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How to reclaim your working day with self-service HR software

Whether you’re a startup founder or look after Human Resources at your small business, you’ll spend a considerable amount of time on HR admin. In this article, we look at how to choose the right HR self-service portal — so you can stop being the bottleneck for every single HR query coming your way.

In an average working week, a big portion of your ‘HR time’ is spent just getting manual admin done.

This is especially true if you work at a small business or startup where you are ‘the HR department’ — every query and every process goes through you and you only.

If this is the case in your role, you may want to set up some form of Employee Self Service (ESS) portal: a piece of software your team can use to find answers to their own questions and complete their own admin, without you having to get involved.

Let’s have a look at what this looks like.

What is an HR self-service portal?

An HR self-service portal is a centralised system that allows team members to carry out all sorts of HR tasks themselves — without you, an HR manager or anybody in the HR department having to get involved.

With this type of HR software, your team just has to log in to be able to upload or update their personal information, book time off and access policies and other HR information.

Today, many of the most progressive startups and small businesses use self-service HR software to automate manual processes and carve out more time to spend on making work better for their teams.

Find out more on our guide 'What is Employee Self Service?'.

What are the benefits of an employee self-service portal?

If you look after Human Resources at your small company, you’ll find a self-service HR software can help you:

  • Get a big chunk of your time back: You can re-invest the time you’d usually spend on admin on more impactful work — like growing your team, crafting your HR policies and building a great company culture.
  • Stop being the sole owner of HR processes: With self-service HR, you can delegate tasks to line managers and team members, and empower them to own their own workflows.
  • Avoid making mistakes: Having an HR self-service system will keep manual tasks to a minimum, together with the common mistakes associated with them (like forgetting about a deadline or getting prorated time-off calculations wrong).
  • Make a good impression: a self-service HR software offers a better employee experience and makes you and your company look organised and efficient when onboarding new team members.

From your team’s point of view, self-service HR portals will allow them to:

  • Access information and take action, anytime and from anywhere: your team members will not have to be in the office or wait for HR to get back to them in order to find the information they need. This is especially important in our new remote-first world of work where people are rarely expected to be in the office every day.

Top 6 applications of employee self-service software

Beyond those general benefits, ESS can be applied to many different aspects of HR, from managing time off to running performance reviews. Let’s have a look at some of the most common tasks small businesses use self-service software for:

1. All the answers to your team’s HR questions — in one place  

It’s a common headache for people managing HR at small companies to be flooded with HR questions from their team:

“What’s our VAT number? What’s the registered company address? What day of the month do we get paid? What’s our L&D budget?”

You can save the time and hassle of going through these questions by storing all of your HR information on a self-service HR portal — and let it answer them for you.

To give you an example, this is some of the information that can be stored in CharlieHR:

  • Company information: Your company page in Charlie is fully customisable, but some common information includes your registered address, VAT number, phone number, social media handles and payroll information.
  • Personal details: everyone in the team has access to their own Charlie profile where they can add and update their records such as their home address, bank details for payroll, phone number, passport and visa, plus also preferred pronouns and nicknames. This means they are accountable for keeping their own information up to date (you aren’t). You can also set different levels of permission across the business, so employee data is protected at all times.
  • People and teams: Self-service HR software like CharlieHR can also be used as an employee directory for people to check out the org chart or find out who sits in each team. This is especially helpful for new starters or if your team is growing fast — anyone can find the right person to speak to without having to ask HR for direction.

2. Onboarding: give your team a warm welcome to your team — effortlessly

Onboarding new team members successfully can be a daunting task, especially if your small business or startup is experiencing a period of rapid growth, with many people joining at the same time.

Of course, you want them to feel excited about their new role. Still, there are a lot of less exciting admin tasks involved in the process — a lot of information to be collected and a lot of different people in the team you need some input from.

Self-service HR software allows you to streamline the employee onboarding process. It ensures all tasks are completed by the right people at the right time, while also helping you to make new joiners feel part of the team from day one.

Here are some examples of how we do this with Charlie’s onboarding:

  • New joiners go through a simple enrolment process: they can complete their profile in Charlie, adding their personal information such as date of birth, nationality, next of kin contact details and home address. And they can do this even before their official start date.
  • Rather than going back-and-forth over email to collect new starter info, you can ask new team members to upload their documents directly into Charlie (passport, P45, bank account details for payroll and National Insurance number).


  • You can set up checklists of actions to be completed by the new joiner, their line manager and anyone else involved in the onboarding process. This way, you’ll be able to delegate tasks across the team while following their progress through Charlie, as each one of them gets ticked off. Everyone is accountable for their own part of the process, meaning and you’ll have a lot less chasing to do day-to-day.
  • You can create your own onboarding slides: this is a great chance for you to give a personalised welcome to your new team members while also communicating all the important info they need to get their bearings at your company. You can start introducing your company culture and your values, to get new joiners excited about working at your organisation.


3. Time off: Reclaim your working day with automated requests and approvals

If you don’t have a self-service HR portal or management system, all time-off admin likely has to go through you — and this can be a drain on your time.

When someone in the team asks for time off, that request has to find its way to their line manager. Whether that’s approved or denied, the final decision needs to be communicated back.

Graph explaining that without Charlie managers are not able to tend to employee's requests as soon as possible

With the automation of a self-service HR software, you can remove yourself from the process and ensure every request goes to the right place

Let's have a look at what time off can look like when team members can do it themselves:

  • Your team has full visibility on everyone’s whereabouts. When people sign in on Charlie in the morning, they can easily see who’s on holiday, when they are coming back and if anybody is off sick or working from home.

Charlie's notifications screenshot

  • Team members are in control of their own time off. They can book sick days and request holiday (and also amend or cancel their requests) directly through Charlie, in real-time. When approval is required, line managers can take care of that through the system, without you having to be involved.
“One of the most helpful parts of the time off function is being able to set specific approvers for each team, and not having to centralise the approval process. That way, I can see the requests coming through but I only step in when I need to.” Matt Hurst-Smith – Head of People, Founder’s Pledge
  • Charlie automatically calculates and summarises leave allowance for your team, so they can clearly see their upcoming holiday, as well as how much time off they have left.

Screenshot of software showing upcoming time off

  • Team members can check the Calendar in Charlie to make sure their holiday doesn’t overlap with someone else’s. If the time off they’re about to book clashes with someone else’s in their team, they will receive a notification. This is particularly useful to put the ball into the team’s own court — they will have to consider whether that clash is likely to be an issue or not.

If you’re interested in finding out more about how to apply employee self service to time-off management, you can start a free trial with CharlieHR here.

4. Company handbook: store your policies where everyone can find them

Your company handbook is the guide to all aspects of working at your business. By writing a great employee handbook, you make sure everyone in the team is aligned on how you work as a company.

Click here. to download our guide to the 5 steps to a perfect company handbook

However, handbooks are only useful when they’re easy to find. So, if you are still spending a lot of time answering the same questions about how parental leave works or how to file expenses — that means your team is struggling to access this information in your handbook.

Some self-service HR software like CharlieHR can help you tackle this issue by allowing you to store your handbook on their portal. This means that your team can access your policies directly through the ESS system instead of having to find their way across multiple subfolders in a hidden Drive.

This is also great for new joiners, especially now that remote working has become so widespread: they can get familiar with your company processes and culture all in one place, without you having to spend hours pulling documents together.

If you still don’t have a company handbook and are looking for expert advice on how to create one, you may find our HR Advice service useful.

Click here to find out more about handbooks

5. Performance reviews: making sure no opportunity for growth and feedback gets missed

At Charlie, we believe that the best way to look after your team’s performance and development is by promoting constructive conversations between managers and team members (you can read more about this here).

The issue is that it’s a lot of work to make sure those conversations do happen, and with the right frequency. The main advantage of using a self-service HR portal for performance management is that it encourages everyone in the team to get their reviews done, without the need for you to chase them every time.

We specifically designed Charlie’s Reviews feature with that in mind:

  • The system lays out a simple and user-friendly 3-step process for the team to follow, meaning people understand what actions they are responsible to take:

Graph showing the review feedback cycle

  • Charlie prompts managers to get meetings booked in when the review cycle starts.
  • The software also sends automatic emails to both managers and their reports to encourage review completion as the deadline approaches.

If you’d like to take Charlie’s Reviews for a test ride, you can start a free trial now.

6. Perks: let your team choose the rewards they really want

If you work at a small business, you may think you don’t have enough resources to treat your team to cool perks:

  • Cash is tight
  • And you definitely don’t want to spend it on something you’re not sure your team will appreciate

HR self-service platforms can help you with that second point in the sense that they feature a wide choice of perks from which your team members can pick — they choose their perks, not you.

However, many self-service systems offer perks on top of other platforms’ HR offering — and a lot of small companies can’t afford to pay that extra cash.  

When creating our own Perks platform in Charlie, we knew we wanted to be different:

  • We made sure team members could really use Charlie’s Perks as a self-service platform. Your team can choose their favourite perks, benefits and discounts from an almost infinite list. Which means you don’t have to make these decisions for them.
  • Perks are part of Charlie’s offering, covered by our all-inclusive pricing — so that all small businesses and startups can afford it.

Graph showing where perks are on the software CharlieHR

How to choose the right self-service HR software for your company

You decided you need a self-service HR system to help you with some of the many tasks and processes we went through — the next step will be to pick the right one for you.

These are some important questions you’ll need to ask yourself to help you make the right decision:

1. What am I most struggling with at the moment?

What is blocking you from thriving in your role? What HR tasks are taking away most of your time from actually growing and nurturing your team? Figuring this out will give you a better idea of what type of features to look for in an ESS solution.

2. What type of software is right for the size of my company?

If you work at a small business or startup, under 100 employees, you’ll want an agile platform that you can roll out quickly and that your team finds easy to use.

With a small team to manage, you need to avoid being overwhelmed by features you don’t need. On the other hand, larger companies often look for ESS platforms that can support large teams based in different offices around the world. These portals are more complex and support large scale reporting.

Comparison of companies for self-service HR software

3. What is my budget?

You’ll have to decide how much you’re ready to spend on a piece of software. If you are a startup or small business, you’ll probably have fewer resources than if you work at a big corporate. What can you afford with your budget? Is the cost sustainable in the long term?

4. How can I justify this extra spending?

We hope this blog has given you some useful information if you need to justify extra costs with your team — focus on how much of your time you’d get back from being able to rely on a self-service HR platform. And consider it as an investment for the future of your business.

If you want to find out more about how to implement an employee self-service system at your company with Charlie, start a 14-day free trial here.

You can also have a look at our HR Checklist for Startups to help you along the way.

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