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How to Create Workflows in Office 365

Jan 14, 2016 Office 365 Scott Walsh

Workflows-in-Office-365.jpgSharePoint workflows are small applications that allow processes to be automated. For example, a workflow could allow you to automatically collect a series of signatures needed on a document or documents, to automatically check the status on jobs, or to send automatic messages to members of your team. They are intended to save you time and effort toward those menial tasks and routine procedures. Workflows are also much less likely to result in process errors that can sometimes come up when doing jobs manually.

Creating Workflows

Office 365 currently features a total of five pre-programmed workflow types (originally developed for SharePoint 2010) to help get you started, and each works like a template for automating a process or processes. You can choose who to assign the workflow tasks to when creating one, as well as assign the deadline for the task and designate the person who must start it. You can also set task instructions and notifications for each workflow task you create.

There are five different types of workflows, including:

  • Approval workflow: To send a document for approval or rejection
  • Collection workflow: To receive feedback on a document or item
  • Signatures workflow: To receive digital signatures on a document, workbook, or form
  • Disposition approval workflow: To maintain document expiration and retention dates or periods
  • Three-state workflow: To track a project or task by using three separate phases

Approval Workflow

As noted, an approval workflow is designed to automatically send a document to a user or users for their approval or rejection. Approval workflows will also send reminder notifications to users who have yet to approve a document or item. Let's go over how to create one.

To create an approval workflow using an Office 365 team site, perform the following tasks:

  1. Navigate to your team site home document page.
  2. Choose the document(s) or item(s) you want to assign for automatic approval by selecting the checkmark box beside them.
  3. Click the "Workflow Settings" button from the "Library" tab on the ribbon.
  4. Click the dropdown arrow on the next page and choose either the "Document" or "Folder" workflow option.
  5. Click "Add a Workflow."
  6. Choose the workflow template you need on the next page. There are many different template options, but if you would like to assign an approval, choose the "Approval - SharePoint 2010" option. If you want to set up a different type of workflow, read the description of the workflow template on this page and choose the correct one from the box.
  7. Type in a unique name for the workflow in the space provided.
  8. Select a task list option for the workflow next. There are only two options: "Tasks" and "New task list." The first option points to an already existing (current) task list.
  9. Choose workflow history list next; this option will allow you to use workflows from a list in your history or to create a new history list.
  10. Choose the workflow start options you want to use from the list provided. These options allow you to specify who is allowed to start the workflow task, and to start the workflow when a new item in the workflow is added or changed.
  11. Select the person or people you want to assign the workflow to on the next page. You can choose to assign the task to one person at a time or everyone at once.
  12. Choose whether or not to assign the tasks to every member of the group selected (default). You can also type in a message to send to everyone about the task.
  13. Choose the due date for the task, as well as the duration for it. The rest of the options will allow you to notify someone that the work task has been created and to set up approval or rejection options. Click "Save" to finish setting up the workflow.

After finishing the workflow, you won't have to go through these steps again unless a change is needed in the process. The user or users who received your task request will be sent an email asking them to complete the task. The email will have a button allowing the user to open the task straight from the email. If the user clicks on the button, he or she will be redirected to a task window with the option to open the document related to the task. The user will also be given the option to approve, reject, reassign, or request a change for the task straight from that same box.

Starting Workflows

Workflows can be set to start automatically when a new item is created or when an existing item is changed. To begin a workflow task manually, do the following:

  1. Click the "Workflows" button under "Documents" on the ribbon.
  2. Select the workflow.
  3. Click "Start" at the bottom of the page. If you go back to your documents home, you'll see that an extra column has been added. This column indicates that the process is now in progress. Clicking on the words "In Progress" will allow you to see a visualization of the specific progress the workflow has. For example, if you created an approval workflow, you'll see who has read the documents and given their approval and who has not.

Viewing Workflow History

After a workflow runs, the history of the workflow instance can be viewed for up to 60 days. To view workflow history, click on the "Workflow Status" page. Reports can also be reviewed and created from this page.

Setting Workflow Permissions 

Setting permissions gives you a better handle on who can perform certain workflow tasks. Workflow permissions can be accessed when you are first creating a workflow.

Workflows can be as simple or as complex as your organization requires them to be. Spending the time to create them will not only allow you to work more efficiently, but it will allow for fewer errors in the long run.

Custom workflows and Mobile Forms

While SharePoint and Office 365 have a lot of out-of-the-box capability, many businesses choose third-party add-ons for more complex processes. Nintex, for instance, provides a user-friendly toolset for custom process automation. Nintex Forms provides the tools for creating mobile forms workers can fill out quickly on their devices. Submitting these forms kicks off a workflow that can take the information through approval or signature stages, all the way to being aggregated for reports and analytics.

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Posted in: Office 365

Topics: Office 365 SharePoint