Administrative workflow is the collection of tasks, steps, personnel, information and tools required to complete a single business process or a group of business processes. Whether or not they’re formally documented, workflows exist for every business process. For this reason, your small business can derive significant benefits from taking a formal workflow approach to managing administrative tasks. Not only can workflow diagramming be used as a workload optimization tool, but even more importantly, as way to enforce administrative internal control. A few examples can illustrate how workflow diagramming can benefit a small business

Workflows and Business Information

Administrative workflows typically involve predictable, repetitive tasks with specific process rules. Despite this, it’s important to be mindful that your administrative employees often have access to sensitive business information. A workflow model breaks each process into sequential activities, providing ways to see how well or whether administrative activities adhere to internal controls. Typing a business letter, opening business mail, taking a payment from a customer and making travel arrangements are just a few examples of common workflows that may involve dealing with sensitive information.

Single Business Process

Consider a common task that involves a single business process, such as typing a business letter dictated to an administrative assistant by the business owner. In this scenario, the letter is dictated verbally and the administrative assistant uses business shorthand and a stenographer pad. The workflow proceeds as follows: the administrative assistant takes the dictation, types the letter using word processing software, saves it to a shared file on the computer network and notifies the business owner via email the letter is ready for her approval. If the letter requires editing, the administrative assistant edits and saves the letter and emails the business owner again. Once approved, the letter is printed, taken to the owner for a signature and placed in an envelope for mailing.

Multiple Business Processes

Administrative workflows can involve more than one business process. For example, taking an in-person customer payment may start with a workflow in which the administrative assistant accepts the payment and creates a cash receipt. A second workflow may involve entering payment information into a computer database. A workflow such as this is one a small-business owner may want to reconsider because it doesn’t provide for separation of duties, a prime internal control for handling cash sales. A better idea might be to divide this workflow into two workflows. In the first, the administrative assistant receives the payment, creates a customer receipt and then forwards the receipt to another employee who enters payment information in the computer database.

Incorporating Controls

If your small business has only a few employees, you might combine multiple business processes into a single workflow as a matter of necessity. For example, a single administrative assistant might be responsible for taking customer payments, entering customer and payment information into a computer database, creating a daily bank deposit and sometimes also be responsible for taking the deposit to the bank. Although each task is technically an example of a separate workflow, they can, with active involvement by the business owner, be successfully combined into one. Incorporating a documentation and verification requirement into the workflow process, and assigning the business owner with responsibility for the daily bank deposit can improve your internal control and make the workflow function successfully.