It’s time for Moms, Dads, and caregivers of all kinds to get our kids ready for what we hope will be their best school year ever. The stress of September doesn’t just land on their little shoulders, however. I know that many in my work life are gearing up for the busiest time for the year professionally, just as we are striving to support the students in our lives beginning the school year anew. Making certain we are fully present so that we can support them being their best in the school year means that parents and caregivers must strive to be less stressed and more efficient at work. While I’m in no way perfect at these efforts, I have made progress using cloud based Microsoft Office 365 to become more efficient and productive. I describe three real life use cases below.
1. Using Email Templates via Outlook and Exchange
Templates are a great way to deliver messages that one uses consistently. When I reach out to prospects, I have a number of email templates that I use directly from outlook that I can customize and personalize. Gone are the days of searching through sent emails for the best intro email or, worse yet, writing one from scratch. Instead, I have my best messaging at my fingertips and can tailor based on the individual and circumstance that have prompted my outreach.
Thus, I’m spending less time looking for the right message and more time tailoring the message that my prospects and customers value. The key here is that I’m gaining efficiency, but not trying to drive down messaging time completely to the detriment of the recipient and my brand. I’m not relying on an email blast to reach valuable prospects and thereby losing the personal touch. Who wants another meaningless email blast from a salesperson in the middle of the September rush? I know I don’t and I surely don’t want to be thought of as such a salesperson.
2. Managing High Stakes Processes with Planner and SharePoint
Planner is a lightweight task management application that has helped me be a great deal more efficient in critical processes. In IT consulting, responding to RFPs are often the equivalent, a challenging group homework assignment. However, as I lead such efforts on the sales side, I want to make the process as seamless as possible for my colleagues. Thus, I generate a group within Planner and invite the RFP team response team to join. We can then manage tasks, see the availability of team members based on their presence, and collaborate on documents, both real time and asynchronously, while maintaining version control. This document set is housed in an automatically provisioned SharePoint site.
If one’s colleagues are emailing documents and saving them on a shared drive in an effort to drive a similar process, their RFP response team is being set up for an inefficient and frustrating ordeal possibly during and certainly at the end of the response deadline. Concerns about what the right version of a response document are bound to be raised, as are the status and ownership of key tasks. Instead, using Planner and SharePoint can significantly reduce, if not eliminate, such concerns and aide in accelerating the development and improving the quality of RFP response documents.
Since adopting this pattern this year I know I have not had several late nights that would have left me bleary eyed and late to the bus stop in the morning. Managing this high stakes process in a manner that is much more open and efficient has raised my value with technical colleagues and several sales colleagues have adopted this pattern. Thus, using the right tools not only makes work better for me, it’s also helping my teams gain additional visibility at work as we develop and model organizational best practices.
3. Sharing Calendars with Outlook and Exchange
Sharing calendars with internal and external colleagues has saved me a mountain of time and made me more valuable in key relationships. I used to get emails asking for times I was available and have several back and forth before a time was set for a meeting. Worse yet, I would sometimes just receive an invitation without prior warning and with no knowledge of my availability. Increasingly, I share my calendars with colleagues and customers to ensure they know when they can set a time to connect. As a rule, If I’m available on my calendar, I’m available to these constituents. I want to reduce email and drive high value in my daily interactions.
That said, the typical hesitation when I mention this feature is that users don’t necessarily want all parties to know where they are and with whom all the time. One can set visibility to “Availability Only”, “Limited Details”, and “Full Details” levels based on the visibility that is appropriate for the person with whom a calendar is being shared. There is no loss of control, but a great deal to be gained in terms of efficiencies via reduced email and being more accessible to valuable colleagues and customers.
I even share my calendar with key people in my children’s lives. I was a Room Parent for one of my sons’ classes last year. If a teacher has an opportunity to volunteer, I want that teacher to have access to my availability via a shared calendar. I have no more important job than reading to one of our boys and his class. Of course, when I do that job I check with my supervisor at work in advance and set my out of office for that time appropriately.
Staying more productive and driving better collaboration at work helps to harmonize all aspects of our lives at a time of year that is high intensity for many professionally and personally. Learning to streamline processes, improving resulting work product documents, and developing new communication efficiencies can reduce needless noise and open our time and bandwidth significantly. This means that we can be better in all of our roles just when being present is most critical to helping professionals and the students we love make the grade.
Patrick Keating is an Account Executive at Integration Partners, a managed Microsoft Partner with top Unified Communications and Cloud solution capabilities. He is a Microsoft Certified Professional, Microsoft CIE Facilitator, and a Microsoft P-Seller nominee. Patrick is a volunteer Year Up in Boston as well as at Babson College, where he got his MBA. Patrick is a lucky husband and father who was once an announcer at a polo match.