5 tactical steps to create an automated onboarding process (while keeping your culture intact)

Tina Eaton
March 1, 2023
minuten leestijd
5 Tactical Steps to Create an Automated Onboarding Process (While Keeping Your Culture Intact)
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Ineffective onboarding has been tied directly to the decision to quit in at least 15 percent of employees.

Graph illustrating why employees leave their companies quickly

And, the Society for Human Resource Management estimates that employers will spend the equivalent of half to three-quarters of an employee’s yearly salary hiring and training their replacement.

And, the recruiting and onboarding pros at iCMIS found turnover is three times higher for new employees who are onboarded manually than for those who are onboarded with automation.

And...just kidding. How about we break up the bad news with some great news? You can flip all these expensive, demoralizing stats on their head with tactical onboarding.

In fact, iCMIS also tells us that a good employee onboarding program can reduce turnover from 44 percent to as little as 14 percent—all while getting new hires to productivity 33 percent faster.

Plus, of the over 80 percent of employees who decide in first six months if they’re interested in sticking around for the long haul—nearly 70 percent do choose to stick around for over three years if they experienced a strong onboarding workflow.

Graph showing how soon people quit who left their company in the first 6 months

The business case is clear: Great employee onboarding can change the course of your entire organization for the better. However, it will only feel worse for those in HR and other departments who find themselves buried under redundant paperwork and slow, manual onboarding processes. Sounds like a case for digital HR transformation.

Follow us down this tactical roadmap and learn how to automate employee onboarding that pays for itself, scales as fast as you do, relieves admin bloat, improves speed and transparency, and not only gets new hires productive but keeps them that way for years to come.

Benefits, savings, and why it’s time you automate onboarding

We get it—it’s all too easy to look at the cost and effort it would take to completely overhaul your HR processes and think “too expensive.” However, we would argue that it’s actually too expensive not too.

Let’s look at what a medium-sized business could stand to save if they hired about 100 employees each year using an automated onboarding process instead of outdated, manual paperwork.

Conservatively, an HR person might kick off new hire onboarding by spending about two hours customizing and printing employee onboarding paperwork, initiating (and, unfortunately, babysitting) the completion process, and double checking and reentering all that information into company databases and systems.

However, with onboarding workflow automation, that same worker could spend just 15 minutes onboarding new hires with templates, automations, and smart technology that enables auto-filling, conditional formatting, and routing data straight from forms to databases—no manual data (re)entry required.

At an estimated savings of 1.75 hours per each of the 100 new hires, automated onboarding can save your HR team 175 hours of labor per year! Can you imagine all the awesome stuff your HR team could accomplish when they’re gifted back 175 usable hours per year?!

Now, let’s convert all those saved man hours into saved cash.

According to Glassdoor, the average base pay for an HR generalist is about $56,000 per year in the US. With 175 saved hours at a rate of $28 per hour ($56,000/2,000 work hours and 2 weeks vacation), you’ve got a savings of $4,900 per year.

Overall, this is a pretty conservative estimate of what you could be saving on HR labor costs. Depending on your business, you may see these savings grow by multiples—especially if you’re in the process of scaling up! And the savings just keep coming when you look at how automated onboarding can shave down time and cost for new hires, as well.

Remember all that physical, redundant paperwork HR had to process? Let’s say it takes a new hire about two hours to get it all filled out. Just like it does for HR, automated onboarding also cuts new hire paperwork completion to just 15 minutes.

When you have 100 employees each spending 1.75 hours less on onboarding, you’ll save a pretty 175 hours every year thanks to automation.

Let’s talk money again. If your new hires are collecting an average U.S. salary of $44,500 ($22.25 per hour) per year and spending 175 fewer hours pushing paper, that’s another $3,893.75 you’re saving on wasted productivity!

Even using conservatives estimates for a small- to medium-sized business that onboards about 100 new folks per year, you’re looking at close to $10K in monetary savings!

If uncertainty about the savings of automated employee onboarding is what’s holding you back, we don’t think it’s ever been more certain that not automating is what will cost you the most.

In addition to the savings you’ll pile up, there are tons of operational benefits you’ll enjoy when automating the employee onboarding process.

Eliminate friction and drop-off in the employee onboarding process

You often won’t have the luxury of a face-to-face conversation when a new employee or contractor gets confused during the onboarding process. But what you probably will have is friction that can lead to unhappiness and eventual turnover.

You have to be incredibly explicit about what information you share with onboardees—and how you share it. An automated workflow empowers you to simplify and streamline the onboarding process so new folks spend more time getting on board and less time getting frustrated.  

Automation makes onboarding repeatable and scalable

One of the key benefits of automating just about anything is that it makes it way easier to do the next time, and the time after that, and so on. If your company is in growth mode or depends on the frequent on- and offboarding of workers, having automated employee onboarding means you can scale as fast as you need to, as soon as you need to, without turning up the heat on your HR personnel.

Improve transparency and speed in the employee onboarding process

By centralizing employee onboarding documents in a single workflow, you get transparency into what’s complete and what needs to be completed by each new hire. Plus, it ensures a consistent, thorough onboarding experience for all.

In addition, automated employee onboarding software will automatically prompt people to complete the next step in the workflow and even send reminders when they don’t—speeding things up immensely.

Automated employee onboarding relieves costly bloat

Administrative bloat is as real as the feeling you get after you eat that entire bowl of chips and queso (no shame!). Old-school paperwork processing is the number-one thing that gums up the works no matter the company size. Automate your onboarding and instantly eliminate the time and waste caused by hundreds of offer letters, benefits statements, employment contracts, banking details, and plenty more.

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5 tactics to create an automated onboarding process that doesn’t erase your culture

The point of automation isn’t to completely remove the soul and culture of your company. Quite the opposite, actually—it’s meant to give you back the time and energy you need to keep your culture strong. Culture attracts and keeps talent so you can meet demanding business objectives.

The University of Iowa found that employees who felt a cultural fit were more satisfied, performed better, and were more likely to stay with that organization. And effective onboarding programs that put an emphasis on instilling company culture increase retention rates by as much as 25 percent and improve productivity by 11 percent.

So, how do you go about crafting an awesome automated employee onboarding process, scaling it, and still keeping your sanity and soul? Here are five key steps to take.  

1. Take stock of where you are and what you can (and can't) automate

Every great journey has to start somewhere. This journey starts with understanding what you’ve got, what you don’t, and what you can do about it.

First, document your current process. Which manual parts could be automated—and which can’t? Are there steps it would make sense to cut or rearrange? To understand the scope of automating or otherwise managing each task in the journey, and how they all tie together, be sure to chat with the people it impacts.  

Image showing different employee onboarding statistics

2. Eliminate the paperwork bottleneck

According to an ADP survey of 1,500 employees, managers, and HR professionals; 80 percent of HR organizations still require their onboarding paperwork be completed in person. Fewer than 12 percent of employees can access onboarding paperwork from a mobile device, yet 50 percent of people use their phones to complete applications.

Something’s gotta give.

At Dropbox Sign, we’re all about making our clients more awesome and businesses more intelligent. We don’t think the answer to document-heavy workflows is just turning repetitive, overbuilt, 15-page healthcare enrollment packets into repetitive, overbuilt, 15-page healthcare enrollment PDFs. Instead, workflow products like ours allow new employees to complete their new hire documents online.

For even more automation, Dropbox Forms takes any series of documents and stitches them together with code to transforms them into a single, intelligent flow. Even hundreds of pages can be distilled into a short series of smart data fields. Human error and repetitive data entry are eliminated with conditional logic, data validation, and a mapping feature that makes sure that data goes right where you need it.

A mobile phone with the Dropbox Forms application on screen

On top of all that, we prove the bank-level security, detailed audit trails, thorough authentication, and diligent compliance protocols to maximize the legality and security of your online workflows.

Yes, collecting new hire data is an important box to check on your onboarding checklist—but who says you have to do it the way it’s always been done?

Graph showing training expenditures between 2012 and 2017

3. Develop digital training modules

In 2017, the U.S. spent over $90 billion on employee training according to Training Magazine’s 2017 Training Industry Report. Average training costs for large companies was $17 million. Mid-sized companies shelled out an average of $1.5 million while small organizations spent at least $1 million. Unsurprisingly, time spent on training also increased from 2016 to 2017.

You could say training is a wee bit expensive. However, it’s also important. So what’s a business to do? Digitally transform it.

Just like your onboarding paperwork, training documents can be converted to online workflows. In addition, software created specifically for employee training can be customized to allow new hires to move at their own pace. Digitize training during the employee onboarding process and make new hires comfortable while saving tons of hours on training resources and trainer salaries. Not to mention, digitized training is especially helpful in industries where compliance obligations require training to be carefully documented.   

4. Organize everything into a universal onboarding checklist

While automated employee onboarding paperwork cuts out a ton of back and forth when it comes to adding new people to your team, there are still plenty of other on- and offline tasks that need to get done, in a certain order, to achieve optimal results.

You’ve already taken stock of what you have and what can and can’t be automated (right?!). Now it’s time to put all those important elements into an onboarding checklist that is applied to every new hire.

While your list will likely need customization, here are the basics we’d start with:

  • Once you’ve decided to extend an offer, trigger the “welcome workflow” that includes everything from the offer letter to onboarding paperwork to an invitation to your employee portal. All conditionally formatted, of course, to ensure tasks are completed in the right order.
  • Have IT set up any software, computers, and permissions the new person will need.
  • After IT has done their part, make sure their desk is ready and welcoming. Maybe go into some of the software they’ll be using and set up a few simple tasks to help them get started.
  • Plan an office tour and important meetings on day one. If you’re worried about overwhelming them, Robert Half & Associates actually found that nearly 90 percent of new employees want to meet their manager on day one. Over 80 percent also want to be formally introduced to colleagues on the same day.
  • In addition to those in-person meetings, check in with the new hire’s supervisor to make sure they have role, goals, and responsibilities prepared—and that they match the expectations your new employee was hired upon.
  • Set up ongoing touchpoints at key moments in the employee’s progression with your company—week 1, month 1, month 3, and so on.

When it comes to creating a thorough onboarding checklist, the tips here just scratch the surface. For the full scoop, check out our guide to creating the ultimate onboarding checklist—all while maintaining awesome company culture.

A gas guage illustration with quote by Duncan Tait

5. Collect data (and real-life feedback)

While digital forms are certainly better for efficiency and ease of use, they’re also pretty handy for gathering tons of data in one place where it can be analyzed. These kinds of metrics help you get a sense of your workplace demographics, your strongest and weakest skills, and more. Such info can inform planning for everything from your strategic roadmap to your resupply orders.

In addition to software-generated feedback, we also encourage you to make collecting human-generated feedback a priority. Why? Because 40 percent of employees say they stop trying when they feel their higher-ups dismiss their ideas. Just asking for—and listening to!—feedback can go a long way toward boosting retention and productivity.

Add feedback collection to your onboarding checklist to get in the habit of checking in with employees on a regular basis.

3 ways to onboard employees with Dropbox Sign

Whether you’re ready to test the waters or dive right in to automated employee onboarding, with Dropbox Sign you’ve got all the options you could ever need.

1. Initiate and complete employee onboarding paperwork with Dropbox Sign

The fastest way to start onboarding online is by signing up for one of our affordable, transparent plans. In no time at all, you’ll be creating re-usable templates for onboarding documents (like W-9s, NDAs, contracts, employee handbooks, and more), easily dispersing info among team members, and sending new employee documents for signature.

2. Integrate automated employee onboarding with the Dropbox Sign API

Embed paperless, customizable onboarding flows right into your existing website, app, and systems with Dropbox Sign API. Tweak and tightly integrate our functionality to fit your most unique processes and extend the brand experience with our white-labeling features.

3. Create intelligent employee onboarding with Dropbox Forms

With Dropbox Forms, standard paper-based onboarding forms are transformed into intelligent online workflows—with no itty bitty, hard-to-read PDFs! Information auto-populates to any duplicate fields, conditional logic will change questions based on previous answers, and data validations make sure info is accurate in real-time. All that data flows directly into your HR databases so you can access and share it anytime without ever manually reentering it.

Integrate Dropbox Forms and no matter which devices or operating systems your new hires or contractors are using, you can reduce friction and churn all while getting workers up to speed quickly and painlessly—for both parties.

Check out how Instacart used Dropbox Forms to integrate onboarding into their existing workflow and accelerate contractor application completion by 270 percent.

It’s Time to Transform HR with Better Employee Onboarding 

Automation isn’t about turning your office into a bunch of robots that never talk to each other. It’s about removing redundant, manual tasks from your everyday work life so you can have those important conversations that lead to real organizational growth.

Illustration showing the Dropbox Sign signing experience on mobile devices

Whether you choose one of Dropbox Sign’s powerful business platforms or another workflow automation software, we know that you’ll rake in lots of benefits and boost savings when you follow our 5 tactics for creating an awesomely-automated onboarding process.

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