Should employee onboarding be completely automated?

Automation has been seen as a potential answer to the question of business efficiency since Edward Bellamy penned ‘Looking Backward, 2000 – 1887’ circa 1888. But can it really be applied to all aspects of an organisation – specifically employee onboarding?

Perhaps more importantly, should it be applied? Is it really suitable for use within a HR capacity, for example within employee orientation, employee induction and the wider employee onboarding process?

For those unfamiliar, when people talk about ‘onboarding’ they are usually referring to integrating a new entity to a working situation. This could refer to new clients getting used to a product or service, or your latest hire getting familiar with the modus of your operation. All instances that are heavily reliant on communication and intuition.

If we focus on employee onboarding, consider the various aspects of this task. The manager will need to make the rookie feel at ease, key factor to ensuring they hit the ground running, convey potentially complex pieces of information in a way that is both easy to digest and hard to forget, and literally orientate them around the building. That means introductions to colleagues, signposting facilities, and explaining how things work in practice, which may not be the same as how they work in principle, or guidelines.

Trying to get a computer, or any other automated system, to take these duties on would be hard, not to mention phenomenally expensive in terms of how sophisticated that technology would have to be. But this doesn’t mean automation can’t somehow lend a hand, for example by using intuitive employee onboarding software, taking legwork out, and freeing up time for aspects of the situation that should be left to flesh and blood.

“At Roubler, we eliminate all of the paperwork and data entry associated with onboarding, such as filling out their employee profile, entering contact details, emergency contacts, medical information, National Insurance, tax and banking information and uploading qualifications and licenses,” explains Andrew Northcott, Managing Director of Roubler, specialist in HR and payroll software, including the innovative Employee Self Service mobile app.

“You can even incorporate welcome videos in your customised onboarding. The greatest advantage of this is that employees have all of these tasks completed prior to starting, so their first day can be spent getting to know their colleagues and settling in,” he continues.

When you consider the importance of a good first day to staff retention making bedding in for new starters finding easier can only be a good thing, but the benefit here is actually two-fold. By receiving welcome packs in advance they can familiarise themselves with a new place of work before they get through the front door.

Needless to say, though, for every Bellamy there’s a Walter Doty Reynolds, whose novel ‘Jonnemacher’s Machine: The Port To Which We Drifted’ predicted a nightmarish vision of a society ruined by automation. An extreme take on things, of course, nevertheless businesses need to understand automation isn’t always the best route to a more efficient and successful employee onboarding process. It can risk making people feel unwelcome, unsure and, as a result, disengaged, if rolled out poorly.

“Full automation does sound impersonal, and there are certain activities that you can’t, and shouldn’t, automate— like meet and greets, a welcome morning tea, tours around the office or store,” says Northcott when we ask about the risk of handing the entire responsibility for handling new arrivals to any kind of employee onboarding software. No matter how sophisticated it may be.

“But by automating what you can, it gives you much more time to concentrate on onboarding activities that really add to engagement and productivity – those activities that need face-to-face interaction, like training and getting to know staff.”

It’s hard to argue with the point. Technology should be focused on affording us more opportunities for the important things, better opportunities to connect. Those connections become bonds because we were able to take that time, rather than being distracted by unnecessary bureaucracy. In turn that bond cements a stronger workplace culture. That culture, according to research by Gallup, is responsible for attracting the top 20% of candidates to companies that succeed in its cultivation.

“Look at what activities are taking up the most time – is it administration, data entry, training or on-site induction?” Northcott advised when asked what recommendations he would make to companies looking to automate their employee onboarding process.

“Then look at which of those could be automated without losing personal connection – usually this is the administration, data entry and compliance training (like health and safety) side of things.

“Secondly, talk to employees who have recently started with you to find out what they feel could have been improved and get an idea of how much automation they feel would be of benefit before personal connection is lost.”

Read about Roubler’s automated employee induction software and how it can enhance your onboarding process.


Words by Richard Trenchard.


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