What is workflow automation? (Plus benefits and how-to)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 3 January 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Workflow automation is a process that allows organisations to operate more efficiently. By using software solutions to automate specific processes, organisations can reduce the time and energy they spend responding to or completing simple tasks. Automation software can be a beneficial addition for various professionals and industries, so it's helpful to understand how the process works. In this article, we define what workflow automation is, share the benefits it can offer and list steps you can follow to implement workflow automation in your own business practices.

What is workflow automation?

To answer, 'What is workflow automation?', it's simply the processes that don't require human intervention to complete. Different software solutions help businesses streamline their simple or easy-to-complete tasks, which can save them valuable time and resources. Workflow automation typically involves a series of actions that prompt a sequential action, eventually completing a task. Businesses sometimes use automation software to handle routine tasks, like creating invoices or sending emails. Software offerings can respond to a variety of applications and uses.

Professionals can create this software by coding a chain of rules for the software to follow and identifying triggers for certain actions. Because of this, the automation software often responds to employee actions first. For example, if a marketer wants to send out a mass email to all the customers on their company's mailing list, they might click on a certain button after writing the email to send it to each recipient automatically. This can help them save time because they won't have to enter each individual email manually.

What are the benefits of workflow automation?

Implementing workflow automation in the workplace can offer many benefits, including:

Efficiency

Workflow automation improves efficiency by making processes more reliable and easier to maintain. It's also often much easier to determine an issue with a software process than it is to notice an issue with a human-led process, which allows professionals to troubleshoot problems quickly. This allows the software to complete the task in the most efficient manner possible.

Related: Effective vs efficient: definitions, differences and tips

Productivity

Employee productivity improves because, with workflow automation, they can often get more work done at a faster rate. This is because the automation software can complete some of the more tedious tasks for which they may be responsible. Professionals often feel productive when they complete complex or interesting tasks. Workflow automation can allow them to focus on their more challenging tasks, decreasing their daily duties and helping them find more fulfilment in their role.

Accuracy

Since workflow tools help automate processes that may have been previously challenging because of human error, automation may help reduce errors, meaning individuals can produce work that is more precise and consistent. This consistency and accuracy can allow the workplace to improve its operations. It can also help companies create better content and products. For example, editing software that highlights spelling and grammar issues in written content can allow editors to focus on bigger content topics while also ensuring they notice minor errors in the work.

Real-time visibility

Workflow automation often integrates multiple systems and allows them to function as a unit. With workflow automation working across all systems and platforms, information is often up to date and immediately trackable. This can also help professionals notice right away if a problem arises because many software solutions provide a notification or error message. The ability to track automated tasks can also be important for company records.

Accountability

Besides minimising errors through workflow automation, it can also be easier for companies to track employee actions and assess their contributions to a project. This can help ensure accountability, because professionals understand which aspects of a project they're responsible for and know others can monitor their status towards completion. Accountability in the workplace can consequently improve productivity and allow business operations to function more efficiently.

Related: The difference between responsibility vs accountability at work

Facts-based decision making

Another benefit of workflow automation is that it can make it easier for businesses to review their processes. If they need to refer to past actions or review specific data, access to tracking information can help businesses make better-informed decisions. Since the information taken from software tracking and automation is often better organised and more accurate, companies can usually derive helpful insights from their automated processes. Reviews typically yield quantifiable results, allowing professionals to view empirical data when making their decisions. This can also be a helpful tool for record-keeping and data analysis.

Data security

Workflow automation enhances the security of databases and information systems by setting automatic actions to lock the data when the system detects potential security breaches. Workflow automation also limits the number of professionals involved in a task, which can also increase its security. This may be especially important for professions responsible for managing sensitive information.

Customer satisfaction

Automating processes can help companies increase customer satisfaction through reduced wait times and errors, making the customer experience more fluid and enjoyable. Because task automation allows for professionals to focus on other tasks, they can also use this time to devote to customer interactions. This can help improve the overall customer service of a business and build a reliable consumer base.

Related: 10 ways to consistently offer good customer service

Job satisfaction

Employees may experience improved satisfaction with their job because workflow automation can help make their jobs more time effective and less tedious. This can allow professionals to focus on tasks they enjoy more and help them feel more productive. When professionals have a high job satisfaction, they're often more likely to continue their employment at the company, which can lead to improvements in areas like workplace culture and employee retention.

How to automate workflow

The following steps show you how to automate workflow:

1. Identify a process that needs improvement

Take some time to conduct a deep analysis of your work processes and determine what aspects of each process are repetitive and may benefit from automation. It may be helpful to take your tasks and separate them into individual parts. Determine if this process benefits your team and consult with your team to see if they approve of the automation or if they think it might be worthwhile. If multiple people find a process to be unnecessary, then the process might benefit from workflow automation.

2. Define the goals to improve the process

The purpose of workflow automation is to simplify your work processes. To do this, it is important that you set practical and actionable goals. Determine how you can fix each issue and add that goal to a list. Then separate your goal into the individual steps needed for the goal to succeed. Once you have a firm understanding of your goals and how to achieve them, you can be better prepared to work with workflow software that helps you put your ideas to form.

Related: How to develop SMART goals

3. Research workflow software

There are many workflow automation tools you can choose from. Most of these types of software or applications are available online. Some require payment while others are open source and freely available. Ensure that you are thorough as you decide on which one to use. Compare and contrast their pros and cons to identify which one offers the features that are most useful to the kinds of processes and functions you need to improve.

4. Create the workflow and train the team

After you select the workflow automation software you want to use, begin crafting your workflow. It can be as intricate or simple as it needs to be to accomplish your goals. Once it's created, train the team to use the new system. During the initial implementation of this software, it's helpful to be available for questions so other professionals can use your guidance to become comfortable with the software.

Try to practise patience when helping the team train to use the software, as it can allow other professionals to become more confident in their abilities and contribute to a healthy work environment.

5. Review results

Compile your data and look at the results of the automated workflow. Assess how productive the team was and see if the automated workflow actually provided the results you expected. If you see the data doesn't align with the results you intended, consult with your team members to discover where you could improve the workflow process. You can also try a different automated workflow software to see if it offers features that are more refined, intuitive or applicable to your unique business uses.

Types of workflow automation

Many companies use workflow automation for a variety of reasons, especially in human resources, information technology and finance departments. Here are some of the common ways professionals apply workflow automation to business tasks:

  • IT service requests

  • payroll management

  • time off requests

  • basic content editing

  • client and employee intake

  • timesheets

  • invoice generation

  • email campaigns

  • information storage

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