Cabinets of employee records dominating the office, packets of onboarding paperwork overflowing out of desk drawers, stacks of resumes and job applications littering every desk corner…let’s face it, HR departments large and small are still bogged down by manual HR processes, administrative tasks, and compliance paperwork. With all of the human resource software options out there, what happened to the promise of paperless HR?

human resource softwareIt’s 2018, and I still talk to organizations that heavily rely on manual HR processes. Why does that matter? Well, when you’re buried in paperwork, you don’t have the time, resources, or information to build strategic influence. After all, how can you confidently provide data-driven strategic direction to leadership or identify human capital strategies that will drive better business outcomes if the information you need is trapped in a filing cabinet? There’s some good news, though. If you reduce the volume of paperwork and the administration it requires by digitizing your HR data, you can dedicate your HR team’s time and effort to developing leaders, building strong teams, and crafting compelling employee experiences.

Sure, the technology needed to completely transform paper-based processes can be a considerable investment, but what doesn’t require that investment is taking incremental steps to increase your efficiency. Of course there are some factors you should consider when converting paperless records to electronic files, and you need to be prepared to meet compliance requirements like paper-based pay stub access in California. But still, there are areas where you can reduce – or eliminate! – paper from your HR processes today.


1. Recruiting

You know the drill. Supervisors pressure you to find them good, reliable people that would be great assets to the company. Because of that, you have hundreds of paper applications on your desk and most of those are either filled out incorrectly or missing needed information. Employee referrals mean many of these candidates likely have a good potential for success at your company, but right now you’ve got no way to highlight these referrals aside from sticky notes on resumes.

Beyond saving you the hassle described above, delivering a superior electronic candidate experience is a critical component to winning top talent. Today’s job candidates expect to quickly search for and apply for jobs online. They don’t want to be filling out paper forms if they can apply on their mobile phone instead. They expect to save time by having information from their resume or LinkedIn account automatically populated in an application.

Recruiting should be the first area to think about infusing some paperless processes into, so if you aren’t using some sort of ATS, it’s time to start thinking about it.

2. Hiring and Onboarding

It’s often the onboarding process that really drags down the paperless HR efforts of many organizations. W-4s, I-9s, benefits information, direct deposit details – these are very form-intensive requirements. But they don’t have to be on paper!

This is a tremendous opportunity to save you and your organization time and energy. For example, I once worked with a retail organization that employed 800 employees across 12 organizations and struggled with manual hiring and onboarding processes. They had a new hire packet that was 50 pages long! By capturing new hire information from an online job application to reduce duplicate data entry and then digitizing new hire paperwork, they stopped being bogged down in manual HR processes.

There are lots of ways to go digital with onboarding. New hires today often go through an electronic workflow like pre-boarding where you ask them to complete all required forms online with electronic signatures, review employee handbooks, and access benefits information so they can come prepared on day one. This makes life easier for your new hires and saves you the money you’d spend on printing and potentially even mailing all those forms.

3. Performance

Performance reviews may be as simple as manager inputs with an employee's signature or as complex as a 360 review with inputs from the employee, peers, and managers. Regardless of the complexity, there’s no need for paper. This company recently moved to a paperless performance management process and quantifies the results as having reduced photocopying time alone by more than 40 hours! If your organization still does its performance reviews on paper, this is absolutely an area where you can start practicing paperless HR.

4. Employee Documentation

You don’t have to go to a paper file or have a room full of file drawers to find things like an incident report, performance improvement plan, job change history, an emergency contact, a doctor’s note, or a training certificate. Use your HR technology to be a single source of truth for every bit of employee information you need. It’s accessible all the time from anywhere, and it really cuts down on the amount of paper you require.

5. Compliance Headaches

Without a doubt, remaining compliant and staying out of legal trouble is a top priority for all HR teams. From I-9 forms to FMLA documentation, you can simplify compliance with paperless forms and electronic signatures. Take the administrative headache out of ACA compliance through automated hours tracking, benefit enrollment, notifications, reporting, and form completion/finalization. When it comes time to file with the IRS, you can be confident that the forms are accurate, complete, and ready to submit. Plus, the government gives you extra time to submit your ACA forms if you file electronically.

Remember, even the best technology will not yield results if the processes behind it have been ignored. Process improvements go hand in hand with technology investments to drive a paperless HR environment. It would be a mistake for organizations implementing a new HR system to simply automate existing tasks and procedures to reduce paper without considering WHY the current workflow is in place and if all the current steps are still required. Change can be good! 

There you have it, five areas where you can think about moving to a paperless HR process. You can never elevate to a strategic, data-driven HR function if you don't digitize. Removing the paper from your processes is the first step toward and HR team that focuses on the most important part of your job: the people.

Published: Tuesday, March 13, 2018