The case for digital onboarding

How digitizing a new hire’s welcome can bring significant bottom-line payoffs


How can HR teams improve the processes involved in onboarding new employees? Increasingly, the answer is to create digital workflows that automate core onboarding processes to yield a better experience for everyone involved. The goal is to consumerize the onboarding experience for employees, and make its required tasks as easy to complete as ordering a ride or downloading a podcast from a mobile app.

A legacy process that requires inefficient manual steps—such as digitizing paper documents, tracking events in Excel, or sharing documents as email attachments—can be reimagined for integration into a single, unified digital workflow.

Before companies can digitize onboarding workflows, they need to take a hard look at what works and what doesn’t in current onboarding processes. Process owners must audit existing workflows and evaluate which manual steps can best be converted to digital ones.

Bear in mind that digital workflows don’t fix broken manual processes. Instead they help important processes work more quickly and smoothly. For example, a legacy process that requires inefficient manual steps—such as digitizing paper documents, tracking events in Excel, or sharing documents as email attachments—can be reimagined for integration into a single, unified digital workflow.

Even at large companies a relatively small group of process owners can digitize the onboarding process within a few months. It doesn’t necessarily require investing wholesale in a new technology platform or discarding an old one. Case in point: Utah-based Overstock.com was able to integrate two systems when it decided to keep Workday as a centralized HR platform, but use ServiceNow as a service management layer, becoming the new system of record for HR.

Unified access through apps and portals

Self-service web portals and mobile onboarding apps offer a unified onboarding experience for new hires. HR teams can activate onboarding workflows with a few keystrokes, add whatever customization might be relevant to the job role, and assign tasks to an incoming employee. Newly activated workflows can automatically alert stakeholders outside HR when it’s time for them to take action—such as when IT needs to create a new network identity, or when facilities personnel need to assign a new workspace.

Freed of the busywork of manual onboarding tasks, HR staff can shift attention to higher-value work, such as helping managers optimize employee engagement and productivity.

With all of the underlying processes now digital, HR can begin measuring outcomes, collecting data on the time spent on all processes by participants, and using online surveys to gauge the experience of new employees, managers, and co-workers. All the ingredients are in place for continuous workflow refinement.

Digital processes save time and money

Digitizing the onboarding process can translate into meaningful savings of time and resources. Freed of the busywork of manual onboarding tasks, HR staff can shift attention to higher-value work, such as helping managers optimize employee engagement and productivity.

After Cars.com automated its onboarding process, its HR and IT departments saw a combined savings of more than 1,300 hours a year. When Overstock.com automated 115 tasks related to onboarding, the number of interactions required of key players involved in the process dropped significantly, allowing each stakeholder to devote more energy to their primary roles.

Recently, American Express Global Business Travel digitized the onboarding experience for its 12,000 employees. In just five weeks, Amex GBT was able to revamp onboarding processes for offices in 26 countries, eliminating 300,000 emails and saving a half-million dollars per year. The company estimates that the 18,000 hours saved represent a productivity gain of 99%.

These benefits can be extended across the employment lifecycle. Workflows required in events like job transfers, promotions, and offboarding can be digitized in the same way as core onboarding processes, simplifying processes across the enterprise.