Construction Project Partners: How to Efficiently Manage Emails and Collaborate (Finally)?
Emails have revolutionized the construction industry by significantly reducing response times between project partners. Initially, this ease of collaboration among stakeholders improved communication. On-site teams now receive instant responses to the issues they encounter, whereas in the past, they had to wait for the weekly site meeting or a response to a postal letter.
However, over time, communication channels have multiplied, and the volume of information and messages exchanged has become overwhelming for contractors, architects, engineering firms, control offices, health and safety coordinators, and others involved. What was once a revolution has turned into a curse.
Notifications from Microsoft Outlook constantly popping up have become a common experience for many construction professionals. During critical project phases, an architect alone can easily receive dozens of emails per day for a single project. Imagine the situation for those coordinating or working on multiple projects. The same applies to other experts involved in construction projects.
In this context, organizing and sorting information becomes essential. But that's not enough. The received information must be processed either by taking direct action or by delegating and ensuring follow-up on the requests.
Email management, a major challenge for the construction industry
During the two webinars hosted by COOPERLINK in December 2022 on the topic of collaboration and email management, participants had the opportunity to share their practices.
The results are clear:
- 85% of respondents do not believe they effectively manage their professional emails.
- The two main challenges identified by participants are "efficient email sorting" and "ensuring follow-up on requested actions in an email."
- 85% of participants do not have a common email classification system within their company.
Email management is a particularly difficult challenge for this sector. In a real estate project, there are numerous stakeholders with multiple representatives. At each phase of the project, new individuals come on board to contribute their specific expertise. Along with them comes an increased amount of information being exchanged.
While some emails may have no specific value and are merely organizational (such as scheduling a meeting), others are essential to keep and archive as they impact other decisions and, consequently, associated costs.
Why Microsoft Outlook is not sufficient
The solution provided by Microsoft Outlook or any other client email solution is not adequately adapted when it comes to managing:
- The sheer volume of information
- Processing requests
- Tracking submitted requests
- Managing attachments
- Dealing with multiple recipients
Focusing on email management within one's company is primarily about questioning the value and role of email within the organization.
Considering email as a corporate asset
The architecture company ARCHIPELAGO considers emails as a corporate asset. Emails are not merely a means of communication between employees and external parties; they hold real value.
Therefore, emails cannot be seen as the sole property of the employee, even if they are the author or sender. Some messages have implications for the entire company.
From the advent of emails as a preferred means of communication, ARCHIPELAGO's management enforced a solution to centralize and organize emails. To enforce this new approach, emails were regularly deleted from employees' mailboxes. However, after a decade with this solution, both the tool and approach needed to be modernized.
That's why ARCHIPELAGO turned to COOPERLINK. The company's management also changed its approach towards employees. It is now voluntary for employees to use the solution, and emails are no longer deleted from Microsoft Outlook. After explaining the benefits of email classification to the team members, it can be confirmed that the team is convinced.
The increasing number of classified emails in COOPERLINK demonstrates the growing adoption of the solution by employees.
Here are some use cases and benefits that ARCHIPELAGO has observed:
- Facilitating coordination and communication within the team: Requests received via email can be distributed among internal teams. The platform also facilitates task tracking. Project managers can use the dashboard to ensure their projects stay on schedule. They can visualize ongoing and resolved tasks and easily access correspondences and associated documents.
- Managing information volume: Traditional searches in email solutions yield hundreds of results. How can one quickly find the desired email? COOPERLINK simplifies sorting through the enrichment of emails with data.
- Ensuring continuity of information within projects: Construction projects span several years, from acquisition to project completion. They also involve incorporating expert profiles into teams at different project phases. With COOPERLINK, new team members can easily access information exchanged since the beginning of the project.
- Risk management and prevention: Traceability of correspondences is essential in the construction sector. Emails, among other channels, are used to exchange numerous pieces of information and decisions that may need to be referred to after several years. COOPERLINK facilitates this traceability through metadata and its search tool.
- Information transparency: COOPERLINK facilitates management access to project-level information, promoting transparency.
Case study: Joseph BRACOPS Hospital Project in Brussels
A large-scale real estate project
ARCHIPELAGO shared its experience on one of its projects, the Joseph Bracops Hospital, which served as a pilot project to implement correspondence-related features. The project began in 2018 and involves the redevelopment of a hospital site in the Brussels region (client: Hôpitaux Iris Sud) and the construction of a new polyclinic and medical-technical block. The project is extensive, covering an area of 14,900m2, and involves numerous partners. ARCHIPELAGO is one of the members of the design team, which also includes NU architectuuratelier, BUUR, Ellyps, MATRIciel, MC-carré, and COSEP.
In total, there are approximately 30 users at the "submission file" stage, not counting the numerous stakeholders who will join the project team during subsequent phases of the project.
The initial numbers give an idea of the scale of the project:
- Over 3000 unique emails have been recorded between 2020 and 2022.
- Over 100 tasks have already been created at the project level.
- 2 shared workspaces contain a total of over 6000 files.
These numbers provide an overview of the complexity involved in managing information in this type of project.
COOPERLINK configuration for the Bracops project
ARCHIPELAGO has adopted the following configuration:
- The COOPERLINK collaborative platform
Partners are invited by ARCHIPELAGO to join the COOPERLINK collaborative platform, which allows document sharing and collaboration (tasks) within the context of a construction project.
The main features include:
- Partner invitation
- Rights definition (read, write, access rights)
- Document sharing
- Automatic indexing of document versions
- Task management
- Creation and tracking of workflows (automation processes for approvals)
During the execution phase, the general contractor will also use COOPERLINK to manage and validate technical specifications, as well as easily create the As-built documentation.
The goal of using the collaborative platform is to significantly reduce the number of emails exchanged.
- The COOPERLINK plugin for Microsoft Outlook
With the Microsoft Outlook plugin, employees can continue working with their familiar email solution while having access to a panel that allows them to enrich emails with data. This data will synchronize with the COOPERLINK collaborative platform and the company's server.
ARCHIPELAGO chose to complement the Microsoft Outlook solution to improve internal coordination. From within Microsoft Outlook, a team member can create a workflow linked to an email. Each member then has a clear view of the tasks transmitted and those assigned to them.
Furthermore, when an email is sent to multiple ARCHIPELAGO collaborators, once the email is enriched with data by one of the recipients, all of them benefit from it. This avoids multiple data entry and saves valuable seconds, which, when accumulated, represent a significant amount of time for the company.
As for the manager, they can have a synoptic view for each project they are responsible for. They can directly see if an email has been followed by an action without having to inquire with the team member in charge.
- The automatic backup on ARCHIPELAGO's file server
All the information uploaded to the collaborative platform is automatically archived on ARCHIPELAGO's file server. This ensures that the company always has a backup and maintains control over the exchanged information.
Our 5 tips for implementing COOPERLINK easily with your teams and minimizing resistance to change
Explain the added value of the tool to the collaborators
Adopting a new tool requires effort. Each individual may have varying levels of resistance to change, but understanding the benefits of a new solution helps motivate users, especially if they can envision the advantages they will personally gain. Time savings and the prospect of not having to redo tasks multiple times are arguments that resonate with all future users.
Provide support and guidance to users during the tool adoption process
Not all users have the same level of proficiency with IT solutions. For everyone, a learning journey is desirable. The COOPERLINK team can assist you in communicating with your teams and training your employees.
The customer success and support team at COOPERLINK are highly responsive to user inquiries and strive to ensure a seamless experience. We take great pride in the performance of our support services:
Carefully select pilot projects and then expand usage
We recommend starting by implementing the solution in carefully selected pilot projects, as this can motivate teams to adopt innovative tools before expanding the solution to the entire organization.
Combine the plugin with the COOPERLINK collaborative platform for easier adoption
By combining the COOPERLINK plugin with the collaborative platform, users can fully leverage the solution and maximize its benefits.
Involve management in the change process
When management leads by example, teams are more likely to follow suit.
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