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Microsoft Word has been a staple of the computing world since its release in 1983. For many of us, it was the first program we learned to use on the computer.
Because of that, we have an odd attachment to Word. A sense of loyalty, if you will. And come on, you’re talking to a professional writer here. Word was my first love.
Some business owners are so attached to Word that they use it to manage their business operations, perhaps alongside other Microsoft products like Excel.
But is that really the best way to manage business operations?
Let’s dive into the benefits and bottlenecks of using Microsoft Word for business processes and what alternatives can help improve operations overall.
Microsoft Word comes in a package deal called Office365 which includes other Microsoft applications, such as:
And a number of others if you buy a premium package.
Word is often used in conjunction with these other products to run business operations. But one thing Office365 doesn’t offer is workflow software, so a lot of that work gets done in Word for teams that don’t have one.
While it’s easy to see the appeal of using one product family to do everything, it might not be the best or most productive course of action, but I’m getting ahead of myself. We should talk about why it’s good first.
Despite everything I’m going to talk about later in this post, not everything I have to say is negative, I promise! There are some benefits to using Word for business operations. Let’s talk about them.
This is what Word was made for, was it not? It’s the best in the game! That’s why we all still love it.
With its simple and intuitive features, it’s incredibly easy to make such documents as:
And anything your heart desires. There are really no limits to the types of documents you can create on Word.
And since it’s been around and popular for so long, there are just about a million different hacks you can use to up your Word game and make your documents stand out.
Word’s features allow you to create logos and standardize templates for things like memos to make sure it’s always consistent.
You don’t want your employees to be sending documents with a variety of fonts, text sizes, and color schemes. It looks unprofessional and like your organization is a mess.
By using Word to regulate those things, you start to build a stronger brand identity. To the point where the second a customer sees one of your documents, they know who it’s from without even reading it.
In terms of actual workflow, this is one of the best things Word can do.
You can use Word to create process maps by using one of their templates or by building one from scratch. The latter isn’t as difficult as it sounds, either. In fact, we think it’s the better option because it gives you more space to customize your map.
All you have to do is go to Insert > Shapes > Flowchart and select the shapes you want to use for your flowchart. They make it super easy. Flowcharts are a great tool for improving business processes because they allow you to see where the inefficiencies are.
Because Word comes in a package with OneDrive, all of your documents are automatically saved in the cloud.
It’s a great feature that can save businesses from losing important or sensitive documents.
It’s a feature that would have saved me from losing a handful of high school essays after my computer crashed. Definitely not because I forgot to save my work before turning it off. 👀
Okay, now I have to be a bit negative. I don’t like it, but you and your business deserve this information so you can achieve the best processes possible. Here’s why Word is not the best for business operations:
If you use Word to build a workflow for any process, recurring or otherwise, you still run into this problem.
Workflows built on Word are stagnant. They don’t move. There’s no flow. It’s not that much better than having a hand-written to-do list that you check off throughout the day.
There’s no way to add things like conditional logic, automation, or anything that can make a workflow dynamic. And it’s simply because that’s just not what Word was made to do. It’s not Word’s fault.
Outside of things automatically saving documents to OneDrive, there is no way to integrate information stored in Word with other applications, Microsoft or otherwise.
For example, if you want certain information from your workflow to be put into Excel, you have to do that yourself.
Integrations make life easier for everyone, and they save so much time it’s not even funny. Not having them with Word is arguably the biggest bottleneck.
Similar to the lack of integrations, all tasks in a Word workflow are manual. You have to do everything yourself. Which was cool back in the 80s and 90s, but we have technology now that can save you an awful lot of time.
Imagine not having to manually:
It would save you so many hours of work. Time you could spend doing more high-value tasks like building customer relationships.
Worst of all, doing all tasks manually means there’s no automation.
With Word, it’s difficult to know who is in charge of which tasks, when things are due, and when tasks are complete.
Because of that, there’s less accountability for overdue or even forgotten tasks. There’s too much room for error. If someone forgets to update the workflow document or notify the person in charge of the next task, it can throw everything off.
Or what if someone does send a message and it gets lost? Or what if they think they sent the message but actually didn’t? There’s just too much room for error. And who do you hold accountable in those situations?
Using Word for business operations creates more problems than it solves.
Workflow software does what Word can’t. Unlike Word, workflow software is built to make business operations as streamlined, efficient, and easy as possible. Here are just a handful of the benefits of workflow software:
Believe it or not, it’s true. Yes, workflow software costs money if you want full use of its features, but the costs are minuscule when you take all its benefits into account.
But let’s focus on the time aspect. As we discussed previously, doing all the tasks in a process manually takes a lot of time. And it’s just not necessary to do all of that work anymore.
Additionally, workflow software reduces the space for error by automating recurring tasks. That saves you the time it takes to do the tasks manually, and the time it takes to do it again when an error occurs.
Time is money, and efficiently used workflow software will save you more money than you’ll end up spending.
When you begin using workflow software, you can add all your team members to it and assign them tasks within a workflow.
By doing so, it becomes very clear who is responsible for what and when their tasks have been completed. And since most workflow software comes with integrations with apps like Slack, your team members will receive notifications when a task is completed, due, or needs to be looked at.
You no longer have to rely on your team to make sure workflow communication is happening. The software will do it for you. Messages won’t get lost and your team can be held more accountable for their tasks.
Automation!!!!! This is my favorite thing ever. If you and your team have never worked with automated workflows before, your life is about to change.
Automation makes employees so happy. No one likes to do the boring, tedious work that goes into business operations, but workflow software will do most of it for you. This gives your team the time and space to do the work they actually enjoy and that drives the company forward.
I know a lot of people are afraid of automation because they fear it will make their jobs redundant, but that’s simply not the case for most. What it does is make people’s jobs better by taking away a lot of stress.
With clearly assigned tasks comes better communication overall. But apart from that, workflow software gives employees a more centralized place to communicate with one another.
Workflow software increases transparency in business processes and opens up doors to good communication as a result. It’ll be easier for your team to see who they can reach out to if they have questions about a particular task.
And when your team communicates well, they will be able to work with each other more seamlessly, increasing productivity. Speaking of…
If everything I’ve listed above hasn’t made it obvious enough yet, let me take the time to explain it.
When you introduce a system designed to streamline processes into your organization, you lower the total time it takes to complete every task in a process. The time you save through automation, clearly assigning tasks, and improving communication, all work together to increase the overall productivity of your business.
Honestly, there’s no way to avoid better productivity after you start using workflow software. It’s a natural consequence and you’re stuck with it.
Every workflow management software offers something a little different. It’s important to shop around and find the one that works best for your team, but to help you get started, here are five of our favorites:
For team collaboration, the best tool is Process Street.
This software gives you the ability to invite anyone to collaborate on a workflow, whether they work in-house or not.
It keeps each step of every process organized and uses integrations with third-party apps such as Zapier, Salesforce, and Slack to automate the workflow and keep everything in one place. Integrations like that really help to streamline operations and make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
Additionally, you can leave comments on workflows, which automatically send notifications to the person you’re leaving a comment for, so everyone is always in the loop.
Monday is the most versatile software for project management.
Monday.com has a very user-friendly interface and utilizes timelines and calendars to structure tasks, giving users a clear picture of when things should be completed. You can also change the view to see the project tasks laid out in a Kanban or Gantt chart.
Monday gives project managers a lot of flexibility in their methodologies, so whether you prefer Agile or Scrum, Monday will work for you just the same.
Trello is excellent for remote project management.
In my previous job as a remote project manager, I used Trello to manage multiple projects at once to great success. It’s a great way to collaborate and have all the steps of the project clearly laid out and defined.
You can see what your colleagues have done, or are currently working on in real-time, making it easier to know the status of your project without having to wait for replies from someone in another time zone.
Asana is the best budget operations management software for small businesses.
If you have a team of 15 or fewer, Asana is a great option. Its free plan is much richer in features than other software, and it offers unlimited projects and file storage for small teams.
If your operations and projects are basic, you will never need to upgrade to a paid plan. You can even use automation on the free plan!
Airtable is the best tool for tracking projects.
We actually use Airtable ourselves here at Process Street. We use it to track our monthly tasks, keep projects on schedule, and see the status of everyone’s work throughout.
It automates with Process Street and Slack so we can see when we have new assignments and even does real-time performance monitoring, so you don’t have to do any of the data tracking yourself. It’s great for teams like hours who work remotely and asynchronously.
Microsoft Word is not the worst thing you can use for workflow management, but you can do so much better.
Not only that, but you deserve it. If you’ve been hesitant to use workflow software, that’s okay. Most companies offer free trials, so start playing around with the ones that interest you the most and see where things go. I promise you won’t regret it!