Build a bot that does your chores

Slack created a virtual assistant to do the scutwork, so we don’t have to

ApprovalBot hero image

Sure, assembling a team of powerful bots could sound like villainy. But if you’re a busy manager, a few bots can make you feel like a hero. The best virtual assistants don’t need fancy powers—they just need to help you with repetitive tasks.

Thankfully, Slack’s App Directory is brimming with these helpful tools. If your organization uses Concur or Zoho for work expenses, there are apps that let you submit them right from Slack. And if you use ServiceNow, its Now Actions app lets you set up custom approval flows and approve or reject requests in the same way.

And while these tools are fantastic solutions for most, if your organization doesn’t use the services they integrate with, you’re not out of luck. Because you can create your own solution. We’d know—we built ApprovalsBot.

This friendly little tool was made for managers at Slack, and it helps ensure that managers never miss time-intensive time-off requests.

 

Finding approval (right inside Slack)

The way ApprovalsBot operates is simple. It syncs with our HR platform, and when employees request time off, it sends a message to their manager, surfacing when, for how long, and the type of time-off request (whether it’s sick leave or vacation, for instance).

ApprovalBot screenshot

Managers can then approve a PTO (paid time off) request with a single click, right from the message in Slack. We’ve added a universal inbox for approvals in Slack,” says Stephen Franchetti, Slack’s vice president of information technology.

Monica Wilkinson, an application development manager at Slack, says this wasn’t hard to implement. “The most challenging part of the whole thing is making sure the bot isn’t noisy,” she says. “We wanted to be certain if we notified somebody that there’s going to be a PTO approval, that we don’t notify them again.”

This seemingly small time-saver means less task switching throughout the day, the benefits of which have been well documented for more than a decade. Gloria Mark, a professor in the department of informatics at the University of California, Irvine, studies the effects of interruptions and found that not only is switching tasks stressful for employees, it’s also an enormous waste of time. Startlingly, once you’ve switched tasks, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on track.

With ApprovalsBot, Franchetti says,“it’s really easy for you just to take action and move on with your day, as opposed to logging into another system and trying to figure out what the heck you’re supposed to be doing.”

 

An expanding set of skills

PTO is the tip of the iceberg for what bots like this can do. Best suited for repetitive requests, ApprovalsBot’s functionality could easily extend to expense reports, procuring new workplace equipment, and even IT help.

“About 80% of IT requests are identified as repeatable,” Franchetti says. “They tend to be things like access requests and password resets. We’re currently looking at piloting a natural language bot that you can converse with. You can say, ‘Hey, I really want access to Adobe Creative Suite’ or something like that, and we know what to do.”

ApprovalsBot already saves us loads of time with PTO requests, and we can’t wait to see how it helps us in the future. And yes, we know—you want it too! Franchetti is looking into plans to release it for other organizations, but you don’t have to wait. Slack’s App Directory has a number of great apps to help you request time off—and if none fit your organization perfectly, don’t worry. Creating your own custom integration is possible right now. There are many workflow automation tools, like Workato and (the recently acquired) Missions, that don’t require any coding experience.

And if you want to create a tool for your team from the ground up, Franchetti says, it should take only a few days to build.

It’s definitely worth the effort. Because the less time that managers have to spend sifting through humdrum tasks, the more they can focus on the more exciting stuff—like literally anything else.

 

Get started with custom integrations or make your very own ApprovalsBot and start breezing through tasks on Slack.

 

Nic Vargus recently saw the power of ApprovalsBot—when his upcoming vacation to Joshua Tree was immediately green-lit.

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