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Unlocking Team Productivity: A Simple Guide to Workflows
Remote work has been a godsend for employees: no more commuting, working in the comfort of home, and more flexibility on when/where work gets done, to name a few benefits.
But for managers, leading remote teams can be a challenge.
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There’s plenty of evidence showing that remote teams — under the right circumstances — perform better, while improving quality of life that come from working remotely.
“Workers with full schedule flexibility report 29% higher productivity and 53% greater ability to focus than workers with no ability to shift their schedule, according to a report from Future Forum” — via Forbes
More often than not, projects that start as Notion workspace builds venture into a broader territory: workflow optimization.
As a leader, your understanding and efficient implementation of workflows could be the turning point for your organization.
To avoid the potential to over-jargoning this blog post (coming from architecture and education, I know very well how easily jargon can run rampant), I’ve put together key takeaways on the intricacies of workflows, explore why they’re critical, and break down ten strategies to streamline them.
What is a Workflow?
First, let’s demystify the term “workflow”.
A workflow is a sequence of steps necessary to complete a task or process. Each step has a specific outcome and leads to the next phase.
In a company, workflows are the veins through which information and tasks flow. From handling customer inquiries to product development, workflows are involved in almost every aspect of a business. Understanding these flows is crucial because they dictate how efficiently your team can complete tasks.
The Cost of Inefficiency
Consider this: If each employee at a 50-person company spends just one hour a week on a task that could be eliminated through better workflow, the total lost time is 50 hours a week or 2,600 hours a year. That’s equivalent to more than a full-time employee! The tangible costs of inefficient workflows can be staggering, and that’s not even mentioning the intangible costs such as employee frustration and customer dissatisfaction.
Often, all it takes is a review of what work is getting done (we’ll get into auditing later), to determine which tasks can get automated, or removed altogether.
The Benefits of Streamlining Workflows
Now that the costs are clear, let’s talk benefits. Streamlining workflows can lead to better consistency, faster execution, decreased errors, higher motivation and less confusion. Clear workflows that have been optimized for max efficiency empower employees to focus on the tasks that truly matter and contribute to your company’s success.
There’s a common assumption that ‘teams that have systems for everything’ suck the creativity out of work, but it’s quite the opposite.
Having clarity and confidence in the workflows in place removes tons of micro-decisions amongst team members, leaving more space for solving complex problems and getting into deeper, more creative work.
Strategy 1: Workflow Audit
“You can’t improve what you can’t measure.” — Peter Drucker
Understanding is the first step to improving. Mapping workflows, and each individual step, can seem like a daunting process (sometimes it is), which is why it’s important to start with the most important workflows within your team.
The workflow that consume the highest percentage of employees’ time is the perfect starting point. Mapping can be done in a simple bullet pointed document, or diagrammed using tools like Miro or Whimsical. Once workflows are mapped, including deliverables, assignees, and dependencies (task x needs to be done before we can start task y), hold brainstorming sessions with your team members who are directly involved in these processes. This will help to identify bottlenecks, redundancies, and areas for improvement.
Strategy 2: Develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
Confession: when I first started consulting, I had no idea what an SOP was.
Worse, my first thought was: why would teams spend so long writing reports on what they do, for team members that will never read them?!
It wasn’t until I worked with a few 100+ person companies that I saw the huge benefit of standardizing processes.
If your team doesn’t have SOPs in place, they are essential for consistency. They are detailed, written instructions that spell out exactly what steps are required for a particular process or task. This ensures that workflows are carried out the same way each time, which can be particularly beneficial for complex or infrequently-performed tasks.
An added bonus? If your team hires a consultant or contractor, the right SOP saves countless hours aligning on deliverables and expectations.
Strategy 3: Templatize Recurring Processes
Every team has recurring tasks or projects. These are perfect candidates to templatize.
For tasks that don’t require a unique approach every time, templates are a game-changer. They not only save time but also ensure consistency and reduce the likelihood of errors.
In Notion for instance, creating a task template allows you to pre-populate data like assignee, priority level, or time needed. With Notion’s release of buttons, the same approach can be taken with projects. Creating a project template is as easy as adding the template to your database, adding a linked view of tasks to that page, and creating a button that automatically adds tasks to that project. This is the type of low-level, rote work that can easily take hours of productivity away from employees each week.
Strategy 4: Employ Automations
If audits and SOPs feel like puling teeth, automations are exciting once teams see how much time and energy they can save.
According to Zapier data, marketers save the most time with automation tools with an average of 25 hours saved each week. IT professionals weren’t far behind, and several other roles see massive time savings.
Marketers save 25 hours/week using automation
IT professionals save 20 hours/week using automation
Customer service representatives save 16 hours/week using automation
HR professionals save 8 hours/week using automation
Sales representatives save 6 hours/week using automation
Accountants save 4 hours/week using automation
Automation can take over repetitive, manual tasks, freeing up your team’s time for more valuable activities. From scheduling social media posts to sending out recurring invoices, automation tools such as Zapier, Asana, or HubSpot can be invaluable.
Notion’s also invested heavily in making databases more powerful by way of templates and buttons, which aim to pre-populate data for recurring processes.
If there aren’t internal employees that are familiar with setting up automations, this process can be a costly process, taking employees away from their primary responsibilities. For teams who are not comfortable setting up automations, hiring a specialist ensures they’re set up using best practices, likely in a fraction of the time it would take for someone to do internally.
Strategy 5: Optimize Communication
Leaders of remote teams often take the completely wrong approach when it comes to communication. The fear that employees are not productive leads to an increase in messaging on tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams.
The result? More distraction, and less time for deep work.
Tools like Slack, while extremely useful, can become a hindrance if not used judiciously. Evaluate the necessity of each virtual meeting — could it have been an email? Encourage your team to communicate effectively and to the point. Set specific ‘communication hours’ if necessary. This can ensure that the team members do not get distracted by constant notifications and can focus on their tasks.
Strategy 6: Regularly Review and Update Workflows
What worked six months ago might not work today. Regularly reviewing and updating workflows is essential to ensure they continue to be effective. Include your team in this process and take their feedback into account.
A quarterly cadence has been most successful with clients, as this coincides with other work around OKRs or project planning. And if workflows are thought-through originally, review is less wholesale reimagining, and more looking for ways to improve.
Strategy 7: Delegate Responsibilities
This is where team leaders get tripped up, avoiding the topic of workflow altogether.
Optimizing workflows should not fall on the team leader, director, or CEO. It’s a collaborative effort that needs to take into account input from all stakeholders, including junior staff and sometimes outside consultants.
Taking a collaborative approach ensures everyone is invested in the process, and is much more willing to adopt changes. Further, clarifying workflows is an opportunity to delegate steps around to different team members. Effective delegation involves assessing your team members’ strengths and weaknesses and assigning tasks accordingly.
Strategy 8: Integrate and Centralize Tools
Whether or not your team is in Notion, there’s one big benefit to Notion and other workspace apps: less jumping around between various tools.
Using ten different tools for ten different processes can cause chaos. Instead, look for ways to integrate tools and centralize processes. For example, using a tool that integrates project management, communication, and document storage can streamline workflows substantially.
For teams who benefit from super-specialized tools, centralization may not be worth it. With every consideration of whether to migrate or consolidate tools, a simple cost-benefit analysis will give your team a good idea if it makes sense to change existing workflows.
Strategy 9: Apply the SMART Goal Framework to Workflows
A workflow should always be aligned with a clear goal. The SMART criteria works perfectly to make sure workflows revolve around healthy goals. Workflows should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
This may seem obvious, but for teams creating, standardizing, or optimizing workflows, the bigger why can often get lost in the process.
The fastest way for employees to regain their time is by identifying workflows that don’t move the company forward.
Strategy 10: Provide Training and Support
Workflow changes can be jarring for employees. A big challenge with standardizing processes is aligning employees — with varying work styles — on a single process.
Carving out room for training, support, and feedback can help team members get aligned, and help uncover any areas of confusion or friction. This might include training on new tools, coaching on communication skills, or workshops on time management.
“Workflow” can feel like a buzzword that doesn’t warrant much attention, but I’ve seen firsthand: when companies spend the time and energy to properly detail all critical workflows, the benefits are exponential.
There’s far less deliberation on how projects should be executed, employees are confident in how work gets done, and new hires have the resources they need to get up and running immediately.
Streamlining workflows is one of the most impactful steps you can take to improve efficiency, cut costs, and keep your team motivated. Setting and continuously assessing workflows sets your team up for success, and allows every employee to do their best work.
One last thing…
I’m working on a free guide: The Notion Essentials for Teams. It’s a resource comprising all the most common questions I’ve received from clients and teams new to Notion, in one easy-to-follow document.
If you’re interested in getting first access, drop your email below and I’ll send it over as soon as it’s published!
Get First Access to Notion Essentials for Teams
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