If you’re leading HR at your small business, you’ll likely search for every possible opportunity to save time on repetitive tasks and admin — and automation is the most obvious solution. But how does it work, in practice?
Switching from manual to automated HR is all about choice. What aspects of your day-to-day do you want to dedicate your time and headspace to? What would you rather delegate to software?
At Charlie, we’ve spent the last five years building HR software for small UK businesses and startups, and we know that if there is one problem that HR teams are constantly struggling with, that’s the lack of time.
HR professionals at small businesses are constantly juggling a myriad of manual tasks — and those that take the most of their time are in fact the most boring and unrewarding, such as copying-and-pasting emails, or moving data between spreadsheets.
That’s where automation comes in: to take care of those time-consuming and tedious HR workflows so that you can focus on growing a happy and high-performing team.
Successful HR automation examples from small businesses and startups
Let’s have a look at some real-life use cases and examples of how you can automate HR processes at your small business.
1- From manual onboarding to self-serve: how Mallow & Marsh let new hires complete their own admin
When you’re just starting out as a business, onboarding is usually managed manually. But as you scale and start hiring at a faster pace, it becomes very difficult to keep everything under control.
By automating the most repetitive parts of the onboarding process, fast-growing businesses can focus their time and resources on what matters most: setting up new employees for success.
So, which onboarding tasks should you automate?
With CharlieHR software, their HR department managed to dramatically reduce the time they spent on onboarding admin:
“Charlie makes for a great employee onboarding experience: I don't need to worry about forgetting anything and new hires get a warm, efficient and consistent welcome to our company every time.” Harriot Pleydell-Bouverie, Mallow & Marsh
They achieve that thanks to employee self service.
First of all, they delegated all the data-collection side of onboarding to the platform. So, instead of having to chase people for their personal information (next-of-kin, home address, right-to-work, etc.) and spend hours on data entry, they now use the HR self service portal to let new starters complete their own admin:
- A few days before they start, the system sends new hires an automated email invite to join the HR platform
- After logging in, new employees can fill in their details and upload their documents onto the platform themselves
- The hiring team can oversee the progress through the platform — no need for emails or spreadsheets
Plus, the team has the peace of mind of always being compliant: personal information is stored safely in the platform where it’s easy to find (and only accessible to the people who should access it, according to employment law).
But onboarding doesn't end with employee data collection, unfortunately.
From setting up new laptops to ensuring new starters get familiar with your company policies and meet all the relevant people across the business… There's a long list of things to tick off!
GoSquared, a growth software company based in the UK, used to have an onboarding checklist in Trello: “It was taxing enough to remember to get that checklist out every time, and find out where it was, and make sure it was all up to date,” reminds James Gill, the CEO.
They decided to bring all their HR processes together, including onboarding checklists, using HR software.
HR systems allow you to create checklists in the platform and assign tasks to specific people in the team.
“HR automation software makes it so much easier to delegate. We are starting to change this assumption that the founders will onboard every single new team member. Thanks to Charlie, we now feel confident we can hand that off to other people.” James Gill, CEO at GoSquared
This example of automated onboarding process also ensures you never run the risk of forgetting some important steps. You can follow everyone’s progress as they tick off tasks on your HR checklists and set automated notifications — so it’s always all under control.
You can follow a similar automated process for employee offboarding. You can offboard an employee as soon as you know their last day, automatically calculating their remaining holiday allowance.
2- Say goodbye to spreadsheets 👋: how GoSquared automated time-off management leaving manual tracking behind
If you use spreadsheets and emails to manage and track your team’s time off, you’ll know how painful it can be.
It may be manageable while you’re a 10-people company or smaller, but it becomes impossible as you grow.
Marketing SaaS business GoSquared used to track their team’s sick days and holidays manually:
“That soon became unsustainable,” tells us James Gill, the CEO, “it was too error prone as a process, and the amount of back and forth was draining.”
With the host of simple and affordable HR automation tools available today, automating time-off management is a no-brainer for small businesses and startups — and that’s the route GoSquared went for too. This is how it works for them now:
- Thanks to HR automation, everyone at GoSquared can request time off directly on their HR platform
- Line managers are notified when a leave request is submitted and can approve or deny it in one click
- The platform automatically calculates and updates time off allowance for each team member as they book holiday throughout the year
The time-off booking system is fully automated, and all relevant information is easy to find on the platform. Everyone in the GoSquared team can see who’s off on any day by checking the online Calendar:
“I know I've got one place to check what’s going on in the team — who's going to be away, when and for how long. It has a real impact on the work we commit to as a company week by week.” James Gill, CEO at GoSquared
Most importantly, it’s now very easy for James to find out if someone in the team is overdue some holiday: “I've got a number to go by in Charlie — it's always there and I know I can trust it. I feel that enables me to look after the team in a way that’s much more tangible.”
3- Create and launch performance review cycles in seconds: how Intruder supercharged their 1-1 conversations
How do you automate performance management?
We’re talking about helping your team grow, fulfil their career aspirations and perform at their best. Can that be done by a piece of software?
We believe that responsibility for career progression ultimately falls on people managers — it’s down to them to ensure their direct reports thrive and develop in their roles.
What HR automation can do is give managers the structure and frameworks they need to make their growth and development more impactful and less time-consuming.
Let’s take cybersecurity company Intruder as an example.
As it’s often the case with small businesses, the Intruder team wanted to focus on the most important driver of personal development: meaningful conversations between managers and their direct reports.
These one-to-one conversations are the best way to build trust and emotional safety, so that honest feedback can flow freely from managers to direct reports and vice versa.
One-to-one chats can’t be managed by a machine (pfew), but what Intruder does is to use HR software to create and launch regular performance review cycles across the company.
They pick one of the many CharlieHR performance review templates available and set it to be rolled out automatically to the team every quarter.
Once a review cycle is triggered by the system, everyone in the company is prompted to complete their performance review on the platform:
- Direct reports answer questions about what they have achieved since the last review
- Managers write up their own evaluations of their reports’ performance
When both review forms are submitted, managers are invited to book a meeting with their direct reports, where they will use the notes from the review as a starting point to discuss performance and career development.
This solution was just what the team at Intruder was looking for to streamline their performance management process and make it more impactful:
“I’m blown away by how useful Charlie’s Reviews has been. It’s enabled some really high-quality conversations within our team that I know just wouldn't have happened otherwise.” Chris Wallis, CEO and co-founder at Intruder
4- Bring all your team’s perks together in one place: how Talent Heroes levelled up their offering at no extra cost
Small businesses can struggle to compete with big corporations when it comes to benefits and perks for their employees.
When they can’t afford top-tier corporate perks, many startups turn to benefits platforms that not only are more affordable, but also allow for some automation, making it easier to manage perks and rewards.
Let’s look at the recruitment company Talent Heroes for an example of HR automation in this area.
Offering attractive perks was key to Talent Heroes’ efforts in building a high-performing and engaged team — but, as a young startup, they wanted their perks to be competitive and tailored to their team’s interests, while also being cost-effective.
They managed to tick off all their boxes by choosing CharlieHR:
- They didn’t have to spend anything extra on benefits: Charlie is the only HR software that includes perks for no extra cost
- They gave their employees an almost infinite choice of discounts and savings so that everyone on the team could find something they liked
- They brought all of their employee benefits under one roof, on a platform where everybody can self-serve by picking their own deals
“We were struggling to come up with benefits that everyone in our team would truly appreciate. Charlie’s Perks does exactly that and our team is really happy with it.” Jonathan Lindon, co-founder at Talent Heroes
5- Ensure all your HR systems integrate with each other: how we’re striving to offer the best employee experience at Charlie
The HR automation examples we’ve had a look at so far have all been about moving away from time-consuming tasks by switching from manual processes to using HR software.
However, having different pieces of software to perform different HR tasks can, ironically, generate more manual work — and you’re back to square one.
To avoid having to manually copy and paste information from one platform to another, and truly reduce your HR admin, you can do two things:
- Choose one HR platform that is comprehensive enough to meet all your needs
- Ensure that the HR software you choose offers integrations with your other apps and platforms
To give you an example, we built Charlie to ensure all the Human Resources needs of a small business are covered:
- Time off management
- Data storage
- Performance reviews
- Engagement surveys
- Perks and benefits
For any extras, such as payroll or ATS (applicant tracking systems), we made sure Charlie could integrate with other common tools our customers use to manage their teams, such as Pento and Workable.
This way you can not only seamlessly move data from one platform to the other, you can also keep track of all your tools and their owners, all in one place.
If you want to find out more about HR automation, make sure you check out our guide on digital transformation in HR – written by one of our in-house experts.