A Basic Guide to Workflows in SharePoint Online

Topics: SharePoint Tips, SharePoint Online, SharePoint Blog

Written by Quentin Russell

If there is one SharePoint concept that people ask us about the most it's workflows. When it comes to workflows in SharePoint Online, most people aren't sure what they are or how to use them. We've already written about how to create basic workflows, but we wanted to provide a more in-depth explanation of what they are and how they work. That said, let's take a look at workflows in SharePoint Online and how you can get started using them.

What are workflows?

Workflows are essentially mini-programs in SharePoint Online that can be used to automate different tasks. Think of them as a string of "if/then" statements. If something happens, then SharePoint will do something. Oftentimes these are simple things like "if someone adds a file to X document library send a notification to Y person." They allow you to skip many of the more menial tasks that can bog down work. Workflows in SharePoint Online can range from very simple - such as the notification example from before - to complicated and expansive. The only thing that limits the workflows you use are your permissions in SharePoint Online and your understanding of workflows.

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What are the different types of workflows?

There are plenty of different kinds of workflows in SharePoint Online. As they're programs like any other, you can build and customize them to do pretty much anything you can think of. However, there are four types of workflows that you'll find yourself using most often.

Approval Workflows

This is the most commonly used workflow in SharePoint Online. Essentially, it allows you to start an approval chain when a document is uploaded to SharePoint. It's simple and at its simplest allows your organization to ensure your leaders know what's going on in an organization. However, you can do more than just that. You can set up a whole approval chain where SharePoint automatically sends the document to each approver as each stage is completed.

Status Workflows

Another commonly used workflow, stats workflows allows you to automate the status of documents as they're uploaded and interacted with in SharePoint. You can set a range of conditions that automatically change the status based on what people are doing within the document. This makes it easy to track what's going on with a document, something that is very helpful if you're trying to move it through a pipeline.

Notification Workflows

Notification workflows make it so that certain members of your organization get notified when conditions are met in your SharePoint environment. This can overlap with approval workflows. These notifications can be push notifications, texts, or emails. These notifications can also prompt the person getting the notification to take some form of action.

Automation Workflows

When people think of workflows, these are often the workflows they're thinking of. Automation workflows allow you to automate certain actions based on activity in your SharePoint environment. These often overlap with other workflows. These tend to be the larger, more time-saving workflows. You can use these to program very specific actions for automation.

What do you use to build workflows in SharePoint Online?

In the past, you would have to download and install SharePoint workflow designer 2013. However, now the platform for building workflows for SharePoint Online is Power Automate. Originally called Microsoft Flow, Power Automate allows you to build workflows without having to do any coding. You build workflows in Power Automate by building things along triggers and actions. Starting with a trigger, you can program SharePoint to initiate a series of desired actions. Power Automate allows you to create connections between Office 365 and other platforms including Google and Hubspot.

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How do you build workflows in SharePoint Online?

The truth is, you don't really need to build workflows in SharePoint Online. Within Power Automate, you have access to thousands of workflow templates built by Microsoft and users in the Microsoft community. Instead of working to build them from scratch, we recommend picking the workflow that you want to use and customizing it for your organization. Building workflows from scratch can be effective, but they can also be time-consuming. Making sure that everything works properly can be a days long process that results in something that might not even be all that effective. Meanwhile, using a Microsoft or Microsoft community template is quick, easy, and you know for a fact that it's going to work.

Conclusion

It turns out that workflows in SharePoint Online aren't as complicated as they seem. Power Automate makes it easy to add basic workflows to your SharePoint environment. Just refer to the article above and you'll be set to get started using basic workflows in SharePoint Online.

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