At one time, the accepted wisdom was that computers would make paper redundant. Of course, just the opposite happened and offices were submerged in reams of the stuff.
Now, the undergraduate advising office in the University of British Columbia’s faculty of land and food systems has taken the radical step of actually going paperless.
It started out as a game a couple of years ago, says Lynn Newman, assistant dean, students. “It got to the point where we were doing just about everything electronically, so we decided to go all the way.”
While the three-person office saved money (as much as $10,000) and trees, going paperless also had “a tremendous impact on how we work and how we interact with students,” says Ms. Newman.
“When students came to the office (before it was paperless), they had to fill out a form and take a number. It seemed to put us in a position of authority. Now we just start talking,” says Ms. Newman.
Students don’t even have to come to the office for advice. The two student advisers, armed with laptops, are now able to meet students where they work, for example, in the learning centre. “It’s a more friendly atmosphere and helps engage students,” explains Ms. Newman.
While the small office has yet to have a big impact on campus, it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Ms. Newman has been asked to speak to several other units and says that the registrar’s office is now considering going paperless.
Her notoriety has filtered off campus as well, with calls coming from private industry for advice.
Cyprien Lomas, director of the learning centre in the land and food systems faculty, helped with the technical aspects of the conversion. He maintains that going paperless “allows staff to be more efficient. They spend more time with students and less time doing silly work, like filing,” he laughs.
Mr. Lomas says the innovations promoted and encouraged by Ms. Newman have had a trickle-down effect. “We are now known as the paperless faculty, so when someone mentions this to another one of our units that isn’t paperless it is a point of embarrassment. It prods them into thinking more about doing it.”