“Having a job” used to mean going to a particular location at specified hours. No longer. People can now work remotely from their homes, coffeehouses, airports, satellite offices, and field sites. According to a Gallup survey, 43% of employed Americans spent at least some time working remotely. And those employees often report a higher level of engagement.

About half of people surveyed are also willing to move for the right job. If your organization has multiple locations, this can open up advancement opportunities and improve retention. (Remote work can even help with relocation; if a spouse or partner can work from home, that is one less barrier to moving.) Today, Americans move, on average, 11 times in their lives.

Current technology supports this fluidity. Mobile devices and always-on internet connectivity enable employees to be productive wherever they are, using the devices of their choosing. For too long, though, HR productivity has lagged behind employee productivity. Whenever HR needs employees to acknowledge required corporate documents — from a new employee handbook to a new wireless device policy — HR has had to send paper or electronic forms to employees and managers, ensure their completion and accuracy, and then file them.

This creates two major problems. The first is that paper or emailed documents make it harder for employees — especially those who might work in the field or on a factory floor and not regularly access email — to update their information. And since it’s a painstaking process, they might not get around to it in a timely way, leading to inaccurate data and incomplete records, a big issue if an audit occurs.

The second problem is that a centralized HR team can’t easily process or access paper-based or emailed documentation when it is located in disparate places, both physical and digital — from file cabinets to hard drives to inboxes. How will the HR team ensure every employee submits documentation, such as confidentiality agreements?

These two problems add up to a third that’s even more serious: the inability for HR staff to focus on strategic issues. HR staff spend as much as 60% of their time on routine paperwork. Your HR team should be helping your business grow by aiding in recruitment and retention and developing an enticing company culture.

Imagine: You’d like to offer professional training to all employees with a particular certification. How do you find those workers across dozens of locations? If they are in the field or on the floor without consistent email access, do you have the ability to gather their managers’ information? Pulling this type of information together is nearly impossible if data is located in hard-to-access files or is incomplete.

For HR to keep up with employees on the move, it needs to embrace the same digital technologies that are transforming the workplace. To get started on your digital transformation, we recommend:

  • Implementing an online portal where employees can easily access and edit their HR forms on their own devices, on their own schedules.
  • Digitizing every type of form that you can, and scanning, indexing, and storing any necessary paper files, in a digital document management system, so authorized users will be able to find exactly what they need in seconds from any device.
  • Creating a secure virtual data room with limited-time, role-based access and restrictions on printing, copying, or downloading to enable HR to quickly provide secure access to auditors or other external parties.
  • Tracking every access event and change automatically, so you’ll be prepared for audits.
  • Automating notifications when forms or certifications need to be updated or, alternately, need to be safely destroyed for compliance purposes.

The right digital documentation system can offer all these features and more. Free your HR experts from the burden of paperwork so they can help with the strategic projects that are so important in today’s fast-evolving workplace. Where to start? Check out the ideas and recommendations in our complimentary eBook, “The 7 Challenges of Managing HR Documents in Distributed Organizations.”

By Nicole Hart

Nicole Hart is a seasoned global HR leader with over twenty years of experience. She focuses on organizational design, change management and workforce planning at Access which has 1800 employees in over 50 locations.