4. Touch It Once
Another key is to set aside periods throughout the day where you can effectively focus on email and clear communications. This takes a lot of discipline and staff must be trained to quickly decide whether to handle it, assign it, delete it or plan for it. If the email can be responded to quickly and completely, you should just handle it instead of hoping to spend more time on it later and then forgetting about it. If this requires that the information be saved in an engagement binder or archived in some way, it should be done immediately. If the email and/or attachment can be delegated to someone else, you should assign it with input into how the requirements of the email can be addressed. Some emails are only informational in nature, and if no action is required such messages should just be deleted. Finally, for those emails that require additional thought and planning, you should determine whether a task should be created or time scheduled on the calendar. By dragging the email either to the calendar or task pane, a specific item will be setup and reminders included so that the item gets the proper attention of the recipient.
5. Consolidate Communications
Most of us carry a smartphone that can access email as well as our workstation. And over the next year, we anticipate most partners and managers will also carry a tablet device that can access Outlook. To optimize access to communications, firms should look at consolidating all communications into Outlook, including fax and voicemail, which is referred to as unified messaging. Digital fax solutions deliver inbound faxes as an attachment to email, which can be sent directly to each person with dedicated fax numbers or to a single administrative person who would update the subject line and forward the fax to the appropriate recipient. Today’s phone systems can also create an audio file of a voicemail that is emailed to the recipient (which is also referred to as computer telephony integration). By having ALL communications in Outlook, you will only have to go to one place to manage them, and it can be accessed with the widest variety of tools.
For the foreseeable future, Outlook will be the communications tool of choice for accounting firms so it is imperative that we do all we can to optimize its capabilities. With proper planning up front and ongoing training and reminders to firm personnel on features, Outlook can have a significant impact on firm productivity.