Discussion Thread

  • 1.  Communication Inundation

    Posted 07-31-2021 04:15 PM
    As technology continues to give us more and more options for communication (phone, email, text, Google Hangouts, Slack, Teams, etc.) it becomes increasingly difficult to locate correspondence after the fact sometimes. It seems that working remote or having more remote meetings is increasing the communication streams being used simultaneously as well.

    Do you have any tips to share on how you keep track of correspondence for work that is scattered across multiple forms of communication?

    I know I've had projects where the project team (architect, other engineers, developer, etc.) uses multiple streams of communication. Sometimes I'll be searching my email for something for several minutes before remembering that it was a message on Slack, for example. I'm curious if anyone has found a good way to keep their communications organized.

    Heidi C. Wallace, P.E., M.ASCE
    Tulsa, OK

  • 2.  RE: Communication Inundation

    Posted 08-01-2021 06:39 PM
    Good and relevant question!

    We typically use Teams and Outlook almost exclusively for project communications, so we fortunately don't have additional tools like Hangouts, Slack, and text thrown in the mix to complicate things.  From what I just read online it sounds like Slack is similar to Teams

    Personal opinion: 

    Text: only for casual communications, like 'what gate are we meeting at?" or 'which meeting room are we using?".  Not for documenting important decisions.

    Email: Better than IM (like Teams chats) for things that need to be more formally documented.  I religiously file emails in folders by project.  And as a project grows, I'll add numerous subfolders, such as 'Meeting notes', 'Geotech', 'MEP coordination', 'Client coordination', 'Civil/site coordination', 'Schedule and budget', and 'CA'.  It makes it much easier to find old communications.  It's really important that email subjects are concise for future reference - a subject like 'Project X' is much less helpful than 'Project X - underground water line coordination'.

    Teams (or similar tools): great for IM'ing an entire team for quick discussions.  If important decisions are made, follow up with a formal email.  Sidebar: Teams is also great for its integration with Sharepoint (I'm not sure if that's provided universally or something companies need to pay extra for, but we have it).  The Sharepoint tie-in for files lets you keep all the project files in the cloud, organized much like they would be in an in-office server.  The files can be synced to Windows File Explorer, so you can see them just like you'd see any other drive on your laptop or your office network.  (Sorry if this is old news for most readers!).  This was a godsend for the transition to work-from-home over the last year, and we've been operating almost exclusively this way for most projects.

    For most projects I'll also  keep a master spreadsheet with multiple tabs.  On one of the tabs I'll typically keep master design criteria that's been determined for the project so it's all in one place.  If it's a living document that you keep up to date, you don't have to go digging through old emails, chat's, or IM's to find critical information and decisions.  If it's a really important decision, you can add  'as determined in 7/10/21 email' or 'per Teams discussion or meeting on 7/15/21'.  You could do the same thing with a Word document.  Still, it's also good to keep old emails filed and organized as backups in case there is ever a difference of recollections.


    Greg Thein, PE
    Cleveland, OH

  • 3.  RE: Communication Inundation

    Posted 08-04-2021 12:14 PM
    Thanks for the input, Greg!

    I like that you mentioned added the form/date of communication next to the criteria. I'm pretty good about doing that on my notes about coordination with utility providers since they seem to have such high turnover, but it would be helpful to extend that practice into other areas of a project as well.

    In the last couple years I've started using labels in my email for projects so it is easier to go back and find correspondence. Unfortunately gmail is not super user friendly when it comes to printing large quantities of emails to PDF for record keeping. I did go through and do that for all of the emails on a project that I had to pass off when I left for grad school. 

    Final thought: I completely agree on your assessment of appropriate uses for the different forms of communication. In the future I'm going to try to be more on top of sending follow up emails confirming information I received through text or chats that are items that need more formal documentation.

    Heidi C. Wallace, P.E., M.ASCE
    Tulsa, OK

  • 4.  RE: Communication Inundation

    Posted 08-02-2021 09:40 AM
    Great idea for a topic!

    I agree with a lot of Greg's ideas - we use the free version of slack, as it is much easier to communicate with the various client members, consultants, and sub-consultants on our job. While everyone has a different preferred method of communication, one thing our team has all learned by now is that the free version of slack will hide your old messages (I believe even Teams does this after some time as well), and so we do not use it for any long term repository of information. 

    Since people like Heidi spend a lot of time working with external clients who she may not be able to convince to communicate more in a style that best suits her team as a whole, I suppose it ends up being everyone's responsibility to pick one place to write things down, and stick with it. This could mean one Word file per project, and organizing all notes by date and putting people's name next to each note - that way, you can Control + F your way through the document if needed. 

    This method is not always pretty, but it usually seems to work for me - at least until i have too many word files scattered around in different project folders. At that point, you get into the messy "tracking sheet for your tracking sheets" territory and i'd say this is where my well-intentioned ideas sometimes fall apart. 

    will keep an eye out for ideas from others who may have solved this issue!

    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer

  • 5.  RE: Communication Inundation

    Posted 08-16-2021 09:23 AM
    Hi Heidi. We created a Teams channel for the project and had OneNote meeting minutes with action items attached to the channel. In Teams, not sure if you have used it before but it's possible to create tasks, assign people to that task together with deadlines. When schedule Teams meetings, I copied the previous meetings then change the date so all the meetings would be in the same chat so it's easier to search later.

    Tung Nguyen, PhD
    Water Resources Engineer
    Sacramento, CA