Automate Any Approval in Airtable with Jason Staats

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Transcript

About the Stream

Accountant Jason Staats (jstaatscpa on Twitter) of Realize LLC manages businesses’ back-office processes. A favorite part of the business is using nocode to solve each clients’ unique problems. Even though there are fantastic payroll apps on the market, there are always pieces of information that need to be collected from elsewhere. Countless opportunities exist for problem-solving accountants who can understand a businesses’ workflow problems, the native integrations that exist, and how to fill in the gaps when two services do not talk to one another easily.

Who this video is for and what you’ll learn

In this livestream, Jason and I build a time-off request and approval automation workflow.

Business owners currently processing time-off requests manually can learn how to use Airtable to streamline the task. The workflow shown here can further be extended to handle other routine activities, like expense tracking, employee onboarding, or monthly reporting.

This stream is also helpful to accountants looking to expand business offerings by building workflows to capture who is / isn’t on vacation for payroll purposes.

As a bonus, I show how to pre-fill Airtable forms and use Airtable hidden form fields.

How to follow along

A free Airtable account can be used to build the shown workflows.

Let’s get into it

Set up the tables and fields - 12:30

With this build, we’ll be managing the entire life-cycle for a time off request. This means that each request will be an independent entry in our “Requests” table. We’ll also be referencing out a “People” table for tracking who is making time-off requests and who is responsible for approving or declining the requests. Linked records are used to connect data across the two tables.

In an “Approvals” base, we’ll start by building out the initial tables and data fields:

Request Table

  1. Start Date (Date)
  2. Due Date (Date)
  3. Requestor (Single line text - Changed to a linked record later in the stream)
  4. Approver (Single line text - Changed to a lookup later in the stream)
  5. Status (Single select - Hidden later in the stream)
  6. Notes (Rich text)
  7. Approver e-mail (Lookup - Added later in the stream)
  8. Approved (Lookup - Added later in the stream)

People Table

  1. Email Address (E-mail)
  2. Manager (Linked record)
  3. Role (Rich text)
  4. Employee Status (Single select)
  5. Manager E-mail (Lookup - Added later in the stream)

TIP: One can always add additional fields or change field types as one builds out a workflow. If this were adapted to be an expense tracking workflow, add an attachment field to hold receipts. Other fields that could be added include Slack Channel or Department.

TIP: If data is in another third party tool, look to see if there are integration options with Airtable.

Set Up a Calendar View to Visually See Requests by Date - 23:53

What’s better than a table view? A calendar view. Easily see each employee’s time off request and how they may overlap with one another. By adding a formula field, one can see a requestor’s name, requested dates, and request status in the table’s primary field.

Formulas are one way to ensure unique and informative primary fields

Choose to show a little bit of information -- or a lot -- on calendar views

Set Up a Time Off Request Form in Airtable - 27:18

In the Requests table, create a form for employees to request time off. You’ll be capturing the following information:

  • Requestor
  • Start Date
  • End Date
  • Anything to Add?
  • Approver
Use a view to limit the Requestor list to only be active employees.

TIP: When forms are submitted, status will be blank. There are several ways you can populate the field:

  1. Create a form submission automation to auto-fill each form submission to have a pending status.
  2. Limit the form to only show certain drop down options
  3. Add URL parameters to the form to pre-fill form fields
URL Paramaters can pre-fill and / or hide form fields

Notify the Manager of a Time Off Request - 35:48

The next step is to create an automation to notify a manager via e-mail that a time-off request requires approval. This step requires updating both the Requests and People tables to have now include lookup fields so that email addresses are available in the automation.

The automation starts when the time-off request form is submitted. In the body of the message, include data from the request that will assist the manager in making an informed decision.

Emails can be as serious or as whimsical as you wish to make them. With the addition of markdown, text can be turned into clickable links. Unique subject lines make it easy for managers to scan through emails.

Set Up an Approvals Table - 42:39

Once a request is submitted and a manager notified, there needs to be a way to accept or reject the request. To do this, we’ll need to first create an Approvals table and then a form tied to this table. This approach does not require managers to be logged in to Airtable to process submissions. (NOTE: Depending on one’s business, this approach could have privacy and security risks.)

Here are the fields to add to the Approvals table:

  1. Name (Formula to obtain record ID)
  2. Requests (Linked record)
  3. Approve / Reject (Single select)
  4. Reason (Rich text)

Set Up an Approvals Form - 47:23

With the Approvals table created, it’s now time to focus on building the form. For this to work, the Requests table is updated to include a lookup to the Approvals table.

Update the Manager Notification Email to Use the Approvals Form - 48:26

Now that the Approvals form exists, add a link to it to the outgoing email. So that managers don’t have to scroll through a list of time-off requests, add URL params to the link so that the displayed form is pre-filled with key information.

A few seconds of additional configuration will save managers time when processing time off requests.

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Key takeaways

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