How to set up a paperless onboarding system

Are you still mailing, scanning, and filing paper documents when you onboard new employees? There’s an alternative that’s quicker and more secure: paperless onboarding. A good paperless onboarding system will store all documents online in a single location, making it easier to find the right file and keeping sensitive paperwork secure.

“Most businesses can comfortably switch to paperless,” says Natalie Morgan, director of HR at CareerPlug, “and I think this year is really proving that.” With many businesses moving to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the ideal opportunity to make your new hire processes fully virtual.

If you’re considering paperless onboarding but aren’t sure where to start, this short guide will cover what you need to know to set up your system.

What is paperless onboarding?

With paperless onboarding, new hires complete all the compliance paperwork and training they normally would in a traditional onboarding process. The key difference is they complete it using online forms and software tools.

Most businesses include the following in their paperless onboarding process:

Confidentiality Agreement Template
Confidentiality Agreement Template
  • Access requirements (e.g., for databases or email inboxes)
  • Payroll details
  • Registration for building and facilities access

To set up your system, choose a tool that will let you create these online forms and documents, gather submissions and signatures, and store all the responses in an organized way. Most businesses either work with a specific paperless onboarding software platform or create a simplified process with an online form builder. Some systems — including JotForm — have ready-made onboarding forms you can customize to suit your business, or you can build your forms from scratch.

Once you’ve set up your forms, you can share the link with new employees. All they need to get started is an internet connection. They can complete, submit, review, and edit their documents through an online portal.

3 tips for setting up your paperless onboarding system

Move all your onboarding forms online

“What I would suggest for people starting to do these things in a paperless way would be to go all-in,” says Morgan.

For example, don’t have your Form I-9 as an online submission and your W-4 as a paper document. For a new employee, Morgan points out, it would be a confusing experience to complete half their forms online and then have a binder full of other paperwork to fill out and bring in.

Moving everything to an online format will also make it easier for business owners and HR managers to find specific documents if they’re all recorded in a single place online, rather than going back and forth between online and paper documents.

Be aware of Form I-9 compliance

Every employer in the United States needs to complete a Form I-9 for each employee. To process this form in a paperless way, “It’s important to understand the instructions and make sure you’re still compliant with how you’re filling the form out,” Morgan says.

Although you can complete the Form I-9 online, you still have to physically inspect each employee’s identity and eligibility paperwork. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government is temporarily allowing employers to examine these documents through virtual methods — for example, the employee might hold them up to their webcam or scan them in. However, this isn’t a permanent change, and you will have to re-examine those documents in person once normal operations resume.

Don’t skip cultural onboarding

Onboarding shouldn’t just be about gathering information. To help new team members settle in, you can use paperless processes to run virtual cultural onboarding.

Share digital copies of your company handbook and staff directory to reduce paper usage. You can ask new hires to fill out an online “getting to know you” questionnaire and share their responses with the team to break the ice and start conversations.

If your team is working remotely, Morgan also recommends setting up 15-minute video calls between new employees and everyone in their department. Instead of relying on conversations that happen naturally if a team is in an office, Morgan explains, “What we’ve done remotely is to be a lot more intentional with setting up virtual meetings.”

Transitioning to paperless onboarding

Setting up paperless onboarding does take some work, but Morgan says there’s good news: “It’s easier than you think.” Your initial investment of time will pay off by giving you a streamlined onboarding process with centralized online storage.

“In the long run, it will save you a lot of time,” Morgan explains, “and make you more confident that you’re compliant.”

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