The average work week is 40 hours, but how much of that do you spend on repetitive tasks?
Sending emails, following up with customers, scheduling campaigns. Even the most glamorous “dream jobs” have tedious work associated with them. These tasks, while boring, are often crucial to your overall success on the job. Balancing your time between genuine strategy work and keeping the lights on with these mundane tasks can be a nightmare.
As the world moves toward digital transformation and software solutions for every work-related need, workflow automation has emerged as the answer to this problem.
What is workflow automation?
Workflow automation is a strategy that uses software to automate manual work like data entry, sending emails, social media sharing, and more. These automations help eliminate human error, boost productivity, and save your team time on performing routine tasks.
These software solutions allow teams to streamline workflows and reduce the number of manual tasks required of your team. By getting rid of these time-consuming workflow processes and focusing on automated processes instead, you transform your approach to task management.
Workflow automation focuses on removing employees from as many mundane, repeatable tasks as possible, so that they can focus on more technical work. Removing employees from managing these tasks means you’ll need to invest in workflow management software to keep things running in the background. It’s important to choose powerful enough to handle a variety of tasks, campaigns, and workflows all at once.
Key takeaways from this article:
Learn best practices for designing your own unique workflows
Read real user reviews for the best workflow automation tools on the market
Discover how every team in your company can benefit from workflow automation
Who uses workflow automation?
Not all workflows can be automated, but with the rapid growth of SaaS tools and technology, most teams can benefit from workflow automation software. Companies that assume automation technology is exclusively for marketing teams might be surprised to learn just how diverse these solutions are.
If you’re looking for a productivity hack that can impact teams across your entire company, workflow automation should be high on your list of contenders. Here’s a look at how different teams can use workflow automation to their advantage.
Workflow automation is a very popular strategy for marketers because it allows them to automate any number of digital marketing campaigns, online communications, and more.
Many marketers like pairing workflow automation with their existing marketing automation approach to create a seamless digital online experience for your customers, leads, and online audiences.
Workflow automation can allow your marketing teams to:
Collaborate on workflows across internal teams, marketing agencies, and freelancers
Automate data collection and dashboard management in a single location
Automate digital marketing campaigns for social media, product marketing, email marketing, and lead gen campaigns
When it comes to sales, time is money. And if you’re sitting there scratching your head trying to figure out where you can reduce customer churn, look no further than your own bad processes. Organizations lose 20 to 30% of revenue annually to inefficient processes.
Workflow automation eliminates dozens of costly sales mistakes by automating sales processes. It also allows your reps to stop wasting time on repetitive tasks and frees them up to create more personalized, direct outreach approaches for target customers. With sales workflow automation, your team will see fewer mistakes and more value.
Workflow automation can allow your sales teams to:
Easily track where leads are in the sales funnel
Prevent leads from slipping through the cracks
Create automatic, personalized communications to prospects
Workflow automation is non-negotiable for large organizations. As your team grows, there will become a tipping point where you cannot hire enough HR employees to cover the work manually.
Workflow management software is an essential part of the human resources technology stack because it easily integrates with other software solutions and allows automation across multiple HR disciplines.
Workflow automation can allow your human resources teams to:
Reduce paperwork and move to paperless communications
Recruit, interview, hire, and onboard candidates faster
Automate your payroll and benefits management system
The rise of remote work and digital transformation has changed the way companies utilize their IT departments. Oftentimes, IT departments manage a number of processes regarding company data, support tickets, and more.
Because of how technical their role is by design, IT professionals probably need workflow management software more than any other team.
Workflow automation can allow your IT department to:
Automatically assign escalations to available customer success employees
Avoid duplicate support requests and manage SLA agreements
Stay up-to-date on evolving compliance and data privacy regulations
Many finance teams get held up in their work by long approval processes and tracking down the right people for their signature. Finance teams can use workflow management to set a predetermined workflow for each task in the software, with approvals and signature and checks all built into the timeline. This allows them to focus their attention on more pressing financial matters regarding the company.
Workflow automation can allow your finance team to:
Accelerate internal approval processes and renewal timelines
Schedule auto-payments for recurring invoices and subscriptions
Automatically back up important legal and financial documents to the cloud
Best workflow management software
Workflow management software is designed to improve employee productivity and optimize resource utilization by managing the dependencies between tasks and workflow. It can also increase collaboration between teams and departments. It’s often used alongside project management, marketing automation, and CRM software to create fully optimized digital workflows.
* Below are the top five leading marketing automation software solutions from G2’s Summer 2020 Grid® Report. Some reviews may be edited for clarity.
monday.com is a cloud-based Work OS, where teams create workflow apps in minutes to run their processes, projects, and everyday work. Teams shape their workflows and projects, code-free, with a platform that adapts to shifting needs quickly, liberates teams from manual grunt work, and connects teams in a collaborative work space.
What users like:
“I love the flexibility of what you can do with integrations and automations, as well as the interactive reporting dashboards. We have used this tool to stay on track of tasks, projects and products as we merged two banking institutions with more than 10,000 team members. That's a lot of changes to systems, org charts, departments, and monday.com got us through it all.
We had resistance at first, because we had a lot of team members that did everything on Excel. But when they realized they could import and export Excel files that paved the way for them. Now they prefer monday.com overwhelmingly.”
“While it is extremely flexible, my team went through five board layouts before we settled on one that was fitting for our teams. The templates offered are great for product management, but at our agency they didn't help very much. There also needs to be a better dashboard and more customization. Just a simple inbox doesn't seem like enough after looking at other tools.”
Asana helps teams orchestrate their work, from daily tasks to strategic initiatives. With Asana, teams are more confident, move faster, and accomplish more with less, no matter where they are located. Manage everything from company objectives to digital transformation to product launches and marketing campaigns. Asana allows teams to have the confidence to plan, organize, and execute their most ambitious work from anywhere.
What users like:
“This platform is so versatile and easy to use. I use it with my teams to manage larger projects, one on one agendas, and team communications. We also utilize the boards layout for almost every contractor we work with to track their progress on specific projects from submission to completion, which is extremely useful.
I've created projects and added members of my team who have never been on the platform and they are easily able to hop on and understand the platform. Asana’s simplicity is its value.”
“For Asana to work, it ALL has to be in there – no scribbled notes on a notepad and a one-off email. Everything has to come back so that the content is consistently updated. My team was more used to a pen/paper to-do list and email conversations for every task, so there's been an adjustment period.
We've still had a lot of success, but it has required a little extra effort on my part. We've also felt that some of the built-in options just aren't varied enough to capture our projects.”
Laserfiche® is the leading global provider of intelligent content management and business process automation. Through powerful workflows, electronic forms, document management and analytics, Laserfiche® eliminates manual processes and automates repetitive tasks, accelerating how business gets done. Today, Laserfiche® is innovating with cloud, machine learning and AI to enable organizations in more than 80 countries to transform into digital businesses.
What users like:
“Some of the best features in Laserfiche is the ability to see forms as they go through a business process, who has been assigned tasks in instances, and who will be responsible for the next steps. Automatically generated email notifications and communications have helped considerably.
The ability to look up and auto-populate data in the forms have also greatly improved many of our business processes. The security features and the ability to create and manage user access through our active directory has reduced our workload and enhanced security.”
“Not every single business practice our organization has in place can fit into a customized Laserfiche solution. Laserfiche is brilliant with linear systems and while most of our processes fit that model, we have had to lean on alternative creative ideas to accommodate others. It is difficult and, to some extent, unrealistic to deploy a single platform that 'does it all' but ideally, the goal would be to be able to manage 100% of business with Laserfiche.”
Kissflow is the first-ever Unified Digital Workplace Platform that allows you to manage all of your work at one place. Kissflow is used by over 10,000 customers across 160 countries. Kissflow's platform allows all business users to discover, create, modify, and implement business applications. Each application is made using beautiful, easy-to-use, and modern technology to help even non-technical people create amazing applications. No coding or complex mapping required.
What users like:
“Kissflow has really streamlined our accounts payable process. We are able to have higher ups see what we're buying so they can approve or deny. It has also allowed us to analyze employee spending via reimbursements and company cards in a detailed way that has enabled us to cut costs. Also, we have asked that everyone puts a detailed amount of information on every submission so there isn't any more back and forth when trying to find information for accounting.”
“With the increase in Kissflow usage in our company, the site is always buffering, causing delay in filling out forms and thus overall process cycle time is affected. There are also times wherein Kissflow is not responsive when progressing through the flow, or when submitting the form.
As an analyst, we have not yet explored integrating Kissflow data with our cloud/server databases, so what we are currently using the web api to retrieve data from Kissflow. This is a bit of a hassle since the usage of our apps is high.”
Pipefy is the workflow management software that makes business processes such as purchasing, job opening, accounts payable and employee onboarding hassle-free, so requesters, processors and managers are more efficient. Through fast-to-deploy, no-code, automated workflows, Pipefy enhances speed, increases visibility, and delivers higher quality outcomes without the need of IT implementation.
What users like:
“It is an incredible and accessible tool that I can manage all the data that I want that comes from my internal and external team, creating different processes for each product that we have going at the moment. The platform offers multiple resources about managing workflows, creating processes, and understanding the tool itself. I get all the support that I need, and it is really fast! I never in my life had to manage a huge amount of work and managing it in a big team and it really surprised me that having the right tools can really help you grow.”
“Considering all of their features, integrations, and also automation, Pipefy has a lack of functionalities and some inconsistencies which sometimes can be painful. It's not possible to do a math calculation in a number field but you can do use this feature on the reports page. Another example, it's not possible to extract a whole database with just one click. It's just some [of those] details that they should fix in the future.”
Workflow management software might come stacked with dashboard templates and reporting features, but you will need to invest time in the setup. Data from our Summer 2020 G2 Grid® report for workflow management shows that it can take anywhere from one to four months to fully implement a new workflow software solution.
It’s possible to accelerate your time to implement by utilizing a few best practices as you set up your new workflow. Here are four best practices to consider when setting up your workflows.
Focus on integrations first
If you’re working on a team that already utilizes a lot of SaaS products, start with integrations before you do anything else. Many workflow management software solutions are packed with product integrations that seamlessly align with your current workflows.
Integrating your software first preserves the quality of your data and reporting. In many cases, retroactively adding integrations will cause historical reporting data to fluctuate and become subtly inconsistent. This defeats the purpose of automation because it requires you to go back in and manually adjust the numbers. Skip this headache by integrating before you start learning how your workflow management software works.
Moving forward with product integration first is also a great way to avoid creating duplicate workflows. If you build workflows before integrating with your other products, there’s a good chance you’ll have to go back and tweak processes, assignments, and more. Integrate before you begin building processes and you’re guaranteed to avoid unnecessary setup.
Build your workflows in reverse
Building a workflow can be tricky even with software on your side. There are a lot of people and processes required to ensure workflows run smoothly. Many people find it easier to handle all of this information by starting with the end result of the project and building their workflows backwards from there. Visualizing the final product first can help people see the full scope of the project and in turn, create a better workflow.
If you were to build your workflow in reverse, here’s what that might look like:
Identify the end goal of your workflow and trace the steps required to reach that outcome
Establish which KPIs and ROIs mark success for each workflow
Create a list of any one-off tasks, approvals, or quality checks required for each step of the process
Designate which team members are responsible for each step of the process (if these steps are not automated)
Estimate how much time each task and step of the workflow will take and set deadlines
From there, you can use all of this information to create permissions, triggers, and automations in your workflow management software.
It’s also crucial that you build buffer time into each step of the process before finalizing your workflows. Build in time to account for employee vacations, missed deadlines, and anything else that normally slows work processes down. This ensures that even that downtime is accounted for and all of your projects launch on their due date.
Centralize ownership of your workflows
While automation is the name of the game, even the best workflow management software needs someone managing the backend.
Designating a few key players to learn the software and build your workflows is a great way to ensure you get the most out of your solution of choice. Many companies choose to have their operations teams manage workflow automation because they already work closely with company processes and data. It’s this mixture of expertise that makes operations teams the perfect choice for managing your workflow automation process.
The typical scope of work for an operations team includes:
Analyzing marketing and sales campaigns
Creating, automating, and reviewing processes
Recording metrics and providing insights based on that data
Handling requests for reports, sales tracking information, and dashboards
Giving full control of the processes to a single team also allows those employees to become subject matter experts. As they become more familiar with the product they can assist other departments in building faster workflows. This will help increase productivity and save money as your team gets more comfortable with using the workflow automation process.
The power of automation can be yours
The hardest step of building a working workflow automation strategy is choosing the right software for your needs.
Carefully consider what you want to automate and which teams will use this process to guide you in the right direction. Ask a lot of questions. And as always, do a bit of research for yourself before committing to one software solution.
Curious about all the places you can use workflow automation? Check out these automated workflows that save time and boost sales.
Lauren is a Content Marketing Manager at G2. You can find her work featured on CNBC, Yahoo Finance, and on the G2 Learning Hub. In her free time, Lauren enjoys watching true crime shows and spending time in the Chicago karaoke scene. (she/her/hers)
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