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Digital workflow management – best practices for leaders and people managers
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Digital workflow management – best practices for leaders and people managers

Discover best practices for improved digital workflow management—including some tools you can use to empower your team.

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There's a common misconception many business leaders subscribe to: the more tools in your tech stack, the better. They believe that by staying up to date with new tech–including artificial intelligence and tools for digital workflow management and communication–their teams will have everything they need to succeed. 

Not necessarily. 

Coordinating work across various stages of operations and projects is challenging enough. This is especially true if different teams use a variety of unconnected tools—making it easier for important information to get scattered all over the place. 

Having the right tech stack doesn't necessarily mean your workflows will run smoothly. You also need to follow best practices for digital workflow management and help your teams stay productive and engaged. 

In this piece, you'll learn what digital workflow management involves, including best practices to create a digital workflow that makes sense for your team. We'll also explore how a visual collaboration platform like Switchboard can act as a single source of truth for all your projects, and keep everything and everyone flowing together. 

Want more visibility into your workflows? 
Switchboard lets you organize everything and everyone by project—so it's easy to see how it all fits together. 
Learn more

What is digital workflow management?

Digital workflow management is about looking at the bigger picture of work and how your team operates large-scale, not just in specific projects. The right workflow tech stack can reduce human error by helping simplify, control, and monitor your digital workflows. These tools should also continuously find ways to improve your workflows and save everyone time. 

Here are some key aspects of digital workflow management: 

  • Process design. Workflow management starts with defining the process or business operation that needs to be managed. This involves identifying the tasks, steps, and decisions that need to happen.
  • Task sequencing. Workflows determine the order in which tasks are performed. Understanding the correct sequence of tasks and dependencies ensures that processes flow smoothly and efficiently. For example, in an ecommerce order fulfillment workflow, task sequencing makes sure the order is first verified, then packed, and finally shipped, so that each step happens in the correct order.
  • Task assignment. Each task or step in the workflow needs to be assigned to a specific individual or role within the organization. This makes sure everyone is accountable and clear on who is responsible for each part of the process. For instance, in a project management workflow, tasks are assigned to team members based on their skills and availability. For instance, design tasks might be assigned to the graphic designer, while coding tasks go to the software developer.
  • Automation. One of the primary goals of digital workflow management is to automate repetitive and manual tasks. This often involves using automation software or platforms that can trigger actions, send notifications, and move information between different systems or tools. For example, in an HR onboarding workflow, automation can be used to send automated welcome emails to new employees, schedule orientation sessions, and create user accounts in various systems without manual work.
  • Rules and logic. Workflows can incorporate rules and logic to determine how tasks are routed, decisions are made, and exceptions are handled.
  • Tracking and monitoring. Digital workflows should provide real-time visibility into the progress of tasks and processes. Managers and team members can monitor the status of work, identify bottlenecks, and act fast to resolve issues. For instance, in a manufacturing workflow, real-time tracking and monitoring can show the status of each production step. If a machine malfunctions, the system can alert maintenance for immediate attention to minimize downtime.
  • Customization. Your workflow management tools need to suit the specific needs and processes of your organization and teams. This can involve creating custom forms, templates, and rules to suit your processes and ways of working. 
  • Scalability. As your company grows and its needs change, workflows need to be scalable to handle increasing volumes of tasks and users. 

Now that you know what's involved in digital workflow management, let's dive into some best practices to create streamlined workflows that enable people to do their best work.

8 digital workflow management best practices 

According to American author, academic, and inventor Erik Brynjolfsson: "The real opportunity with digital transformation and automation is to reinvent jobs; to have them be more human, to work alongside machines."

With the right practices in mind, you can create a digital workflow that cuts out busy work and lets your team focus on their uniquely human skills and abilities. All of this can lead to increased productivity and more creative output. 

Here's how to reap the benefits of your digital workplace

1. Audit your processes 

It's easy to get sucked into digital workplace trends and sign up for tools you don't need or use. But when it comes down to simplifying your process, it's important to look for inefficiencies or redundancies in how you work, which includes fine-tuning your tech stack. 

Going through a specific process and the tools associated with it can also help you identify areas for automation, which can free up employees for higher-level thinking and projects. 

For example, after conducting a thorough review of their content marketing workflow, a marketing team recognized that they were using multiple content scheduling and distribution tools simultaneously. They realized this made their process more complex than it needed to be and also led to higher costs and occasional alignment issues.

In response, the team consolidated their tools, choosing an all-in-one content marketing platform to automate scheduling, publishing, and analytics. This change allowed them to spend more time and resources creating high-quality content and analyzing its performance, ultimately improving their overall marketing strategy.

2. Break down longer tasks 

In Agile methodology, complex tasks are broken down into manageable units called "user stories." User stories are short, user-focused descriptions of product functionality or features, which are prioritized based on urgency. Projects are then divided into small, time-boxed iterations or sprints. During each sprint, the team works on a subset of user stories, keeping the end-user at the heart of their improvements. 

In this sense, it's important to think about the method you'll use to prioritize tasks and assign responsibilities, as well as how you'll adapt to changing project needs. 

Project management tools like Asana and ClickUp have Agile and Kanban-style boards you can use to help you break project tasks into subtasks, and set up a timeframe and assignee for each one. They also let you set task dependencies, so one stage of the project can't start until another one is completed. 

3. Have clear approval workflows

Your approval workflows should outline the sequence of activities required for request, task, or project approval, including the start point, approval steps, and endpoint. This also involves setting up approval hierarchies, or determining who needs to approve the task or process. In your digital workplace, tools like Trello can come in handy to help you design, automate, and track the approval workflow. 

Depending on the tool you choose, you can design your approval process by specifying the triggers that initiate the workflow, such as a request submission. Then, configure the system to route the request to the appropriate people to approve it based on predefined criteria.

Make sure to set up automated notifications and alerts to inform stakeholders when a request or task requires their approval. This way, critical decisions progress smoothly at all stages of operations.

4. Reduce friction

When assessing your digital workflow process, you might realize there are common points of friction in certain parts of the process, like during task handoffs from one team to another. 

For example, handing off software development tasks from developers to quality assurance (QA) testers requires precise documentation and communication. Incomplete or unclear code, bug reports, or testing criteria can cause friction, which can delay your project. 

To reduce friction, your best tool is overcommunication and reducing context switching. Use visual collaboration platforms like Switchboard to unify your people, projects, and tools in persistent rooms and maintain open lines of communication with your team. This way, everyone on a project can stay up to date–async and in real time–and find everything they're looking for in one place. No more requesting access, no more sharing screens, and no more unproductive multitasking.

Switchboard project room used by product developers and managers with multiple browsers open
Switchboard reduces friction in your workflow by giving everyone visibility into project health, up-to-date resources, and tools. Source: Switchboard

5. Automate wherever possible 

Automating repetitive or manual processes frees humans up to do the high-value thinking and tasks they do best, like creative problem-solving and building relationships. Automation tools also help you better allocate your resources, save time, and reduce project bottlenecks.

You can automate anything from file management and customer service to payroll processing and marketing campaigns. But remember to always make sure the task or process you're automating isn't better performed by a person. Then thoroughly test the automation in a controlled setting to make sure it works rather than creating new workflow issues.

For example, automating repetitive tasks like data entry, collection, and analysis lets a team of product engineers move faster during sprint planning. This also lets them improve features faster.  

Since you can use Switchboard to hold your sprint planning meetings, you also get the benefit of AI-generated summaries of everything that happens in the room. This way, action points and brilliant ideas don't slip through the cracks and anyone can hop in and get updates async. 

Switchboard room with AI tool open asking the user to start a conversation
Switchboard lets you harness the power of AI during sprint meetings and get everyone brainstorming faster. Source: Switchboard

6. Set cross-functional teams up for success 

Here's a tip for building workplace trust: design a digital workflow that sets everyone–not just your own team–up for success. Resilient, adaptable companies know that the future of work involves a greater focus on cross-functional teams and emphasizing the importance of collaboration to tap into wider skill sets and perspectives. 

Here's how to make cross-functional teamwork an integral part of your digital workflow: 

  • Define roles and responsibilities within the team. Each team member should know what’s expected of them and how their role contributes to the project's success.
  • Document everything. Establish standardized processes for how work should flow through the team. Document these processes and save them in your persistent Switchboard project room so that team members can reference them when needed.
  • Get feedback. Foster an environment of psychological safety where people feel encouraged to suggest improvements and innovative solutions to enhance the digital workflow.
  • Use collaboration software. Tools like project management software, communication platforms, and cloud-based document sharing can enhance teamwork by making it easier to work together wherever you are. 
  • Use shared digital workspaces. Visual collaboration platforms like Switchboard act as a single source of truth where team members can access project-related documents, assets, and information and work on anything side by side in multiplayer rooms. This makes it easy to hop in and make progress in spontaneous 1:1 calls, brainstorming sessions, and project meetings—or work async on your own schedule.
Switchboard project room populated with browser-based apps and tools
Switchboard enables cross-functional teams by giving them more async flexibility and increased visibility into project work.  Source: Switchboard

7. Provide clear guidelines 

People need clear guidelines and instructions so they can manage their tasks and use any associated tools. This helps them visualize the workflow and better understand the part they play in making it happen, which can increase ownership and teamwork. 

Here's what you need to do: 

  • Take a tour of the workflow. Test out your digital workflow to spot any issues and improve the chances of success. Then document the workflow, including potential issues and friction areas. 
  • Develop standard operating procedures (SOPs). These outline the standard way to execute specific tasks and processes within the digital workflow. SOPs should be concise, easy to follow, and saved in your Switchboard room. 
  • Provide training during employee onboarding. Make sure new employees are familiar with the workflow guidelines and tools they will be using.
  • Establish guidelines for communication within the team. Specify which communication channels to use in real time or async for different purposes. You should also specify expected response times and communication guidelines.
  • Talk about change management. Describe the process for handling changes, exceptions, or unexpected issues within the workflow. Make it clear how to request changes or report problems.
  • Create a digital handbook. Compile all the guidelines, processes, and roles into a comprehensive digital workflow handbook. This handbook serves as a central reference point for your team. 

8. Measure success and iterate  

To keep improving your workflow, you need a way to measure success. This involves determining key performance indicators (KPIs) that give you direct insight into problem areas or strengths in your digital workflow. 

For example, KPIs like bottleneck identification, employee satisfaction, customer retention, and change request volume all give you a solid understanding of whether your digital workflow is benefitting your team and company. 

You can collect and analyze performance data provided by your digital workflow software to spot improvements. Also, just because you've created your digital workflow, it doesn't stop there. Create a culture of continuous improvement and feedback so you can spot places to improve.

Digital workflow management: Improve it with Switchboard

Building a strong digital workflow isn't about overloading your team with tools that claim to make their lives easier. It's about having a clear understanding of your processes and which tools you need to turn them into streamlined workflows.  

Managing your digital workflow involves following best practices like breaking down large tasks, automating wherever possible, reducing friction, and setting cross-functional teams up for success. You also need to provide clear guidelines to enable your people to do their best work. 

When you sign up for Switchboard, you get persistent rooms that save your work and the ability to add all the browser-based tools you need in your workflow, without lengthy integrations or downloads. This gives everyone increased visibility and control over their work and projects and lets them follow workflows and complete tasks without ever leaving the room. That means less time digging around in different places to find what they need, fewer unproductive meetings, and more time for focus work.     

Want more visibility into your workflows? 
Switchboard lets you organize everything and everyone by project—so it's easy to see how it all fits together. 
Learn more

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Want more visibility into your workflows?

Switchboard lets you organize everything and everyone by project—so it's easy to see how it all fits together.