Everything You Need to Know About E-Signatures

Electronic signatures: a technological improvement so advanced it’s eliminated millions of short walks to printers everywhere. Bad for people trying to get their 10,000 steps in, great for just about everyone else.

Signature technology has come a long way over the years. The advent of fax machines, scanners, and email made sending documents lightning fast. Using those technologies to send and retrieve signed documents naturally followed suit. But none of these advancements offer the same ease of use, security, and productivity as e-signatures.

E-signatures are a fixture in many companies both large and small, and they’re becoming more common each year. For HR departments especially, switching to electronic signatures makes a ton of sense.

Benefits of Using E-Signatures

1. Improved Productivity

When employees spend less time fussing over written signatures, it frees them to be more productive at their jobs.

For instance, Vermont’s government cut contract approval times by a whopping 75 percent when they switched to using e-signatures. What used to take weeks now only takes a few days. That’s a lot of time they saved which can now be spent on more important work.

2. Accelerated Onboarding

Asking eager new employees to sign stacks of onboarding paperwork on their first day can put a damper on their excitement.

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Handling employment paperwork this way is burdensome to the employee. Consider offer letters, for instance. If you’ve ever waited anxiously for a candidate to sign your offer, you’re far from alone. But if you expect them to print your employer agreement, sign it, scan it, and then email it back to you, you’re making your own situation worse. Not only do they have to jump through multiple hoops in order to sign the offer, but you also risk a candidate doubting their decision to join your organization if they feel your processes are outdated and inconvenient.

On the other hand, e-signatures can ease this burden for new hires and make your onboarding process fast and convenient. And improving your onboarding process can have effects that reach far beyond an employee’s first day. According to research from BambooHR, employees who experienced effective onboarding were 18 times more likely to feel committed to their organizations.

3. Reduced Paper Usage

Signatures are typically the last stand in the war to keep paper alive in the workplace. They’re a must for contracts, waivers, agreements, onboarding documentation—you name it. But physical signatures add up to a lot of paper. If you make e-signatures a key part of your business processes, you can help your organization go paperless.

4. Enhanced Security

When implemented correctly, e-signatures are significantly more secure than printed paper and scanners. Let’s start with this scary stat: 20 percent of print jobs are never picked up from the printer. You wouldn’t want confidential NDAs, employee agreements, or severance terms to end up in that category. And even if you are careful to keep sensitive documents secure during the signing process, you still need to figure out how to store them safely. If you handle all of this electronically, you can solve all of these problems at once.

Legality of E-Signatures

The biggest question companies ask when switching their most important agreements to electronic documents is whether or not e-signatures carry any legal weight.

There’s nuance to the answer, but generally speaking, e-signatures are legally acceptable in most countries around the world. And more and more countries are adopting laws to accommodate them.

In 2000, the United States passed the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, which permits “the use of electronic records to satisfy any statute, regulation, or rule of law requiring that such information be provided in writing, if the consumer has affirmatively consented to such use and has not withdrawn such consent.”

In short, e-signatures are legally binding in the U.S., even if they don’t look like traditional signatures. The law extends to any “electronic sound, symbol, or process, attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record.”

Differences Between Digital Signatures and E-Signatures

While some people use the two names interchangeably, there are some important differences between digital signatures and electronic signatures.

Digital signatures are codes embedded in documents and files, used to detect unauthorized changes to data and to verify the identity of the signee. They rely on crypto-based technology, which increases security and ensures a document or file hasn’t been copied or altered without authorization. E-signatures, on the other hand, are just as they sound—a way to sign something, only online.

A digital signature can be an e-signature—if it combines encryption with the ability to digitally “stamp” a file—but an e-signature isn’t always a digital signature.

The Major Players

Electronic signatures are big business. By at least one analysis, the global e-signature market is expected to surpass $2 billion by this year (though the printing industry is forecasted to exceed $800 billion by 2022, so take that for what it’s worth).

But e-signature companies themselves come in all forms.

When many people think e-signatures, they picture the major players like Adobe Sign or DocuSign. Both platforms allow you to send a document for signing just by entering the signee’s email address. When the recipient uses the e-signature feature embedded in the document, a copy is automatically sent to both parties. These are particularly well suited for larger organizations.

Depending on the size of the company and the use case, however, there could be more suitable options.

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From an HR department standpoint, using sophisticated HR management software with electronic signatures built in could be the way to go. This keeps you from needing additional software while allowing you to manage everything in the same place.

An option for smaller companies on a budget is using a simple online form building tool that also has the capability to collect electronic signatures through the forms. It’s affordable and easy to manage, especially for smaller teams.

Whatever your budget or need, there are options on the market. And when you factor in the cost you’re already spending to administer handwritten signatures (printer, ink, file cabinets, added office space), most become outright cost-effective.


Will we live to see the day when handwritten signatures are obsolete? Not anytime soon.

But savvy companies looking to save money, attract better talent, and operate at maximum efficiency will continue finding ways to incorporate e-signatures into their processes.

The e-signature is a simple and easy way to boost performance and save time in your organization—so what are you waiting for?

About the Author

Chad Reid is the VP of communications at JotForm, a popular online form-building software based in San Francisco.