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How To Automate Workflows (Tips, Processes, Tools)

How To Automate Workflows (Tips, Processes, Tools)

Ready to automate workflows?

Just like you, millions of companies are looking to automate their business workflows. In fact, the workflow automation industry is expected to reach $18.45 billion by 2023!

In this article, we will explain what workflow automation is, what processes you can automate, and how you can automate them.

We’ll even highlight the best workflow automation tool to help you manage every part of your process!

And to tackle this futuristic topic, we will travel to the year 3000, and let the Planet Express Crew from “Futurama” help you understand the world of automated workflows.

This article contains:

(Use the links below and jump to a specific section)

Alright, Bender!  

Let’s get started.

What is a Workflow?

A workflow is a sequence of tasks and processes that need to be done to meet business goals.

In essence, it’s a process where work flows in a particular order to get things done.

A workflow needs to be regularly scheduled and executed, like what Hermes does here:

Hermes, the crew’s administrator, signs off on paper documents, staples them, shreds them, and recycles the paper in that order (while it’s a valid example, we certainly don’t recommend this workflow!)

Here’s a more realistic example:

Let’s say you need to onboard a new employee. 

The sequence of asks would be something like this:

  • Prepare paperwork (in digital formats of course!)
  • Sign off on paperwork
  • Prepare workstation
  • Create necessary accounts for Slack, ClickUp, the HR portal, and so on
  • Send an email with a link to the HR portal with onboarding docs and training videos
  • Welcome to the team on Slack

A business workflow can also work well for repeatable projects like web design, human resource projects, and service desk operations.

But what does a workflow look like?

Usually, the workflow process is visualized as a flowchart. 

All the workflow tasks are visualized as boxes, and the sequence of tasks is depicted as arrows.

(source: https://www.mydraw.com/workflow-diagram)

What is Workflow Automation?

That flowchart we highlighted looks like it’d take ages to go through, right?

And that’s exactly what we have workflow automation for!

Workflow automation is the process of reducing the need for any manual work in the workflow process.

In workflow automation, some parts of the manual workflow are assigned to technology like a tool, an app, or in extreme cases – AI ‘robots’!

And by AI robots, we don’t mean Bender!

The goal of workflow automation is to make it easier for us humans to manage our business workflow. Your workflow automation processes do all the heavy lifting to reduce your own workload.

Sounds cool…but how do you harness the power of workflow automation?

Fortunately, there is workflow automation software that can be used to optimize your entire business process. 

(Psst..we’re going to cover workflow automation software later on in the article, but if you’re too excited to find out about it, click here)

What Processes Can You Automate?

Remember how The Professor built high-tech inventions like the Universal Translator?

It automated the process of translating language so that you didn’t have to do it yourself.

Similarly, many developers have created advanced automation software to help you automate your business activities. And since there’s automation software for every business domain out there, every department in your company can have an automated workflow!

If you’re interested in an outside company streamlining your workflow, check out the top software development companies

Let’s take a look at how each of your business departments can benefit from workflow automation:

1. Sales and Marketing

If you’re looking to automate workflows for greater efficiency, start with automating your marketing and sales process. 

Here’s what you can automate:

A. Qualify inbound leads

While workflow software can’t help you with automated lead generation, it can help you automatically qualify inbound leads that you get from your website, product page, etc.

For example, if your leads make a specific action like downloading your product description ebook, a tool can automatically move them into your sales funnel. Your sales team can then reach out to only those opportunities, which saves them the trouble of talking to unqualified leads who aren’t ready to buy yet. 

B. Automate email marketing campaigns

Think email is outdated?

Think again.

Even in 2020, email marketing still generates a high return on investment!

Fortunately, there are tons of automation software that can put your email marketing efforts on autopilot. 

Tools like Mailchimp, and Hubspot’s marketing automation tool, can help you create personalized email marketing campaigns that can help you convert leads into paying customers.

How?

It helps you create an automated email workflow from start to finish. 

You just need to create email templates, and the automated system decides what email to send the user based on their actions on your website or their interactions with your email. 

It continues sending these emails until the lead purchases your product or service or stops opening your emails.

Have an e-commerce site?

Tools like Omnisend send automated emails to users whenever they interact with your site or product listings. 

With automated tools doing all the email-marketing work, you can focus on other marketing strategies that actually need your input.

2. Human Resources

Your HR team has to deal with a lot of routine tasks like drafting contracts and onboarding employees.

That’s why they’re the perfect candidates for workflow automation!

Here’s how automation can help your HR department:

A. Employee Onboarding

Your HR team can use an automated workflow to divide the onboarding process into a series of steps.

Each time an employee completes a step of the process, the tool directs them to the next step.  This way, the HR team can go about doing their work without worrying about every employee separately.

B. Managing leave requests

Usually, the leave request approval process can take a few days to process. 

Why?

It involves routine tasks like sending back & forth emails, navigating through timesheets, and making the final decision. However, an automated leave approval workflow can help process the request in just a few hours!

This is great for Dr. Zoidberg, which means he can finally go on his beach vacation after years of service!

3. Accounting

Speaking of Dr. Zoidberg, did you know he once won millions of dollars in a casino? Unfortunately, this rich lobster made just a single bad roulette bet, and he ended up losing it all!

Similarly, you need to be extra careful with your company finances.

Even the smallest human error can cause the biggest losses! 

That’s why workflow automation in the accounting and finance department isn’t just convenient – it’s safer.

A. Accounts Payable

If your account payable operations aren’t optimized, you might forget a few payments or invoices. As a result, your business can lose important vendors and even parts of your supply chain!

Don’t be so dramatic, Calculon! 

With a few workflow automations, your AP team can be reminded of when supplies need to be ordered and when payments need to be made.

B. Expenses and travel reimbursement

Your accounting team can save hundreds of hours a year just by automating travel reimbursements and expenses. 

Automated business systems can pre-approve work trips and instantly reimburse employees whenever they return!

4. Customer service

Out of all the departments, the customer service desk has to deal with the most number of mundane tasks

Here’s how automation can save them a lot of time:

A. Assigning tickets 

When dealing with customer service, your team needs to assign a support ticket to the relevant support team member. 

Fortunately, customer workflow software can automate the flow of tickets to relevant professionals – so they spend more time addressing the issue, instead of passing it around.

B. Provide status updates

Once your customers have raised a complaint, they’re probably anxiously waiting for your reply. If you don’t respond in a timely manner, your customers might get frustrated:

With an automated workflow, you can send automated updates to your customers about the status of their request. This way, they’ll remain updated and won’t flood the service desk with too many questions.

What are the Benefits of Workflow Automation?

So what’s the point in having workflow automation?

Having an automated workflow system in place is like having superheroes as employees!

They’re fast, efficient, and do an excellent job.

It’s no wonder that 67% of managers agreed that they need workflow automation in order to remain competitive!

Here’s how automation can give your business an edge over your competitors:

1. Increased productivity

Let’s face it. No one wants to work on repetitive tasks.

Well, except Scruffy the janitor, who loves spending time with his mop and wash bucket!

Repetitive, administrative tasks can take up a lot of your time and resources. Rather than wasting time on these mundane tasks, your team should spend time on tasks that can help your business grow.

By automating most of these tasks, your team will be able to take up bigger projects that can add value to your customers and clients. This way, they’ll put their efforts to better use and become more productive!

2. Reduced human error

Everyone makes mistakes from time to time as we’re not programmed to be like robots!

However, most of these errors usually occur when we’re attempting a manual task like transcription or data entry

 These errors include:

  • Incomplete or incorrect information
  • Misplaced documents
  • Mishandling sensitive information

A workflow automation solution can cut down on these human errors and increase efficiency.

How? 

Workflow automation software can automatically prevent you from entering inaccurate or incomplete data into your system. And to secure your data, they offer encryption and user permissions features that stop your data from falling into the wrong hands!

3.Increased accountability

We get it, when your team is having a busy day, a few tasks might slip through the cracks. 

But when it comes to the sales process, missing tasks like following up on contacting a lead may make you lose the lead altogether!

That’s why you need to create workflows that remind everyone of what tasks they’re responsible for. 

How?

With workflow automation software, you can schedule automatic triggers or reminders that:

  • Tell your team what task they need to do next
  • Remind them of their upcoming deadlines

Not only does it keep your team on track, it also holds them accountable for their tasks. 

This way, your entire team will be as responsible as Fry when he was being trained by a 1980s businessman.

4. Faster communication

Hey Fry, did you know that employees waste 2.5 hours a day responding to emails?

It’s not much of a surprise, considering many businesses still use terribly long email threads to communicate with their team.

Instead of sending emails back and forth, process automation makes communication more efficient. 

Here’s how:

Whenever a team member finishes one step of the process, the team members responsible for the next process are instantly notified through automation software.

Additionally, your team automatically receives all the relevant task files. Now, they won’t have to wait for someone to send them those pesky email attachments!

5. Provide better customer service

You need to constantly find ways to make your customers happy. 

If they’re unsatisfied with your services, they might take their business elsewhere like Professor Farnsworth here:

Workflow automation helps you retain customers like Professor Farnsworth.

How?

Let’s say you have tons of customer complaints or requests coming in every day. If you’re managing them via a manual process, you might miss out on a lot of important requests. And a lack of response leads to unhappy customers.

However, if you automate your customer redressal process, you’ll be able to reply quickly to all your customers and keep them happy.

How Do You Automate Workflows?

You now know what you can automate and why you should automate those processes.

So far, so good.

But there’s still one thing left:

How do you go about automating things in the first place?!

Setting up an automated process can seem really challenging, but it’s actually ridiculously easy! 

Here’s how you can automate anything:

1. Identify repetitive tasks

Before you begin, you need to create a list of tasks or processes that can be automated. 

But how do you know which task is fit for automation?

Here’s a handy checklist to help you identify repetitive tasks.

Repetitive tasks are tasks that:

  1. Run on a daily, monthly, or weekly basis
  2. Consume a lot of time
  3. Require less critical thinking and more manual operation
  4. Have fixed steps that need to be followed
  5. Requires a large amount of data that needs to be processed
  6. Face a high risk of human error if done incorrectly

Your task doesn’t have to tick every box. 

But if it meets more than two of those criteria, it can be automated.

Let’s take a look at an example:

Here, Fry is making his own Oreo cookies with a special tool:

It’s considered a repetitive task because it:

  • Is time-consuming
  • Doesn’t require thinking (which Fry is grateful for!)
  • Follows the same steps every time

That’s why it makes sense for him to automate this instead.

Similarly, you can use this checklist to determine repetitive tasks in your existing workflow.

2. Define business goals

After you select the repetitive tasks, you need to understand how automating them can help solve your business problems. 

Ask yourself, ‘What do I want to achieve through the automation process?’

Do you want to:

  • Increase team productivity?
  • Improve customer service ratings?
  • Speed up the production process?

After you’ve defined a goal and an objective, it’s time to share your expectations of automation with your team.

3. Train your team

A sports team is nothing without the support of its fans, right?

Similarly, your workflow automation plan requires the support of your team members!

In almost every company, new changes to the business systems are often met with resistance. 

That’s why it’s important to communicate how workflow automation software will make your employees’ lives much easier. 

For a smooth transition, you need to spend a few days training your team to help them get comfortable with the new processes.

Note: When choosing an automation tool, make sure it’s easy to use for everyone on your team.

4. Start the automation process

When your team is finally ready for automation, it’s time to implement it. 

If you’re planning to optimize multiple tasks, don’t just automate them all at once!

It can cause an information overload that’ll confuse your team!

Don’t let this happen to your employees!

Gradually introduce changes in workflow, one by one

Next, you should monitor your team to see if they’re using the workflow automations correctly.

5. Measure KPIs

You may have automated your workflow, but has it improved your business? 

In order to see the difference it has made to your processes, you need to track KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). 

Here how you can track your KPIs:

  • Productivity increase: track the number of hours saved by automating a task
  • Speed of time to market: calculate the time it takes to create a product from start to finish
  • Customer satisfaction: track online reviews and feedback

Note: These KPIs should be relevant to the business goals you’ve set earlier.

The Best Workflow Automation Solution For 2020

What’s the one thing that’s remained constant across this article?

You need a workflow automation tool to manage the automation process!

But with so many automation options, which one should you choose?

As the professor would put it – ‘We have some good news, everyone!’ 

ClickUp has features to make your automated workflow awesome to the max!

What’s ClickUp?

ClickUp is the world’s highest-rated project management software that’s used by 100,000+ teams in startups to major companies like Google, Netflix, and Uber. 

Whether you use Agile, Scrum, or any other management method, it has everything you need to automate your administrative tasks.

Let’s take a closer look at ClickUp’s Automations and how they help you.

ClickUp Automations

With ClickUp Automations, your team will spend less time managing their tasks, and more time doing them! 

Here’s just a small sample of what you can do with ClickUp’s workflow Automations:

You bet it is Bender!

How do ClickUp Automations work?

Before we begin, we need to take a look at the elements of a ClickUp Automation.

1. Automation Elements
A. Triggers

They are events or things that need to happen in order to start an automation. 

Here are just a few triggers that you can choose in ClickUp:

  • Status changes: when a task status changes, an action will be performed automatically
  • Task created: when a team member creates a task, an action will be performed automatically
  • Due date arrives: when the due date approaches, an action will be performed automatically

For example, whenever the Planet Express ship breaks down, Fry can create an automation to alert Leela.

B. Conditions

Want to decide when a trigger should be activated?

Conditions will do the trick!

Conditions are statements that must be true in order for workflow Automation to run. 

Let’s take a look at a few of them:

  • Assignee: task has been assigned to a specific team member
  • Due date: task should match the specific due date before
  • Tag: task should have a certain tag
  • Assignee: filter for specific users, all, or none

Note: You can add multiple conditions for a single Automation.

If we stick to the Planet Express example here, one of the conditions could be alerting Leela when the ship breaks down and she’s present in the ship.

C. Actions

Actions are things that will happen when the automation has been triggered, and a condition has been met

So once the ship breaks down and Leela’s in the ship, the automation is going to alert her. Here, the alert is the action that takes place.

There are tons of automated actions that can be done in ClickUp like:

  • Change status: changes the status (‘To do’, ‘In Progress’, ‘Done’) of a task
  • Add a comment: add any comment you want on the task
  • Add Custom Fields: set a unique field to your task like value, budget, etc. 

Note: You can add multiple actions for a single automation.

2. How elements work together

Now let’s put all the elements together, and we get this schema:

‘When this happens (trigger), and this is true (condition), then the system does this (action).’

For example:

Whenever the Planet Express spaceship needs some urgent work, Leela is the one who handles it.

So the automation schema would look like this:

‘When a due date is approaching (trigger), and the assignee is Leela (condition), then add comment ‘Fix it. Fix it. Fix it.’ (action 1), and update status to ‘In Progress’’ (action 2).

This way Leela knows what she has to do, without Fry yelling at her! 

She also doesn’t have to manually change the task status.

3. Creating Automations in ClickUp

There are two ways to use Automations in ClickUp. 

You can either choose from a large library of 50+ Automations, or you can create your own custom Automation to suit your business workflow!

 Here’s how:

  1. Open List View of your tasks.
  2. Click on the cute robot icon
  3. Click +Add Automation
  4. Create your own trigger, conditions, and action.
  5. And Bam! You’ve created a custom Automation!

Note: After you’ve created an Automation, you can choose to toggle them between on/off.

4. Monitoring your team’s performance

Once you’ve set up your automated workflows, you need to see if they’re improving your team performance.

So how do you monitor your Agile team’s performance?

With Agile Dashboards!

Dashboards display important metrics that indicate how your Scrum or Agile team is progressing through a project. 

ClickUp’s Dashboard has plenty of Widgets like:

  • Velocity Charts: determines the number of tasks your team can complete in a given period of time
  • Burn-Up Charts:  determines how close your team is to finishing the entire project
  • Burndown Charts: shows the amount of work remaining in a project at any given time

Need more features?

Calm Down Zoidberg

ClickUp has tons of features that can be used by all teams:

Conclusion

Workflow automation is a powerful way to help you optimize any process in your organization. If it’s done right, your team doesn’t have to load up on coffee and stay up late working on unnecessary administrative tasks!

While Fry may have gained super-speed after too much coffee, we’re sure your team will only get jittery and tired.

Which is why it’s essential to go ahead and start automating what you can.

But you can’t automate your workflow without an automation software, right? 

Like Bender, let ClickUp be your tech automation companion. 

This way, you can focus on doing what you love, while ClickUp takes care of the rest!

Sign up for ClickUp today, and automate your productivity into hyperdrive! 

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