Paperless Concept at Small Organizations

Introduction

The modern organizational environment calls for a high degree of digitalization as the progress relies on the deep integration of firms into the business process with the help of technologies. The arrival of new Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the global arena has caused the already-established model of communication management within organizations and the customers whom they serve. Organizations that are aware of the change can see the need for promoting the implementation of new technologies through the development of electronic administration. Such a change provides significant opportunities for companies to improve the services they provide, strengthen corporate work processes, and support public policies that favor the social development and economic growth of businesses.

Therefore, multiple processes would change as a result of digitalization, including the storing, transfer, and sharing of information. The principal objective of such changes is facilitating the sustainable development of organizations. Because of this, it is imperative to study the impact of new digital methods on enhancing the productivity of workers at companies to understand whether they would improve as a result of integrated digitalization. In the current context, paperless represents the core digitalization change that is expected to transform how companies approach their management of information.

The paperless office concept refers to the change in how the industry of technology, for information and management, represents a new way of thinking and working at an organization. Undoubtedly, this brings other considerations, paradigms, and feature works that have an ultimate impact on organizational processes in all areas of business. Small and medium-sized enterprises especially need technology not only for providing accurate information but also for implementing the operational procedures and how they should be arranged. Technologies are expected to give answers to companies in terms of how to manage their organizational structure, business, and deal with business characteristics.

Background

The paperless office is a new concept for companies and is complicated for organizations that continue using paper for social, financial, educational, and advertising uses. It implies a move away from the use of paper documentation and toward digital forms in which information can be stored, created, and transferred. By implementing paperless solutions, companies are expected to facilitate the increased focus on IT. Paper has been in perpetual use of companies for decades, and with the availability of ICT, paper-based processes have been challenged by the integration of digital methods. The influence of ICT is increasingly evident in the workplace as companies have begun automating their process, achieving the improvement of procedures and products delivered to customers. However, this does not mean that paper consumption has diminished altogether. The reasons for the misalignment between the ICT and the use of paper have been attributed to the lack of new technologies available at organizations, their inappropriate use, the initial resistance to change, or the belief that printed documents are more valuable or relevant compared to digital ones.

The implementation of paperless solutions challenges small companies because they may not have the monetary aids to introduce them seamlessly. Nevertheless, by converting data that was previously stored on paper into digital methods, companies can create more space, create a comfortable environment for work, and use advanced solutions for promoting technical security and protecting information (Dhumme, 2017). For small companies, the implementation of a paperless office presents many advantages, not only from the environmental perspective but also in terms of the internal functioning of organizations and for the benefit of clients.

Although, paperless implementation calls for Organizational Change Processes associated with the use of techniques, such as electronic processing, which involves the continuous adjustment to innovation and technological developments. The benefits of using paperless span across organization processes and services, customers, companies, and other entities, as well as the overall environment. When it comes to organizational processes and services, paperless offers the centralized management of processes, the increased efficiency by integrating and simplifying procedures, the optimization of resources and reduction of errors, the increased control over information across departments, as well as the elimination of duplicated documents (Orantes-Jiménez, Zavala-Galindo, & Vázquez-Álvarez, 2015). In addition, it is possible to decrease response times, reduce storage spaces, as well as diversify and increase the number of services offered.

In terms of benefiting, customers, companies, and other entities, paperless offices offer quick and easy access to information and services, increase the availability of services, decrease waiting time, as well as reduce response time. Besides, paperless allows organizations to avoid transferring to face service points, facilitates the improved information to enable monitoring procedures and the requests that are being made. In paperless offices, multiple users can carry out the same procedures simultaneously while also improving relationships between workers, partners, and potential customers (Orantes-Jiménez et al., 2015). The environmental benefits of paperless offices are also vast, which include the reduced costs of waste disposal, the reduced environmental impact, and the decreased consumption of natural resources and the subsequent pollution associated with it.

It is imperative to consider the disadvantages of using paperless in the context of Organizational Change Processes. For small companies, paperless is associated with significant financial investment, which may not always be possible due to the high costs. Also, companies can experience technical difficulties during the integration of the solution as well as the need to update computer systems continuously. When it comes to the role of employees, the paperless office calls for the increased expenditure associated with staff training and the overcoming of cultural barriers (Orantes-Jiménez et al., 2015). Workers will continuously have to adjust their habits of printing all information on paper as well as move away from resistance to change and toward new solutions intended for making operational processes more straightforward and more efficient. Therefore, the concept of a paperless office presents numerous opportunities and challenges for smaller organizations, which is why it is imperative to study the topic further to reveal its impact. The context of the Organizational Change Process is especially relevant in the present study because it comprises a series of steps associated with a move toward new solutions and advancements expected to benefit organizational contexts.

Study Purpose

The current study aims to reveal whether a paperless office can benefit small organizations in advancing their performance and effectiveness through facilitating an Organizational Change Process. The latter is intended to provide companies with a background required to develop the desired competencies within the working environment. From staff engagement to acquiring new skills and knowledge, the Organizational Change Process is intended for enriching the capabilities of organizations and developing skills that are necessary for making steps in the direction of innovation and advancement. As small companies face high levels of competition from more prominent organizations that have more resources to invest in paperless and other methods of productivity improvement, it is imperative to ensure the availability of technologies that enhance the capabilities of businesses.

The current study is highly relevant because it focuses on small companies, which may often be overlooked in management research due to the limited number of case studies and examples of best practices. Less powerful organizations, which may not have the financial power to boost performance regularly, are expected to attain significant benefits from implementing paperless solutions. Paperless, therefore, can represent a starting point for companies to facilitate the development of other technological tools that could enhance the productivity of employees and promote positive change associated with information storage, transfer, and creation.

Problem Statement

Small organizations may not always have the resources to invest in the latest advancements of ICT but have to compete against their industry rivals. While the paperless office has been gaining increased attention in many organizational contexts, there is still limited evidence that would illustrate the impact of the solution on organizations. Therefore, it is necessary to research the issue further to provide a comprehensive understanding of the challenges that small organizations face when implementing paperless as well as to offer recommendations in alignment with the Organizational Change Process perspective. Furthermore, the research expects to reveal evidence for increasing the efficiency of workplace settings and cost-cutting as crucial principles of improving the work of small organizations.

There is not enough research that would show how paperless is integrated at smaller organizations, as well as how it influences the core business processes. Moreover, most of the available studies are concerned with exploring the topic from the perspective of literature reviews, which may reveal important information but have no connection to the application of the principle in real-life organizations. Also, it is notable that the topic of the paperless office has been studied concerning the environmental impact of organizations to a high degree. For instance, researchers have praised paperless technology for eliminating the use of disposable materials and preserving resources, which are imperative within the corporate social responsibility context (Nayyar & Arora, 2019; Tuhulu et al., 2016). While the environmental benefits of paperless are essential to consider, research on the topic should be broadened beyond the positive impact of the solution on the preservation of global resources.

Research Questions and Hypothesis

Exploring the topic of the paperless office in regards to the establishment of an Organizational Change Process at small organizations is important for revealing best practices and evidence that would support the implementation of the solution in the given context. It is vital to find a connection between paperless and the further steps associated with the integration of technological solutions that would benefit companies. Also, the study aims to investigate the relationship between the implementation of the paperless office and the productivity and efficiency of workers within the workplace setting. Furthermore, research has shown that smaller organizations tend to experience some challenges associated with the implementation of paperless, which points to the importance of addressing the issue. The following research questions are expected to be answered in this study:

  1. How does paperless influence further steps in the Organizational Change Process as related to the use of new technological solutions?
  2. Is there a connection between the implementation of paperless at small organizations and the increased productivity and efficiency of their employees?
  3. How do productivity and efficiency at paperless offices differ from the productivity and efficiency at offices that have not integrated the solution?
  4. In which way can smaller organizations address the challenges associated with the use of paperless solutions in the workplace setting?

As seen from the list of research questions, the paperless office represents a framework for digitalizing a range of processes at small organizations. The Organizational Change Process is facilitated when a company moves away from the excessive use of paper for storing and transferring data and toward ICT-based solutions and procedures. The hypothesis for the study is the following: the better small organizations adhere to paperless as a method for organization management and transfer, the more effectively they can facilitate the Organizational Change Process and integrate innovative IT advancements for boosting their performance and staying competitive against rivals.

Theoretical Framework

In the current study, it is expected to combine the principles laid out in Weick’s Organizational Information Theory and Fayol’s Theory of Classical Management. The management of large volumes of information is one of the main challenges with which both small and large organizations deal. With the increase of new means of communication, the number of messages that people send and receive exceeds the previous numbers, while the speed with which the messages are being transferred also increases (Miller, 2015). As a response to such a change, Karl Weick, an American organizational theorist, developed an approach describing the process by which organizations “collect, manage, and use the information that they receive” (West & Turner, 2010, p. 243). The approach is predominantly based on processes rather than the structure in which they occur. The focus of the theory is on the exchange of information that occurs at organizations as well as how employees at those organizations can understand the processes that are taking place. The communication of information that is imperative for the success of organizations is vital to the theory. Without transferring information adequately, employees at organizations will find it complicated to function successfully because they depend on the “process of making sense of equivocal and ambiguous information” (West & Turner, 2020, p. 293). Weick’s Organizational Information Theory is relevant to the current research because it helps to explain the impact of adequate data storage and transfer on the efficiency of workers at organizations.

The Theory of Classical Management, developed by Henry Fayol, is a simple model explaining how managers interact with their subordinates. The theory is one of the most fundamental frameworks because it was developed in the early 1900s to help managers get the tools to lead their organizations and manage employees effectively. The Theory of Classical Management is based on fourteen principles of management (Miller, 2015). They include the “division of work, authority, discipline, the unity of command, unity of direction, subordination of individual interests to the general interest, remuneration, centralization, scalar chain, order, equity, the stability of personnel tenure, initiative and esprit de corps” (Fayol, 2016, p. 39). The interplay between the key principles of management represents a powerful management tool that can be used at organizations. The theory applies to the current research because it may help to understand numerous processes that are necessary to implement at organizations to facilitate a change process and improve the adherence of personnel to the expected standards of digitalization.

Variable Definitions

Both independent and dependent variables were involved in the study because of the intention to find connections between the implementation of paperless and the productivity of employees in the workplace. An independent variable is such that exists along and cannot be changed by the influence of other variables that are being measured. For instance, the age of participants of the study is an independent variable because it cannot be changed by the impact of other characteristics and settings. In the current study, paperless integration presents an independent variable as it does not rely on other factors. Paperless is a “concept involving the elimination of paper use in different environments and the involvement of information storage and transfer in a digital form” (Orantes-Jiménez et al., 2015, p. 49). While the process is multi-dimensional and involves multiple factors for implementation, it would influence a dependent variable that is being studied in the study. The dependent variable in current research is represented by the changes in employees’ productivity and efficiency in the workplace. Depending on the effectiveness of the paperless solution, employees’ behaviors were expected to shift and adjust to the new organizational setting and related principles. Therefore, paperless is an independent variable that would influence the dependent one.

Literature Review

An in-depth understanding of paperless and its benefit to small organizations can be facilitated with the help of a literature review. In the course of the review, it is expected to reveal the advantages and the disadvantages of using paperless, explore the practices implemented at organizations, as well as point out gaps in research that the current study is intended to address. The key literature review areas include the discussion of the benefits of paperless, challenges of implementation at small organizations, and recommendations for transitioning to paperless solutions intended for facilitating the improvement of performance and efficiency.

Benefits of Using Paperless

The review of scholarly resources on the topic of integrating paperless at smaller organizations has shown that research on the topic remains limited. An office that adheres to the principle of paperless is an environment in which integrated information systems, as well as multiple software solutions, are used for reducing the consumption of paper and improving the efficiency of electronic documentation (Dykman & Davis, 2012). Such environments facilitate the productivity of employees at offices as well as the collaboration between them in terms of sharing and retrieving e-documents. The use of mobile devices supports the utilization of digital documents, therefore allowing users to implement paperless meetings and other solutions for enhancing the work process. According to Kissel (2013), it has become rare for major institutions not to offer their clients the convenience of mobile solutions and digital methods of interacting with organizations. For example, banks have already made a significant shift toward mobile solutions, including applications, electronic billing, invoicing, and many other services that used to require printed documents.

With the transfer to paperless, organizations have adhered to the electronic methods of transferring information, which present fewer risks than before. For instance, it has become easier to protect information and safeguard documents from being counterfeited, which was a challenge presented by the use of paper at organizations (Aigbe & Akpajaro, 2014). Overall, paperless makes a range of processes easier for companies, and customers can also benefit from such a solution because they do not have to deal with documents printed on paper to receive the services they require. Altogether, the efficiency of interactions between clients and companies enhances when paper documents are not involved.

Beyond optimizing the range of procedures that occur at organizations, paperless represents an overall positive change for organizations in terms of resource use and cost-cutting. According to Tuhulu et al. (2016), paperless offices facilitate holistic sustainability, which has a positive impact on the way in which organizations approach their work. Velte, Velte, and Elsenpeter (2008) also found that paperless environments are more beneficial for offices because of the move toward innovative solutions that transform the way in which companies operate. Therefore, when companies use paperless as the primary method of information storage and transfer, they become highly involved in sustainability and the preservation of resources that should not be wasted on printing documents. Moreover, paper has become expensive, which is why it has become significantly more cost-effective to implement paperless at organizations (Thimbleby, 2019). Therefore, paperless offices represent cost-cutting opportunities for companies that engage in the considerations of preserving the resources and investing in solutions that would be beneficial for enhancing productivity and effectiveness.

Challenges of Using Paperless

For organizations that do not have extensive financial resources to invest in ICTs and facilitate the Organizational Change Process, paperless can present some challenges. Smaller companies often lack the monetary power to invest in IT to quickly increase the performance of their software as well as expand storage capacity (Wang, 2013). Both server performance and storage capacity are essential for organizations to facilitate efficient digital storage and retrieval of electronic documents (Chao, 2015). This means that small companies are expected to find means to stay relevant and competitive against rivals in the industry.

Beyond the issue of financial investment into technological solutions, paperless offices challenge organizations with difficulties in implementation, especially when it comes to the cultural and technical changes linked to the attitude and aptitude toward new technologies (Orantes-Jiménez et al., 2015). Employees will be expected to adopt the processes that they carry out on an everyday basis and overcome the habit of printing documents. The issue of resistance to change is an especially challenging issue, which prevents companies from facilitating the Organizational Change Process. Over the years of working, employees get used to doing things in a certain way, and overcoming this issue will be complicated for managers who have to integrate the new solution into the workplace and inform their subordinates of the change that will be taking place.

To address the challenge of implementing paperless solutions at organizations, several tools have been proposed to carry out. Cloud computing presents one of the key solutions for transferring to a paperless office (Li et al., 2014). Compared to other technology solutions that companies integrate into the workplace setting, cloud solutions are less costly, which means that they can be embedded in the work of smaller organizations when they transition to paperless. Chao (2015) mentioned that multiple solutions can facilitate a paperless office, including web portals, document imaging, and electronic forms, and electronic document management that are easy and affordable to implement at smaller organizations.

Transitioning to a Paperless Office at Smaller Organizations

The discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of using paperless solutions at organizations showed that the tool’s integration is not an easy task, especially for companies that do not have the financial resources to fund a large shift toward innovative solutions necessary for improving processes. Velte et al. (2008) pointed out that the change toward paperless solutions is unlikely to be seamless because of the need to train personnel, adjust to new habits and processes, as well as restructure the entire way in which employees share information.

It is expected that the best practices of using paperless at small organizations will range from one company to another. Thus, what is imperative to note is that paperless frameworks are not absolute in their existence and may be modified to the needs and environments of every organization (Chao, 2015). When making a shift toward electronic documents and the digital way of storing, transferring, and creating them, businesses aim to streamline their workflows with the aid of information technologies (Jones, 2012). According to Chao (2015), examples from organizations, SMEs in particular, showed that the effectiveness of the solution had been attributed to changes in overall environments. Such companies have managed to change their entire mindset when managing relevant documentation before even implementing the change. The concept of a paperless office involves an overall shift in the behaviors and processes at organizations, which suggests that each company will be different.

Facilitating consistency when implementing a paperless office is an important recommendation that small organizations can follow when making a shift toward digitalization. Before starting the steps associated with the integration of paperless, the management of a company should have a strategy. For instance, it is necessary to decide whether paper documents will be scanned or the way in which electronic permissions to access data will be issued (Orantes-Jiménez et al., 2015). The strategy should also involve the considerations of a cultural shift required to get employees adjusted to paperless solutions. This is especially relevant when it comes to older employees who may not be as receptive to the change that would involve the digitalization of processes. Therefore, the transition to a paperless office encompasses a broad range of steps embedded in the strategy of small companies.

Methodology

The present study has an experimental design, which implies a manipulation of variables and controls to influence changes in other variables. The chosen method is intended to find a causal relationship between integrating the paperless office solution at a small organization and the increase in the effectiveness of the workplace overall. Two groups of participants were chosen for the experiment, and a randomized controlled trial was carried out. The first group represents employees of a small organization who will engage in the paperless method and transform how they share, collect, manage, and store information. The second group represents the workers of another small organization that will not implement paperless and will continue using paper documents as the primary way of managing information. Pre- and post-experiment outcomes regarding productivity and the efficiency of workers were measured in two groups to identify the changes that have occurred with the implementation of paperless. The outcomes of the two groups are compared to find out whether the group that has worked in a paperless office showed greater productivity results compared to the one that followed the traditional route.

The sample for the research includes employees who work for small organizations. One group of workers will likely have some knowledge of paperless and how it can be implemented to facilitate the experiment. In contrast, another group is not required to have such knowledge. Due to the particular characteristics of the sample needed for research, convenience sampling was implemented. The method was convenient for the researcher because it was possible to contact any company to explore whether their workers are willing to participate in the research. Two companies have agreed to provide groups of workers to participate in the study. One firm specialized in tourism services and had ten employees who were willing to give their time to the study. Seven of the participants were female, while three were male, with a mean (m) age of 28 years old. The employees have traditionally worked with paper documents the majority of the time, only creating digital copies as back-ups to secure information electronically. Another firm involved in research specialized in consulting and was dealing with paper documents every day. Eleven workers were engaged in research, of whom nine were female, and two were male, with a mean (m) age of 32 years old.

The group of employees who worked at the consulting group was the one to continue working with paper documents while the tourism agency workers were intended to implement the paperless solution. The experiment was carried out over two months, during which the workers had to perform their regular activities associated with information management and sharing in different ways. There was no adjustment for the group from the consulting agency, while the workers of another firm had to learn quickly different steps involved in the implementation of a paperless office. Before the experiment, each worker was interviewed about their throughs on how effective they are in managing documentation and whether the paper is a reliable method for doing so. It was necessary to determine which barriers within effectiveness have employees faced as they use traditional methods of information storage, transfer, creation, and so on.

After the experiment, both groups were interviewed again to receive post-intervention feedback. While the control group stayed the same in terms of its processes, the intervention group that has been working with a paperless solution had to provide their throughs on whether their efficiency and productivity benefited from the solution. The interviews presented a reliable and convenient source of data gathering because they allowed participants to be candid in their answers and give first-hand information from participants who were exposed to the study. The interview questions focused on getting to know whether paperless provided any benefit to workers and made them more effective in managing relevant documentation.

Apart from interviews, the participants were asked to fill ill short questionnaires that included questions on the processes that were occurring at their organizations during a typical workday. While one group answered the questions in the context of implementing a new approach toward managing documentation, another group reflected on their experiences in the context of remaining within the traditional framework of document management. The difference between the questionnaires and interviews lies in the time when they were carried out as well as the intentions behind the questions being asked. The questionnaires were quick and carried out during the experiment to collect information that was ‘fresh in the minds of participants. They were also instrumental in supporting the findings of the interviews and offering real-time information.

Findings and Conclusion

The analysis of data from interviews and questionnaires pointed to the significant benefits of paperless implementation at smaller organizations. The group of employees who continued using paper documents reported that they experienced challenges in managing large volumes of information, which prevented them from offering high-quality services to their customers. As consulting implies dealing with significant volumes of information when providing services to clients, the lack of digitalization means that employees would have to do a lot of steps manually. Furthermore, the employees reported that more and more clients were asking about the ways in which they can interact with the company digitally by sending out documents online instead of coming to the office and bringing them in person. Without implementing paperless, it is complicated for companies to meet the demands of customers who find digitalized processes more convenient and time-efficient. As a result of the rising demands of customers to work with electronic documents, the company has faced some failures in productivity and the effectiveness of providing services to its clients.

The group of employees that facilitated the implementation of paperless also experienced some challenges; however, they were associated with adjusting to new processes and modifying how they manage information. During the interviews, employees indicated that the traditional way of document management was becoming inefficient and time-consuming, especially when it comes to dealing with large volumes of data. After implementing paperless, the employees mentioned that they had some issues with digitalizing documents and organizing information in a way that would be efficient for them to use on an everyday basis. However, after getting used to the new way of dealing with documentation, the employees reported a noticeable boost in their productivity. They indicated that they had allocated more time to do important assignments such as scheduling and compiling weekly reports, which they usually set aside until the last moments because they are overwhelmed with managing paper documents. Communication with co-workers has also become easier when implementing paperless because all interactions were carried out online with the help of digital applications. Reflecting on their experience of implementing paperless, employees mentioned that they would never go back to the traditional way of managing documentation. Paperless had shown to offer great flexibility in the workplace and the opportunity of being adjusted to the needs of a workplace setting as well as the tasks that are being carried out. As a result of the integration, the employees were considering proposing the implementation of paperless to their higher management. The positive experience of workers would serve as an example for shifting to a paperless office, and they could take the responsibility of teaching other employees how to make the change seamlessly and with limited challenges. Besides, the workers mentioned that after being paperless, other digitalization methods could be carried out more effectively since the adjustment would not be as drastic as expected.

The research offered first-hand information on how a paperless office can benefit smaller organizations in terms of their productivity. The comparison of the experiences between the two groups showed that employees who had transitioned to paperless developed more opportunities to plan their work process, facilitate better and integrated communication, as well as be more prepared for the introduction of other advanced technology solutions. Those workers who continued working with large volumes of paper documentation experienced significant challenges associated with decreased productivity and the inability to meet customer demands. In contrast with workers who were dealing with paperless, those employees who had to deal with printed documents were unable to shape their schedules effectively, nor were they informed and skilled enough to respond to the requirements of their clients. These findings show that paperless is more than a tool for optimizing office processes and making more free time for other work activities. A paperless office is characterized by a change in perception of how some tasks should be done to maximize efficiency and meet the demands of the market. Despite the challenges of investing in paperless as well as teaching employees how to use digital applications, the tool has shown to have an overall positive influence on small organizations. The Organizational Change Process is facilitated when workers understand why the shift is being carried out, what are the steps necessary to reach the goal, as well as the resources needed to reach maximum effectiveness. The study showed that the process of change is not seamless and will require adjustment to the characteristics of each office environment and the capabilities of workers in terms of using digital solutions.

Implications for Future Research

The findings of the study point to the possibility of conducting further research on the implementation of paperless. Comparing the effectiveness of employees who worked with paperless and those who continued using paper documents is a step in the direction of facilitating integrated digital solutions into the workplace to increase the productivity of employees and make them more efficient in completing their tasks. Since research on the topic of paperless remains limited, it is necessary to compare the influence of paperless on small organizations and large organizations. The peculiarities of the office environments in such companies are different, which means that the impact of using paperless will also vary from one firm to another depending on its size and structure. Moreover, it is necessary to address the limitations of the current study, which include bias associated with convenience sampling. Future research on the topic of paperless, should, therefore, be based on a probability sampling technique that would facilitate a sample of participants who have equal chances of being selected.

In the modern digitalized world, paperless is more than just a tool but a way for companies to move to speed with the current developments and trends, all of which point toward progress and innovation. The current study was also limited by failing to reveal the details regarding the impact of paperless on facilitating innovation at organizations as a response to current trends in digitalization. Therefore, finding connections between paperless integration and the further steps that companies take to facilitate a significant technological advancement can benefit the body of research, which remains limited.

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