By Jaime Lizotte

As a small business owner or manager, why should you even consider changing your HR functions and processes? After all, HR is not your primary focus. And human resource departments and complex HR technology are only for big businesses. Right?

Well, the reality is that ALL businesses can benefit from putting a little extra focus on their HR practices, for a couple of reasons:

Recruiting Employees: Hiring good employees is getting more competitive these days, especially if you’re looking to fill high-demand positions. So job candidates should have a positive experience as they go through the application and interview process, since they may be comparing you to other companies.

Retaining Employees: Employees have some very basic and reasonable expectations: They want to understand what the company policies are. They need to know how much time off they have and how to request it. And they expect to be treated fairly. So again, with consistent HR processes or resources, you can create a positive experience for employees.

In addition, HR matters to all businesses – even small ones – because of the vast array of labor laws employers must comply with. Whether you have one employee or 1,000, every employer must follow certain laws at the federal, state, and even local levels. Legally sound processes and tools can eliminate the risk that certain laws will be overlooked.

An Affordable Alternative to HRIS

You may be familiar with what’s known as a “Human Resource Information System,” or HRIS. These software systems are built to handle every aspect of HR, from recruiting to onboarding, time tracking and performance management, benefits and compliance. HRIS software can be installed at your location, or it can be cloud-based, which means it’s accessible via the web.

HRIS systems are great for companies that have extensive HR needs. But they can be technically complex and expensive. If you’re a smaller business, the cost can be prohibitive, and you would be paying for many features you probably don’t need.

So how can a smaller company take advantage of technology to streamline HR tasks without the expense of an HRIS? The good news is there are web apps (i.e. online tools) available that can solve your specific HR problems for much less than an entire system costs, and with much less complexity.

Finding an online solution that suits your needs can be overwhelming. So, how do you choose? Let’s look at five guidelines.

#1 Choose “narrowly focused” apps: To get started, small businesses should look for narrowly focused apps that solve specific pain points. This simplifies the selection process. You won’t have to evaluate a laundry list of features you don’t need.

Start by identifying your main problem. For example, “My employee records are a mess.” In this case, you’d simply look for an employee records tool that keeps all employee documents and information online.

Another example would be, “Scheduling employees takes too much of my time.” A shift scheduling app would allow you automate the scheduling process according to employees’ skills and available times, and even let employees swap shifts directly without making it your problem.

#2 Choose apps that work well together: Once you solve one issue with a low-cost web app, you’ll want to move on to solving a second one, and maybe a third. So as much as possible, you want to choose apps that don’t have overlapping features or functions. You don’t want to have to enter the same information in two separate apps – that defeats the purpose of saving time. And you don’t want to have to pay for the same functionality twice, either.

So look for web apps with a shared interface. This allows you to choose from a list of web apps that share a database and are accessible through single sign on. And when you log in, you would see and access all your apps from a unified dashboard. Any information entered is added across all functions. And all of the screens are laid out the same, regardless of which tool you’re using.

From an efficiency standpoint, this is the “holy grail.” And until now, this type of integration has only been available with an expensive HRIS system. It’s a gap that has stopped smaller businesses from adopting more efficient HR tools. But now this gap is finally being filled.

#3 Look for built-In compliance: The best HR web apps come with built-in features that help keep your business in compliance with government regulations. But not all of them do. You may have to do a little questioning – and a little digging – to make sure the development team has deep HR expertise and preferably in-house legal staff that specializes in employment law.

You also want to make sure they continually monitor fed, state and local regulations. Laws change all the time, and lately more and more cities and counties are issuing labor laws that enhance the state and federal laws. Bottom line is you want to be sure they are on top of all employee-related regulatory activity and are committed to keeping the app up-to-date from a compliance standpoint.

#4 Leverage employee self-service: One of the best advantages of online HR apps is employee self-service. This feature, offered by some apps, allows employees to log in to view and update certain personal information and complete certain tasks on their own.

Some examples of the typical self-service tasks are:

  • Updating address or phone number
  • Checking how much time off they have available
  • Requesting time off
  • Viewing work schedules or shift assignments
  • Viewing company policies

Employee self-service used to be a feature that was only offered with large HRIS systems. But now it is now showing up in simpler, less expensive HR apps. Employee self-service helps you shift the burden of certain tasks that would typically fall on you or your office manager, and instead have employees take care of those tasks themselves.

#5 Choose vendors with care: You need to take time to find the right partner. But you don’t want it to take too much time. So here’s a cheat sheet of what to look for:

  • Is the company financially stable? Have they been around more than a few years? Beware of startups that still haven’t figured out a business model.
  • Does the app offer multiple layers of data security? For instance, you should make sure the data will be encrypted during transmission over the internet, and also when it’s at rest in the database. This is especially important when you’re dealing with extra-sensitive information, such as Social Security numbers or financial data. For an app that holds employee’s medical information, make sure it is HIPAA-compliant.
  • Is the app designed for small businesses? Some vendors consider companies “small” if they have 500 employees, but their needs are very different from a company with 20 or more employees. And if an app is created for a 500-employee company, it’s going to be overly complex for a 20-employee company. So make sure they define small the same way YOU define small.
  • What level of customer service do they provide? Do they offer onboarding services to get you started? Can you easily contact a support team if you have an issue?
  • And finally, do they have expertise in labor laws and HR compliance?

Ready to make the move? Take my quiz, “Is it Time to Explore Online HR Softwarehere.

Jaime Lizotte  is the  HR Solutions Manager of ComplyRight.