We’re in the digital age where competition between organizations is unparalleled. The digitally disrupted economy has paved the way for groundbreaking innovation and allowed companies of all sizes to compete with large companies. One key area of disruption and advancement is the automation of business processes.
Business process automation is important for all businesses because it’s about increasing efficiency and the overall success of a business. When you run a streamlined business with automation built-in, you are more focused and have more time for long-term goals. When you’re not firefighting (just reacting), you have time to be proactive.
As companies scale, automation becomes even more critical. The day to day operation of a growing business can be chaotic and time pressured. Some employees will be working overtime every day just to meet the demands of a thriving business. Automation is a great way to offload some of this pressure by streamlining the business processes and taking repetitive tasks away from employees.
The core element of collaboration is communication. For effective communication to be happening between teams, you need to ensure that everyone is on board with automation. Automation can be scary for some people. Some people think automation is just a fancy way of saying that a computer will now be doing their job. More broadly, people are very resistant to change, and even positive change. This is because when we keep things the same, we know how to handle it. When we change things, even if we can see that in the future we will be better off, the future still looks uncertain or unguaranteed. Even positive change usually involves an initial upheaval of comfort and learning a new way of working. So how do you get everyone on board with automation?
Automating business processes helps remove the burden of repetitive tasks from employees. For most people, repetitive tasks are boring and unfulfilling. Since they require little skill once you have done them a few times, people get no sense of achievement from doing them.
Before you can decide what business processes to automate, you need to prioritize what needs automating the most. A good way to find this out is to ask employees which tasks they are tired of completing. Can these tasks be automated? Encourage the employees to think of things they could do if they were freed up from these tasks. Once people can imagine a burden being lifted from them and even getting more satisfaction in return (by being able to focus on more fulfilling tasks), they are more likely to be an advocate for automation.
Sometimes the loudest voices dominate the conversation. This is fine when the loud voice is someone who has talked to their team and ensured everyone’s view is represented, but this is often not the case. For everyone to be on board with automation, then everyone must experience some improvement in their work life. If you have a very vocal employee who wants a specific process to be automated, but this process is only used by them and one other person, then it is unlikely to convince employees that it’s worthwhile. That isn’t to say you can’t automate niche processes, but that your priority should be on the processes that impact the most people.
Getting this wrong can harm the success of your automation implementation. Collaboration requires good interpersonal relationships between employees. If some employees perceive the automation decisions to be unfair, then this will harm the relationships between employees and harm collaboration as a result.
When you implement your automated solution, ensure that it won’t obstruct the work of your employees. This means that you should be wary of solutions that communicate the completion of all automated tasks via email. Inboxes can get clogged up very quickly on a normal day. I’m sure we can all attest to dreading our first day back at work after a vacation because we know we will have hundreds of emails waiting for us. Don’t add to this problem. Instead, look for solutions that also offer push notifications or a centralized notification system that employees can interact with.
The focus of this article is how business process automation helps to promote collaboration, but improved collaboration isn’t the only benefit of automation. Let’s take a look at some other benefits so you can make an informed decision on whether automation is right for your business.
This sounds like a simple question, but the answer can be complex once you go down the rabbit hole. The key is to focus on the high-level goals you have from automation and determine where it can make the most impact.
One report found that the inability to successfully locate information increased the stress levels of low-stress employees by 27% and increased the stress of high-stress employees by 42%. It’s clear that not having access to the knowledge you need to complete your job dramatically harms productivity. When employees can’t locate the right information, they can’t do their job effectively. The decisions they make might be incorrect, and this could have a harmful effect on the business.
The key to solving this is to centralize the knowledge within the business by using automated knowledge bases. This concept can be taken further with omnichannel platforms that will seamlessly integrate information between teams so there’s no need for agents or other staff to manually copy information between applications. Manually copying information can lead to errors or duplicated data. Collaboration is harmed because some teams are working with erroneous data and making incorrect assumptions. When this is eventually realized, people go into blame mode.
Manually assigning tasks to the right employees is time-consuming. If the business is experiencing a particularly busy period, then this becomes even more stressful. Additionally, people aren’t always the best at judging workload or assigning work in high pressure environments. Let’s pretend an employee gets a request and think “John knows a lot about this, I’ll put this in John’s work pile”. This makes sense, but has the employee considered that everyone understands John to be the best person for these tasks and as a result his queue is full? Or this isn’t a very complex task and John is actually better spending his time working on tasks that other employees find too difficult.
An automated work management system aims to address this. For customer service agents it might mean that requests are assigned based on their experience level, knowledge, personality type, and availability. For technical support staff, it might mean requests are assigned based on availability and the suspected length of the job. The parameters are designed to take into account many different factors and arrive at the best conclusion every time.
The automation might not be perfect initially, but it gets smarter are you figure out what works best. Additionally, automated work assignment helps to promote collaboration because it eliminates the tension surrounding who assigned the task. When an employee knows that their manager assigned that task they might be thinking “why do I always get the boring tasks” or “why am I getting more work than others on my team”. It’s counterproductive, but it’s also normal for people to take this personally in some way, even when it isn’t personal. When a computer has assigned you a task, then there’s no one to be frustrated with and the situation becomes less emotional.
Repetitive tasks are time-consuming and unfulfilling to employees, but this is only one part of the equation. Performance roadblocks are when a business process is frequently mismanaged or presents a problem to employee productivity. An excellent example of this is document version control. If you don’t have a robust version control system across all file types and all departments, then confusion is inevitable. Consistency is key to collaboration here. If a team needs to share information with another team, then it’s essential that they both utilize the same systems and the same process for version control. Automating something as simple as document versions can save a lot of confusion, frustration, and duplicate efforts.
This is also true for collaboration tools within documents. There must be an easy to understand and accessible way of managing comments, changes, and feedback on documents for collaborative working to be effective.
Smart inboxes organize emails in the most efficient way. This helps to reduce the “inbox noise” and empower employees to focus on the most important tasks. When we become overloaded with information, we can become overwhelmed and slow down. Sometimes when we have too many things to do, we don’t know where to start. This can hurt the success of projects or collaborative efforts between teams if certain emails are always lost in the sea of emails. Smart inboxes help employees prioritize their workload and therefore promote better inter-team collaboration.
Even the most focused employee will need a reminder sometimes. Automated reminders and notifications are a great way to ensure that employees are staying on track and are focusing on the right tasks. Sometimes we can get tunnel vision and spend too long on one task, not realizing that we are running out of time to complete other tasks. Sometimes we do a task so infrequently that it’s easy to forget.
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