HR Insights 8 min

How to Create a Paperless HR Department

December 4, 2018
Updated December 1, 2021

If there were an award for the company department that uses the most paper, it would likely to go to Human Resources. All the forms, handbooks, onboarding materials, memos, and hiring checklists can jam enough printers to make you want to retire early.

The other option, of course, is to go paperless. Not only can you save paper doing this, but you can save your organization time, money, and a great many headaches.

Paper usage can swallow a budget whole because the cost isn’t just in the paper itself—it’s in the filing cabinets, the printers, the ink, the extra office space, and maintenance fees.

Then there’s the sheer inefficiency of paper. Consider the process of using paper for an employment contract: it needs to be emailed so the recipient can print it, write on it (albeit illegibly), scan it, and then send it back so it can be printed and filed.

Using paper is costing you time and money. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

How to make your HR team fully paperless:

Go all in on e-signatures

Asking for physical signatures these days is risky and, frankly, more than a little inconvenient for the person who’s being asked to print something, sign it, and send it back.

That’s why e-signatures are the way of the future—they not only save loads of time and money but are actually more secure, too.

This is made all the easier with software tools that have built-in e-signature capabilities (like BambooHR) to make onboarding and open enrollment painless for employees and managers alike.

Ditch that stone-age system and discover how beautiful HR can be

Coach other employees about going green

This should be one of the first steps for any department or office looking to go paperless. As policy influencers, HR departments can lead the charge on going paperless in the office.

At a minimum, consider sending a company-wide memo. But if you want to make it interesting, you could turn it into a game—teams with the lowest per-capita print rate get some sort of prize.

Replace paper forms with digital ones

Many companies hesitate making the switch to digital and often ask, “Can HR even go paperless?” The short answer:  Yes, it can, and it pays to do so. According to Device Magic, U.S. companies spend more than 120 billion dollars a year printing paper forms. That’s a staggering, unnecessary amount of money that can be saved by using online forms instead.

 Once upon a time, creating an online form required an IT department or a developer, but that’s not the case anymore. Online form-building tools like JotForm enable anyone to drag and drop their way to a customized web form. You can (and probably should) digitize the following documents and more:

  • Evaluation forms
  • Feedback forms
  • Application forms
  • Time-off and reimbursement request forms
  • Agreement forms

With online forms, you’ll also see faster response times, with the submission data stored neatly in the cloud.

Learn 8 of the most important HR practices to impact your company in the ways that matter most

Switch to PDFs for documentation

Being mobile-friendly, PDFs are an asset in an age where employees, colleagues, and applicants read materials on their phones and tablets. Creating documentation in PDF format allows access to important digital information no matter the recipient’s device.

Plus, these days, PDFs are easy to edit, protect with passwords, and decrease their digital imprint with the right tools.

Store HR records electronically

Moving towards a paperless human resources department means storing employee records electronically, which is easier than ever with the advent of affordable cloud storage options.

And because modern cloud storage software is compatible with almost any type of file, the transition should be fairly painless. In fact, keeping hard copies of employee-related documents is becoming largely obsolete, yet security concerns persist and often hinder the transition to paperless. If you share some of these concerns, here’s what to consider:

  • Set a holding period before culling and deleting digital HR records. While there are no explicitly stated regulations on how long you should retain data, a good rule of thumb is to do so no longer than necessary.
  • Increase storage capacity for long-term data retention. It will cost you, but it’s not as expensive as using precious office space to maintain paper records.
  • Set sophisticated user permissions. These grant access to users based on their authority or job role, preserving data confidentiality and protection.

By design, retrieving electronic HR data is only a pain for those without authorized access, and it’s significantly more efficient than sifting through paper files. With the proper permissions, a paperless human resources department can immediately and accurately respond to requests for certain data and documents. For instance, if they need records on attendance, performance appraisal, or disciplinary actions, everything is easily retrievable from the software’s built-in database.

Scan and file backlogs

As you transition to a paperless human resources department, you’ll need to organize existing physical documents of current employees for entry into the software. This involves retrieving, scanning, filing, and potentially destroying previous paperwork. Here’s how to chip away at this important task without neglecting your day-to-day duties:

  • Create teams to divide the workload. For instance, you could have one group handle employees with last names from A to G, another group for H to M, and so on. You can also break up the task into short-term, easy-to-achieve goals.
  • Prioritize recent physical copies before uploading backlogs. Paperless HR software can easily handle incoming digital documents, but your HR employees will still need to put physical paperwork into the database for reference. To avoid falling behind, always prioritize recent documents over backlogs.
  • Consider hiring a temp or an intern to handle digitizing your backlogged documents. Doing so lets your HR team focus on more immediate matters.

Invest in the right paperless HR software

Perhaps the most important step to achieving a paperless human resources department is finding the best HR software to help you go and stay paperless for the long haul.

There are many paperless HR solutions in the market now, but they are not all created equal. The right HR software makes your HR department efficient, accurate, and compliant. Do your research and compare the functionalities your company needs the most.

Go Paperless with BambooHR

To transform your HR practice into a fully paperless operation, you need employee database software that allows you to organize and maintain crucial employee data securely in the cloud, giving you full control—anytime, anywhere.

But a centralized HR database isn’t all you get with BambooHR. BambooHR let’s you do away with hard copies for good, but it also allows for third-party integration, employee self-service, and database customization for even more value and efficiency.

  • Employee self-service. Use custom Access Levels in BambooHR to give employees freedom to update their own records while restricting access to sensitive company data. Not only does this capability make for accurate data entry, but it also saves your organization a significant amount of time and cost.
  • Database customization. Track the data that matters to your organization and pull targeted reports to make strategic business decisions.

Schedule a free demo today to see how BambooHR can help your HR department make a smooth transition to paperless.

About the Author

Chad is the director of communications at JotForm, a popular online form building software based in San Francisco.

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