Friday 23 March 2018

Just because you're printing, it doesn't mean you're working

Modern technology makes notes stored on a phone or tablets much easier to find

Want to pretend you're working in an Irish office? Simple: just set about printing something. Congratulations – you're now 'working'.

I had a colleague some years back who typified the practice. Twice a day, he would stand importantly for between 10 and 15 minutes as up to 100 pages slowly trundled out. With proper solemnity, pages were then shuffled into sheafs of three or four whereby the finishing professional touch – stapling – was applied. Print, shuffle, staple. Print, shuffle, staple. Print, shuffle, staple.

Throughout this ink-jetting hum, my besuited colleague maintained the air of one conducting serious work.

Sound familiar? In Irish offices, there remains an odd culture of systemically 'printing things off'. Reports, summaries, notes for meetings: anything that is on a screen is not official until it is turned into clutterful paper. Even emails are 'printed off' in Irish offices (a cabinet minister I interviewed recently admitted to this practice).

In most cases, such printing is utterly redundant: a note stored on a phone or a tablet is just as easy to find, reference and annotate as a physical piece of paper. Indeed, virtually all Irish executives now have smartphones, laptops or tablet PCs.

So what is the lingering Irish obsession with 'printing things off'? Is it a ghost of uneducated forbears, who stood in awe of something 'down on paper'?

Or is it just laziness? A refusal of a time-server mentality to adapt to reasonable and modest advances in work practices?

"It's a generational issue," said a friend of mine who runs the HR department of a medium sized construction business. "Some older people just process information better from a piece of paper."

Really? Older people are incapable of processing information unless it is removed from a screen and placed on a piece of paper? If that was suggested in a job interview, would it go unpunished in an Equality Appeals Tribunal hearing?

The truth is that printing, like meetings, can be a form of decision-avoidance. While a piece of paper often acts as prima facia evidence that something 'is being done', it actually signals the exact opposite process. In the modern office, it is an indicator of non-productivity.

Big companies are already wise to this. The last chief executive of Vodafone Ireland, Jeroen Hoencamp, banned printers from 90pc of the office areas. He also initiated a rule that desks were not to have stacks of paper. If flouted, cleaners were simply told to collect the papers and throw them out.

Hoencamp's rationale is that the vast majority of paper collected on desks was just rubbish, kept in place by indecision or laziness.

Hoencamp has just been promoted to the Vodafone UK CEO position. And he is right about systematic printing. It's a lazy process that wastes time, promotes procrastination and holds companies back.

If you're stuck in a dot matrix rut and are looking for alternatives, help is at hand. Here are four free document sharing apps that can replace most (or all) of our 'need' for paper files. They work brilliantly on smartphones, tablets and PCs.

Irish Independent

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