How to Improve Human Connection at Work by Automating the Little Things

Rory O'Brien
Rory O'Brien
February 7, 2023
December 12, 2022
min read
How to Improve Human Connection at Work by Automating the Little Things

When we talk about the benefits of no-code automation, we’re usually focused on things like reducing manual work—in particular the work between tasks: triaging inbound requests; running down communications via chat apps; etc.

Which is as it should be! According to a recent survey conducted by Asana, knowledge workers today burn around 58% of their time on work that falls in the gaps between processes. But you can use automation in smaller and more personal ways, too—to help yourself and your teams tidy up your time and feel more connected at work.

That’s important. This age of remote work certainly has some benefits, but among other challenges, it’s made connection with coworkers and collaborators more difficult. How do you stay engaged with one another while you’re all working from home? How do you manage distributed teams?

Tonkean’s people are spread out all over the world. One of our core company values concerns taking a “people-first” approach to everything we do. So it’s been important to us to be creative about ways we can stay connected and engaged with our teammates. Many of us have turned to our own Tonkean platform to create automations that help us do precisely that that.

Automating opportunities for human connection

Tonkean is a no-code automation platform that makes it easy to coordinate communication and workflows across all the apps your organization uses, and between all the people who use them. The platform is composable, meaning users can build workflows and automations using “building blocks” composed of interchangeable, integrated business capabilities—all without ever having to write any code.

Internally, we call those workflows and automations “modules.” Recently we’ve built a number of modules for various initiatives that organically cropped up around Tonkean, including ideas for fun activities as well as enhancements to our own personal productivity that make our days a little easier.

Our customers can duplicate and customize these modules for their own use. Most of our internal communications happen over Slack, which is why we rely on it so heavily in the below examples. But you could just as easily use email, Teams, or other communication tools.

Here’s an incomplete list of some of our modules and how we’ve used them:


Why: We made the Kudos module to give every employee in the organization the ability to highlight their colleagues’ successes during our weekly all-hands meeting.

What it does and how it works: The day before our weekly all-hands meeting, the module sends a reminder to the entire #town-hall Slack channel to give kudos to any teammates they want to highlight.

Anyone who clicks the “Give Kudos” button is automatically presented with a form that prompts them to leave comments. Tonkean automatically routes the comments into a spreadsheet, where the person running the meeting can grab it and drop it into the slide deck ahead of the meeting.

(Notably, we’re planning to automate that as well, so no one will have to update the slide deck manually anymore!)


Why: We wanted a way to somewhat organically replicate the side chats people would typically have if we were in a physical office together. Those small conversations foster connection with your colleagues on a more personal level. It also takes your mind off whatever you’re working on to give your brain a break.

What it does and how it works: The Watercooler module pulls from a pre-made spreadsheet that’s full of miscellaneous categories (like Opinions, Music, or Whimsical) as well as topics under each category (like “What’s something you consider underrated?” or “What is your favorite music video and why?”).

The spreadsheet is invisible to the users; all they see is that once per week, they get a nudge in the #watercooler Slack channel with the category and topic. Teammates simply reply to the prompt directly in the chat and can riff and joke with one another.

There’s also an “Add a Future Topic” button that lets anyone add one for later. When they do, Tonkean automatically adds it to the spreadsheet, creating a virtuous, automated cycle of topic generation and subsequent conversations.

Fitness Challenge

Why: Anyone who works remotely knows that it’s all too easy to stay in your pajamas all day and never go outside. If you commute and work in an office, you at least have to get up and move around a little. But the advantage of working from home is that, if you’re motivated, it’s actually a lot easier to carve out time and opportunity for the sort of exercise that suits you. To help our employees do a bit of that, we held an opt-in, company-wide fitness challenge.

It was team-based, and the winning team got swag, so there was light-hearted accountability and both bragging rights and treasures at stake. For an entire month, we had everyone try to exercise and move as much as possible, and we used Tonkean to track our time.

What it does and how it works: We made two modules to facilitate this challenge.

The first module was very simple—just a way to solicit and track opt in and opt out responses. The module prompted everyone in the #town-hall Slack channel with a message to opt in or opt out of the challenge. Whichever option people chose, their answers were automatically sorted into correlated spreadsheets. The opt-in folks were then grouped into teams.

The second module was for tracking fitness logs. Every day, the module sent direct Slack messages to each participant asking if they’d like to log any exercise that day. They could respond with any type of exercise (walking, dance, snowboarding, and so on), and a text analysis NLP item in the workflow would automatically sort the response into one of the predefined categories. If it couldn’t figure out a category from text analysis, the module would simply ask the submitter to pick one from the list. (This is a great example of how we use AI in Tonkean: minimally, and for narrowly defined purposes.)

Exercisers could also add an image of their activity (usually as an excuse to send a cute picture of their dog) as part of their response, and the module automatically placed the image in a shared Google Drive, which in turn was embedded on an internal intranet page that all participants could access.

The page also showed a graphical leaderboard to show who was logging the most (ahem, and least) minutes. The daily leaderboard updates also automatically pushed to the #fitness-challenge Slack channel, which served as an excellent time and place for teams to compare progress and talk a little smack to each other (and/or encourage one another).

Weekly Standup

Why: Nobody wants more meetings. We created the Weekly Standup module for the CX team, and it enables us to spike a 30-minute meeting while still helping each of us organize and prepare our week.

What it does and how it works: Once per week, the module prompts each team member via Slack to answer a quick few questions. The form is totally customizable, but for ours, we included questions like “What are your goals this week?” and “What are your blockers?”

The module then automatically puts those submissions into a shared Slack channel. That way, not only are they written down and recorded, but team members or managers can address them whenever it makes sense for them instead of having to create a bunch of action items at the close of a meeting.

The Weekly Standup module is a great example of one that’s incredibly simple and easy to create yet offers an outsized positive impact on our time and internal communication.

Email inbox handling

Why: The email inbox is one of the biggest timesucks for many knowledge workers. It’s a black hole, even for those who occasionally achieve “inbox zero,” because replying to emails just begets more email. Even the most organized among us can’t keep up with opening every email, deciding where it goes, and sticking it in a folder for later. It’s too overwhelming.

Anyone can use Tonkean’s modules to perform what we call email intake, triage, and coordination. The workflow and its component parts and pieces are all no-code and composable, so you don’t need IT or dev to define or build it for you. You can triage your own inbox and even use a dashboard to track it all.

What it does and how it works: If you get emails from third parties, clients, partners, and so on that you want to triage, you can add Tonkean to your distribution list, or create a rule to forward emails to your Tonkean module. You can set up rules for emails from various aliases (eg, legal@yourcompany or hr@yourcompany), and/or use an NLP Triage Request item to identify what’s in the email.

You can define whatever types of messages pertain to you—NDA requests, W-9 forms, and so on—and predetermine what to do with them. For example, you might want to send someone a Google form automatically, or send them something to sign via DocuSign, or just send an autoreply thanking them for their message.

And if the email doesn’t contain a match for your categories, you can create an item that asks for more information, which then trains the NLP, so the next time an email of that type lands in your inbox, Tonkean will know what to do with it.

That’s all from a single module. But email handling can be as simple or as rich as you want it to be, and it’s a great example of how you can layer modules together in Tonkean to create more powerful solutions. If you want to get deeper into the coordination aspect of email, Tonkean has modules for auto-generating common documents, scheduling an internal handoff meeting, generating a project tracker, creating a customer account, and more. (Check out our Blueprint to learn about how to set things up end to end.)

Whatever you need

We need to reinforce the need for human interaction at work. When you like the people you work with, you do a better job.

These are just a handful of real-world examples of the automations some of us Tonkies have created for ourselves and our teams. As other opportunities, ideas, and needs arise, anyone in the company can quickly and easily whip one up.

The Tonkean platform is agnostic in the sense that it can work with essentially any app or set of apps, so you don’t have to scrap whatever tools you’re already using.

So if you want to give it a spin to automate your personal work and find ways to boost employee connection and engagement at your organization—or overhaul all of your manual processes, for that matter—you can reach out to Tonkean for a free, personalized demo.

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