Paperless problems

Paperless problems

Tanya Reitzel wants her employees to go electronic. Some staff, though, are having a hard time parting with paper.

Tanya Reitzel, owner of Coastal Trademark Services Ltd., oversees trademark registration and filing for some 2,000 clients. Over time, all of that business had left Coastal with more than 5,000 paper files. For years, Reitzel thought about creating a paperless office – mostly by moving her computer network to the cloud, which would allow staff to share files virtually, rather than having to print off pages – and in 2012 she finally made the switch. But her whole company isn’t quite paperless yet.

Reitzel works in Kelowna, B.C. – she moved there after her husband got a new job – but her six staff continue to work at the head office in Vancouver. Any new files Reitzel opens are now electronic, so she doesn’t have any paper to deal with, but not all of her employees have given up the printed page. Her big challenge? Getting her entire staff, who range from 25 to 40 years of age, on board.

The ones who are resisting simply like the way they’ve always done things. She has told them that she wants the company to go paperless, but she’s not forcing them to change, either. “I have advised them that I want to be paperless by the end of the year, but I prefer not to be a dictator,” she Reitzel.

“Their biggest issue is just that it’s the unknown,” she adds. “Most have worked in the field for a long time. You get used to having that paper file in front of you and being able to flip through the pages easily to look at the documents underneath and review the file in that manner. It’s hard to give that up.”

While Reitzel has given them each an extra computer screen, so that they can open and review several pages at once, it’s still hard for some of them to let go of paper.

- Diane Jermyn / Photograph by: Andrew Querner / Illustrations by: Chelsea Peters



When we went paperless years ago, it took some time for people to get over the psychological aspect of not having paper – especially in an audit accounting firm. Our entire audit files are now all digital. We have clients who give us paper, but we scan it into our system.

To overcome resistance, you have to rip off the Band-Aid. In our office, we had what we called “the vault,” where all our files used to be kept. We got rid of it. The equivalent for Coastal might be getting rid of the filing cabinets and all of the old paperwork. Another thing we did was have dedicated people scan all our old files, so they never had to go back to their original storage location.

The next step would be to get rid of the printers. It really does force everybody to deal with things onscreen.



Technology is incrementally increasing the speed of competition, so change is a constant in our society today. Leaders have to be change agents focused on creating a story, a vision and a purpose, while simultaneously communicating and engaging people on a daily basis. Reitzel must be clear in defining a vision of what lies behind her team and what lies before them. Reitzel’s vision should dictate all communications by building excitement about the future state of the company and identifying the value in change, including what’s in it for each employee.

She needs to be able to articulate the reason why the change is critical to the success of the organization, then guide that change and re-energize the group throughout the process. In this, she should lead by example, providing insights into her own behaviour.