As a top 100 ENR construction company with over nine offices across the east coast, the construction company I work for processes thousands of subcontracts every year. In an effort to streamline the process years ago, the Legal Department implemented the use of a subcontract rider, or the Exhibit K. That is, edits to our contract’s Terms and Conditions, or Exhibit A of the subcontract, are handled in the Exhibit K. The subcontractors are meant to use the same Exhibits A and K on every project within the year and, therefore, only modify the remaining exhibits (Exhibits B – J) on a per-project basis. Though keeping Exhibits A and K consistent throughout the year helps to reduce some legal time and expenses, the process of reviewing them and indoctrinating new subcontractors is still an extremely time-consuming task — in fact, the previous process involved approximately seven versions of the same Exhibit K, over ten emails, multiple filing systems, and zero transparency — but, with the optimized use of Teams and the Tasks app, I’ve help my team reduce legal spend on this important task and streamline the process.
II. Background on Microsoft Teams “Tasks” Application
At the start of the COVID pandemic, the company made the strategic decision to purchase a license for Microsoft Teams. While the Legal Department and the Subcontract Administration Department had both been utilizing Microsoft Teams for videoconferencing and general chats, neither department had utilized the platform’s full functionality, including the “Tasks” application.
The “Tasks” application functions like a virtual cork board, with sticky notes that a designated “Team” has access to. “Team” members (like those in the Legal and Subcontract Administration Departments) can create a “Task” (like “Negotiate Exhibit K with ABC Construction”) and set certain parameters. Those parameters can include assignee, deadline, and priority. For example, if you wanted me to Negotiated an Exhibit K with ABC Construction, you would create that “Task” and tag it with my name, the deadline, and the priority.
III. Benefits of the Microsoft Teams “Tasks” Applied to the Exhibit K Workflow
With Microsoft Teams, employees are provided with an easy-to-use and all-in-one-place platform that boosts collaboration and efficiency, thereby improving productivity, reducing costs, and boosting cultural engagement amongst employees. The “Tasks” application in Microsoft Teams neatly packages all these perks of the platform itself into a one-stop-shop for the Exhibit K process. Integrating the “Tasks” application on Microsoft Teams, improved efficiency of our Exhibit K process and business communication by:
(A) cutting the Exhibit K document versions from seven to one
Instead of various members of this work flow saving their own versions of this document, in their own various filing systems (as discussed below), the “Tasks” application will allow us to keep one live version in an easy-to-find location. This in and of itself saves time by reducing the effort it takes to save the file, attach it to an email, write out the email, and relocate your earlier version when an updated version of the Exhibit K is emailed your way. The version history feature in Microsoft Teams allows users to track the changes made on the document and keeps it “live” so that everyone could, if desired, edit at the same time. We have already started moving in this collaboration-focused document approach with SharePoint and this simply amplifies the capabilities by placing the file on the virtual corkboard.
(B) cutting the number of related emails from ten to one,
Each version would come along with a separate email, plus emails requesting modifications, executing or negotiating such modifications, and following-up to check the status or the whereabouts of the Exhibit K. With the “Tasks” application, there is only one email: the one from our external subcontractor requesting a new or updated Exhibit K. Comment features in the “Tasks” application, as well as visible status-check-identifiers, do away with all of the various emails that come along with the Exhibit K process.
(C) reducing the number of filing systems to one
As discussed in part (A) above, with various versions of the Exhibit K comes various file-saving mechanisms. It is unclearly where some team members are currently saving their version of the Exhibit K, but no such problem exists with the implementation of the “Tasks” application. In “Tasks,” all Exhibit K’s and accompanying contract documents are saved in one shared folder.
(D) creating full transparency of the process amongst the Legal Department, Subcontract Administration Department, and the project teams
As discussed in part (B) above, various emails are a result of a lack of transparency. Team members are rightfully curious about the whereabouts of the document and some are unclear as to how they should prioritize one Exhibit K over another. With the “Tasks” application, the team member creating the task can (i) assign it to the appropriate team member, (ii) set a clear deadline, and (iii) set clear priorities of the “Task.” In turn, the assigned team member can share her status on that particular Exhibit K (thereby rendering follow-up or check-in emails moot) and incidentally sharing her workload with the rest of the team (so that everyone knows how much a team member has on her plate, which can help with scheduling, etc.).
IV. Topping Teams
Now I’m faced with the task of out-doing this Teams initiative and using digital advances to more efficiently run the Legal Department. I think the key lives in what the Tasks app is based on: the functionality that comes with collaboration-focused platforms, like Microsoft SharePoint (which allows for live document sharing and other cloud storage options). Microsoft Teams works hand-in-hand with Microsoft SharePoint, and takes it to another level.
The problem is, as mentioned in my last post, we’re also dealing with different generations that welcome these collaboration-focused platforms. The challenge will be striking the balance between efficiency and practicality. All thoughts are welcome.