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What is Workplace Automation?

Say hello to your new favorite colleague: workplace automation.

ScreenCloud Post

Editor's note: Article updated June 2021

Our homes are getting smarter by the day; everything can be pretty much controlled directly from your cell phone. Setting up automations like dimming the lights, turning on your favorite playlist and closing the blinds with a simple voice command might feel like a novelty, ultimately it’s a (very smooth) time-saver. 

While this might be a frivolous use of automation technology, the workplace is still catching up to its professional capabilities. (For more on what workplaces of the future will look like, click here.) Workplace automation is also now forming a greater part of digital transformation strategies.

What is workplace automation? 

Workplace automation is the process of instructing software and/or hardware with network connections to create automated workflows. Press one button, multiple actions follow. It’s a bit like playing a game of digital dominos. 

It’s often applied to repetitive tasks that would otherwise require multiple manual actions. A workplace example of this is an onboarding flow; HR need only enter a new joiner’s name within an automated system to trigger actions like having all onboarding documents emailed and meetings scheduled.

Ethel and Lucy working in a chocolate factory in I Love Lucy

The basics of workplace automation

The basis of workplace automation consists of a problem, a trigger and an action. 

Here are the three key aspects of creating any office automation:

  1. The Problem: Automation usually occurs as a result of problem solving; identify time-consuming tasks that have to be executed manually and often.
  2. The Trigger: Once identified, investigate whether these manual tasks can be automated and what the logical flow of actions is.
  3. The Action: Once the flow has been recognized, you need to find the software/hardware to trigger the automation. We use Zapier to trigger a majority of systems that we already use which allows them to talk to each other and automate tasks across functions.

The importance of workplace automation

Saves time and money

The main benefit of workplace automation is time saving; one action can trigger many.

According to this survey, people spend 17 hours every week on reading, writing and responding to emails. Even this can be automated with tools like Gmail’s Smart Compose: this makes predictive writing suggestions based on Artificial Intelligence (and your writing style) which becomes more accurate the more you use it. You can also trigger email responses based on the subject with tools like Mailchimp and Constant Contact that specialize in email automation.

Automation can also cut down on the use of paper by generating documents for electronic signatures, mitigating the need to print and send. Automation from software like DocuSign can also trigger the next in the series of documents as soon as one is signed. 

Cartoon robot hands typing

Makes people happier

Imagine if every manual and menial task on your to do list could be automated… Removing time-consuming tasks allows you to plough more attention and time into other priorities, increasing productivity. This in itself is linked to happiness at work. 

But the attention put into creating these workplace automations comes from building a digital-first work culture – itself part of a wider digital transformation strategy. According to a 20,000 person Microsoft study, this suggests that by taking away mundane and repetitive tasks – like manually inputting data – helps make people feel more engaged at work by granting them to use the time saved on other tasks. 

An engaged workforce also means higher staff retention and an ability to attract the best talent. 

Makes everything measurable

When you automate, all the steps in a process are recorded. This means you have data on everything, which then means everything becomes measurable. And this makes it easy to spot bottlenecks and fix them. When you have access to process performance metrics, it becomes easier to run more experiments in order to come up with the best possible solution to a problem. 

Examples of workplace automation systems

Communicating with sales leads while constantly keeping the pipeline flowing, onboarding new customers, keeping in touch with existing customers, talking to your own employees... There is so much to do and never enough time. This is where workplace automation systems can really make a difference.  

There are a lot of options out there, some that require skills in coding and others that are easy for anyone to use and implement. 

Here are some things to consider when choosing an office automation system:

  • How complicated is it?
  • How much support and training is available?
  • How long is it going to take to roll-out?
  • As the company grows, can the system mature with you?
  • Can it integrate with other systems?
  • What are you trying to accomplish and what ROI are you expecting to see?

Sales automation

Sales and data is a very potent mix. While we delve more into the topic here, the ability to automate things like lead generation prospecting (and then analyze the results using a visual data tool like Tableau) can really help speed things up for a sales team. 

For example, lead enrichment tools like Leadspace, InsideView and Clearbit can create detailed profiles on your prospects. This can then be used against other historic sales data to prioritize the “low hanging fruit”.

CRM automation can also be the difference between a lost or won opportunity. CRMs help you create email templates where you can combine automated content with your personalized touch, or set up entire email campaigns to effortlessly follow up on leads. Tools like HubSpot, Zoho, Outreach or Salesforce will help you with this and much more.  

Road sign that says stalk don't stalk

Real-life sales automation examples

Manual task: You get 30-40 new leads coming in daily via different channels, which used to lead to duplications within your CRM. It would take several hours a week to manually fix this.

Automated solution: An automation tool like Zapier branches  out into multiple potential results and help visualize sales paths. From this you can then build a sales flow. Read about how we automated our sales processes in this Medium article.

Marketing automation

Digital marketing is becoming increasingly complex. According to a study by Forrester, global spend on marketing automation is predicted to rise from $15.6 billion (2019) to $25.1 billion in the next four years. The reason? Customers now expect a highly personalized, relevant experience, and the only way for marketers to keep up with that demand is through automation.      

The life of a marketer mainly consists of identifying opportunities, executing them, then analyzing the data available to see what works and what doesn’t. After all, marketing is a numbers game played by creatives. Inevitably, a large chunk of time is spent on the operational stuff. Automation offloads that repetitive work and frees up marketers to do what they do best: think.

Pardot, HubSpot and Marketo are three well-known “Swiss Army knife” marketing automation tools that let you manage the entire customer journey – from customer acquisition to advocacy. These are complete solutions where you can execute email automation, targeted email campaigns, manage sales leads, track customer behavior, and more, and collect data at every stage of the process.

Another fairly easy automation win could be setting up a chatbox using conversational marketing tools like Drift or Intercom. With customers’ expectations continually changing, enabling a bot service to answer queries 24/7 can automate the right responses, lead to complimentary content and ultimately (hopefully) turn these conversations into qualified leads. 

pocketknife multi-tool

Real-life marketing automation examples

Manual task: With thousands of potential customers signing up to free trials, downloading e-books or attending webinars monthly,, it’s important that the correct information is sent out at the right stage of every journey. Doing this manually is not scalable.

Automated solution: Programs like Autopilot help automate email campaigns based on customers’ actions and journey stage.

HR automation

Human Resources is probably the department that deals with the highest amount of administrative tasks that could easily be automated to save time, money, and make HR more accurate and efficient. 

man angry at printer

Here are a few examples of repetitive HR processes that can be both digitized and automated:

  • Keeping employee data up-to-date
  • Onboarding / off-boarding
  • Timesheets, holiday requests and records
  • Expenses claims
  • Performance review records
  • Staff training requests and records
  • Payroll
  • Recruitment process

Zoho People, Bamboo HR, and PeopleHum are examples of complete Human Resource management platforms that cover much of the above processes. Again, if you’d rather start small, you can’t go wrong with things like e-signature software like DocuSign, Juro or Adobe Sign to make the contract signing process more straightforward, or performance management tools like 15Five and Lattice to help measure employee productivity and keep track of goals and milestones set against benchmarks.

Getting rid of repetitive administration leaves more time for HR to focus on attracting top talent, and reducing staff turnover by nurturing the existing talent by improving things like company culture, training and career development. 

Real-life HR automation examples

Manual task: Good onboarding is important to help new staff find their feet and integrate into the company culture, so they can start contributing and feeling part of the team. But this is also a process that can be very time consuming. 

Automated solution:

  1. New starter completes a Google Form with their personal details, equipment request etc.
  2. Zapier connects the relevant information in the completed form with the API of on-demand print company Pwinty, who make a branded mug and a personalized card and mail it to the new starter as a welcome gift. 
  3. Zapier works out 100%, 50%, and 25% until the person’s start date from the day the form was completed and then sends emails at each of those stages. The emails are tailored to the person’s location and timezone and contain the following information:
    - Welcome email from our Head of People
    - Introduction to colleagues
    - Invitation to key communication channels
    5. Zapier connects to Google Calendar to set up a lunch / meeting  with new colleagues and managers.

You can read about ScreenCloud’s journey into HR automation here.

ScreenCloud branded mug and card

Digital signage automation

With any digital transformation strategy, there is always the risk of technological oversaturation. Finding tools that can automate workflows but also seamlessly integrate with others can help mitigate this.

Much of this boils down to “content”, whether that be sales data, wayfinding or safety announcements. This kind of content can be handled with digital signage.

Digital signage software like ScreenCloud is a simple way to automate some of that communication and help surface things like important company news and figures, social media feeds, and customer reviews in an easy-to-access format. 

We believe that most successful digital signage strategies include around 75% of automated content, like business intelligence datasets. These can then be turned into secure and sharable dashboards with no manual refresh required. 

ScreenCloud dashboards in an office

You can connect your screens to data dashboard tools like Google Data Studio, Cyfe or Geckoboard using digital signage software. This gives your sales team a real-time view of where they are at against their targets. Your customer support agents can see how many tickets are in the queue right now and where customer satisfaction is at. And the marketing team can track how their latest campaigns are doing.  

Digital signage can also be used to automate some office personalization. This is one of the ways we see future workplaces optimizing for better visitor experiences.

One great example of using digital signage to automate the office space is design agency Thin Martian that have used ScreenCloud to quickly adapt the content on their screens when clients visit their office. Using the booking that’s already in their meeting room software with a simple customer enrichment API service, they know who’s coming and can pull that customer’s brand and logo to custom-brand a welcome message, or the meeting room they’re heading to.


Time to automate and iterate

Would you like to automate your internal communications or data dashboards? Digital signage is a great starting point for working out triggers and using them to create automated information sharing. You get a free trial with ScreenCloud.

 SC Gradient

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