There are few things more uncomfortable during someone’s working life than when they’re on the job, and have no idea if they’re doing something correctly or not.
Going past just simple personal discomfort, this can be dangerous for everyone, too, potentially posing serious safety risks, compliance violations and more.
A supervisor or handbook should be consulted. But, sometimes managers or resources like that aren’t available. Fortunately, this is where working instructions come in to play.
Rather than relying on word of mouth and in-person demonstrations, work instructions are a step-by-step guide that completely cover how a task and each of its actions should be completed. This way, it’s done safely and consistently across the whole organization.
Typically, work instructions are passed around in handouts, emailed or buried in an intranet, though, so they’re not always the easiest thing to find. So today, we’ll be covering everything you need to know about working instructions to get started and why they’re best when they’re always available and easily accessible on a mobile employee platform.
What are work instructions
When you put together a desk you bought and are following the guidebook that came with them, you’re using work instructions.
At work, they’re much the same, but for on-the-job tasks rather than putting together furniture (usually). They demonstrate how things are done – meticulously and clearly – and are written, evaluated and tested by a group of people who are experts at the specific job.
They’re for every employee, whether they’re new to the role or have been in the organization for years. But, when there are colleagues and HR officers available to call, why do you even need work instructions?
Why are work instructions important
It’s not always the best use of everyone’s time to pull in a colleague or someone from learning and development into whatever task an employee is questioning. And – people aren’t available 24/7, so it’s not reasonable to expect someone who is knowledgeable to be able to help.
This is the one of the main reasons why working instructions and work orders are so important.
They’re like the handbook for nailing the steps to a role’s daily tasks. And because they’ve most likely been tested against all levels of competencies, they’re all but guaranteed to be accessible and actionable.
In short, though, work instructions are crucial because they:
- Ensure consistency across the organization for how a specific job is done
- Establish a ‘standard’ set of actions for a task
- Help keep everyone skilled and on the same page
- Keep things efficient and safe
- Help employees answer questions for themselves and avoid being uninformed
Working instructions show the correct way to get something done. They’re natural for us, too, as they’re something we form even in passing conversation when describing how we did something to a friend, or when we copy what we saw in a YouTube video.
What do working instructions do
Going past the obvious of being instructions for work, working instructions and manuals do much more than that.
They help highlight the errors and gaps in how something has been done, contributing to the continuous improvement wheel. If a set of instructions have been recently passed out and suddenly output and efficiency have skyrocketed, then it’s clear something wasn’t working properly.
Or, in the process of writing instructions, experts specifically identify a step that’s being missed or overhaul the whole standard approach.
And, work instructions support and work with standard operating procedures (SOP), something that we’ll be covering now.
The difference between work instructions and standard operation procedures (SOP)
It’s easy to get working instructions and SOPs mixed up: At a surface level, they seem to accomplish the same things and be used in the same way. After looking into one or the other for a minute thought, it’s quite clear how different they actually are.
Standard operating procedures exist to serve as an outline of sorts. They work with protocols and compliance regulations, and help show which roles are set to do what. That’s an important point for differentiating SOPs from instructions – they discuss the roles, not the specific people involved.
To sum up what sets them apart from SOPs, they’re much more specific and geared towards tasks and steps. Subject experts (SME) are included maybe even from the get-go, whereas SOPs are released almost wholly by leadership and upper-level employees.
Do I need work instructions or SOP?
Organizations should almost always have both. But for certain duties or daily tasks, explicit instructions are likely not needed. If the task is confined to a few simple steps and how to do them safely has been covered through training or the SOP, employees will be able to work efficiently and safely without working instructions.
If it’s a more meticulous and precise job or a task that needs to be done 100% correctly the first time, working instructions are needed. They’ll cover how things need to be done and more, so employees will be able to be successful and skilled.
When should you use working instructions?
They can be used right from onboarding, throughout the employee lifecycle and right to retirement.
Ideally, if they’re accessible and well-crafted, they should be made available for almost every role that could require them. They can completely streamline work and boost so many parts of the front-line employee experience, and even increase an organization’s output.
When a workforce is on the front-line and maintaining critical services, work instructions are a safety net and resource for them to be successful. Even if they’re not used frequently, the process of forming work instructions is informative and feeds into other processes like onboarding, training and performance evaluations.
Even with the best work instructions though, if they’re not easily accessible and engaging they’re not worth the investment. This is why storing them on a mobile platform are a part of digital transformation organizations shouldn’t skip.
Digital work instructions software
When resources like work instructions go through digital transformation, they become a whole new tool that even more of the workforce can access and use to be more engaged and skilled.
Digital platforms can automate and digitize working instructions. When they’re confined to a binder, email or handout, they’re just not meeting their full potential: They can be lost, buried under emails, fall into the wrong hands, or just not be on hand for everyone at once.
Storing them on work instructions software that’s mobile-first means that a technician on the factory floor won’t have to question how to complete a certain step or worry when they can’t contact their supervisor. They can answer questions for themselves and know that there’s always a step-by-step guide on hand.
When they’re digital, they’re tied into a platform with compliance features, training, tracking and an always-on intranet. They become more than just instructions: They’re packed with videos, additional training, digital forms and more.
Paperless work instructions software
The limitations and risks associated with basing processes like work instructions on paper have been covered endlessly, but quickly:
- Paper can be easily misplaced
- Printouts don’t always reach the right recipient
- Is isolated – not tied into compliance monitoring or similar software
- Not accessible – employees can’t always have a binder or folder on hand
The good news is, it’s easy to counter these issues in 2022 with a digital platform. Try housing your work instructions as documents on your intranet, so employees can pull them from the cloud whenever they want.
Then, go one step further and make sure they’re accessible on mobile devices, and you’ve got most of your challenges answered and beaten.
When that mobile-friendly solution is an employee app, the opportunities open up even further past digitizing paper documents: Workforce management efforts are boosted thanks to compliance tracking at every step, and teams are more engaged with the integration of videos to compliment instructions, training to reinforce documents and forms to obtain signatures of acknowledgment.
Automating the process
Gone are the days of having to chase down managers for another copy or digging through endless email threads. Digital work instructions are easily automated, assigned, targeted and followed-up on, and are readily available with an always-on documents library.
Automation is all about improving and streamlining how we work. Turns out, working instructions can be improved and streamlined more than one would think.
Working instructions can be linked to a workflow that starts with a digital form submission or request, and ends with instructions being assigned to an individual, their team or everyone who falls under a specific role. Managers can quickly see who is accessing what, and what the success rates or engagement on their latest efforts are.
And, like we’ve mentioned before, automation and digital transformation turns working instructions into a rich learning experience for every employee – and is more accessible, too.
Digitizing instructions is a key part of digital transformation
Don’t overlook this step. The workforce is automating and digitizing more and more each and every day, and it’d be a loss for teams if their organization didn’t add more value to their working instructions.
They’re more accessible, thanks to being on a platform that has a mobile app, and linked to bigger processes like compliance tracking, automated reports and more.
Use work instructions software to digitize working instructions, and employees will be more skilled, informed and efficient than ever before.
Cameron is iTacit’s Digital Marketing & Demand Specialist. A storyteller and passionate communicator, Cameron is busy most days researching the latest trends and keeping content relevant and engaging.