How AI is reinventing the onboarding process for HR

Onboarding is when “new employees decide to stay engaged or become disengaged.” Here's how AI is transforming it.
11 August 2020

Enabling FAQ chatbots and auto-assigning logins, AI is transforming the onboarding process. Source: Shutterstock

  • Many companies are beginning to consider AI technologies in their recruitment and onboarding processes
  • AI can expedite document exchanges, learning, and analysis of feedback from new employees
  • Though innovative, AI-powered practices such as cognitive analysis and gamification will always require the human touch

Seamless hiring and onboarding is central to stability in an otherwise tumultuous job market. While, like in many other sectors, artificial intelligence (AI) is beginning to prove a boon to Human Resources, some applications of the intelligent, process-expediting technology aren’t yet watertight.

A recent Sage report titled ‘The changing face of HR’ consulted organizations on their propensity to adopt the latest tech for HR functions. 43% of respondents believed their firms will not keep up with tech changes over the coming decade. This creates a somewhat troubling outlook.

For starters, overseeing a traditionally (and inherently) human set of functions, HR teams are perhaps prone to lag when it comes to adopting the latest technology. But discussions around AI in HR also conjure images of recruitment bias, where algorithms under the hood of ‘predictive hiring tools’ have demonstrated bias against African-American-sounding names and female applicants.

According to that report, 24% of quizzed companies are already using AI for talent acquisition (‘in the form of automation’), while 56% claim they will adopt such tech in the coming year.

But there are signs of increasing uptake of technologies in HR, and applications of AI go a lot further in the recruitment and onboarding process than just filtering through thousands of applications.

Ways that AI matters

The stages from interview to offer to negotiation to acceptance – and the ease with which you fly through these – tells you a whole lot about the business you’ve just agreed to join. In fact, onboarding is (to many) something of a magic moment, in which “new employees decide to stay engaged or become disengaged”.

AI steps up to simplify tasks (negating the need for manual document back-and-forths), automating otherwise arduous account setups, and providing feedback on the whole affair to make the next hire smoother. It can track tasks, prompt responses, and even answer questions that may arise from new hires. Here are a few use cases in more detail:

Document generation: Using natural language processing (NLP), organizations can auto-generate offer letters, contracts, and other vital documents with employees. A human still needs to validate the output and ensure that it is signed properly, though.

FAQ chatbots: Most new recruits will have a lot of basic questions (regarding connecting to the office WiFi, setting up an email account, or log-off/screen-lock protocols, among others). A chatbot is a strong way of addressing FAQs whilst retaining a sense of back-and-forth. It can also be continuously tweaked and upgraded as new queries arise.

Networking: Building relationships with peers and team members is crucial for new hires to integrate into an organization, increase productivity, and become engaged employees. Using organizational network analysis (ONA), organizations can understand which relationships new employees must cultivate to be productive, and introduce new hires to critical points of contact in their team and in the organization.

Feedback analysis: Like with literally any process on planet earth (and, I’d envisage, beyond), feedback and insight are key to continuous improvement. In order to know how to fine-tune the path through recruitment, AI can provide HR professionals with the tools to understand direct and indirect feedback. Using NLP again, HR managers can extract quality insights from large quantities of textual feedback. This can allow HR managers to gauge themes, employee sentiment, and the overarching effectiveness of HR processes.

Catering to individual roles with speed and accuracy

Where AI really comes into its own is in its ability to (quickly) adjust what information is required, presented, and completed, based on the specific job in question. For any firm with a sizeable employee base, these nuances can give rise to lag times, inaccuracies, and otherwise poor practice. An intelligent system can give proper permissions, schedule meetings required to understand a role, and even develop tools to help that understanding.

With AI, onboarding doesn’t have to happen within regular business hours or at a fixed office location. AI and chatbots can work around the clock, guiding a new hire through all aspects of onboarding and answering questions as they arise. With HR teams ‘busier than ever’ in coordinating and responding to remote working issues, the onboarding process is one space where tech can really come in handy, allowing “new hires to integrate more quickly […] even before their first day on the job,” says Susan Power, founder and CEO of Power HR.

The future and flexibility of AI in onboarding

Gamification can be one way to utilize AI and set apart your onboarding procedure in one fell, albeit intricate swoop. Adding competitive, enjoyable, game-like elements to the onboarding process can make it “easier for human minds to absorb and retain information”. AI can help this customized experience both in the recruitment process (with cognitive ability/competency tests) and afterward.

Covid-19 has disrupted many companies’ typical routine when it comes to onboarding employees. Cognitive automation tools can simplify the process for new hires that may start remotely, and lessen the alienation that can come from limited face-to-face training time.

The crux of the matter is not actually a crux at all, but rather an ongoing navigation of the intersection between human involvement and AI efficiencies. This will indeed change from company to company. The fact is that you can’t take the human out of Human Resources. People will remain integral to a robust, personable HR strategy. You can, however, add AI technology at intelligent onboarding touchpoints, diverting human time away from inane clerical tasks to forming real bonds with candidates and growing teams in the most positive of ways.