Designing Workspaces to Fit their Function

Designing Workspaces to Fit their Function

Sustaining vs. project vs. publication workspaces

Best practices for generating iManage workspaces differ according to the type of work involved and the purpose the workspace serves. To make sure content is filed appropriately in workspaces, it is helpful initially to identify the fundamental type of work involved: typically either project work or sustaining work.

      • Projects are units of work that have a beginning and a logical end.
      • Sustaining work is the umbrella we use for small units of work that do not justify being broken out as a project.

A third category of work that resembles sustaining work is published information, such as employee handbooks, best practice documents, exemplars, and precedents.

Identifying the Workspace Type

A typical matter in a law firm is project based. Litigation, for example, will have a beginning and a logical end. Similarly, a transactional matter, such as a merger or acquisition, will have a beginning and a logical end.

General matters are a good example of sustaining work. A general matter typically consists of advice provided to clients on an ongoing basis. For example, a lawyer may provide advice and review new contracts regularly for a client. Since each contract review may only take a couple of hours, this type of work is usually billed as part of a general matter. Often, for general matters, it would take longer to create a matter than it would to do the work!

An example of sustaining work in a non-legal context can be found in an organization like IT, While an IT group has many projects with a beginning  and end, they also generate a significant amount of content on a sustaining basis, such as when they track communication around patches and trouble tickets This type of content is produced on a regular basis and it should be filed appropriately.

Best Practices for Generating Project Workspaces

The best practice for project work is to create one workspace per project, matter, or engagement. With a single workspace, users have a single place to go for all content about the matter, which enables them to easily browse and understand the content in context.

The exception to the general rule is when you have teams of people working in multiple global regions. If a couple of people need to work across global regions, you will probably be fine with a single workspace. However, when you have larger teams, you may decide that you need more than one workspace.

Another challenge with global collaboration is that you are fighting against the speed of light. An investment into WAN acceleration technology is helpful, but you should also consider using the WorkSite product called Offsite. With Offsite, when a user clicks on a document, it will open it locally if the document has not been changed – even if the user is online.

Initiating projects when the process is unstructured

For most professional services firms, especially law firms, the process of opening a matter or engagement is a structured process. As part of the process, conflicts need to be checked, an engagement letter needs to be executed, and the matter needs to be created in the practice management, ERP, or Time & Billing system. This structured process makes it very easy to know when to automatically create a workspace in the document management system. Similarly, in a corporate legal department or office of general counsel, workspace generation can be automated through a matter management system.

What do you do when there is no structured system or process for initiating projects? In most law firms, for example, there is no structured system for initiating an IT project. In this case, there needs to be a process that allows a limited set of users to create a workspace for a project. Following workspace best practices, such identifying the workspace with unique metadata, are equally important in this setting. Instead of client matter metadata, for example, the firm could identify these kinds of workspaces through a different numbering scheme. Since most of these projects will be secured to a project team, there also needs to be an easy way to manage security without re-filing the entire workspace when a new user is added.

Best Practices for Generating Sustaining Workspaces

As a general rule, you should apply the same best practices to workspaces for sustaining work that you do to project-based workspaces. However, sustaining workspaces require that you address an additional problem—the challenge of everlasting growth.

This problem can be further compounded when separate tasks require their own folder. For example, when lawyers are asked to review a contract for a client, they typically make a folder for the project so that they can store drafts and review comments. If a lawyer reviews forty contracts a year for a client, the workspace structure can quickly get unwieldy.

There are two potential approaches for handling the growth and complexity of sustaining workspaces, (1) creating new workspaces on a scheduled basis and (2) allowing users to generate their own workspaces when appropriate.

The scheduled approach works very well for general matters, annual engagements, and other repeating processes. It can also be automated by triggering the workspace creation through reading a database, whether that database is a Prosperoware product or a firm’s Time & Billing, ERP, practice management, or records management system.

When sustaining work is not initiated through a formal process (such as at matter opening), as in the example of IT tracking trouble tickets or when a corporate legal department does incidental work for the marketing department, users will need some capability to generate appropriate workspaces on their own, like we described for project work. Best practices for sustaining workspaces also include tracking the date when the workspace is opened and when it should be closed.

Best Practices for Generating Publication Workspaces

For storing best practice documents, you need a very limited set of workspaces. These can be usually set-up once. The more critical item is to determine when the content in these workspaces should be reviewed.

Archiving Closed Workspaces

After a certain period of time, closed workspaces should be moved to an archive database. Depending on the firm, the timing could range from one month to multiple years. From a timing perspective, it’s important to keep in mind that people often need to file content months after a matter or workspace has been closed.

The value of archiving closed workspaces is immediately realized:

      • Improves overall system performance
      • Makes searching easier (less “stuff” to search through)
      • Allows inactive content to be stored at a lower cost


Reduces the amount of time to back up a system or—even more importantly—restore the system in cases of disaster.

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