Remote work and organizational silos [Q&A]

remote work

The move to remote working, driven by the coronavirus pandemic, has highlighted a number of issues, not least the ability of all parts of an enterprise to collaborate.

Unless there's a means for departmental processes to work together, organizations will soon find themselves in a very siloed workplace. We spoke to Terry Simpson, technical evangelist at process automation company Nintex, to discuss how organizations can break down silos and increase collaboration across their teams even when working remotely.

BN: Were organizations equipped to handle the demand for collaboration in a remote workplace? What has changed over the last five months?

TS: Many organizations were well equipped to handle the remote workplace, and unfortunately many were also not. Those organizations that were already headed down the digital transformation route had the core components of remote working in place, such as virtual meeting software, virtual phones, instant messaging, laptops, etc. The organizations that were not ready have accelerated the acquisition of tools over the last five months. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Go To Meeting, WebEx and others have seen an unprecedented increase in new customers. This speaks volumes to organizations that were not using this technology to communicate.

Remote working also brings up a lot of challenges that video and audio software cannot solve. I have personally witnessed a lot of process automation being put in place to assist. Processes like onboarding new employees, contract reviews, signing documents, ticket requests and more can become very challenging when executed remotely. The need for an online form to make the request and a workflow engine to automate the processing of that request becomes extremely important to the remote worker and the process

BN: What technological changes do organizations need to make to keep up with remote work?

TS: Most organizations are quick to adopt basic remote working platforms around communication. Today, visual communication, audio communication and instant message/email are easy problems to solve. Where successful organizations separate themselves is to provide process automation around specific business needs for things like task assignment, approvals, onboarding, offboarding, performance reviews, ticket requests and more. Those that can manage these processes and in a more automated and remote fashion have the most to gain.

BN: What are organizational silos? How can organizations prevent them?

TS: Organizational silos exist in almost every organization. Individual groups have a shared focus, common goal and natural synergy that develops. The challenge is getting these different groups or silos to work together. In many cases, they may be operating independently because they are forced into it, due to physical or technology barriers. Making sure that different silos can connect to each other is a great first step. Focus on the overall solution that is needed across silos and build processes around the overall solution and not just the silos. Leadership guiding this from the top down is critical to success.

BN: How can workflow automation improve organizational efficiency?

Workflow automation has an amazing effect on organizational efficiency. A consistent process creates consistent results. One of the hardest things around process management and process automation is getting everyone to agree on what the process is. By documenting and automating a process it forces a group to agree on what the process is first, then automation can ensure it's consistent. I have seen a lot of success using Nintex Promapp to document these processes and quickly share and iterate through them to gain consensus. Once documented and agreed upon, building the solution is much more accurate. A process like contract management can be difficult to manage. Many organizations try to manage the requests through email and unfortunately as volume increases the level of service decreases drastically. At Nintex, for example, our legal group leverages a Nintex form and workflow to manage these requests and see a dashboard of all requests that are in play. Individuals in the process don’t worry about managing requests through email and can be laser-focused on the dashboard.

BN: What are some common mistakes companies make when working across departments?

TS: In many organizations departments will try to automate or tackle the most complicated process they can find first. Trying to do everything, or the hardest thing, all at once does not set yourself up for success. Try a few small, low risk, high-value processes first. Build some momentum and learn before tackling the most complex processes.

When I was exposed to process automation tools like Nintex 12 years ago, one of the first things I built was a 'Lunch Order' form/workflow to automate the lunch order process. The company I was with offered a benefit for employees to get a free lunch if they worked through the lunch hour. The secretary was in charge of organizing the lunch order process and placing the order. Every single day she spent about two hours of her time dealing with this benefit. Over the course of one hour, I built a form and workflow to allow employees to make the lunch order request for the day and automate the rest. This saved the secretary about almost 2 hours each day. Just a one-hour investment in building this had significant savings in time. This process was very low risk, low time to build and high value to employee time.

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