Free Your Time

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff | Posted May 01, 2000
by Angela R. Garber

It's not uncommon for an hr manager to find herself buried beneath reams of paper. The nature of the job entails keeping track of countless details for each employee ­ name, address, social security number, names and number of dependents, salary, which health insurance plan they have selected, how much life insurance they want, the list goes on and on. All that information has to be stored somewhere, right?

When Laurie Dalsgaard joined Jacksonville, Fla.-based Medcom Services Inc. in 1998 as the assistant to the president, it all was kept on pieces of paper stored neatly in her file cabinet. There were duplicate copies of that information in the payroll department and with each department manager. The effort to collect, store, and process the data was fragmented, with each department head deciding for herself how she wanted to keep track of it all. It was a nightmare.

Despite the fact that Medcom is an administrator of health insurance plans for businesses that have elected to "self fund," the 50-employee company did not have an official human resources department to manage its own employees, benefits, and the accompanying deluge of paper. Four months after Dalsgaard joined the staff, she was asked to "coordinate the effort." With a new title, human resources coordinator, she turned to Employease, an Internet-based human resources management application to both automate the paper-based administrative processes and allow Medcom staff to self-administer their own accounts and benefits plans. The payoff has been clear and swift.

As human resources coordinator, Dalsgaard is responsible for making sure all employees are set up with benefits including health insurance, life insurance, and flexible spending options. With the old paper-based method, she says she spent between 20 and 25 hours a week just pushing papers and tracking down employees.

"[When] we hired an employee, what we used to do was fill out a sheet of paper, create a hard file folder, and everything was done manually," she says. Whenever an employee changed status ­ moved, got married, divorced, had a child, left the firm ­ the easiest way to take care of the new information was to have him fill out a new batch of forms. The same held true for each open enrollment period. With a paper-based system, there was just no other way for both employer and employee to have a completed and signed agreement of benefits.

"I started using [Employease] just to make sure that everyone was in the system for easy reporting such as census and things of that nature, and to make sure that they were enrolled in their health care," she says. "Now I'm tracking their eligibility, I'm running census and confirmation statements and all kinds of custom reports, and we're able to communicate with our eligibility and billing department." It has also simplified processes such as issuing I.D. cards for new employees and making sure that COBRA notifications are sent out for anyone who qualifies.

Medcom was attracted to Employease for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that there was no hardware or software to be purchased, installed, updated, or maintained. The entire application is accessed via Internet, and any updates to the system are automatic ­ Employease sends electronic messages to Dalsgaard to alert her to changes or new functions. The charge to Medcom is minimal with maintenance fees of less than $5.50 per employee per month.

Medcom put Employease to the test for 1999 open enrollment. "From start to finish, it took about two weeks to get it up and running and ready to go for enrollment," says Dalsgaard. To introduce the new system to employees, she and another administrator walked each employee through the process. "We sat in the conference room during the open enrollment period with each person that came in. We had three computers set up and we would spend time with each one of them."

Open enrollment itself went smoothly that first year, and the new system certainly simplified reporting and tracking for Dalsgaard. But the employees didn't really make use of the system beyond that. She realized that they needed to be shown how easy the new system could make things for them. "I think at the time it wasn't apparent to them that this was something we'd be doing on an ongoing basis," she says. "This year during open enrollment, I think probably about 10 of the 44 people on the system had address changes that occurred way back in 1999, and we weren't aware of that."

"Now that we've finished our open enrollment for 2000, I've been taking three to four employees a day and spending an hour with them and training them one-on-one on self serve," she says. "Just stressing to them the importance ­ that we're going to be communicating to them through this product, we're also going to have company documents on this product, organization products, and that it's important that they keep their self-serve account current at all times and [that they] check it once a day."

Self-Service With A Smile
As Medcom employees become more comfortable with the system, the benefits of automation increase for both Dalsgaard and the staff. "Through the self-serve feature, they can go in and check messages that I've sent to them. They can go in and check their personal information, change their password, change addresses, change phone numbers. They can add dependents if they've had a child, if they're getting married, or anything like that," she says. "And anytime they change or modify their account through self-serve, they system electronically notifies me. I can look at, approve, and pass [the changes] through individually, and then the message gets sent back to them through their self-serve account."

Now the staff knows where to look for all HR information. "We're in the process of putting our benefits, our employee handbook, and any company publication that would involve our employees on their Employease, so that they can go in and view these documents themselves," she says. Medcom is also posting provider directories, the internal phone extension list, and the client directory on the system, and soon employees will also be able to view pay stubs on line.

Easy Access
Employees access all this information through the Employease Web site. They log on, enter a user name and a password, and they're set. And because it's Internet-based, they can log on from home or work. And for those employees who don't have Internet access at their desks ­ about half ­ Medcom has set up two computers in the conference room.

"We just went through our open enrollment, and of course our rates went up. And it took me five minutes to enter the new, current rates," says Dalsgaard. "When people enrolled they knew how much would be deducted from their paychecks. If we'd had to do open enrollment [the old way], it would have been a full 40 hours for two weeks. It has truly made our lives so much easier."

The end result for both Dalsgaard and Medcom has been a savings of time and money. Employease has allowed Dalsgaard to dramatically cut the time she spends on HR paperwork. "Now I'm probably spending 10 hours a week on HR functions, and that includes setting up workshops, orientation programs ­ things that don't necessarily have to do with managing our group through Employease."

"I'm able to do other things," she says. Like pick up a new title: coordinator of training and development.

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