HR automation

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The future of digital transformation in HR: new opportunities for small businesses

The future of digital transformation in HR: new opportunities for small businesses

It’s 2022, and running your business through manual HR processes is just not an option anymore.

Even if you’re a small business or just getting your startup up and running, it’s never too early to implement a digital transformation and automate your HR processes.

In this article, we look at what HR digital transformation looks like today, and what opportunities are there for small companies to punch above their weight when it comes to HR automation.

What is digital transformation in HR?

Digital HR transformation is about transitioning from manual to automated HR processes.

For companies used to physical documents and manual record keeping, this shift to digital technology can be quite radical and require a lot of preparation and a gradual roll-out.

That’s why it is important to implement HR digital transformation as early as possible in your company’s lifetime — postponing it will just make the transition more difficult.

Traditional digital transformation is dead

Digital transformation in HR is not what it used to be.

HR transformation used to require a huge shift in mentality and years of reshaping company-wide HR processes. While some big corporations may still work that way, the challenge for small businesses is about figuring out how to be digital-first.

With the transition to hybrid and remote working, automated HR workflows are a prerequisite to any business' survival, not a long-term goal.

If you need to transform your HR processes from manual to digital, you’re already late. Small businesses now need to grow and develop automated HR processes from the get-go, because manual is simply not an option.

The good news is that, no matter how small your business or how scarce your resources are, running automated HR processes is now much easier and more affordable than doing it manually.

In other words, newly founded small businesses should build their HR processes as digital and automated from day one — because there is no advantage in managing them manually to start with.

This is the death of the digital transformation of HR as we used to know it. So let’s have a look at what the future of work looks like.

The new frontier in digital HR transformation for small businesses

No, we’re not going to talk about artificial intelligence or chatbots — sorry to disappoint.

In the last few years I’ve realised that the new frontier in digital HR transformation lies in two key challenges:

  1. Adapting HR processes to the needs of remote and hybrid teams
  2. Finding new inclusive ways to impress new hires and keep employees engaged

In February 2022, 42% of UK workers reported to be hybrid working, with a majority of time spent working from home and the rest from the office.

In this context, digital transformation processes present a whole new set of HR challenges for HR departments to solve. Our own Human Resources team at CharlieHR is striving to re-think all of our ways of working as hybrid-first.

Transformation, however, extends to small businesses of any shape and form, including those still operating with in-person office attendance.

Employees’ expectations have changed so much that every business needs to find a way to adapt. In this competitive hiring market, companies that manage their HR manually and don’t prioritise team engagement have very low chances of attracting and retaining the best talent.

So let’s have a look at what these challenges look like in practice and how to tackle them with HR automation tools.

1 - A remote onboarding process that is as efficient as it’s engaging

Hybrid working is here to stay. So, what does this mean for the onboarding process?

While digital transformation and HR software can definitely help create and run a remote onboarding process, this doesn’t mean companies should pay less attention to giving new team members a warm welcome.

Research shows that when companies successfully support and engage with new hires during onboarding, they improve retention by 82%.

Small businesses, therefore, need to find an efficient way to onboard new joiners remotely — while ensuring this doesn’t harm, but enhances employee engagement.

Quote saying that digital transformation is about creating a great employee experience

We’ve built Charlie’s onboarding feature with that in mind.

Small businesses use Charlie to remotely onboard new hires in an efficient and effortless way:

  • Self-serve platform: new joiners are automatically invited to the platform where they can complete their own onboarding admin
  • Onboarding checklists: you can create to-do lists and delegate onboarding tasks to hiring managers
  • Dashboard and notifications: you can oversee each new hire’s progress in Charlie and let automated reminders to the rest


On top of that, new hires get to familiarise themselves with your company culture and the rest of the team in a way that creates immediate engagement:

  • Bespoke onboarding flow: impress new joiners with a custom onboarding flow
  • People directory: new hires can quickly familiarise with the team and find the right people to answer their questions
  • Company handbook: people can easily access all of your policies online, in a format that is engaging and in line with your brand
Image of bespoke onboarding slides on CharlieHR

It is the efficiency of self-service onboarding combined with digital tools that make new joiners feel welcome and special that make this type of digital transformation really fit to today’s world of work.

Quote from Mallow & Marsh saying CharlieHR helped them streamline their onboarding process

2 - Working locations: aligning your Ops with hybrid working

By nature, hybrid working doesn’t lend itself to rigid patterns and rules.

With many small companies stretching the boundaries of flexible working, simple things like knowing and tracking where everybody works from have become complicated for HR teams:

  • Many hybrid working teams don’t have set days when they have to be in the office — so it’s hard to know where people are based any given day
  • Some policies allow people to work from abroad for limited periods of time which need to be tracked for fiscal reasons
  • Certain companies will have teams working remotely, others following a hybrid model, and others on-site every day — making location management a nightmare

These are all new problems that can be tackled with digital HR transformation.

HR software like CharlieHR allows you to use custom ‘working locations’ — this is how they work:

  • You can create default working locations and assign teams or employees to their regular place of work. For example, if your company is fully remote, you can create a “Home” location and assign it to all of your employees.
  • Individual team members can log their temporary working location to let everybody know that they’ll be working somewhere else from their default location on certain days/dates. For example, if your policy allows it, they may create an “Abroad” temporary location to flag that they will be out of the country.
Screenshot of the working location dashboard in CharlieHR
  • The team can then check where everybody is working from at any time by checking the Roll Call view in Charlie, which also includes anyone who is on holiday or who is off sick.
Screenshot of the roll call screenshot in CharlieHR

This type of employee self service makes it possible to record and get visibility on the team’s whereabouts, which in turn is essential to comply with the law. If you allow your team to work from abroad, you need to record how many days they are not in the country so that you can file tax records accurately.

On top of the compliance benefits, having a good idea of people’s working locations will make collaboration easier for your team, and you’ll be able to allocate your resources where they are needed most depending on your team’s working patterns.

3- Keeping the finger on the pulse of employee engagement (while remote)

People today expect more from work — they expect opportunities to grow, flexibility around how to work and an environment where HR leaders and the C-suite listen to their feedback.

Ironically though, keeping the finger on the pulse of your team’ engagement has never been more difficult.

With remote and hybrid working, the symptoms of low employee engagement have become harder to spot. You can’t “read the room” that efficiently when you only meet your team on Zoom.

Digital transformation can help fill the gap left by the lack of in-person interactions.

I personally don’t believe in long in yearly surveys, because they’re often skewed by recency bias (people will respond based on how their last few weeks, not the last 11 months, have been).

Of the many HR management systems that exist to measure team engagement, I believe that the best ones are those designed to make feedback second nature within the team.

To do that, small businesses need automation tools and new technology to measure engagement often and with very little effort required from employees.

For example, you can use Charlie’s engagement surveys to create recurring ‘micro-polls’:

  • Short surveys with a maximum of 12 questions
  • Focussed around a specific area
  • The system automatically sends only one question to the team each week


But why is this digital transformation method more effective than long, yearly surveys?

  • It gives business leaders continuous information to action immediate change: you can keep your finger on the pulse weekly, not annually. You’ll also know what’s going on in real-time so you can resolve issues as and when they crop up.
  • It guarantees high response rates: it takes your team less time to answer the question than it’s taken you to read this sentence so there’s no excuse not to respond.
  • It makes giving feedback a habit: your team will feel more confident sharing difficult feedback remotely if they are already filling in weekly micro polls.

4 - A personalised perks platform to elevate your employee experience

Some traditional employee perks have become redundant with the emergence of hybrid working.

Free snacks, in-person yoga classes and access to the corporate gym don’t make the cut anymore, so employers need to find ways to reward their team away from the office.

The problem with picking perks is that it’s almost impossible to make everybody happy. HR technology can then become handy by allowing your team members to choose their own benefits.

Perks platforms like CharlieHR give your team access to an almost infinite choice of discounts and offers on top travel, entertainment, wellbeing, technology and fashion brands — so they can pick what they prefer, independently from where they live or what they like.


To help small businesses punch above their weight with competitive employee perks, we included our perks platform in our all-in-one HR software subscription — so you don’t have to pay anything extra for it.

Testimonial about CharlieHR's Perks

Want to see how Charlie can help you implement digital HR transformation strategy at your company? Start a free trial now!

Click here to start a free trial of CharlieHR

Perhaps you may also want to read our guide on Cloud HR software, which is an alternative to the more common Software as a Service.

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