As an entrepreneur or people manager, you will inevitably come to a point where it seems there is never enough hours in the day for you to accomplish all that you need to, when you become overwhelmed by all the tasks that need doing. To share the load and allow you to concentrate your energy into duties that only you can do, you decide to hire a virtual assistant, hoping he or she can help alleviate some of the work, and take care of the mundane jobs and details that you no longer have the time to do.
Whether your aim is to train your virtual assistant, increase automation, set up a reproduction of tasks, or others, workflow management is the perfect solution to achieving optimal business processes.
What is Workflow Management?
Workflow management pertains to a list or a visual illustration of the steps needed to get a job done. Most of us, when assigned a task, do not think too deeply on the steps we undergo to reach the desired outcome; however, good workflow management means optimizing the steps – removing bottlenecks and redundant steps, minimizing errors, and checking for areas of improvement – streamlining what needs doing, and finding a more efficient way to go about managing your work. It can be done by one person or can involve others, especially on tasks that require something from someone else before it can be completed, like deliveries, payments, etc.
“The purpose of this whole method of workflow management is not to let your brain become lax, but rather, to enable it to move toward more elegant and productive activity. In order to earn that freedom, however, your brain must engage on some consistent basis with all your commitments and activities. You must be assured that you’re doing what you need to be doing, and that it’s okay to be not doing what you’re not doing.” (David Allen)
You’ve Hired a Virtual Assistant – Now What?[For the sake of simplicity, your virtual assistant will be representing not only your actual VA in this article but will stand-in for the rest of your team (should you decide to hire more people as your business grows).]
You’ve hired a virtual assistant, and you’re excited to get started. For the first time, someone is there to take care of the details, and you can focus your energy and creativity on the big picture. Creating a workflow management system will not only be of great assistance to your VA, but will enable you to have a set process on which to orient other employees as well.
It will enable you to see how your business works from the top down, highlighting any steps in the process that actually bog down the smoothness of the workflow. 20-30% of businesses lose profit from inefficiency, not including profits lost from too much time spent on doing tasks.
The workflow system you put in place will provide a reference point for your VA to consult if he or she has any questions. It will be extremely inefficient and unproductive if you end up receiving a message every few minutes from your VA because he has questions on how to go about each task. In the same vein, creating a workflow management process will reduce micromanagement from your end, which is one of the leading causes of attrition in the workplace.
Having a bulleted workflow will not only enumerate tasks that need to be done thereby ensuring none are missed, but it will also show accountability and the time expected for completion of each.
Tips to Workflow Management for your VA:
How do you even begin to establish an effective workflow management system? Here are some tips to keep in mind:
1. Map out your process.
This step may be time consuming, but I cannot emphasize enough how crucial it is. Taking the time and effort to go over and write down the nitty-gritty details of your standard operating procedures can save you a lot of time in the long run – without the need to correct mistakes or redo steps.
- This process should include not only the MAJOR steps that cover the broad strokes of what needs to be done, the MICRO details that are under this umbrella, but also any additional ADVICE or information you’ve gained from your own experience that will help your VA accomplish what he needs to.
- Because of the amount of information that a workflow management system can contain, drawing them out into a flow chart may help clarify and visually showcase how to go about completing a task better than an enormous amount of text.
- Make sure this step is clear and detailed enough that it won’t require any further explanation from you.
Write the steps in order, including suggestions from any current team members you already have on board. People who do the work every day have the most insight into how they go about accomplishing their jobs, and suggestions on improvement.
2. Assess your workflow process.
Look over the workflow you’ve diagrammed with a critical eye. Assess each step, and ask your VA and team members for their input. Just because what you’ve outlined is the way you’ve always done things, it doesn’t mean that this is the most efficient way to go. Identify potential bottlenecks and redundant steps in the process, and move on to the next tip.
3. Research options to improve the process.
With the points of inefficiency you’ve identified, you (or your VA) can research options on how to improve each step. If there’s potential to automate, do it. Automating doesn’t mean taking someone’s job away, but results in you being able to channel your time and resources into better use.
At present, there are a lot of technological tools that can help automate the process – Slack, Asana, Podio, to name a few. Find out which works for your needs, and take advantage of them.
4. Make changes, if needed.
For a business to succeed, you have to adapt.
After you’ve looked through your workflow, changed the steps that need changing, removed the redundant ones, digitized those that are manually done, automated (if possible) that which rely too much on others, assign roles and responsibilities, and conduct a dry run to see how it affects your workflow.
Review, re-assess and renew.
Schedule regular reviews of your processes to make sure it is still as streamlined as you want it to be. As your company grows and newer tools for automation come into the market, you may discover better methods of optimizing that weren’t initially there when you first created it.
Store your process in a place that’s easily accessible for your employees, old and new. This will make it simpler for everyone to refer to it when needed, without having to waste time searching for who to talk to, or what tool to use. It will also streamline the onboarding process and ensure there is only one message that is communicated.
Creating a good workflow management process and putting it into practice cannot be emphasized enough. Sometimes, you create one, yet it takes a backseat to the daily operations and grind of business. But the advantages to having an optimized system are numerous – it provides insight on your business process, improves communication between team members, reduces redundancy, provides visibility and accountability, and will allow you to improve the quality of your services leading to happier, more engaged employees, and to a more satisfying customer experience for customers as well.
Having an optimized workflow management system in place will allow your business to run despite your absence, and regardless of the size and complexity of your operations. As a virtual business owner who doesn’t receive daily face-to-face time with your employees, having a streamlined workflow can make or break your bottomline.