The idea of “workflow” in business is broad, with different meanings depending on the company and context. In general, we use the term to mean any sort of system that takes a process from A to B, start to finish.
Workflows happen all around us, all the time, from product and business development to sales, marketing, and service. The parameters and goals vary, but one thing is for sure: more streamlined and efficient workflows are always the goal.
No matter what your team sets out to do, you need to set up workflows to your advantage with minimal friction, downtime, and room for error.
Let’s get into the best ways to make your team’s workflow more efficient in 2022, with some tips from business pros who oversee every detail, every day.
While it might sound reasonable to start with the general goal of improving workflows, framing things this way is not going to get you far in terms of results.
It’s better to start with practical objectives from a business standpoint and then look at how to achieve them through better workflow management.
“Nearly every issue in the company can be traced back to workflow in some shape or form,” said Michael Mosse, Co-Founder and Head of Revenue at Hoist. “As leaders, we need to state our broader goals at the beginning, whether that’s cutting down inefficiencies or saving time. This makes more sense than just trying to fix random workflows with no goal in sight.”
Examples of these goals can be found in every department, from employee onboarding and training to shipping, fulfillment, and customer support.
“There is a weak point in every business, even those that seem to be firing on all cylinders,” said Sarah Pirrie, Brand Director at Healist Naturals. “Don’t just set out on a crusade to streamline workflows in hopes of getting random results. Approach this type of project with a clear intention just as you would any other.”
Not sure what goals to set for yourself? Clients, customers, business partners, and coworkers will all have valuable input worth a listen.
You likely have an idea of which workflows need restructuring or complete deconstruction and rebuilding. But only with a complete audit will you be able to pinpoint problems and prescribe solutions that last.
“This is your chance to dig deep into how workflows are really functioning and set a higher standard for how you want them to work,” said Jae Pak, Founder of Jae Pak MD Medical. “Anything set of tasks that is repeatable and can be sequenced into a set of clear steps, that’s something worth examining more closely. Chances are that you can streamline some of those steps, but it starts with understanding each workflow with a clear vision.”
How can you tell that a workflow has slowed or changed for the worse? Look for some tell-tale signs and investigate.
“Bottlenecks are the enemy when it comes to workflow, and identifying these points of concern is your main goal when performing this type of audit,” said Tyler Read, Founder and Senior Editor at Personal Training Pioneer. “These can happen where you don’t have the resources or the personnel to process information. Perhaps the necessary data is out of reach for team members when they need it most. Any time you see backlogs or tickets piling up, that’s a sign that a bottleneck is tightening and it needs to be addressed.”
Be mindful that an audit does not necessitate an overhaul of every business process in sight. Sometimes, audits can simply affirm that you’ve made the right choice from the start, and no further adjustment is required.
After the completion of your audit, it’s time to start fixing workflows that need revision or foundational reworking.
Digitization should be your first priority here, since a surprising proportion of companies have not yet made the full leap.
“I see digital transformation as a formula: simplified patient journey + streamlined employee workflow = a memorable experience,” said Tom Barnett, Chief Information and Digital Officer of Baptist Memorial Health Care. “The ability to distill the touchpoints down to only what is necessary, make the behind-the-scenes workflow less cumbersome (reducing silos and friction points) and accelerate the entire throughput with carefully selected and complementary technology is the essence of digital transformation. Process is always upstream from technology, and any digital effort should take that into consideration.”
Don’t be discouraged if your organization still uses physical documents to stay on top of tasks, but the majority of workflows should be digitized at their core.
You may need some guidance to streamline your company’s workflows, especially if your business has only recently been formed.
Luckily, there are numerous templates and existing examples of workflows that apply to most businesses, even if some minor tweaking is required.
“There are consultancies and service providers totally dedicated to the craft of making workflows more streamlined and efficient,” said Cody Candee, Founder and CEO of Bounce. “You can knock out most of your simple workflows with pre-made concepts and just make them fit to your organization. No shame in using what’s available to get things moving in the right direction.”
It also helps to take hints from existing workflow designs and use these frameworks to map out new ideas from scratch. This is particularly useful when sharing concepts.
“Even if they may seem obvious in your mind’s eye, visual representations and diagrams help people on your team understand your ideas more clearly,” said Matt Miller, Founder and CEO of Embroker. “Use the full range of visual tools to your advantage and spell things out in elementary terms. The point isn’t to look smart – it’s to get your solution in place and working.”
The entire process of building and using workflows made a pivot with the shift to remote work in the past two years. If you haven’t yet built workflows for off-site employees, what are you waiting for?
“As many companies move into a hybrid work model where employees will remain distributed long term, they will look to adopt new tools for culture building and stop trying to solve all of their culture and wellness challenges over the company video meeting platform,” said Lisa Walker, VP of Brand and Corporate Marketing at Fuze. “Leaders will turn to tools like Weve for team building and Thrive Global for employee wellness. And that’s just the beginning as the innovators begin to address the demands of the hybrid office.”
With the hybrid office taking precedent, team leaders must bridge gaps between employees working on different schedules and time zones. This adds a new challenge to workflow optimization.
“Accept that there will be some obstacles when creating workflows for the hybrid workplace, but it’s definitely possible,” said Fred Gerantabee, Chief Experience Officer at Foster Grant. “Part of this is reiterating the roles of everyone on your team so that you don’t have people pointing fingers and offloading responsibilities. The hybrid office can only thrive if we’re all 100% certain about our jobs and what we need to do. Workflows should be designed in a way that promotes this structure. Now is not the time to ‘wing it’ by any means.”
Once your new workflows are established, it’s easy to sit back and consider the job done. However, you’ll need to follow up with key team members and ensure everything is working out as planned.
“Take this opportunity to look at your business from a different point of view and think in terms of pure resource allocation and effort,” said Trisha Bantigue, CEO of Queenly. “Workflows are mechanical in nature and work best when they follow the same script over and over. Anything related to notifications, approvals, procurements, forms, data organization – these all need to be in the spotlight as you tackle this project. During the review process, make sure everyone is satisfied with the outcome and let no voices go unheard.”
Not happy with how a new business process is playing out in reality? Don’t wait until next year to address it as problems compound in front of you.
“The whole point of this exercise is to get comfortable reconfiguring workflows and always looking for ways to make them better,” said Michael Hennessy, Founder and CEO of Diathrive. “It’s okay to have a sense of dissatisfaction with how things are and be pushing for the next evolution at all times. The key is not to be pushy or overly demanding, but to nurture the idea that workflows can always improve.”
As long as a company is running, there will always be pressure to streamline workflows and make daily operations more efficient.
“Nobody knows the workflow experience like employees themselves, so enable them to make changes as they see fit,” said Lauren Kleinman, Co-Founder of The Quality Edit. “When your team members have that power, they take matters into their own hands – in a good way.”
Workflow management starts at the top, but the approach must soon be embraced as part of the company culture. The result is a self-sustaining company that never falls behind the times.