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10 Ways to Streamline Your HR Practices Today

Everyone is pressed for time these days. Finding ways to save time and increase efficiency is like finding money on the ground—the more time- and labor-saving techniques you can implement, the more time you have to add to the bottom line.

Below are 10 ways to help you get there.

1. Go Paperless

The promise of the “paperless office” was so appealing fifteen to twenty years ago. However, as with many things in life, the forecast lacked a great deal of accuracy. Studies have shown that, in the years since full-scale computerization in the workforce, the typical office generates more paper than it did in the old days. Why? Because computers make it so much easier to print off anything and everything.

Stop doing that.

In today’s office environment, paper is unnecessary. In fact, it is a huge waste of your time. In order to streamline your paperwork, institute a document management system. This saves you the time you would ordinarily spend trying to find the physical file you’re looking for. Below are just a few ways a document management system streamlines your processes:

  • It gives you instant access to your employee documents through an email application or a human resources information system
  • It electronically captures and stores your documents and keeps them all in one place
  • It increases security by locking the documents with a password or other security measure
  • It gives you a complete view of an employee, all in one place
  • It saves office space
  • It makes documents even more portable

The list could go on, but you get the idea. The upshot is that the dream of the paperless office, while it will probably never be a reality, is something you can and should aim for.

2. Employee Management

You work in Human Resources. You manage employees, most of which are human. But, while this is your job, so much of your time seems to be taken up fielding random questions from out of left field:

  • “How much time off have I used this year?”
  • “Where can I get my old pay stubs?”
  • “How do I add a beneficiary?”

Yes, it’s your job, but how can you get any real work done if you’re answering phone calls and emails all day?

Empower employees.

What exactly does that mean? It means teaching a man to fish. It means showing your employees where to go when they have a question (besides you). You probably have a web portal that tells employees how much paid time off (PTO) they have left, how to access their benefits, what and when the next training is, etc. Some companies have software that allows them to make their own changes to their personal data, like mailing address and phone number. Utilize this!

It may seem like this one question will just take you a second to answer, but all those seconds add up to consume your whole day. Empowering employees by showing them how to find their answers will give you a lot of your time back—probably more than you think. You’ll still have to manage one-off questions or handle unique situations, but establishing a culture of empowerment will strip away your need to answer the myriad of common questions you get every single day.

3. Tracking Paid Time Off (PTO)

In this computer-dominated workplace, you’d think that tracking paid time off would be easy. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Emails to managers, emails back to employees, signed slips scanned in and sent on, this signature needed, then this other signature needed, then send it back to this other person—it’s often a small miracle to get PTO approved at all.

There are far easier ways to do this. Now we have HRIS programs that integrate with mobile apps, allowing employees to request time off and managers to approve it (or not) all within that app. The data is captured on the network, logged, and kept in an electric file for posterity. These programs put a stop to endless emails, tracking down signatures, papers flying all over, and all the wasted time and effort in accomplishing a common HR task that should really be much, much simpler.

There’s another benefit to streamlining this process—the more streamlined it is, the more people will use it, and the more people use their PTO, the happier, healthier, more efficient and more productive they are. Innumerable studies have shown that employees are happier, more energetic, more motivated, and more productive—just better workers in general—when they use their vacation time. So making it easier to get a day off means you’ll get a more productive department in return.


Streamlining PTO saves you time and effort and makes your company happier and more productive. Why wouldn’t you do that?

4. Outsourcing

Human Resources is a major task—I don’t think there’s much argument on that point. You’re responsible for overseeing employee payroll and tax filing as well as employee benefits and health administration, legal compliance, files and records maintenance, and oversight for training and development. And, for a lot of firms, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Sometimes you feel like the captain of the Titanic, heading for that iceberg, too. So how do you lighten the load a little?

Outsourcing is a great way to do just that. There are two major advantages to sending some of your HR tasks outside the company:

  • Risk Management – Employment laws change, almost literally on a daily basis. It’s extremely difficult to keep abreast of those changes, too. And there are serious punishments for failing to keep updated and compliant with those changes. Outsourcing firms employ people whose sole function is to do exactly that. Not only do they keep updated on legal changes that affect your business, they can also audit your processes on a regular basis to make sure it’s compliant and nothing has slipped through the cracks.
  • Cost Savings – The downside to HR in any form is that it is not a revenue-generating department. As such, it is easy for the higher ups to look at the bottom line and ask difficult questions about why HR spends so much money while it brings none in. Outsourcing some of your tasks can be a lot cheaper than doing it in-house, which makes your department come across as less of a load on the bottom line.

5. Cloud Computing

Cloud computing offers HR departments an excellent way to streamline their department and processes. Cloud computing is sweeping the digital world, and that is a good thing for overtaxed HR professionals like you, dear reader. It gives you all sorts of advantages:

  • Less physical space needed for housing digital records
  • Availability of information anywhere you have an Internet connection
  • Leaving the task of maintaining the cloud to others

Here’s a great example from OsneyHR of what a cloud-based system can do for your company:

BT has signed a multi-million pound contract with Oracle to roll out cloud-based HR technology to nearly 88,000 employees worldwide. The multi-national telecommunications company plans to replace its existing, heavily customized systems with cloud-based software by the end of 2014.

The project will allow BT to simplify its HR processes, provide it with real-time data on its workforce, and make the company’s HR systems available to employees and managers through smartphones and tablets.

“BT is going through a period of growth, reflected in the results of the last two or three years. We really need to continue to be a strong company and focus on our organizational health. People are one of our strongest assets,” said Tom Howie, program portfolio director at BT.

The article goes on to give another example from EasyJet and their implementation of cloud computing. Those aren’t the only examples, either. In fact, the advantages are so great that they leave you little reason not to do it.

6. Centralization

Lots of bigger companies have what is considered on paper to be a Human Resources department, but in reality it is a group of HR offices onsite at several offices, and those HR offices function independently for all practical purposes. In a lot of cases this came to be due to acquisition, and have largely left the system intact due to the fact that those preexisting departments have a corporate culture that has already developed. While this may be a valid reason to leave things as they are, it’s important to at least go through the thought process regarding centralization.

Three questions should be asked at the outset of any discussion about centralization:

  • Is centralization mandated? In some cases it may just be a question of following company policy and bringing the department up to speed. In other cases, perhaps in the areas of health and safety rules and regulations, significant functions may need to be conducted onsite, effectively making decentralization mandated.
  • Will centralization add value? In some cases, it may be cheaper to leave the HR function diffuse. You’ll need to weigh the cost savings before doing it.
  • What are the risks of centralization? Will it lead to business rigidity, reduced motivation, bureaucracy, and/or distraction? These considerations should be weighed as well.

Centralization of the HR function has obvious advantages—eliminating or reducing redundancy, fewer issues left to low-level discretion, blanket policies and procedures instead of a patchwork of rules unique to each location—but be sure to weigh the disadvantages against them as well before deciding to go forward.

7. Shared Services

Along with outsourcing and standardization, adopting a shared services model is a way for mid- to large-sized companies to slim down the HR function, making it far more agile and able to focus more on high-level strategy instead of day-to-day functions. Many of today’s companies do it, too—ninety percent of Fortune 500 companies currently use some form of shared services model.

The basic idea behind shared services is to provide the corporate services required across an organization from a centralized unit. For HR, shared services models often mean dealing with routine HR administration in one place, ranging from payroll to training and recruitment. Shared services offer a number of advantages:

  • It reduces the number of employees needed to carry out the HR mission by leveraging economies of scale
  • It reduces accommodation charges due to the fact that the responsibilities are shared and not specific
  • It increases efficiency by reducing the kind of redundancy found in providing services in a more specific manner
  • It lowers transaction costs while offering a higher quality of services

Be careful how you implement shared services, though. The rewards can be substantial, but so can the risks. Critics of the shared services model have been quick to attack the economy of scale assumption that goes along with the idea. They’ve also pointed out that, because they cause a disruption to the service flow by moving the work to a central location, creating waste in handoffs, rework and duplication, it may lengthen the time it takes to deliver a service, and consequently create failure demand (demand caused by a failure to do something or do something right for a customer).

8. Automate Communication and Training

This is closely related to empowering employees, discussed above. The average business owner spends between seven and twenty-five percent of his or her time handling employee-related paperwork, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. By reducing this burden, or eliminating it altogether, time- and money-savings can be realized. When you push as much of your department’s processes online or into the cloud, the ability to automate communication and training becomes possible. However, this functionality is not always utilized, or not utilized to its fullest extent. With online benefits administration, employees can quickly and easily access all of the communications, forms and information they need—without the need of printed handbooks and documents. An online system can also send targeted messages and reminders to keep employees apprised of upcoming deadlines. This is of obvious importance, but again, it is frequently underutilized.

HR automation can enable a company to:

  • process payroll and benefits information much more quickly and efficiently;
  • do more with fewer resources;
  • maximize employee productivity, which can positively impact the bottom line;
  • manage employees more effectively by delivering HR tools, templates and best practices; and
  • enhance employee satisfaction and build loyalty by enabling employees to access or modify their benefits and personal information themselves.

By providing online access to all of these materials, you can also track and monitor your employees’ needs and understand the most common issues facing your workforce. You can see what sort of training and benefits they’ve taken advantage of, and consequently what they may need to be made aware of.

9. Web-Based Recruiting

Studies have shown that it can take up to three months to hire one person. Granted, there’s a lot involved in the hiring process, but there’s also a lot that is really unnecessary in the digital age.

Just like any other of your processes, there is plenty of room to digitize the forms and processes involved in the hiring process. Going paperless in this particular aspect of the business makes life easier in other ways, too. The data given by the applicants can be easily made into a format that fits your current employee system, so transitioning the new hire over is smoother and faster. The data is also much easier to quantify and compare than a stack of résumés, as the online system makes the applicant do all the work of categorizing his or her own information.

The same studies that revealed the 90-day hiring process also recorded a 42-day process for online hiring. In other words, you can cut the time it takes to hire one person in half. Why wouldn’t you do that?

10. Standardized Forms

At a recent HR conference, business software provider SAP’s head of Cloud for HR, Mike Ettling, was quoted as saying, “HR has the least standardized back office function in an organization. Processes are very disparate, highly unstandardized. Organizations are saying, we can’t afford this anymore…”

Looking at the human resources departments of a lot of small (and even big) firms, this is hard to argue. It is generally recognized that standardization streamlines processes in nearly every arena, and HR is certainly no different. Instead of approaching the mammoth task, let’s take a look at one easy area for implementing standardization: forms.

Standardizing your forms provides you with significant advantages. First, it saves time by keeping people who need such a form from reinventing the wheel each time they need it. Second, the process of standardizing a form allows you to add the step of legal review to your process, which is a good idea for the majority of HR functions. Third, it saves a lot of time and grief by eliminating the argument over which form to use. If there’s only one form, there’s no argument; we use that form, period.

A great way to save time and streamline your forms is to do so by using forms that have been generated using the laws in your jurisdiction.

Consider using LegalNature's forms!

LegalNature has a full suite of HR forms, from employee confidentiality agreements, consulting services agreements, and employee non-disclosure agreements, all the way up to an employee handbook.

Engage an award-winning team of industry experts to streamline your documents to save yourself the time and hassle of doing it yourself.