Microsoft Flow is a powerful Office 365 tool that allows you to automate simple and repetitive tasks to save time. Microsoft Flow connects to a whole slew of Office 365 tools and non-Microsoft tools too, so you can be confident Flow can provide a solution for your most annoying time-consumers.
A study from Carleton University found that employees spend one-third of their work hours at the office and one half of remote working hours reading and answering emails.
When I read this number, I think about all the emails I send that take up more time than they need to—especially routine emails. I might need to let my boss know about a file I’ve recently finished work on but typing a generic “please approve” email over and over can really eat into the productive time I have at the office.
And email is just one example of where some simple automation can save you tons of time by eliminating repetitive tasks. Flow can help you optimize your Microsoft Teams environment, so your entire day can be much more productive. Here I’m going to go through three essential Flows anyone can use to save time performing routine tasks at work.
Flow comes with many Office 365 plans—so chances are you’re already paying for it. If you have the appropriate licenses, you can access Flow from portal.office.com. Or, you can enable Flow in Teams for yourself and for your Teams so you can work directly in the Teams app.
To enable Flow, go to the Teams Apps Store, accessible near the bottom left corner of your Teams client. Search for Flow or select it from the list and enable it for just yourself or for any of your Teams.
Once Flow’s been installed in Teams, use the Ellipsis icon to access it.
Asking for Approval on Files
This Flow gets top marks from me because it addresses some of the time-wasting pain points I’ve experienced in both email and Teams and shared above. When you finish working on a file for your department, you probably email it to your boss or other people on your team and spend a few minutes typing a generic “please look at this when you have a chance” or “let me know if this is good to go” message asking for approval.
The attachments feature in Outlook automatically detects files you’ve been working on and allows you to share online links or copies of documents pretty quickly, but wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to compose an email at all?
I agree. Luckily there’s a Flow for that.
Here’s the gist:
When you upload a file to a specific place in Teams, Flow will post to your channel about it automatically and ask your teammates for approval.
How does this save time?
- You don’t need to draft an approval email or message in Teams alerting the relevant parties.
- Your coworkers review the file directly in Teams with one click to send approval or leave comments.
This Flow comes as a Template from Microsoft, so it’s easy to set up. Choose Create from Template in the toolbar and find the Start Approval for New Documents and Notify Via Teams.
Use the first step to choose the SharePoint site, library name, and specific folder where your Team uploads files for approval. If you have multiple folders you’d like to apply this flow to, you can create a separate Flow for each location. Remember that each Team has its own SharePoint Site. You can choose the site associated with the Team you’re going to post in or another site entirely.
Use the next step to decide which Team and channel your message will be posted in.
Then, configure your approval by entering the email address of the person who approves your files—this can be more than one person—and the email of the person who’s requesting the file. You’ll notice in my example, I’ve used dynamic content to assign the Requestor as whoever’s uploaded the file.
After this, you’ll choose the channel you want the approval or rejection messages posted to in Teams. The comments included with the response will be included in the message post.
Then save your Flow.
When you upload a file to your designated folder, a message will be posted in Teams and your designated approver will receive an email that looks something like this:
The recipient can view and then approve or reject the file from email. Or, they can navigate to Flow in Teams and select the Approvals tab to see, approve, or reject the file directly in Teams.
Here’s what the messages from Flow look like in Microsoft Teams:
Bonus Flow: Posting a Message without Asking for Approval
There are bound to be times when you don’t need approval on a file, but you still want the Team to know when you’ve uploaded it. Use the same template we’ve used above and delete all of the steps after the Post Message section. Doing this, you can select an entire Document Library to alert on or just a specific folder.
Post a Message when a New Planner Task is Completed
If you’re a Teams power user, you’ve probably added Planner to all of your Teams. Planner is a great tool for assigning tasks, outlining deadlines, and keeping track of progress.
One problem we’ve run into is reminding users to look at the Planner tab. This is where our Team now repeatedly wastes time either typing messages into Teams to let others know that we’ve completed a task—or even worse—we type out an email.
I don’t think I can make it any clearer that I am not a fan these repetitive, admin-like emails that take much more time than necessary, but I think we can all agree it’s important to keep the entire Team updated on the status of Tasks. This is especially useful when certain tasks rely on other tasks being completed before they can be attempted.
Flow helps us solve this problem by brining Planner into the Conversations tab, so everyone can see what’s been completed. When a “step one” task has been marked as done, the individuals responsible for “step two” can get to work immediately with no lag time.
Here’s the Gist:
When someone marks a task as complete on the Planner tab, a message gets posted automatically to the Team.
How does this save time?
- Team members do not have to write messages or send emails indicating their task is complete
- Team members do not have to click over to the Planner tab to examine which tasks have been completed
- Team members working on tasks that depend on other tasks being completed know immediately when they can get to work.
This task is not a template, but it’s pretty easy to set up. Select New Flow from the toolbar. Search for and select Planner and choose When a Task is Completed from the trigger list.
Enter the name of the plan you want messages posted for. Pro Tip: If you’re not sure what the name of your plan is, choose the Go to Website icon on the top right of your Planner tab from Teams. This will take you to Planner Online, where your plan name will be displayed on top.
Then add an action and search for Teams. Select post message.
Select the Team and channel you want the message to be posted in and use the dynamic content to fill out your desired message.
Here’s an example of the message I created for this flow.
Now when a task is completed in Planner, the entire Team will be notified so we can all stay effortlessly on the same page.
Here’s what my message looks like in Teams.
Get Push Notifications for Important Messages (Only)
You can download the mobile app for almost any Office 365 service to stay connected wherever you are. Microsoft Teams is no exception to this. However, it can be daunting to keep track of all of the notifications you might get while you’re on vacation, if you’re out having lunch, or if a coworker is having a productive weekend.
I use this Flow to help me disconnect in my free time while also making sure I’m not letting anything important slip past me. Using this Flow, I get a push notification whenever somebody mentions me in a specific Teams Channel and marks the message as important. This way, I can choose which projects are important enough to interrupt my free time, and only messages marked as important get through.
This feature can be used in conjunction with Teams’ Quiet Hours feature on the mobile app to silence all calls and notifications during your selected hours. Notifications from Teams will be silenced while push notifications from Flow will still be delivered to your mobile device. Depending on how many Teams you’re in or how generous your colleagues are with their postings, this helps you cut down on unnecessary notifications while you’re on-the-go while keeping you connected to important tasks and project details.
Here’s the Gist:
When a teammate mentions me in a specified channel in Teams and marks the message as important, I’ll get a push notification from the Flow mobile app.
How does this save time?
- Reduces the time I spend on the weekend or after hours sifting through Teams notifications
- Lets me know when something urgent needs my attention, so I can get to work immediately.
- Reduces time my teammates spend trying to get ahold of me for important tasks. They know I will be alerted if they flag the message, and they don’t need to send multiple messages.
This Flow starts as a template, but we’ll make some small changes in order to get to our desired functionality.
Choose Alert Me When I am Mentioned in Microsoft Teams from the templates list in Flow.
This flow in its default state will send you an alert every time you’re mentioned in Microsoft Teams. You will need to choose a specific channel to target and the notification will be sent to you via the Flow mobile app.
If you are going to download the Flow Mobile app, chances are you are willing to download the Microsoft Teams app. Both apps are available for iOS and Android. If you do have Teams on your phone, you will already get a notification each time you’re mentioned in any channel depending on your notification settings. This makes the default version of this Flow a bit redundant—though perfect for those who don’t want to download the Teams mobile app to stay informed.
But, we’re going to make a few modifications to this Flow to make it suit our purposes.
First, choose the Team and Channel you want notifications to be triggered from. Then, hover over the connection between step one and step two and choose the add step button.
Search for and select Condition. For the first value select Message Importance, leave is equal to in the middle, and type high for the second value. Then drag the Send me a mobile notification box into the Yes box of your condition. This is telling Flow to check that the message has been flagged as important before it sends you a push notification. Your finished Flow should look like this:
If you want to customize the push notification, you can click on the Notification box to expand and view and edit the notification.
Now when you’re mentioned in the channel you specified—and the message is flagged as important by the sender—the Microsoft Flow app will send a push notification to your phone.
This allows me to 1) choose the projects for which I am willing to receive alerts about on the weekend or after work and 2) make sure I do not miss urgent details that may need to be addressed before I’m back in the office without the need to check my phone constantly on my free time.
Bonus Tip: Access Quiet Hours in the Teams Mobile app by choosing Notifications from the Menu. You can see on my device, I have Quiet Days scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. Using this Flow, I will still receive important alerts while saving myself the time it takes to keep track of non-urgent notifications.
Flow Can Automate Repetitive Tasks to Save Time
Teams is a powerful collaboration platform, but it’s even more effective when all users are always on the same page. The Flows we’ve looked at in this post all relate to reducing the time it takes for team members to alert others. When you’ve completed files, they’re automatically submitted for review. When you complete a task in Planner, the team is automatically notified. And, when a team member needs you for an important task after hours, they’ll know you get the message on the first try.
I’ve focused on using Flow to connect to other Office 365 services, but you can also connect many third-party services like Google, Salesforce, or Asana to really amp up productivity.
Found a flow you love in Microsoft Teams? Share the details below! We’re always looking for fresh flows to help us save time!
Stephanie Hamrick, PEI