It is World Paper Free Day today (24th October). And a study from storage and information management company Iron Mountain shows that one in 10 office workers in the UK describe their workplace as “paper free”. Many others, however, suggest that their organisation is failing to manage its paper records securely, leaving sensitive and confidential information at risk of exposure. Close to half (45 per cent) of office workers across the UK have seen confidential employee or business records left behind on photocopiers and printers, or left out on desks. Office workers in the UK are typically seeing documents relating to colleagues’ salary or bonus details (seen by 22 per cent), performance review or appraisal information (14 per cent), and company financial information (9 per cent).

Why are companies struggling to keep their paper under control and sensitive documents out of sight? Over half (58 per cent) of firms in the UK have no central paper archive, with nearly a quarter (22 per cent) admitting they have no rules or guidelines to govern how paper documents are managed. Instead, they leave it up to their employees to decide how or even whether to file information. Very few UK firms (six per cent) have a designated data protection officer who communicates to the business what the paper filing system should look like. This role will soon be a requirement for firms across Europe should proposed new European data protection legislation be passed.

The study shows that while 42 per cent of employees describe their company’s approach to paper documents as well-ordered and under control, one in ten describe their work environment as “paper chaos”, with paper piled up everywhere, making it difficult for staff to locate the documents they need. Somewhere between the two are the firms that allow employees the “paper freedom” to assess their own needs and manage their paper accordingly. One in 10 respondents claim they do not need to file paper documents because their workplace is paper free.

Respondents in IT were the most likely to call their office “paper-free” (17.5 per cent), with those in the legal team the least likely (6.5 per cent). The legal department is, however, the most likely to have a managed central archive (57 per cent), with IT trailing at 36 per cent. At nine per cent each, it’s sales teams and IT that make up the ‘paper chaos’ group closely by marketing at eight per cent.

Commenting on the study, Phil Greenwood, Director, Information Management and Business Outsourcing at Iron Mountain, said: “Even though many companies are committed to reducing their dependence on paper, most are still struggling to manage the growing volumes of information coming at them in all formats. For the majority, a paper-free office is unrealistic and unattainable. We would recommend that organisations work towards the achievable goal of becoming paper-light. Adopting a paper-light approach is about digitising the documents that will be needed frequently and getting the majority of the paper documents into off-site storage. It is an approach that saves time and office space. It cuts through the paper chaos, facilitating faster access to documents, helping employees to work smarter, and enabling businesses to provide a better service to their customers.”