5 Tips for Streamlining Back-Office Processes in 2021

How to Make Your Back-Office Processes Smooth as Silk

There’s perhaps never been a better time to evaluate and discard outdated processes and procedures that drag down businesses. The COVID-19 pandemic brought a lot of losses, but it also allowed a wide variety of employers to perform a hard reset on everyday operations.

While the impending death of the traditional office setting has likely been exaggerated, the elimination of inefficiencies must be a top priority.

For many, this could represent a positive, business-revitalizing outcome. Of course, the trend toward automation has been underway for decades now. Businesses increasingly rely on everything from payroll software to document management systems to handle routine tasks. This year, though, the rise in remote work prompted by the pandemic provides a chance to surface unnecessary hurdles to productivity.

As you evaluate how your back-office processes help or hinder your customers, employees, and management, take care to tread lightly. A lot of people lost their jobs last year, and many who didn’t were afraid they might. As you seek to streamline back-office procedures, take pains to reassure employees that there’s still going to be plenty of work to do. Your aim is to reduce the drudgery so your staff can tend to more important tasks.

As you ponder ways to help your employees do their highest-value work, consider these five ways to improve back-office processes:

1. Eliminate the Paper Chase

After millions of employees vacated office settings and began working from home, collecting necessary signatures became increasingly difficult. The inability to walk over to an adjoining office for a routine sign-off highlighted an operational inefficiency that may have been hidden for years. Add in virus-wary clients who were reluctant to enter any place of business, and the need to modernize became urgent.

Fortunately, there are several secure e-signature solutions your business can implement quickly. Some of the most popular services to look at include DocuSign, PandaDoc, SignEasy, HelloSign, and Secured Signing. Costs and features of such offerings vary, but they can all be relied upon to keep confidential materials secure. When pricing out packages, compare the cost against the expenses (and delays) your business racks up shuttling paperwork around town.

2. Speed Up the Hiring Process

Several factors can contribute to an inefficient hiring process. A few of the most common include posting poorly written job descriptions, interviewing too many applicants, and taking too long to make a decision. Team members assigned to sit in on multiple, lengthy interviews can’t use that time to do their primary job.

CareerBuilder, Monster, and other job-search websites now offer targeted search services that match well-written job descriptions and keywords to only qualified user profiles. Unqualified applicants can be blocked or filtered out. By investing in a search process that screens candidates to your needs, your business can pull in a higher-quality pool of applicants.

Oftentimes, the best person for the job you hope to fill isn’t even looking for work. By using a targeted campaign, you can notify them nonetheless, possibly sparking interest. Targeting the right candidates — whether they’re searching or not — will smooth your HR processes considerably.

3. Slim Down Your Inventory As You Increase Sales

E-commerce continues to grow exponentially, but there is strong evidence that there will always be a place for brick-and-mortar retail, too. Retailers just have to make sure they’re stocking the things people want.

As a retailer, unused inventory represents a double whammy. Not only are you paying for a product that’s gathering dust on a display, you’re also paying for the floor space where the display rests. Whether your unsold merchandise sits on the sales floor or in the warehouse, it’s costing you money.

As shoppers return to stores post-pandemic, make sure you’re offering the products they’re looking for by investing in inventory forecasting software. Packages such as QuickBooks Desktop Enterprise, NetSuite, Fishbowl, and Shopventory will enable you to stay on top of purchasing trends. They can help you manage what you already have in stock and make future purchasing recommendations based on actual sales.

4. Automate Scheduling

If your business relies on scheduling appointments, you probably already know how much time and aggravation this entails. You need to find mutually agreeable appointment times, confirm them in advance, and then reschedule if conflicts arise. The best appointments are those that a customer arranges on their own, without taking up the time of your office staff.

Today, several calendar software packages can help reduce your percentage of missed appointments. Some of the best include Calendar, Setmore, Google Calendar, and Acuity.

Depending on the needs of your business, an app can be set up to email a customer a handful of available appointment times. Clicking on any one of them sends a confirmation to your business and auto-books that time slot. Alerts can be tailored to the needs of your business and sent via email or text message. Automatically booking appointments is a win-win that frees up time for both your staff and your customers.

5. Stop Saving Files to Individual Computers

Cloud-based computing solutions have all but eliminated the need to store files on a local server or, worse, an individual employee’s desktop. If you’ve ever played the maddening game of “Who’s Got the File?” minutes before an important presentation, you know how costly this can be. As more employees move to remote work, now is the time to put the kibosh on saving files to local machines.

Ease your employees’ transition to cloud-only storage easier by selecting the solution that best fits the specifics of your business. Popular options include Google Docs, Microsoft OneDrive, and Apple iCloud. Any successful movement from desktop functionality to a cloud-based solution will begin with a thorough needs assessment. If you miss any necessary criteria, staff will be quick to develop workarounds that defeat the purpose of shared access to important files.

Go one further and transition to an Integrated Platform as a Service, or IPaaS. An IPaaS works to foster communications between your different business systems, saving your employees time by keeping all of your information and data at your fingertips.

See the Familiar Things With a Fresh Perspective

Your biggest enemy as you seek to upgrade your processes is likely to be your own ingrained, “we’ve always done it that way” presuppositions. Your biggest ally in any effort to streamline back-office processes might be a fresh set of eyes uninfluenced by your past successes or failures.

Employees, customers, and suppliers all have a vested interest in your company, and that’s a good thing. When pursuing meaningful change, however, consider adding at least one highly qualified disinterested party to the equation. Strive to stay open to any questions that begin with “Why?”

John Norwood
John Norwood is best known as a technology journalist, currently at Ziddu where he focuses on tech startups, companies, and products.