Forget about where you work. Think more about how you work, and apply automation

Photo by Jacky Chiu

Remote working has pushed communications tools into the limelight. Yet, automated business processes could be the ultimate remote life winner.

Remote working is in the news again. As various countries begin to emerge from lockdowns, the thorny issue of whether life goes back to “normal” raises its head. And what exactly is normal? According to Apple: “We believe that in-person collaboration is essential to our culture and our future.” It’s hard to argue with that, and the compromise is that three office-based days a week is all they’re asking. Yet, the statistics around remote work trends are compelling and convincing arguments for staying at home.

As the battle ensues, our focus is not on who wins, but on how the situation can be improved for everybody. And of course, we come at this from an automation point of view, and how technology can bring about a new form of productivity “normal”.

To discover how automation has already helped, and to see how it can enjoy more widespread adoption, let’s look at some examples.

Project management automation

The headline issue for many businesses is communication. While it’s important to ensure employees can successfully communicate with one another, many businesses have used this to prove their technology credentials. Bravo for those who started using Slack for the first time, or Zoom, or Teams, and so on. However, the real winners are those who dug deeper into their business processes to identify where technology could help them beyond simple communication.

Project management, for instance, is more difficult for companies accustomed to overseeing productivity from the comfort of an office. Yet, business software or processes that make project life simple and more transparent can bring great rewards. Employees at home can often feel out of the loop as to where a project is going, and who’s responsible for what task, and what the deadlines are. Good project management software mitigates these concerns by providing a full view of what each project looks like, and who does what, when, where and how.

This helps to avoid scope creep and micromanagement issues, while improving accountability, task prioritisation, and trust. And the added bonus of applying automation to project management processes helps keep things running smoothly. For example, if the input of a project involves lots of mundane or administrative tasks, an RPA process can handle these on your behalf, freeing your employees to be more productive with their time. And they will be happier for it.

Timesheets, invoices, emails, receipts, and so on; the list of thankless tasks could be endless, and why committing to a business process audit is worth the time and effort. When you identify where the bottlenecks are, you can automate past them.

Applying intelligent automation

An easy trap to fall into is to think that simply applying “technology” and automation to processes is the answer to everything. It isn’t. There are just as many ineffective ways to do this as there are effective ways. For instance, reducing the amount of paper your business uses by going remote is great, but replacing paper with cumbersome spreadsheets may not be the best answer. Likewise, being on Slack all day is hardly a remedy for getting out of your email inbox.

Part of our human desire to stay on top of communication for fear of missing something is part of what makes us unproductive. If we’re constantly trying to discover if we’re working on the right version of a document, contract, or invoice, we’re losing time. By implementing a document review process, you claw back this time and leave the anxiety of being out of the project loop to an automation process that gets it right more often than a human does. Add to this the fact that intelligent automation can go beyond the rules-based nature of document control by identifying behaviours specific to each type of input, then you’re looking at many improved scenarios. These might include better security (automated encryption), document backups, approval mechanisms that route to the right department, audit trails, access rights, and so on.

Remote working doesn’t have to be a battle about where the work is done. It ought to be a platform for discussion about how the work can be done differently. Collaboration and communication are important facets in ensuring successful project outcomes, but go the extra mile and think about how automation can take your business even further. The remote working scenario should be seen as a business opportunity, not a race to return to whatever it was you did before.

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