Email is the currency of the workplace today.
We use it for just about everything, from arranging social events through to key negotiations. It has replaced paper based approvals processes too, theoretically being faster and cheaper than filling out forms and handing them in for physical review. However, the reality is that in many organisations email has actually not been a great improvement to approvals processes – it may even be responsible for slowing them down.
Issue #1 A lack of information
When approvals were obtained on paper this was often via a form that had a number of different data boxes to be filled in. This meant that a request would arrive ready for approval and including all the relevant information on which that decision could be made. Today, the casual nature of emails means that a request can be sent for time off or flexible working with essential information missing, and so a time-consuming back and forth has to ensue. Perhaps the easiest way to overcome this is to create some standard form template emails for staff to use, depending on the specific approval request.
Issue #2 Overwhelming volume
It’s so quick and easy to fire off an email now that we do it with much more frequency than we would if actual paper was involved. The result is that we are tied to our phones and many of us are still checking email last thing at night before we go to bed, first thing in the morning and even in the bathroom. Email volume can be reduced by getting more organised, by introducing more efficient processes, software and platforms to transparently manage certain functions, such as accounts, and by having an email policy of minimal disruption.
Issue #3 Too much information
Inboxes can be complex landscapes to navigate. You might be emailing colleagues about a project, while also in communication with an interior designer about your home, making plans for the weekend and dealing with staff approval requests all at the same time. Separating emails into folders often means the request is simply forgotten and you may find yourself constantly having to put on different “hats” to answer each message. The solution here is often to try to remove as much as possible from your inbox. Other solutions include using phone messaging to speak with friends or family, communications platforms for everything related to dedicated projects and taking more meetings in person or on the phone.
Issue #4 The follow up
If you had submitted an approval request on paper it’s unlikely that you would then submit a follow up on paper – or actually go to see the person it had been sent to. However, with email it’s another matter. It’s all too easy to send a follow up email saying, “just checking you got my request…” and the inbox volume of the recipient is instantly increased.
Although there are workarounds to the above issues, perhaps the best way to overcome problems with email approvals is to implement an automated workflow platform. Workflow solutions can be set up in many different ways and for multiple functions. For example, our workflow solution, Workflow for SunSystems, enables the automation of approvals of any business process, from employee expenses and purchase requests to new supplier requests.