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Workflow Automation

4 Ways Email Approval Workflows Suck the Life Out of You


Remember the days when the approval of a form meant a stamp and signature? Of course not. That was 1970.

Back in the paper-days of the office, if you needed a contract, expense report, or any other form approved, you slipped it into that manila interoffice envelope, wrapped the string around a few times, and then your boss slapped his signature on the paper with a fountain pen.

Email Approval Workflow

Then came email. That glorious tool which made sending information instantly, worldwide, and cheap. Not only could you exchange messages quickly, but you could also attach files. (Digression: Will we one day have to explain to a generation what that paperclip icon means?)

What is an email approval workflow?

An email approval workflow is a process that involves gaining approvals on actions within a process through emails. These are usually tedious and more often than not, act as a bottleneck to the entire process.

In the last 20 years, emails have become the standard method of communication, whether the recipient is in the cubicle next to you, or around the world. Offices use emails for quick communication, sharing meeting notes, water cooler gossip…

…and approvals.

Email seemed like a great approval alternative to the manila envelope. It was faster and easier and you could get approvals quickly. But at some time, we reached a tipping point where email approvals stopped being useful and started becoming exhausting. 

Top Issues with Email Approvals

Here are the 4 email approval issues:

1. The Sheer Volume

The average business user currently receives around 97 emails a day. (“That’s average?” gasps the 300+ crowd). It’s gotten so bad that 42% of Americans check email in the bathroom. With so much information and data to sort through, many employees spend up to half their day just responding to email conversations.

With so much data being transferred back and forth, email approvals end up under a mound of other priorities. When executives get fed up with their inbox, they might abandon a whole week of emails and attempt to start over fresh. Emails that require approval aren’t something they look forward to when starting their day.

2. Commingled

Great strategy for recycling, horrible for email.

Right now, in your inbox, there are messages from coworkers about weekend plans, a reminder about Jenny’s birthday cake in the meeting room, questions from customers, 10 automated emails after you signed up for that useless webinar, calendar reminders, and approval requests. Every other person in your company faces the same problem.

Email is perhaps the worst place to try to separate types of messages. They all get dumped into the same inbox like some trash heap that just keeps growing larger.

Even if you tried to go into your inbox and only handle your approvals, how could you avoid seeing that ad for 50% reduced airfare or that URGENT!!IMP! subject line from a co-worker? It’s too easy to get distracted when you have everything there all at once.

Just ask anyone who’s tried to sort out all their emails into nice folders as it arrives to handle later how that’s working out for them. When you treat your inbox as a todo list, it never works out well for anyone.

3. “Just checking in…did you approve that?”

Because our inboxes are overflowing and unsorted, email approvals get delayed. Once you send your timesheet or purchase request form, it goes into a black hole for a while.

Sending an approval email is like checking your luggage before a flight. You look wonderingly as it moves down the conveyor belt, hoping that one day it will reach the right destination, but knowing there is no way to check where it is at any moment.

Then you add the complexity of multi-step approvals. You email a sales contract that gets approved by your boss later that day. But because it is over a certain amount, the VP of Sales also needs to approve it. But she’s at a conference and isn’t checking her emails until the next day. By the time you finally get what you need, you might have lost the deal.  

And how do you check on an email approval that seems to be delayed? Another email! Approvals get delayed and tensions rise because there isn’t an effective way to track and monitor the progress of every individual request.

4. Not Enough Data

“Can I take off sometime on Friday?” is the one-line email sent to a boss. Which Friday? All-day, or just part of the day? Which part? Do you have enough PTO? Have you checked? Who will cover for you while you are gone? Is anyone else off on the same day?

Unlike a paper form, when you start off an email, it’s a blank slate. There are no required fields or reminders about what you need to fill in. You might attach a scanned pdf of a paper form (fun!) or a spreadsheet template, but these are either cumbersome or easily corrupted files.

It’s often the case that an email approval needs to be sent back and redone because the initiator forgot to include some essential details. This wastes the time of the initiator, approver, and the whole system that will have to replicate the work again later.

Is There a Better Option?

It’s easy to criticize email approvals. Everyone can see their faults and failures. But going back to interoffice envelopes and paper forms isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

The first step is to recognize the importance of approvals. Approvals show that there are standard processes in a company. In fact, any organization can be seen as the sum of all of its processes, most of which require approvals in some way.

That’s why it’s so important to find a better solution to email approvals. If your processes get stuck, your whole business stalls.

If you’re feeling the drain from email approvals, it’s time to look at workflow software. Workflow software lets you create and manage automated processes. You can host all of your core processes in the same place, which, most importantly, is NOT your inbox. When it’s time to process approvals, they are all in one place and you can focus on your work, not finding it.

Workflow software also includes easy-to-create forms so that you ensure that the right data is captured and displayed for anyone in the workflow. This makes it easy for that VP of Sales to take 2-3 minutes and approve all the sales contracts without having to worry about being distracted by the other sea of emails.

Workflow Software is the smart choice for any business that cares about its productivity and feels that it has become a slave to the inbox. Try an option like Kissflow Workflow and fight back against the deluge of emails coming your way – you just got 5 more.