What is the Paperless Onboarding Process (and How to Implement It)?

Nick Brown
June 23, 2023
min read
December 4, 2023
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Onboarding is painful at the best of times. Here's how to eliminate mountains of manual writing and tedious tasks with a paperless onboarding process.
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There’s nothing quite like a mountain of onboarding admin to strike fear into employees’ hearts. If you’re currently staring into a “white hole” of documents, there are two scenarios that might apply: 

  1. You’re a new hire who’s about to spend hours filling out forms and running through example scenarios and training materials. 
  2. You work in HR. 

Most of us fell into the world of HR because we like people. After all, it isn’t called human resources management for nothing. So, why does working in it sometimes feel like it should be called paperwork resources?

What if you could move all this admin into the virtual world? You’d be able to take advantage of tools like automation and analytics to speed things up and make everyone’s lives easier. 

Well, we have good news for you. In this article, we’re going to help your business graduate to a paperless onboarding experience.

What is paperless onboarding?

In simple terms, paperless onboarding is exactly what it sounds like: eliminating paper. But it’s more than this; it's a process that leverages technology below the surface to improve business operations.  

Electronic documents are stored in the cloud, where employees and HR managers can access them anytime. Additionally, automation can eliminate the mundane, repetitive tasks often involved in filling out piles of paperwork. 

Key elements of a paperless onboarding process

Several components make up the whole when it comes to paperless onboarding. 


Digital forms & documents

The most obvious aspect of a paperless system is that all necessary forms and process documentation are scanned in or built as electronic templates. Important new hire documents, such as I-9s and W-4s, are the bare minimum, but many modern businesses now maintain all HR forms electronically. 

This includes employment contracts, payroll forms, benefits opt-ins/opt-outs, confidentiality agreements and so on. Important company resources, like employee handbooks and team-building activities, can also be uploaded digitally. 

Electronic signatures

It’s more convenient for everyone involved when documents are stored on a local network or in the cloud. Electronic forms have an inherent flaw: how can employees sign them?

Electronic signatures are a legal way to signify consent or approval when using electronic documents. Many business tools, such as Signaturely, can help you generate legally binding e-signatures (you can even use Adobe Acrobat).

Keep in mind that even if you’re using electronic signatures for paperless onboarding, you’ll need to remain compliant with government I-9 regulations. This means your HR team still has to physically check the identification of any new hires. 

Online portals and platforms

Another vital component in paperless onboarding systems is the use of online portals and platforms. These provide a space for the management of all HR documents. 

Many cloud-based services also work as applicant-tracking tools. These apps keep managers informed of how the onboarding process is going with each new hire. Online portals make document retrieval painless, too, since all relevant files can be found in the same place.

One HR software solution that can assist with onboarding is absence management software. This will help you track new hire attendance and make sure they get the whole onboarding experience. Additionally, using software like this can help to keep an eye on a new hire's well-being. By tracking sick leave, the software can highlight any potential medical or stress-related issues staff may be having and indicate that they need support.

Automated workflows

Besides accessibility, one of the biggest advantages of going paperless is automation. Think about all those forms for new hires. How many boxes ask for the same information?

Now imagine this information can be automatically populated across your onboarding documents. Besides speeding up the process of filling out paperwork, automated workflows can also help eliminate human error. 

For example, users can be alerted if a form is incomplete or has been filled out incorrectly. This prevents the laborious process of your HR team receiving mistake-filled documents and having to liaise with employees to rectify the situation.

Steps to implement a paperless onboarding process

The concept of paperless onboarding is simple—just get rid of the need for/use of paper. That’s it, right?

In reality, implementing a paperless strategy is a bit more complicated and requires an action plan to get you started on the right foot. Here are some basic steps you’ll need to follow.

Identify pain points in your current onboarding process

Gather your HR department and the rest of your team together to gather feedback on your current onboarding process. Identify pain points and potential bottlenecks in the paperwork trail. This initiates the improvement of the onboarding experience before you even step foot into the digital world. 

Once you’ve defined these pain points, you can plot out the onboarding journey. Use this as a roadmap to guide you on your conversion to paperless. This will make sure that you don’t miss any important documents or necessary signatures along the way.

This is where you can also consider using helpful collaboration tools. ERP software solutions and project management software can be a great way to manage the implementation of new systems and help with collaboration by providing shared spaces to save documents, view tasks and integrate calendars. 

This will help you to upgrade your onboarding process and simultaneously create more efficient processes across the whole of HR. 

Choose the right technology

To create a paperless onboarding experience, you need to use the right tools.

For example, Scribe is an AI-process documentation tool that writes your SOPs for you — so that you can spend less time building documentation and answering questions and more time onboarding.

Document management solutions, electronic signature software, applicant tracking apps and more can all be combined to fit your needs. 

Instead of piecing together several tools, you can increase paperless efficiency by using HR management platforms. This lets you manage your paperless onboarding system from one place rather than many. 

Cloud-based solutions are a good idea if you want your employees to fill out forms at their own time and at their own pace. 

Train HR staff & employees

Once you have your paperless process and onboarding tools in place, it’s time to get the rest of the team up to speed. Devote plenty of training time, attention and SOPs to your HR staff. They’re the stakeholders who will be dealing with your new system daily. 

Different vendors will have varying levels of onboarding and customer success resources. Exhaust what’s available to make sure your team can use the new onboarding system as intended. Also, you want administrators and managers to be fully capable of configuring and adjusting apps. 

Training the rest of the team should be more straightforward. Take all employees through login and navigation details for online platforms and consider using live webinar training or how-to videos made in-house. 

If you have tools with mobile apps, go through these with your employees. They’ll almost certainly appreciate the convenience of being able to access onboarding documents and other company paperwork from their smart devices. 

Revise policies to authorize paperless onboarding

Going paperless may have some unintended consequences. One of these is creating conflict with your current document policies. The rules for handling company paperwork and other information may no longer be fit for purpose. 

For example, you may have a policy that all employment forms are only to be accessed on-site. With electronic documents, you can update this to permit the use of forms as long as they’re stored, accessed and edited from a secure online platform. 

Examine your document policies with a fine-tooth comb to avoid oversights. Otherwise, your HR team and other employees may have their hands tied by legacy policies that stymie your new paperless onboarding approach. 

Test & pilot the paperless onboarding process

So, you now have a paperless onboarding experience in place. Just look at it. Why not go ahead and take it out for a test drive?

In fact, HR management should run the new system through a pilot onboarding process first. Approach the paperless system as if you’re a new hire with little to no information about the apps involved. 

This means you can only access and fill out forms as instructed by the HR guides emailed to new hires. If you can’t complete a step and move forward without tapping into your pre-existing knowledge, then you’ve found a potential obstacle. 

Don’t worry, this is a good thing! It’s best to identify roadblocks now so you can clear the path for actual new hires. 

Repeat this process with several team members from different departments. Get someone from sales, support, IT and other areas. Let them try the new paperless onboarding process and gather feedback for improvements before going live.

Monitor, collect feedback & improve 

Implementing paperless onboarding is an ongoing process. You’ve built a working system—but that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. As part of the onboarding process, include surveys and feedback forms to identify what’s working and what’s broken. 

Managers can monitor each employee’s onboarding progress using a paperless solution. With app reporting, you can identify bottlenecks and what steps are working efficiently. You may even discover additional areas for business automation.

You’ve gone paperless for onboarding. Now, it’s time to apply a paperless approach to other business areas too.

The future is paperless

If onboarding is giving your team a headache, there are zero excuses for not alleviating this pain. Eliminating unnecessary paperwork tasks such as repetitive form-filling and document chasing is easier than ever. 

With a paperless approach, your HR team can save time on mundane tasks and invest effort into more important areas. Additionally, you can delight and amaze new hires with a streamlined onboarding process. They’ll repay you with better engagement and retention. 

Follow the simple steps in this guide today to banish productivity-draining paperwork from your onboarding process!

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