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How Small Businesses Can Maximize Automations, From a Workflow Fanatic

4 Mins read

One of the biggest causes of burnout? Repetitive administrative work, which can often feel like a four-alarm fire. This is a particularly big problem for small businesses, which often don’t have the bandwidth to tackle burnout let alone the tasks that cause it. In the past, that meant hiring an IT contractor or going through low-code training to build time-saving workflows. But today’s tools cut out that part of the process without requiring extra spending.

Automations and workflows are some of my favorite topics, especially when it means helping growing businesses understand how their small teams can operate like much larger ones to stay competitive. So what is a workflow, anyway?

Workflow 101

Some people hear the word “workflow” and are instantly intimidated. But workflows are just processes we use to streamline everyday tasks. In a manual workflow operated by humans, one completed action leads to another until the task is finished. An example of this could be an employee finishing up a report and then emailing it to their manager for approval. By contrast, an automated workflow leverages technology to route predictable requests through a predefined path without relying on humans to move the task along.

Think about onboarding new hires. The multiple, repeated steps in this process can bog down HR departments. But savvy HR reps can use a workflow and create one scheduled message delivered to all new hires on their first day as they log in for the first time. They can also add messages to be sent halfway through day one, another check-in on day two, a reminder to fill out their W2s on day three, and a friendly note with recommendations for great lunch venues near the office. For the new hire, these messages feel intimate and personalized while the HR team doesn’t have to spend valuable time manually sending notes, freeing up time for high-value tasks.

Common misconceptions about workflows

          • They’re complex and challenging to set up. False
          • You need to know how to code to create them. False
          • There are no templates to get you started. False

Scale your small business with workflows

As a Solution Engineer supporting growing businesses, one of my biggest goals is to show people Slack workflows aren’t scary. Yes, big brands use them. And some may think it requires too much tech-savviness—a tool only designed for millennials or giant enterprise corporations—but that’s not true. Any size business, whether five employees or five thousand, can uplevel and scale with workflows and hack into productivity gains without background expertise.

Workflows that address process issues can help small businesses feel more in control by laying the foundation for how they want their business to operate. Without formal processes, things can fall through the cracks, causing inefficiencies and slow growth.

Plus workflows are fun, and the user interface (UI) is easy. It’s inclusive, breathable and full of emojis so small businesses that don’t want to feel “buttoned up” with formal processes can keep their unique culture while still meeting growing business needs.

When a small business starts experimenting with workflow automations, I always recommend they crawl before they walk. A simple automation to start with is one that helps managers keep track of employee’s time off requests. Create a workflow in a channel that populates a form for a user to fill out:

  • What is the start & end date of your PTO?
  • Who is your manager?
  • What is the reason for your PTO?
  • Additional comments?

When a person fills out this form, a record is stored in the channel and their manager is notified of the request. The manager can then react with a check mark emoji that formally approves the request and informs the employee that they’re good to go.

Once you have some experience walking and are ready to run, Slack’s Next Gen Platform allows you to plug in other applications for more advanced workflows that further streamline processes. How advanced? Imagine streamlining your business’s marketing efforts by connecting Workflow Builder (available with paid accounts) to ChatGPT and Dolly. Filling out a workflow form could direct ChatGPT to write a blog post that, once approved by your team, is condensed down to a tweet, then Dolly creates an image to go with the tweet. The tweet and accompanying graphic are posted and the post is added to your organization’s social media calendar in a Google sheet.

Internal workflows that boost efficiency and enhance company culture

I’ve shown you how workflows can save time and money. Now, let’s talk about how they help your organization grow and improve culture.

According to a Kofax study, over 20% of an employee’s time is spent on repetitive tasks. In a 40-hour workweek, manual tasks take up more than one eight-hour workday. Automations can reduce the number of repetitive tasks to increase efficiency and productivity and eliminate the small things that can fall through the cracks.

For example, an internal IT help request email could require several follow-up questions with back-and-forth exchanges that could take hours and slow the response cycle. If a workflow with a help request form is used instead, IT can predetermine how urgent the request is, what type of help is needed, and if an account manager needs to approve the request first. Faster IT responses improve their service level agreement (SLA) response time metric. It also means your teams can return to business sooner.

The biggest win for businesses using workflows, however, is reduced workplace stress and mental load. The increased efficiency and productivity that results from automating business processes make employees feel more confident in their everyday work. When work is automated, there’s less chance of human error, thus less supervision and micromanagement are needed. Less oversight equals employee empowerment.

Well-built internal workflows also increase workplace organization and improve internal communication, leading to a stronger workplace culture. Employees who can focus on what they enjoy rather than repetitive administrative tasks are happier. And happy teams are productive teams.

Just look at companies like Spotify Advertising. They built automated workflows and increased collaboration, leading to a 40% increase in productivity across the team by cutting down on meetings and email traffic. Then you have Shipt who has tripled the speed of internal support and uses over 500 workflows.

Embracing workflow automations

Small businesses that embrace operational efficiencies in the present will reap the benefits as they grow and scale. Leaning into time-saving productivity platforms not only keeps burnout at bay, but it can also help you smoke the competition.

Rachael Nazzaro is the Solutions Engineer at Slack.

Automations stock image by Wright Studio/Shutterstock

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