Have paper documents gone away? No—and they shouldn’t

Paper documents are still relevant. Here’s why.

In the middle of an otherwise violent Keanu Reeves movie, there’s a stately, composed scene that says something very telling about paper.

Reeves’ character has crossed the wrong people, so there’s a contract out on his head.

And what does this have to do with paper documents?

To process the contract—the act of which makes up the scene mentioned above—all the work takes place in a shadowy office, using nothing but legacy computers and paper files.

As another character in the film says succinctly: “Can’t track it, can’t hack it, can’t trace it.”

In other words, hackers can download billions of files in minutes, but they’re not going to get your paper documents so easily.

Does that mean paper documents are better after all?

For these uses and more, the answer is a definite yes.

Legal and Financial Documents

Legal and financial services will always want to keep those original ink-signed documents around, and usually those signature pages are attached to a big stack of accompanies pages. This can quickly amount to a lot of floor space to save those files, but it’s worth it.

Takeaway: Keep those paper documents for the ink signatures

Personal Notes

Many executives and other staff rely on notebooks and notepads. They’re portable, easy-to-use, and don’t require a battery. Some people type up their personal notes later, but others let them remain eternally etched in ink on the pages. In such cases, those notes should always be kept for potential later use. Jerry Seinfeld, the world’s richest actor, kept every piece of paper he ever wrote jokes on.

Takeaway: Paper can be an invaluable way to take personal notes, but make sure to keep them!

Hiring Process Paperwork

Many organizations will print out copies of applicant resumes and CV’s to pass around for hiring committees to take notes on. These notes may later get consolidated onto a giant HR spreadsheet used to capture rationales for why Applicant X was or wasn’t advanced along in the candidacy process.

And guess what? Such information ought to be kept, just in case an applicant decides to complain if they weren’t selected. This goes for notes taken during actual candidate interviews, too. Interviewing is hard enough for the person getting grilled, but trying to give answers while an interviewer is typing notes on a laptop is just too much.

Do them a favor. Use paper.

Takeaway: Keep everything in case you get sued!

Brainstorming Sessions

How about those big brainstorming marathons where new ideas are being tossed around like confetti at a wedding? These types of freewheeling sessions are often done best with pen and paper (much of which gets wadded up to rebound off the recycle bin).

If your team likes to use whiteboards, snap a photo before the board is erased. Get someone to type up those million dollar concepts that were hastily scribbled in marker. If it makes sense to print them for distribution to the team later, do it!

Takeaway: Paper is the quickest, most convenient way to capture brilliant ideas.

Calendars

A lot of workers use an online calendar or smartphone app to keep track of appointments. But many workers track time better with a portable book calendar or keep a giant wall calendar for in-your-face time management.

The thing is, those are all records you might want to keep. Many people will refer back to their calendars to see what date a meeting or appointment took place. Even those big wall calendars get folded down and filed away as the months go by.

Takeaway: Keep to refer back to for notes and dates.

Employee Policies and Guidance

When reading, 79% of people tend to scan text on a screen instead of truly reading it. If they absolutely must read, research shows they do so 25% slower.

This suggests that document types like employee policies, guidance, and training materials should be available for offline reading. A worker who needs to sit down and really understand a certain nuance or detail might miss it if they’re skimming over a webpage. But hand them a binder with highlighted pages, and they’ll read it more thoroughly…especially if they can take it away from their desk and relax in a room with a bag of Cheetos and no distractions.

Takeaway: People read paper.

Draft Contracts

No matter where your company may be in the drafting phase of some new contract or some lengthy set of legal terms and conditions, it pays to have printed copies for all editors and reviewers to read. Rules matter, after all. Contracts are legally binding agreements.

There’s an advantage to sharing documents for multiple users to comment on, and no one can argue against the merits of Google docs for collaboration and Grammarly for suggested writing improvements. But most experienced editors will tell you, things get missed when reading a digital file that do NOT get missed on a paper one.

Part of that simply boils down to eye strain from reading while staring into a giant rectangle of white light. No matter the reason, you can’t afford to overlook a critical point.

Takeaway: If you don’t want to miss anything, print it out and read it.

Managing Paper Documents

Over time, managing files and documents—paper or electronic—gets cumbersome for businesses. It’s a physical product that takes up space (Either valuable office real estate or on a server). It also requires lots of TLC when it comes to organizing your files library style so people can find what they need later, as well as training so that everyone maintains that structure.

Offsite Records Storage lets you securely, and simply manage both hard-copy and electronic files.

Takeaway: Paper can be an effective way to manage files.

We all know that electronic records are necessary. Still, paper remains relevant as it ever was—and it isn’t ready to go away anytime soon.

And every time a high-profile data breach creates negative headlines—like the recent leak of upwards of 140 million MGM resorts customer records—many companies rightly wonder…

Maybe there’s something to this “paper” thing after all.