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What is a digital workflow? + How to automate your processes
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What is a digital workflow? + How to automate your processes

Find out how digital workflows improve productivity and employee satisfaction. Plus, examples and steps to create your own digital workflows.

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The concept of workflows goes back to the Industrial Revolution. Engineers Frederick Taylor and Henry Gantt (he of the charts) realized that logically organizing tasks makes them more efficient and easier to track. They created graphic representations of manufacturing processes and the workflow was born.* 

Taylor and Gantt knew that manual processes can be time-consuming and prone to errors. They also knew that standardization makes tasks more scalable and repeatable.   

Your team may not be making steam engines like Gantt and Taylor, but automating their work frees them from tedious tasks so they can focus on difficult problems instead. It also makes it easier to keep everyone on track and on the same page by reducing silos, bottlenecks, and multitasking. 

It’s now easier than ever to automate tasks so, in this post, you’ll learn how to improve efficiency for your team through digital workflows and automation. You’ll also get some examples of digital workflows and steps to automate your processes.  

Ready to revolutionize your business? 
Switchboard boosts efficiency by uniting all your people, tools, and files in one central space that makes everything multiplayer. 
Learn more

What is a digital workflow?

A digital workflow is an automated, interconnected series of steps designed to perform a specific task or achieve a desired outcome. It’s about using tech to automate tasks, share information between apps, and automate notifications and handoffs between stages.   

For example, instead of using email, spreadsheets, and Google Docs to manually request, gather, and share feedback on a new beta feature, you can automate the process using project management software to create a task and notify stakeholders to provide input. Then, generative artificial intelligence (AI) can summarize the key points for you to share with your developer team.   

Some benefits of using digital workflows to automate work  

Using digital workflows to automate repetitive or manual tasks has a lot of advantages, like: 

  • Improves productivity: Digital transformation through automation of repetitive or manual tasks saves time, reduces inefficiencies, and frees humans up to do higher-value work instead. 74% and 86% of automation users say using it helps them work faster, 86% report faster decision-making, and 47% report fewer menial tasks.
  • Fewer errors: Nobody intends to make mistakes, but they can and will happen. We’re only human! Automation removes the risk of human error, like missing rows in a spreadsheet, accidentally deleted documents, or leaving people off important emails. Sixty-six percent of people report fewer errors.
  • Better teamwork and easier collaboration management: Automated workflows make it easier to connect departments and tools, which reduces team and information silos. Ninety percent of users report improved cross-departmental collaboration. Assigning tasks in a central platform also lets everyone see owners, due dates, and statuses, which promotes transparency and accountability. It also helps avoid communication overload from people messaging everyone because they don’t know who to ask.
  • Enables async work: Breaking projects down into individual, sequential tasks removes the need for people to work on them in the same place or at the same time. Using centralized tools also provides a single source of truth, and relevant notifications keep everyone on the same page. All this means you can cancel more meetings and get back more time for focus work. 
  • Better decisions: Digital workflow tools provide valuable insights into your activities and results, so you can identify bottlenecks, evaluate whether goals and timelines are realistic, and improve your workflows.
  • Happier employees: Rather than replacing people, workflow automation frees them up to grow and do more rewarding work. Also, Ninety-one percent of workers say automation offers better work-life balance and 89% are more satisfied with their job. Happier employees also mean happier customers. For example, when your product manager is freed from manually sharing updates, they can focus on finding product-market fit instead, which results in better products. 

Check out this post to learn more about what a digital workplace is, as well as this one to learn more about the benefits of a digital workplace.

Examples of digital workflows

Now you know the benefits of digital workflows, let’s take a look at a few processes that lend themselves to automation. 

Project management 

Digital workflow software like Asana helps with task allocation, status tracking, deadline management, and keeping everyone on the same page. Here’s a digital workflow for the execution stage of a project: 

  • Create project: Copy the project from a template and build out your workbank schedule. 
  • Assign tasks and due dates: The project manager sets up and assigns tasks to team members based on skills and availability, as well as notifications to remind people of start dates and deadlines. 
  • Work on tasks: As each person completes and closes their task, it triggers a notification for the next person to start on theirs. 
  • Monitor progress: Project managers can track progress in real-time using Kanban boards, monitor KPIs, and identify roadblocks. 
  • Communicate with stakeholders: Automatic notifications keep stakeholders informed of progress and any changes to the project after each meeting or update. 
  • Quality control: Slack or email integrations take the grunt work out of feedback and approval processes. Gather input using survey templates from tools like Typeform, and Zapier to push survey results to Google Sheets for analysis. 
Pro tip: Switchboard’s visual collaboration platform streamlines project management by uniting everything and everyone you need for your project in one persistent room. This lets you keep everyone on the same page, create frictionless workflows, and build products faster. 

See here for more information about how to use project rooms.
Switchboard sidebar displaying rooms grouped by project
Keeping information organized by project means you never need to go looking for links again. Source: Switchboard 

Sprint planning  

Digital workflow solutions and AI help with sprint planning by cleaning up data, helping you prioritize, and enabling more productive, shorter meetings. Here’s how: 

  • Product roadmap review: The product owner reviews the roadmap and vision to ensure any new features will move the vision forward. 
  • Backlog grooming: Use tools like Jira to create a sprint and drag and drop user stories from your backlog into it for grooming and updating. Then, use the “GPT for Jira” integration to process stories and create acceptance criteria. 
  • Propose sprint goal: The product owner proposes a sprint goal before the planning meeting. For example, for an ecommerce site, it could be “Develop the checkout process.” Jira then sends automatic notifications to alert your team to review the proposal async before the sprint planning meeting.  
  • Schedule sprint planning meeting: The project manager schedules the sprint planning meeting and sets up reminders using Google Calendar or something similar.
    Sprint planning meeting:
    If you’re using Switchboard’s visual collaboration platform, you can share user stories and the proposed goal in your persistent sprint planning room before the meeting. This lets everyone get up-to-date async beforehand, so you can get straight down to business in the meeting, which you can also run in Switchboard. If anyone couldn’t make it they can catch up later with room recordings and AI-generated summaries of sticky notes.
Pro tip: Switchboard’s persistent sprint planning rooms let you unite engineers, designers, and product teams–and all the browser-based apps, documents, and files they need–in one central space. This reduces prep time, enables more async work, and reduces the need to have multiple tabs open or spend ages hunting for what you need. 
Best of all, after the meeting, everything stays right where you left it, ready for next time, so you never need to populate the room again. 

Check out this page to understand how to use Switchboard for sprint planning.
Switchboard room with various design apps open
With Switchboard, everyone can communicate in context. Source: Switchboard 

Software development 

From coding to testing to deployment, each workflow step can be automated to boost efficiency and reduce errors, like this: 

  • Code generation: Developers create boilerplate code using AI tools according to tasks assigned to them in your workflow management platform. As they work, tools like Jenkins or GitLab CI automatically merge code to a central repository. This removes the need to do it manually once it’s all ready and means you spot bugs sooner. 
  • Code review: Once developers complete their tasks, senior developers get a notification and can start using automated tools to check for errors and adherence to standards. This slashes time and work from the final manual review.  
  • Testing: Post-review, QA engineers run automated tests using tools like Selenium to spot bugs. 
  • Deployment: Approved code is deployed to a test environment using tools like GitLab before going live. 
  • Monitoring and maintenance: Post-deployment, automated monitoring tools like Zoho Bug Tracker to identify issues in real time and trigger alerts for DevOps to correct them. 

Creative and design reviews 

Automation streamlines the process of gathering feedback, implementing changes, and getting approvals. Here’s how to do it async in a Switchboard room:

  • Submit design: Designers add files to the room and close their task in the project management platform, which triggers a notification for stakeholders to review it.   
  • Review and feedback: Stakeholders review designs in the Switchboard room and leave feedback in comment threads on browsers, images, or sticky notes, which AI then summarizes.
  • Task assignment: The project manager goes into the room, reviews the summaries, and assigns tasks to designers accordingly in the project management platform. 
  • Task completion: Designers complete their tasks and resubmit designs for final approval.
Pro tip: You can also run real time creative and design in your interactive, persistent Switchboard room. Just pull up all the apps and documents you need with a simple copy-paste, from Figma to videos to briefs. Then, focus people’s attention on what you want to discuss using presentation mode. Because everything’s multiplayer, you can all work side by side on anything—without waiting for your turn to share your screen. 

After the review, everything stays right where you left it, designers can hop in any time to make changes async. 
You can find more information on using Switchboard for creative and design reviews here.
Switchboard room with two people reviewing design work.
Switchboard makes it easy to keep clients and coworkers updated. Source: Switchboard 

UI/UX design 

Automating UX/UI workflows lets you act fast to improve your product based on user feedback. Here’s how:   

  • User research: Tools like UserTesting or Hotjar automatically collect and analyze data on user interactions with your product, while SurveyMonkey automates the process of gathering feedback. You can also use tools like Otter to produce automatic interview transcripts and scan them to identify keywords and phrases.
  • Information architecture and wireframing: Information architects and UX designers use tools like Figma to create a sitemap and wireframes outlining the structure and layout of the new interface. 
  • Design and prototyping: Tools like InVison or Adobe XD speed up creating visual elements like color, typefaces, etc., and producing an interactive prototype for testing. 
  • Testing and iteration: User behavior tools like Lookback again come in handy to track and evaluate beta testers’ interactions with the new interface, while Zapier can push recommendations for changes to your project management platform or share them with stakeholders. 
  • Handoff to developer team: The development team is notified that the final design is ready for them to implement using tools like Sketch. 

7 steps to automate your business processes 

Now you’ve seen some examples of digital workflows, let’s take a look at how to create your own. 

1. Identify processes to automate

First, you need to figure out which business processes are candidates for automation. Audit your processes, using AI and employee feedback, to identify time-consuming, manual, or repetitive tasks. For example, data entry, collection, cleaning, and analysis, or keeping people, files, and systems updated. Anything that requires subjective human judgment or experience, like quality control, is less suitable.

2. Map your workflows and processes

Once you’ve identified automation candidates, you can map and document your processes. Think about who’s involved, what they do, and how completion (or otherwise) of their task affects others. As well as pinpointing which tasks can be automated, this helps you spot potential bottlenecks or roadblocks. 

If you’re using Switchboard, you can use the digital whiteboard to create a visual representation of every step and action, from first to last, and how they’re related. 

3. Design workflow logic

Now, define the logical sequence of activities, decision points, and changes from one task or state to another. This standardizes the process and makes it repeatable and scalable. You also need to specify the conditions, actions, and triggers for each step or task. For example, if code review follows code building, who owns that task? Where can they find the code to review, and how will they know it’s ready for them to check? 

You should also define roles and permissions for each team member. This keeps sensitive data secure and avoids overwhelming people with access to more information than they need. 

4. Choose your digital tools

Now, choose which digital tools to use for each task and stage. These should integrate well with each other to enable a lean tech stack and reduce the number of tabs you have open while working. For example, your project management platform should integrate with Gmail and Slack to enable automatic notifications when tasks are ready for you. Using tools your team is already familiar with will also minimize disruption and speed up onboarding.

Pro tip: All your favorite browser-based tools work in Switchboard—no lengthy integrations. Just pull up what you need and get working. 
Browser in Switchboard with app logos
With Switchboard, all your apps are just a copy-paste away. Source: Switchboard 

5. Test and optimize

Once the workflow is set up, you should test it before implementing it. For example, by creating a test email account to check notifications are arriving correctly. Troubleshooting now makes training and onboarding smoother later.

6. Train your team

Once the workflow is implemented, you need to train your team. Start by letting them know why you’re automating tasks—and how this benefits them. This builds trust in the workplace and helps neutralize any anxiety about being replaced. Then, train them in any new digital tools or ways of working. 

Document your workflows in standard operating procedures (SOPs) and save these in your dedicated Switchboard room so everyone knows where to find them. This also streamlines onboarding new employees.

7. Monitor and iterate

Your business processes aren’t set in stone: needs and digital workplace trends change as new tools become available. This means you’ll need to tweak your digital workflows from time to time. 

Track KPIs like task completion, time-to-completion, or overdue tasks to evaluate whether it’s delivering on the promise of saving time and increasing efficiency. Remember to get feedback from your team so you can iterate and improve. 

Digital workflows: The key to more productive, happier teams 

In the two centuries since the workflow was created, it’s revolutionized everything from car manufacturing to finance worldwide. Now, digital workflows can improve productivity and efficiency and make for more satisfied employees by automating time-consuming manual tasks and handovers. This lets people focus on high-value work instead. 

To automate your workflows, identify your manual processes, map them out, and define the logic that governs them. Then, choose your digital tools, test the workflow, and train your team. Finally, track KPIs and get feedback so you can continuously improve. 

Switchboard makes your workflows even more efficient by giving you a central space for all your people, apps, and documents. No fiddly integrations, no digging around in multiple tabs to find what you need. Just hop into your persistent room to work on anything side by side or async, from setting up tasks in Asana to writing code in GitLab to pushing survey data to spreadsheets.   

Ready to revolutionize your business? 
Switchboard boosts efficiency by uniting all your people, tools, and files in one central space that makes everything multiplayer. 
Learn more

Frequently asked questions about digital workflows

Why do you need a digital workflow?

You need a digital workflow to realize the benefits of automating repetitive, time-consuming, or manual tasks. This improves teamwork, productivity, and efficiency and makes for happier employees. 

What are four types of workflow? 

There are many types of workflow depending on your business processes. However, many of them fall into these four categories: 

  • Sequential workflows follow a linear path where each step depends on the previous one. 
  • State machine workflows use rules to determine the next step in the process when there are multiple paths or when tasks can move back as well as forward.
  • Rules-driven workflows also use rules to determine next steps, but takes into account factors like data and user input. For example, if a customer buys a particular product, it triggers one packing and shipping workflow. Buying several, triggers another. 
  • Parallel workflows involve two processes running in parallel, like manufacturing a product and invoicing the customer simultaneously.    

What is the first step of a digital workflow?

The first step of a digital workflow varies depending on the workflow. However, it’s often assigning tasks to team members in a project management or similar process automation platform.

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