key records on paper can allow you to keep going, to some extent, even when your internet is down. Again, this may not be a huge issue when you are at a desk. As soon as you step away from your desk, however, you are at the mercy of WiFi and mobile data, neither of which are guaranteed to be available let alone secure.
Paper is easier on the eyes
Parents often limit their children’s screen time, but the demands of work may mean that they end up not leading by example. One effective way to improve this situation is to invest in a printer. This means that people can work away from the screen. They can easily mark up a document the old-fashioned way (with pens) and then add any changes to the digital document when they are ready.
Paper is flexible
A screen is a fixed size. If you want to make it bigger, you need either a second screen or a projector. If you want to make it smaller, you’re out of luck. Paper, by contrast, can be easily adapted to any size. What’s more, you can create whatever text and images you like without needing any special software or the skill to use it.