Have you thought about how to make things more efficient in your business?
When you’re working with a virtual assistant, it’s important to make the most of the relationship by having good workflow management practices in place. An efficient business means more room for growth and more satisfied customers.
Ideally, you want to create a collaborative environment, where you and your virtual assistant can seamlessly work together and where communication is understood.
Here are some workflow tips to consider when working with a VA:
- Map out your processes
- Assess your current workflow and look for inefficiencies
- Research your options and look for solutions
- Adapt and make any necessary changes
What is a workflow?
First of all, a lot of people get tied up in the lingo, wondering what exactly a workflow is. The term has become a bit of a buzzword in the last few years, so it’s important that we don’t lose its core meaning.
We like to keep it simple — a workflow is the series of steps to be completed in order to accomplish a task. Usually, you can illustrate it through a sequential diagram or as simple bullet points of one through five (or however many steps are involved).
Workflows have their origins with Henry Gantt (the guy who invented the Gantt Chart) and were devised as an efficient means of managing a workforce. Gantt’s underlying question was “What is the most efficient way to get this done?” He understood that to answer this, he needed to know the exact jobs that had to be done to accomplish the task, who was responsible for them, and how long each job took.
A workflow may be able to be completed by one person on their own, or they may have dependencies. For example, if your virtual assistant does any type of task that needs approval before it is made “live,” then a step in the process involves someone else.
How workflows help with team management
The bottom line is that when you’re managing people other than just yourself in your business, you need a system that is continuous and efficient. If you’re off sick or taking a break, you don’t want the business to grind to a halt.
On top of that, you don’t want team members (like your virtual assistant) always asking questions in order to finish tasks. This is a very inefficient way of doing things as it interrupts both your day and theirs.
Researchers estimate that businesses lose 20 to 30% in revenues every year due to inefficiencies in their practices. This is on top of other pitfalls, such as extra time spent on tasks due to bottlenecks.
"Businesses lose 20-30% revenue per year due to inefficient processes."
Thinking ahead to when you might need to hire additional team members, having clearly defined and documented workflows can help to onboard them more efficiently. When people can refer to a documented process, it cuts back on training time or those “how do I do this again?” questions.
Workflow management means not only establishing those clear processes, but good communication channels to ensure messages don’t get missed.
Establishing an effective workflow
How do you begin to establish effective workflows? Here are steps to take:
1. Map out your processes
The place to begin is to examine all of your current processes and map them out, step by step. There are tools available such as Process St which are helpful for documenting your maps and giving you a tidy overview.
The key is to note each step in order — leave nothing assumed. If you already have virtual team members, work with them to document processes. People who do them every day tend to have the most insight.
2. Assess your workflows
Just because a process is documented in the exact fashion you’ve always done it doesn’t make it the best possible way to accomplish the task. Examine your workflows and look for inefficiencies affecting your team and your customers.
You could get team input here again. What has been working well? What could be changed or improved? What manual steps could be automated?
3. Research your options
Research is a great task for your virtual assistant. For anything you’ve identified that might be done better, look for solutions.
Find tools that will help you to automate tasks wherever possible. Anything manual has the potential to create a bottleneck. What if the person responsible is away? Automation isn’t taking away someone’s job here, it’s helping you to create a more efficient virtual team. Automating can free them up to take care of other important things.
Alternatively, if automating isn’t an option, there may still be a more efficient way to get the task done. Sometimes there are redundant steps, or steps that would be more efficient if done a different way.
4. Adapt and make any changes
At this step, look at the solutions you’ve come up with for creating better efficiencies and adapt your processes. For example, maybe some steps become automated, some are eliminated or some are altered, say from a series to a parallel step.
For each process and step in the process, you determine roles and responsibilities. You then document the new process and have team members give them a “dry run.” If that goes well, then you know you’ve come up with a good plan.
Managing your workflow effectively
Your work doesn’t end once the workflow is documented — truly efficient businesses manage their workflows well so that they are kept as streamlined as possible. For example, review your workflows with team members regularly to ensure that they’re still as efficient as possible. Things change — sometimes there are new automation options that weren’t available before that will improve current workflows.
Also, consider how you document and store your processes. They should be accessible to virtual team members so that they can easily find the answer. Processes that exist on someone’s hard drive aren’t much use to the team (nor should they have to search through emails to find them).
"Your documented processes should be accessible to virtual team members so that they can easily find the answer"
Some other tips for effective workflow management include:
- Empower your virtual assistant or other virtual team members. Bottlenecks often occur when business owners or managers want to hang on to too many tasks or too many aspects of decision-making. Learning the power of effective delegation helps to ensure that your workflows are streamlined.
- Have an “open door” policy for suggestions. If you make a practice of being open to ideas, team members will feel free to come forward when they spot something that could be improved. Some of the most inefficient workplaces get that way because people are afraid to speak up!
- Establish clear and effective channels for communication. In some companies, there are so many different channels in use (email, Slack, Skype etc) that no one knows which they should be using and for what. Your team should always know the best way to ensure that those who need to see their messages.
- Establish clear goals and timelines. Everyone on your team needs to know what is expected of them and when.
- Have a culture of accountability. How do you keep track of whether tasks are happening on time, or if anyone is being held up by the step ahead of them in the process? Create a transparent overview of what’s happening. Make it a habit of holding each other accountable. Sometimes people will push tasks to the side when they feel they’re working on something more important, however, that “small” task being neglected creates a bottleneck for someone else.
Workflow management may not even be something you’ve specifically thought of, but we all do it in our businesses. The question is whether we’re doing it effectively.
The aim is to get tasks done in the most efficient manner possible and to ensure that everyone knows exactly what needs to be done. Efficient workflows keep the business going whether you’re present or not and allow you to scale and grow your operations.
As a virtual business, your bottom line can depend on your workflows. It is well worth your time giving them some attention.
If you're looking for other ways that a virtual assistant can help your business with, make sure to read our Ultimate Guide to Virtual Assistants. This guide walks you through all the types of tasks that a virtual assistant can do for you and details all the steps necessary to enable your virtual assistant to eradicate your business overwhelm.