workflow automation

A guide to business workflow automation

The highest-performing teams automate manual processes to reduce human error, produce consistent results and boost productivity.

By the team at SlackFebruary 5th, 2024

What would you do with an additional 3.6 hours per week? We’re guessing a lot.

According to the State of Work 2023 report—a study Slack commissioned in partnership with Qualtrics—77% of desk workers think that automating routine tasks would improve their productivity. And they’d be right; the same report found that people using automation at work save 3.6 hours per week.

But what exactly is workflow automation? What are its benefits, and how can Slack users leverage Workflow Builder to automate routine tasks and processes? Let’s dive in.

What is workflow automation?

Before we take a closer look at the ins and outs of workflow automation, let’s first discuss workflows.

A workflow is a series of interconnected tasks performed sequentially to achieve a specific outcome. Workflows can be simple or complex, depending on the nature of your business processes.

For example, the content approval workflow of a marketing team might go like this:

  • Step 1: Content creation—The content writer creates a draft.
  • Step 2: Initial review—The editor or team lead reviews the draft to make sure it follows guidelines and quality requirements. If approved, move to Step 3. If not, go back to Step 1.
  • Step 3: Design and formatting—The graphic designer adds visual elements and ensures that the content is properly formatted.
  • Step 4: Second review—The marketing manager reviews the content to check for alignment with the overall marketing strategy. If approved, go to Step 5. If not, go back to Step 3 or, in some cases, back to Step 1.
  • Step 5: Legal compliance check—The legal team reviews the content for compliance, copyright issues, and other potential risks. If approved, move to Step 6. Otherwise, go back to Step 4.
  • Step 6: Final approval—The head of marketing gives the final approval for publication or dissemination. If approved, proceed to Step 7. If not, go back to Step 5.
  • Step 7: Publication—The content gets published on platforms such as the company website or social media channels.

More often than not, workflows involve several different components, including:

  • Tasks: Specific actions participants must perform
  • Sequence: The order of tasks, indicating the flow of work
  • Participants: People responsible for performing tasks
  • Decision points: Conditions that determine the next steps based on predetermined criteria
  • Inputs and outputs: Inputs to begin a task, such as research documents and the output produced upon completion of the task, such as a white paper
  • Tools: Physical or digital tools that help streamline and organize tasks; for example, document templates and email
  • Processes: Multiple tasks working together
  • Deadlines: Timelines associated with tasks so work can be completed on time

Workflow automation happens when you add in technology—in particular, workflow automation software—to automate parts of or your entire workflow.

Workflow automation software uses rule-based logic to automate tasks, sequences approvals, etc. It relies on triggers (events like form submission, receiving an email or a particular calendar date) to initiate workflow processes.

For example, when a supplier submits an invoice via an online portal (trigger), the workflow automation system initiates a sequence of tasks that starts with the accounts payable team receiving an automated invoice notification. The team then reviews the invoice for accuracy. Once approved, the workflow moves on to the next task. If not, the workflow loops back to the supplier for corrections.

Benefits of workflow automation

From reducing manual effort to minimizing errors and enhancing overall efficiency, workflow automation offers many significant benefits:

  • Improved efficiency: Less manual, time-consuming tasks expedite process completion, so teams can perform more value-adding work.
  • Reduced errors: Automated workflows follow predefined rules, and assigned team members execute tasks according to established standards. This significantly reduces the likelihood of human errors, which can be costly to rectify.
  • Enhanced collaboration: Workflow automation tools typically include communication and collaboration features (in-app messaging, activity feeds, mentions, notifications, etc.) that facilitate teamwork and seamless exchange of information.
  • Improved visibility and monitoring: Get real-time visibility into the status of tasks. Monitor progress, identify bottlenecks and use workflow analytics for insights into the best use of your resources.
  • More satisfied customers: Faster issue resolution, visibility into order status, seamless onboarding processes: these are all proven ways to make customers happy.

Getting started with workflow automation

To help you further visualize the value of workflow automation, let’s talk about the different types and some best practices to keep in mind when automating your workflows.

Types of workflow automation

There are several different workflow automation types, and each come with unique advantages:

  • Rule-based workflow automation: Relies on predefined rules and conditions to trigger specific actions in a workflow. For example, an email filtering system that categorizes emails as important or spam based on predetermined conditions.
  • Script-based workflow automation: Uses automation scripts or code to perform tasks. For example, scripts for downloading and organizing files from a specific email attachment.
  • AI-driven workflow automation: Uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to make decisions. For example, chatbots that use natural language processing to address customer issues.
  • Business process management (BPM): A systematic approach to managing and optimizing business processes. For example, using BPM software to simplify order processing in an e-commerce system.
  • Robotic process automation (RPA): Uses bots to execute repetitive, rule-based tasks. For example, an employee onboarding process that uses RPA to perform tasks, from applicant data extraction to new employee orientation.

Step-by-step guide: How to create and manage workflows

Effective workflow creation and management follows a system that includes the following steps and best practices:

  • Step 1. Identify the workflow: Define the specific process or series of tasks you want to automate.
  • Step 2. Map the workflow steps: Break down the workflow into individual steps and identify dependencies.
  • Step 3. Choose automation tools: Select the right automation platform. Different platforms cater to different requirements. For example, with Slack’s Workflow Builder, you can create simple to complex workflow automation with drag-and-drop ease.
  • Step 4. Design workflow logic: Define the workflow’s rules, conditions, and decision points.
  • Step 5. Integrate systems: Connect relevant apps and systems so data flows seamlessly between them.
  • Step 6. Implement automation: Configure automation workflows or scripts based on the designed logic.
  • Step 7. Test and debug: Test the workflow in a controlled setting and address any issues.
  • Step 8. Deploy and monitor: Deploy the automated workflow and monitor its performance. Prepare to make changes or go back to the drawing board as necessary.

Leveraging Slack workflow automation to get more done

Slack recognizes the power of work automation. So much so we created Slack Workflow Builder so you can supercharge team productivity by transforming everyday processes into automated workflows.

Workflow Builder is a no-code workflow automation tool—you don’t have to write a single line of code because it comes with a drag-and-drop interface that anyone, regardless of technical experience, can use. Even better, Workflow Builder lets you bring the tools you already use into Slack with Slack connectors.

Actionable workflow examples in Slack

To build a workflow, you can either use pre-built templates or start from scratch. Once you’re done setting up your workflow, click Publish so people can start using it.

Need ideas? Here are three Workflow Builder automation examples to draw inspiration from:

  • Running a live audience Q&A: Slack’s “I have a question” workflow allows employees to ask questions through a submission form. Submissions are posted into a private channel where they’re prioritized and assigned to a team member who asks them live on employees’ behalf. The result? An open forum that includes remote employees from Slack’s 12 remote offices from all over the world.
  • Streamlining legal reviews: Each piece of content Slack publishes goes through a legal review process, where it’s scrutinized for any potential issues. The workflow starts with a review request, with requesters supplying information using a standard request form. Members of the legal team then use emoji to let requesters know that a review is either in progress or has been completed. Necessary changes are communicated in threads.
  • Routing support queries to subject matter experts: Slack’s customer experience (CE) team handles thousands of help requests every day. For complex issues that need expert input, CE implemented a series of workflows to redirect requests to dedicated channels, each managed by teams of subject matter experts. Depending on the nature of the issue, the CE agent chooses a workflow associated with the relevant specialist team and fills out a form to supply more details. Once an expert claims the request, the CE agent gets a direct message that tells them who’s looking into it.

Work smarter, not harder, with Slack workflow automation

Automation significantly boosts team efficiency and productivity. With Slack’s Workflow Builder, you can automate routine tasks, connect existing apps to streamline data flow, and save time and energy for more strategic and creative endeavors. No need to switch apps—just connect the tools you already use and add steps from third-party apps into your Slack workflows.

Ready to improve your business processes? Explore the different ways you can use Slack to help your team work better and smarter, every time.


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