Automating annual leave & meeting rooms in Office 365

When it comes to automation, it’s usually the larger items on the agenda that get the priority. Items such as document management, reporting, and business intelligence. However, it’s worth addressing the seemingly smaller items too. Part of automation is the user ‘self-service’ aspect it brings. Essentially this means eliminating the processes that involve a bloated number of people to get a task done. Instead, introducing new processes where a user can get a task done at the push of a button. Therefore, the user can get to work on more important things!

An example of this is booking annual leave and meeting rooms. Here’s a scenario below (featured in our Automation & Office 365 downloadable guide!)

Scenario

Praveen is the Office Manager in a large company. He is frequently inundated with requests from his 15 staff to book annual leave/holiday or from others around the company to reserve meeting rooms. As it’s all paper-based, holiday requests can take over a week to be approved. Additionally, there’s confusion over room bookings, with some overlapping or being made at short notice. Praveen has to keep stopping what he’s doing to find the right version of the Excel spreadsheet that bookings are recorded on!

Our solution

Bookings for annual leave and meeting rooms are both things that require a well-organised system that’s adept at communicating information to users effortlessly. It can be cumbersome when these systems are the opposite – they’re either paper based (!), or old spreadsheets that require far too much human interaction to make them work. Luckily, SharePoint and Office 365 can help Praveen. Holiday requests, or room booking workflows are part of the automation magic that is SharePoint. Workflows can be created to avoid back and forth emails. Instead, have one calendar view that’s relevant to you or your department. Managers can see this too.

Permissions in the workflow mean requesters (if you want) can only see requests made by them – this can apply to both meeting rooms and annual leave. Managers can get notified by email to approve or decline these requests. A comment area for requests is also an option in SharePoint; so, a manager can leave reasons for declining a request or any additional notes.

The main benefit of harnessing a SharePoint process for annual leave and room bookings is the application of user self-service. Providing users themselves with the tools to get what they need done with minimal impact on others makes this feature in SharePoint and Office 365 pretty valuable. N.B. This can also all be done via SharePoint Online – this is a common intranet tool we’re asked to help implement; so, users can make these requests on the go from any device!

Highlights of this solution:

  • Create workflows to avoid back and forth booking emails
  • Have one calendar view that’s relevant to you or your department
  • Permissions in the workflow allow who sees what on the calendar view
  • Users can add comments, i.e. when holiday requests are declined

Which Apps should I leverage in Office 365?

  • SharePoint Online
  • Microsoft Flow
  • (Use Microsoft Flow in Office 365 to create the perfect workflow – and use SharePoint to display your calendar view)

Best practice when it comes to workflows

We’re keen to offer best practice advice before you start creating workflows. For starters, we’d say that you can’t (and shouldn’t!) automate everything. Some things just need to be a manual
process.

Governance and compliance are key to establish before workflows become the solution. You should be able to know where specific data resides in your organisation and who has access to it. SharePoint’s workflows do have permission features so approval can be logged before the workflow proceeds further. These ‘stop points’ are essential not just for best practice, but for possible auditing purposes too. Spending time planning and creating a workflow can save your organisation lots of money and consequence – especially for sensitive accounting information for example.

We’d recommend that you visually lay out the workflow into a flowchart diagram before going ahead. Before creating a workflow, ask yourself:

  • Does it make sense?
  • Are the stop points useful?
  • Who does the workflow benefit in the organisation?
  • Why are you creating it?
  • Will the workflow be reviewed?
  • When?

These are things we go over with our clients to ensure they’re making their lives easier as well as being efficient and compliant. Read more about automation and Office 365 in our guide here.