Joining a union on a laptop
09 Mar 2021

Joining a union online in 2021

Expectations around good quality online services and facilities have never been higher. This isn’t limited just to internet-based companies, but for all organisations with an online presence. This includes trade unions.

Back in 2012, I carried out research into online joining facilities, looking at the offerings from all the TUC affiliated unions. I’d developed one of the first ever full union online joining systems for Prospect back in 2005 and had always been keen to see progress in this area.

In 2012 I found that 18 unions offered full online joining, with a further 10 offering a partial approach. This usually involved taking most details online, but then requiring the applicant to print, sign and post a direct debit mandate. 16 unions had no online joining facilities at all.

I’ve recently revisited this research, carrying out an analysis of online joining facilities as part of the TUC’s Digital Lab initiative. I’ve analysed the websites of the TUC’s 47 affiliates that have websites to carry out a survey of current systems. The results have been benchmarked against 2012 to measure progress, and it’s encouraging to see how much things have improved.

Best practice for online forms has seen significant change in the last decade, and this is something I also look at in the report. For example, most website visits are now done via mobile devices, with many of these visitors having no desktop or laptop. As part of the analysis, I look at which online joining systems are mobile friendly, allowing prospective members to join via their smartphone.

Online forms have also become more streamlined, with many longer forms now being split down into smaller steps.

In recent years, several unions have reengineered their online joining systems, measuring success against metrics to reduce the number of applicants dropping out during applications. This usually involves reducing the amount of information being requested, providing better guidance and reassurance, and breaking the form into small steps.

To help understand progress with these improvements, I’ve looked at how many unions use large, one page application forms and how many have split this down into stages.

The report also examines the current best practice, provides practical advice on getting there and contains advice to unions starting from scratch.

To download the report, please visit

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