Six Workflow Tips to Take Your Business to the Next Level

Ilustration by Luciano Lozano with thanks to Ikon Images

Ever feel like you’re treading water, so caught up in the day-to-day of publishing that you can’t find time to think strategically and grow your business?

Simple adjustments to your workflow can have a massive impact on your business by saving both time and money – studies show that if every member of a publishing team saves just 25 seconds per day the team’s overall output will double in three years.

But how do they do it? We consulted an expert.

Kilian Schalk, a workflow and process expert based in New York, who has dedicated well over 30,000 hours to helping magazine and content teams thrive, gave us six tips for team leaders.

Step 1: Stay out of everyone’s hair

The most successful publishing team leaders empower staff members to tackle challenges on their own. They don’t waste time trying to solve problems for them. 

I’ve seen editors-in-chief insist on reading every proof, in one case averaging seven revisions per story, but that is not a sign of success! While you probably have a good eye if you’re a leader, your team needs to be able to do their work smoothly without your help.

Keep interventions to a minimum and turn every one into a learning moment. When a team member suggests a possible experiment or solution, ask how you can support them.

Step 2: Rethink status meetings

Status meetings waste dozens of staff hours a week, that can be cut by 75% or more once a team agrees on a system and adopts the responsibility for updating their own status.

Status meetings in which a manager reads a list of content and asks people to report in one at a time waste everyone’s time, when team members could simply update the status of their content as they go, allowing everyone to see progress in real time.

Increased transparency also helps identify roadblocks and holds individuals responsible for keeping their colleagues aware, rather than waste a manager’s time chasing information that the team should be providing.

Want to find out more and grow your business in 2021? Kilian will be leading a 15-week remote Better Faster Smarter Workflow programme, beginning 8 September. Join us and transform your editorial workflow!

Step 3: Keep tech skills up-to-date

Lack of technical facility acts as an anchor, especially for remote teams. Not only does it slow down individual work, it reduces options for everybody as the team attempts to grow.

Conversely, training those who have the least technical ability helps everyone move faster. Like a crew rowing a boat, a team goes as fast as its slowest rower.

Unfortunately, individuals may feel their employment is at risk if they admit they don’t know how to do something, so learning new tech skills can be fraught. In my engagements, we start by identifying technical gaps together, which allows me to help team members learn on their own until they feel comfortable asking for help from their teammates.

Individual skills that are generally assumed may also be lacking. One of my clients had a brilliant copy-editor who didn’t know that you could use keyboard shortcuts to copy and paste text, so was constantly shifting between the keyboard and mouse.

Tech skills are especially important for people working from home. In an office environment, everyone’s physical set-up is provided by the organisation. Home set-ups, by contrast, may be missing important elements, like a second screen or a well-placed webcam. I once saw an editor spend six months knowing a $30 webcam would make work easier but never asking for it, even though collaborative work in group meetings was very difficult to manage on a laptop screen.

It’s important to surface these issues quickly and address them.

Step 4: Don’t assume based on age

There is a pernicious belief that older generations waste everyone’s time because they are neither technically savvy nor able to learn ‘new’ things. That is NOT the case.

I once worked with a 75-year old, initially perceived to be blocking improvement, who morphed into one of the most technically adroit forward thinkers on his team. From what I’ve seen, it is curiosity, not age, that determines an individual’s technical facility.

A blockage can also be a learned anxiety. Because of the way technology has evolved, at the start of their publishing careers older generations quickly grasped, often in a visceral way, that if they made a single mistake on a computer they could lose their work and in some cases cause thousands of dollars in press delays. These first impressions taught them that they couldn’t trust their computers and had to very carefully manage their actions, especially when trying something new.

Those who encountered technology more recently, in the era when everything is automatically backed up by the system and phones are more powerful than laptops, don’t have the same anxieties. They learn faster because they are able to try things without reflexively worrying they might break the system or lose work.

When these differences are surfaced and processed, technology usually becomes a joy and suddenly it’s like kids in a candy store. Lowered expectations no longer hold them back, so people start to try things, work becomes fun, teamwork improves, and hours and hours are saved.

Want to find out more and grow your business in 2021? Kilian will be leading a 15-week remote Better Faster Smarter Workflow programme, beginning 8 September. Join us and transform your editorial workflow!

Step 5: Check your own skill set

An uncomfortable truth is that a team leader’s technical skills, especially in remote environments, can cause delays for everyone. So much communication goes through leadership, in fact, that when a boss struggles technically, it wastes twice as much time. 

When a team leader relies on staff members to do or fix things (“Can you email me that file/status/update?”), team-wide stagnation sets in. The impetus for this comes from an understandable place, as team leaders are extremely busy, but over time it becomes death by a thousand cuts – not only are bosses hampered by their own inability to function (it would often be faster for them to look up their own info), they are wasting time for everyone whose work they are interrupting.

A team leader who does not maintain an understanding of how tech is evolving also cannot discern what questions to ask of their team. That puts people in the uncomfortable position of trying to nudge their boss to change. Some have told me that they need to save their “boss asks” for personal promotions, evaluations and raises, so the problem of a technically illiterate boss is often allowed to fester.

In general, team leaders need to be open about what they don’t know how to do and allow others to step in with training. A quick one-on-one can usually address this.

Step 6: Model behaviour

I’ve never seen an organisation ‘change by memo’. Transitioning from a print- to a multi-channel product focus can be an incredible team-building exercise, a huge efficiency boost, and unexpectedly fun. But it will only work if leadership is committed. 

Staff members who are not initially onboard rarely prevent an organisation from changing. If the boss pulls back or shows unwillingness to move forward, however, the entire team’s progress slows to a halt. 

It’s like rolling a boulder uphill. If you stop putting energy into it, it rolls back down. If the leader is not leading the push up the hill, not modelling the change or keeping the momentum going, it’s only a matter of time before the team rolls back to where they began.

The biggest time saver of all, and the key to more efficient workflows, is a team that experiments and a leader that supports that experimentation by demonstrating a willingness to change.

Want to find out more and grow your business in 2021? Kilian will be leading a 15-week remote Better Faster Smarter Workflow programme, beginning 8 September. Join us and transform your editorial workflow!

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