Five tips for streamlining workflows for remote teams


Date: 6 January 2021

A meture man works from home during the COVID-19 pandemic

The events of early 2020 meant that remote working went from an optional perk to a practical necessity for entire teams. Over the course of the pandemic the workplace has transformed beyond recognition. Companies of all shapes and sizes have had to adapt to home and remote working (with mixed results). Start ups are now seeing both the advantages and the disadvantages of working at a distance.

The pros are obvious: no laborious commuting, office rental costs, or any of the related admin. Remote working allows people to decide where and how they want to work. Someone who prefers to work in the evening can do so without being disruptive. This flexibility has meant that many people are happy with the new work arrangements.

But the cons must not be ignored. Working from home can be lonely, lead to communication issues, and - most significantly - makes some tasks (particularly those requiring collaboration) tougher to handle. Workflows can become extremely messy, leading to a huge drop in productivity. To mitigate this, you need to streamline workflows. Here are some tips for doing just that:

Clarify short-term and long-term goals

Before you can gauge the efficacy and efficiency of a workflow, you need to have objectives clearly set out. If you don't, it will be impossible to assess whether a particular process is successful? It's easy to say that the goal of each process is to maximise productivity, but that won't help until you can answer a key question: what is productivity in the context of your business and project?

There are various viable ways to define and measure productivity (GetBusy's guide provides a great reference point). You'll need to put a lot of thought into how each workflow contributes to your overall business mission. What does the workflow need to achieve in the short and long term? Once you have this figured out, you can analyse the results of each project and identify where things are going awry so you can address any issues.

Look for overlaps in your task tracking

If workers don't log all their tasks, that's something you need to address as a matter of urgency. If no one knows how much time is spent on a particular task, they cannot speed things up when they're taking too long or identify instances of blockage or scope creep (Planio has a useful outline of this). But tracking tasks is just the first step: it's what you do with that information that matters.

In addition to being aware of how long certain tasks should take, you need to look for instances of duplicated effort. It's surprisingly easy to end up with several people each being tasked with carrying out a resource review, for instance, producing numerous distinct reports that are wholly unnecessary. There should be no redundant tasks.

Define a clear chain of command

What happens when there is a blockage in the productivity process? Let's say employee one needs something to be approved by employee two and can't progress to the next stage of their workflow until that approval has been secured. If employee two is dragging their feet for whatever reason, it's a frustrating situation.

Employee one might chase employee two, impressing upon them the need to act quickly, but see their concerns brushed off. This would absolve employee one of blame but leaves them in a state of inactivity. Employee one needs to know how to escalate the objection: in other words, the person to whom they should lodge a complaint. Your job, then, is to ensure that it is always clear who's in charge of a workflow (and delegate to ensure you're not a bottleneck).

Use automation for repetitive tasks

Automation isn't a magical process, but that doesn't mean it isn't useful for dealing with the tedious and repetitive tasks that can easily soak up time and energy. Take something like creating and labeling documents, for instance. If every document takes a minute to assemble, and each employee has to create six such documents in an average day, and you have ten employees… Well, that's an hour of productivity lost each day.

By drawing upon integration-rich tools like Zapier or IFTTT, you can easily define sequences of events and have them activate following your chosen triggers. You could create a document template and set up an automation workflow to instantly create and label a document whenever needed. Even the smallest tasks can soon add up, so anything you can automate will help.

Schedule regular progress meetings

I noted earlier that communication can be a problem for teams working remotely. It can lead to gaps in knowledge or unclear task descriptions going unnoticed until it's too late to avoid the resulting slowdown. Of course, it's true that any employee can flag an issue at any time, but if there are issues with the chain of command or employees feel uncomfortable raising issues, people may not act.

To counter this, you need to schedule regular remote meetings to provide clear opportunities for people to identify problems. In a group environment, there is no need to fear coming across as pedantic or overly demanding. Employees can readily raise any blockages they are facing. You can then learn from that rich feedback and pursue relevant improvements.

Copyright 2021. Article was made possible by site supporter GetBusy

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