Electronic solutions a greener option

Online statements, self-service and e-filing provide greater accuracy and strategic time for HR
By Janice MacLellan
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/20/2009

Innovations in technology have brought the business world many new electronic business tools, but there’s still a long way to go to becoming a paperless society: Paper accounts for one-third of all waste, according to Environment Canada. As any office worker knows, workplaces are the chief perpetrators of paper consumption. And HR is no exception.

As corporate social responsibility plays an increasingly greater role in companies’ strategic business plans, many organizations are looking for ways to improve their environmental record, and reducing paper consumption plays an essential role. Adopting electronic HR practices and processes isn’t likely to eliminate paper entirely but is a viable option for significantly reducing paper use while offering business advantages as well.

There are several options to make HR greener by reducing paper consumption:

Online statement delivery: Offering employees a way to access and store their payroll and tax information without the need for a printed copy — that often ends up in the shredder — may also be appreciated as a service improvement.

Self-service technology: While it has been available in the marketplace for more than a decade, the adoption rate for self-service technology among employers has been relatively low. Early adopters were predominantly large employers, as switching to self-service was perceived to require significant IT support or substantial change management. But self-service can be Internet-based, hosted solutions that remove the need for IT support and ongoing maintenance. And given the extremely high adoption rate for self-service in the consumer market (such as online banking), the change management needed for effective implementation can be minimal.

E-filing: Increasingly, government organizations such as the Canada Revenue Agency are moving away from paper-based reporting processes in favour of electronic filing for most tax documents and remittances, such as wage garnishments. And in recent years, Service Canada has developed a process that enables employers to file records of employment (ROEs) electronically. Electronic filing and e-payments also help ensure accuracy and reduce the financial risk for filing late.

Electronic solutions: Organizations can also use centralized, Internet-accessible and server-based solutions designed to track HR information such as payroll, time and attendance and performance management data. These solutions help reduce errors caused by multiple or outdated documents and ensure information is kept up-to-date. Many solutions enable multiple practitioners to access the same data at the same time, providing even greater efficiency and eliminating a paper-based, inter-department notification process.

Electronic solutions also offer the peace of mind of increased security. Paper forms are frequently misplaced, misfiled, stolen or lost in the business world, whereas online security technologies create a virtual Fort Knox. Provincial and federal privacy legislation regarding the proper storage, protection and distribution of personal employee information should also motivate HR professionals to consider electronic solutions. The online safeguards available arguably provide practitioners with the best chance of maximum legislative compliance.

Weighing the options

When deciding whether electronic solutions are the right fit for an organization, consider the business’s strategic positioning. If environmental sustainability plays a key role, then seeking more electronic solutions should be a priority. The size and characteristics of a workforce should also factor into the decision. Larger companies phasing out paper statements, for example, could see the greatest time- and cost-savings as well as paper reduction. For organizations with staff working in different locations or keeping different hours of operation, online statements ensure they receive statements in a timely and consistent manner. The demographics of a workforce are another factor, as younger workers may be more receptive to online statements than their older colleagues.

For other electronic solutions, organizations must assess the potential return on investment associated with an outsourced solution, balancing the upfront and ongoing costs against the reduced costs of internal IT maintenance and system upgrades.

Making the switch

The costs and process will vary depending on the type of electronic solution chosen. For example, the costs to switch to online statements may include initial set-up fees and a cost per statement that is less expensive than producing and distributing a paper statement. For practitioners who already use outsourced payroll solutions, the process for switching is easy.

It is a good idea to assess all provincial and federal legislation that pertains to online statements. Many jurisdictions require an employer to obtain express written consent from an employee to provide this information electronically. This can be done as part of the implementation process. For new employees joining an organization, this consent can be included as a term of employment. In addition, some jurisdictions may require a facility to print the forms in the workplace, such as a kiosk, for employees without computer access.

Before making the transition to online statements, organizations must prepare employees for the change. There is no silver bullet but best practices always include clear communication about the initiative and timing. Employees will hopefully find the adjustment easy but employers must allow enough lead time to thoroughly explain and demonstrate the new system before the change takes place.

The process can roll out in a number of ways. Some organizations may prefer a more structured approach by establishing a firm switchover date for the entire workforce. Another arrangement is to automatically “switch off” paper statement distribution once the employee has successfully logged on to his statement account. Others may prefer to deliver a combination of paper and online statements to different segments of the organization, such as office, field and factory workers.

New tools for a new age

Many HR practitioners are expected to play a more strategic role to help their organizations adapt to a changing business environment and workforce. Beyond environmental sustainability, switching to electronic solutions can free up HR practitioners’ time for bigger-picture, more strategic work. It all translates into less paper usage, better service for employees, more efficient and strategic workflow for HR and even cost savings, which are all contributors to the “triple bottom line” — people, planet and profit.

Janice MacLellan is director of industry relations at ADP Canada in Toronto and vice-chair of the Canadian Payroll Association’s board of directors. ADP is a provider of outsourced business administrative services providing a range of payroll, human resources management, benefits administration, time and labour management, occupational health and safety, comprehensive outsourcing and consulting services. For more information, visit www.adp.ca.

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