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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    November 12, 2021

    Technology: 5 Productivity Boosting Apps: Microsoft 365 for Business Subscription

    Here are five apps that will speed up routine business-management tasks, so you can focus your time and effort on clients' cases.

    James Pearson

    rockets blasting off

    No matter the size of a law practice, being productive is crucial for staying ahead of the competition and keeping clients satisfied. This article discusses five applications included with Microsoft 365 Business Standard and Premium subscriptions explicitly designed to help increase users’ productivity.

    As with all of the apps in Microsoft’s ecosystem, they work very well together. The key to making the most out of the tools is their integration with Microsoft Outlook. While it is possible to use these applications if your email is hosted someplace other than Microsoft Exchange Online, the services won’t be the same. For this article, I assume that readers have a subscription that includes these services and use Microsoft for email. A breakdown of what Microsoft includes with its 365 Business plans is on the company’s website.1

    1. Microsoft Bookings: Schedule Meetings Efficiently

    One of the biggest timewasters is phone and email tag. If you’ve ever faced the seemingly never-ending back and forth of trying to schedule a meeting with someone, then you know how frustrating this process can be. If you’re in a solo practice or small firm, accomplishing this task might depend on your attention to emails or doing the follow-up yourself, taking time away from essential or more pressing duties.

    James Pearson James Pearson owns The Computer Center, Janesville. He is a Microsoft Certified Professional and a frequent author and speaker on cybersecurity and safety topics. Get to know the author: Check out Q&A below.

    Microsoft Bookings, which competes with products such as Calendly, is included in Microsoft 365 Basic and Premium subscriptions. Bookings stops the back-and-forth hassle of scheduling by giving clients and other people the ability to book their appointments with you based on your availability and the parameters you’ve defined in the application.

    In Bookings, you create a “Service,” Microsoft’s name for the type of appointment you want to set. You can have as many Services as you’d like, and you can define these Services with significant granularity. For example, you might have a Service called New Client Intake that you have defined as a 30-minute initial phone consultation available during business hours on Thursdays.

    Next, you define the “Staff” in your organization, which may be one person or hundreds. You can specify a staff person for each Service or allow the recipient to select any staff member. If you practice as a solo or in a small firm, I recommend creating a Service for each staff member, even if these are the same Services. The reason is that Bookings allows you to send a scheduling link to a public page where all Services and Staff are visible or directly to a specific Service. The latter significantly reduces confusion and makes clients less likely to choose a Service or Staff that might not apply to the appropriate type of meeting.

    Once you’ve defined a Service, Bookings creates a unique link for that Service. Instead of playing calendar tag with clients, you include the Bookings link to the Service. For example, when new clients click the link for New Client Intake, they are shown your availability based on your Microsoft Outlook calendar and the parameters you initially set up for this Service. Then, they can schedule the appointment themselves.

    Bookings acts as a scheduling assistant, walking a client through the process from start to finish. It sets the appointment, collects the necessary data, puts the meeting on all attendees’ calendars, and sends fully customizable follow-up reminders, thus reducing the likelihood of missed appointments. Another efficiency hack!

    I recommend starting with just one or two specific Services to get your feet wet and learn how Bookings works. Then you can expand your Bookings Services. I have about a dozen Bookings links, one for each type of Service. I keep these links handy in a Word document to quickly copy and paste them into an email.

    Occasionally, I’ll give my clients two link options, one for an in-person meeting and one for a virtual meeting. They simply click the link for the desired meeting type and set their appointment with me. Bookings then sends confirmations, reminders, and calendar invitations.

    Bookings automatically integrates with Microsoft Teams and can include a meeting link with the calendar invite and confirmation emails for virtual appointments. However, you customize the confirmation messages, calendar invites, and reminders if you don’t use Teams. You could, for example, use a Zoom meeting link.

    Bookings uses name, email, and phone number as the default fields that your clients fill in when setting an appointment. However, you can create a list of custom questions for your Bookings. You might use this feature as a preliminary questionnaire or an intake form that clients complete when they book an initial appointment with you. Because the questions are reusable, you can quickly customize the information you gather when someone uses your Bookings.

    It is possible to allow multiple people to schedule for the same event, but this is a little cumbersome and not Bookings’ strong suit.

    2. Microsoft To-Do: Stay on Top of Daily Tasks

    I’m a list guy. I make task lists daily. To-Do is a way to do this digitally instead of on paper. To-Do is a great way to organize lists. You can assign tasks to other people in your organization, apply deadlines, mark different items as urgent, set up reminders and repeating tasks, and even break down tasks into individual steps. To-Do integrates with your Outlook Calendar.

    Like all the applications I’m discussing, To-Do includes a desktop app, a web application, and mobile apps, so you can have your task lists everywhere you go. To-Do might be the only productivity app you’ll need for tasks ranging from a shopping list to the steps for completing a more complex project. It’s straightforward and intuitive to use, so increasing your productivity with To-Do is quick and easy.

    3. Microsoft Planner: Manage Complex Projects

    Planner is like a more mature and sophisticated version of To-Do. While To-Do is suitable for small lists and reminders, Microsoft Planner is better for more complex projects that involve multiple team members or have a longer timeline. Microsoft Project is an even bigger, more complex type of project management software, but Project is more complicated than needed for most smaller firms and has a higher learning curve than Planner. Project also requires an additional subscription, as it is not included in any Microsoft 365 Business plans.

    Planner applies the Kanban project management method. In the 1940s, Toyota pioneered the technique that has now become the Kanban method. Planner uses Kanban boards, which are visual and easy to manage.2 Planner groups tasks and provides an instant representation of a project. Its incredible flexibility allows viewing tasks by assigned person, due date, priority, or categories, which Planner calls Buckets.

    Planner has a low learning curve and is significantly more intuitive than Project or other complex project management software. I find it helpful in breaking down my own complex projects into small components.

    Planner’s simple, visual interface allows you to quickly assess the status of even the most complex projects. For example, you can see completed, late, or on-track tasks at a glance.

    You can comment on tasks with your team, add files, checklists, and instructions, and even tag tasks using a variety of customizable colored labels. Further, Planner acts as a project manager, sending email reminders about upcoming and late tasks, which might help keep you and coworkers focused and on track.

    One thing you might miss if you’ve used software like Project is Gantt charts. Planner uses the Kanban board to display progress and timelines, and, unlike Project, currently does not create Gantt charts.

    4. Microsoft Forms: Securely Collect Client Information

    Securely gathering information from clients can be a challenging task. Although no technology should completely replace in-person new-client meetings, some types of data can be accurately collected using Microsoft Forms. Forms allows you to quickly create a simple questionnaire or poll.3

    Forms has an intuitive drag-and-drop form-building interface. Choose from multiple-choice questions, simple text fields, checkbox choices, ratings, and more. Forms also offers more advanced features, such as branching. Branching reacts to a user’s input, altering the form on the fly. For example, you might want to gather additional details from users who answer “yes” to questions that have a yes-or-no choice. Branching allows you to show more questions or options based on a particular response or have users move on to the next question instead.

    5. Microsoft Teams: Communicate and Collaborate with Ease

    A discussion on productivity wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Microsoft Teams. Microsoft has been pushing Teams as its all-in-one communication and collaboration platform for the past few years. Teams replaced Skype for Business on July 31, 2021.4

    Teams’ key features include an instant messaging system for chatting with colleagues, whether in the office or out, and a screen-sharing feature that is easy to launch, allowing you to give instant feedback and discuss a document or other issue. In addition, it has built-in video conferencing that can be used internally (with coworkers) or externally (with clients and vendors). It’s an excellent substitute for Zoom and is included in both the Microsoft 365 Business Standard and Premium subscriptions.

    You can create separate groups (teams) for specific project collaboration. Microsoft encourages team members to collaborate on documents within the same interface. For example, team members can create or upload documents into the Files tab in their Teams group. A lesser-known feature is that each group also has a built-in wiki (“a hypertext publication collaboratively edited and managed by its own audience directly using a web browser”5), allowing team members to communicate with each other and document their work.

    Mobile apps for iOS and Android devices provide additional ways to securely access Teams conversations and documents.

    Conclusion

    In today’s world of remote work, uncertainty about the future, and a need to communicate effectively and efficiently with your staff, clients, and vendors, Microsoft has truly built a complete suite of products to help you do so within your existing Microsoft 365 for Business subscriptions.

    Also of Interest

    How to Fully Utilize Microsoft 365

    Microsoft has added new features and tools to its Microsoft 365 ecosystem. Microsoft 365 has enabled firms, teams, and individuals to collaborate and innovate, protect data, and save costs from anywhere there’s an internet connection. Are you getting the full value out of your Microsoft 365 subscription?

    Are you asking yourself any of these questions:

    • Should our firm use Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace?
    • What is Microsoft Teams and how does it compare to Slack?
    • What is Microsoft SharePoint and how can it solve my file storage needs?
    • How do I know if I’m using all the Microsoft tools?

    Plan to attend Everything in One Place: How to Fully Utilize Microsoft 365, a State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE® webcast seminar offered live on Dec. 16, noon to 1 p.m. Webcast replays are scheduled for Dec. 28, Jan. 6, Jan. 12, Jan. 21, Jan. 27, Feb. 1, and Feb. 14.

    Mark your calendars now and watch wisbar.org/marketplace for more information and registration details, coming soon.

    Meet Our Contributors

    What’s the most memorable trip you ever took?

    James PearsonThe most memorable trip I ever took was to New Orleans with my youngest daughter, Lauren. New Orleans is a unique and fascinating place to visit and has such a rich history. We spent our days visiting historic landmarks, including the famous above-ground cemeteries. Being huge Halloween fans, we weren’t disappointed by the number of ghost-story-themed walking tours and museums.

    It seemed that every corner had something new to explore. Tiny shops and tourist traps fought for our attention. Musicians and artists filled the hot, humid streets, vying for our attention, hoping to sell their latest creation or exchange a small tip for a few moments of entertainment. The sights included the Museum of Death and Voodoo Museums and the Boutique du Vampyre.

    Unfortunately, we also witnessed the remnants of destruction from Katrina, a very sobering part of our trip. Nevertheless, it was one of the most incredible bonding experiences we’ve had and is a trip we talk about frequently.

    James Pearson, The Computer Center, Janesville.

    Become a contributor! Are you working on an interesting case? Have a practice tip to share? There are several ways to contribute to Wisconsin Lawyer. To discuss a topic idea, contact Managing Editor Karlé Lester at (800) 444-9404, ext. 6127, or email klester@wisbar.org. Check out our writing and submission guidelines.

    Endnotes

    1 Microsoft, www.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/business/compare-all-microsoft-365-business-products (last visited Oct. 15, 2021).

    2 Kanbanize, Kanban Explained for Beginners: The Complete Guide, https://kanbanize.com/kanban-resources/getting-started/what-is-kanban (last visited Oct. 15, 2021).

    3 Microsoft, Microsoft Forms, https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/online-surveys-polls-quizzes (last visited Oct. 15, 2021).

    4 Microsoft, FAQ – Upgrading from Skype for Business to Microsoft Teams. https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoftteams/faq-journey (last visited Oct. 15, 2021).

    5 Wikipedia, Wiki, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiki (last edited Oct. 1, 2021).

    » Cite this article: 94 Wis. Law. 45-47 (November 2021).




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