A Construction Firm’s Employee Experience Gets a Facelift with Automated Onboarding
The Rycon Construction story reads like a feel-good screenplay about a scrappy hometown team landing in the big leagues and going all the way to win the championship series. Like any heroic journey, it has its pitfalls, tests of will, and miracle moments—and we’re happy to say BambooHR helped supply some of that magic. But in this case, the victory isn’t a pennant or even a year of record-breaking revenue. It’s how one woman was able to overcome a mountain of HR challenges and blaze a trail to healthy organizational growth.
A 32-Year Overnight Success
From its humble beginnings in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 32 years ago, Rycon Construction has grown from a tiny residential interior contractor into a full-spectrum residential and commercial construction powerhouse. What started with three guys in a Steel City basement is now almost 500 employees strong, with projects running in 40 states and six Rycon offices in major metro areas all the way from Florida up to their new headquarters in Pittsburgh’s redeveloped Strip District.
“We handle everything from small interior renovations all the way up to building huge hospitals and apartment buildings” proclaims Rycon’s human resources manager Heather Saxon, proudly noting, “You almost can’t look out any window of our building without seeing a Rycon banner.”
Yet when Heather came on board at Rycon in 2018, she was the first HR professional the company had ever hired…and for a company so clearly looking to the road ahead, the lack of awareness around strategic HR was truly eye-opening. Nevertheless, Heather gives Rycon due credit for handling people issues up to that point. “They went almost 30 years without anyone [in HR],” she recalls, “[which] really is a testament to the leadership there and what an excellent job that they’ve done.”
She arrived just as Rycon was experiencing the biggest expansion in the company’s history. “The growth was so tremendous…and you know, they didn’t really have anyone to service the employees and get them what they need to keep them happy.” Meanwhile, it quickly became clear that nothing fell outside Heather’s purview. “I took over recruiting and benefits and all the onboarding processes,” she says. “I handled the ACA. I actually got involved with payroll and helping to oversee that side of things.”
In fact, Heather remarks, “It’s so hard to even put into words everything that HR handles.” Then, laughing, “I sometimes joke that I feel like if nobody else knows what to do with it, they just send it on over to HR.”
Even though she now has additional help, that kind of responsibility could still weigh heavily on Heather’s shoulders. But luckily for Rycon and its employees, Heather and her team have a secret weapon: BambooHR®.
Rapid Growth Exposes Big Gaps
At any company pulling in almost half a billion dollars in revenue, you’d think internal processes would have to be running smoothly. And by all appearances, Rycon was a fully modern operation when Heather came aboard. “I just love the design of our projects” she says, “and our building that we work in, that we built, has that same look—I love going into the office.”
But Rycon was experiencing some typical awkwardness during its rapid growth spurt. From Heather’s perspective, if there was one place the company had to catch up—and quickly—it was onboarding. “We were close to [our current] size,” when she started, Heather recalls, “[and] they were still doing paper packets to onboard people—still tracking things in spreadsheets.”
For an HR pro and still-new employee like Heather, the contrast between Rycon’s outer image and its internal processes was jarring. “We work in this super modern office,” she explains, “And the CFO is handling the onboarding of new office staff [using] photocopies of photocopies. What do you think that says to people on the first day? Like, what kind of technology do we have? And what century are we in?”
A Data Disaster in the Making
As if Rycon’s old-school onboarding experience wasn’t problematic enough, there were also the issues that paper packets, handwritten forms, and spreadsheets create behind the scenes, most notably in terms of data security.
Heather remembers her first pitch to purchase BambooHR. “[I said] ‘We need to think about what happens to that data,’” because, “If a disaster happens, you know, what if something happens to our building and we lose our files?”
The response was lukewarm, she recalls. “I was told, ‘Well, we have all this information for the most part [in] different spreadsheets.’” So, she persisted. “I said, ‘What about when we lose those?’ [and] I was told, ‘Oh, we’ll never lose those.’”
“Well,” Heather concludes, returning to the present, “guess what happened this past October?”
Three years after her initial prediction, Rycon fell victim to a cyber attack and lost an undisclosed amount of significant data from company hard drives. “They came in through our server [and] just started changing all of our Word files, Excel files, making them non-usable. Years’ worth of information and whatnot.”
“It’s all gone,” Heather sighs, but, “at least anything that’s happened since I’ve been there is all safe.” So, while the loss of old files and information wasn’t an insignificant event, it could have been much worse; thanks to Heather’s decision to adopt BambooHR soon after she arrived, all of the employee data Rycon collected during those three years remained protected in the cloud.
Do HR horror stories give you the heebie-jeebies?
Modern Onboarding Tools for a Modern Company
When it came time for Heather to go in front of the executive team and make her case for Rycon’s new HRIS, she came fully prepared. “I did evaluate other systems,” Heather says. “From a business standpoint, I always think it’s good to have a couple options. But,” she admits, “I will honestly say nothing else came close.”
She even remembers exactly what sealed the deal with her CEO. “A lot of our former executives that had been there for a long time [were] very set in their ways and they [didn’t] see the value in that kind of thing,” meaning HR software like BambooHR, Heather says. “[But] once I showed them what it could do…actually, once I showed them [BambooHR®] Onboarding, that’s what really sold them…. As soon as I showed my boss that, he said, ‘Done, you can have whatever you want.’”
Bringing Hiring into the Twenty-First Century
Since implementing BambooHR in 2018, Heather has seen an amazing shift in the way Rycon manages its ever-expanding workforce. “It’s been such a drastic change [from] what it used to be,” she states, recalling past struggles. “Fighting with managers to get information scanned back over. People’s handwritten information being keyed in to our payroll system incorrectly.”
“Now,” she declares with relief, “the process is just so seamless.”
And nowhere has the impact of BambooHR been felt more deeply than in Rycon’s hiring process, which today feels as smooth as polished concrete. “Once I hit the ‘Hire’ button,” Heather observes, “that onboarding packet is going to our new hire. We have all of our forms set up so that all their information is already pre-populated.”
The payback? Multifold, from hours saved in data entry to an improved employer brand and faster time-to-contribution from new hires.
“On their first day,” Heather explains, “instead of spending half a day writing their name 30 times on all these different forms, [new employees already] have it all done.” That makes for a great first impression. “I’ve gotten so many new hires that have said what a fantastic system it’s been and how easy it’s been.”
It’s a hit with team leaders as well. “The hiring managers love it because they can just start right away, introducing them to the rest of their team and jumping in and hitting the ground running.”
And that’s saying nothing of the stress relief BambooHR is giving Heather’s own department. “We’re not having to worry about forms being filled out incorrectly,” she exclaims. “It’s been awesome from a payroll standpoint because we’re getting people enrolled in their benefits in a more timely fashion. We’re not holding up anyone’s paycheck.”
Growing Without Pains
In Heather’s opinion, one of the biggest challenges Rycon will face in the years to come is maintaining their connected, small-business feel as the company expands to cover an entire seaboard. Even as a new hire back in 2018, she remembers feeling overwhelmed. “My first day,” she says, “they introduced me to a hundred and fifty people in our Pittsburgh office.” She recalls thinking, “I’m never going to remember all these names!”
Three years and two entirely new satellite locations later, creating meaningful connections at Rycon has become even more daunting. “Some of our offices and even some of our divisions are going through growing pains right now managing teams of that size.” This time around, however, Heather has a plan.
“Now that I can customize the packets and everything by location,” she eagerly explains, referring to the custom checklists, questionnaires, and forms in BambooHR Onboarding, “my HR coordinator and I [are] setting up different questions for the different offices based on their size and helping everyone to get to know one another.”
For Heather and her team, BambooHR is the perfect tool to support Rycon’s mission to “stay small” as they grow. “We don’t ever want to be a bureaucratic-red-tape, you’re-just-a-number kind of company,” says Heather. “That’s not who we are.”
Luckily, Rycon boasts an entire new crop of invested, engaged people who are on the same page. “We have a lot of younger folks and more forward-thinking individuals that are leading these offices now, and this is more important to them.”
Even more encouraging, however, has been the support from veteran employees—the same people that research suggests are reluctant to embrace new methods and technology. “One of those people is our general superintendent for our Atlanta area,” relates Heather. “He oversees all the various job sites and superintendents and he travels a lot, and he actually downloaded the [BambooHR®] Hiring app himself.” Triumphantly, she adds, “He brags about it all the time.”