Posted in Digital workplace, Office365, Teams

Ten questions about MS Teams

I put some questions to my colleague Dan Hudson who has managed the preparation, rollout, training and ongoing maintenance of MS Teams this year.

And that’s just part of his day job. Impressive!

What was your adoption plan at the start of 2020?

We had soft launch which required users to request a license to begin using MS Teams.

This ensured we could manage the uptake without overwhelming our support staff. A third of the business signed up.

MS Teams has rocketed to millions more users worldwide since March. Has there been an increase at Wessex Water?

We fully enabled MS Teams for all users in February and saw a sharp uptake.

In March – with more people working from home – there was a dramatic increase in 1:1 calling (60x), group calls (34x), meetings (16x) and chat (4.5x).

We’ve now completed our migration from Skype for Business and have around 3,500 daily users and more than 500 teams.

MS Teams meeting
A meeting in MS Teams (Image: https://news.microsoft.com/imagegallery/)

What’s it been like behind the scenes?

I’ve spent the past eight weeks mostly supporting MS Teams; providing guidance on the key features, training more people who have found themselves now relying on it and working with Microsoft to stabilise the service and deal with problems.

How do you carry out training?

We’ve been trying online training once a week instead of classroom sessions in various locations. These can be costly and is limited to a set number of people.

Our approach allows anyone in the business to join no matter where they are.

One session had more than 90 attendees. A third of the business (around 1,200) have now received training.

How have people responded to the training?

It’s been overwhelmingly positive. They have been very vocal about the format and enjoy the flexibility and convenience.

We’ve even had some people attend again to keep learning and pick up on details they may have missed first time around!

From our post-training survey, 98% said they liked the new approach and might join more IT training sessions if they were held online.

Are there any ways of using MS Teams that have stood out for you?

Our water production team came up with the idea of creating a group with 150 channels (one for each site) so relevant information could be shared in one place.

I found this a very innovative approach to site management. It’s all but replaced information sharing via email, which was creating a lot of inbox traffic that wasn’t relevant to every recipient.

Meanwhile in our team, we’ve gone one step further and agreed to use MS Teams, not email. So far it’s going pretty well!

How would you describe the role of MS Teams?

It’s about collaboration and bringing people together. MS Teams is now hosting day-to-day activities, projects, steering groups and more.

Teamwork in Office365

We have adapted the idea of “Teamwork in Office 365” from Microsoft and it’s really starting to pay off. For the first time ever, we’ve seen a significant reduction in our email traffic of around 17% month on month.

Is there a key part of governance you’ve learned?

My advice is work on governance to a point. You can’t control everything so embrace a policy of providing suitable, clear guidance and empowering and entrusting users to follow that guidance.

What do you like and dislike about MS Teams?

Meetings work really well. The backgrounds are a lot of fun and really encourage people to turn on webcams and say hi!

I also love how easy it is to keep in touch with different groups of people. I spent half my time in Chat now.

There are still a lot of improvements to be made for admins, as well as optimisations to the desktop client. Microsoft are working hard behind the scenes on new features and improvements.

Pop out MS Teams chat box
Need to make your digital platform a success? Add cute animal videos.
(Image: https://news.microsoft.com/imagegallery/)

What upcoming features are you most excited about?

Pop-out (multi-window) meetings! It will be much easier to hold meetings while being able to access other areas of MS Teams at the same time.

This will bring back some of the older Skype for Business functionality we’ve been missing.

Thanks to Dan for his answers. He’s on LinkedIn if you want to connect and find out more.

Posted in Digital workplace, Internal comms, Intranet, Office365

Insights from digital workplaces

Over the past few months (pre-lockdown) we’ve visited people to get a deeper understanding of how they’re getting on with all things digital.

The 1-2-1 sessions have revealed some interesting stuff. Some observations we expected; others have sparked discussion points and new ideas.

It’s a very noisy workplace

The most common theme when settling down with someone is there’s a lot going on.

For those at a desk (one screen or multiple) there are many windows open from core systems (eg, Outlook, Teams, Excel, business applications) to browser-based services (intranet, Sharepoint, various websites and much more).

If equipped with a mobile, there around 20 corporate apps to make sense of, on top of any standard ones.

Away from a workstation, there are digital signage screens and new collaboration technology to play with in meeting rooms.

Compared to just five years ago, its feels things have ramped up considerably.

All in all, it was no surprise some people said they felt “overloaded” and in many cases didn’t have time to engage with things that are not relevant or useful to them.

Spoilt for choice

With so many toys in the box, it’s fascinating to see the variety of ways people approach common tasks.

So much to explore! But many employees say they don’t have time. Image: @vbcreative

For a bit of productivity, having a to do list is a good start.

Some methods included Notepad, OneNote, Word, Excel and an Outlook calendar/tasks. And let’s not forget the good old-fashioned notebook, sticky note or scrap paper!

To my surprise, nobody was really using To Do (in Office365) for personal tasks which has been available for a while.

Briefly demonstrating this in person was effective as it allowed conversation and a tailored approach, but that would be a luxury for most trainers.

Even explaining a straightforward task list can be a challenge to those less comfortable with IT and digital.

Interestingly, very few had ventured beyond what they need. Has the growth of the digital workplace become overwhelming it’s inhibited discovery? Or as some said, do they simply not have the time?

A combination of training (video/online were popular) and communications were two key factors employees said would help them understand more about what’s out there.

I hadn’t thought of that!

Questions we ask during our workplace observation have also helped us gather ideas and insights we hadn’t considered.

A handful of intranet improvements have already been actioned and it’s an opportunity to share our plans to see what people think.

The way people consume information is also an eye opener. While we position the intranet as the flagship news feed, it’s not everyone’s choice.

One respondent said she only read news on the digital signage (TVs) when taking a break from work. Another preferred consuming it via a less-cluttered mobile feed.

Maybe news on the intranet home page is at risk of getting swamped alongside everything else?

It’s worth noting too how people seem to appreciate being asked to step back and talk about how they work, especially with so much new stuff being introduced.

Even if their old habits die hard or they find it difficult to embrace new technology, hopefully they benefit from it.

For us it’s certainly time well spent for a short half hour session. Every trip brings back ideas and observations for digital, IT, HR, training, internal comms and more. I’m sure there will be further themes to emerge over the coming months.

Posted in Digital workplace, Internal comms, Intranet

Coffee and prawns with Wedge

I’ve been fortunate enough to attend two Intranet Nows, including the most recent this month.

It’s such a friendly and informative event, I felt compelled to ask a few questions to Wedge Black, the man who’s been there from the very beginning.

How did Intranet Now come about?

My memory fades, but it involved alcohol.  I remember discussing with Luke Mepham of Intranetizen that someone should put on an independent intranet-focused conference. It was suggested that person should be me!

I was also encouraged when Martin White suggested the UK was in need of an intranet conference.

I didn’t know how to plan and manage an event, which meant I could just do what I wanted. I sent a tweet about needing help and Brian Lamb, who I had never met, was quick to say ‘yes’.

I blogged about my thoughts and plans, put out a little video, and we were lucky enough to find a London hotel that had a cancellation.

So, I launched Intranet Now with Brian in 2014. When he left fours year later to focus on website UX, I invited Lisa Riemers to join me.

Photo from Intranet Now on Flickr

Did the first one go to plan?

Although it was a bit rough and ready (someone fell off the stage!) it was well attended and the unique format of five-minute lightning talks went down a storm.

I had modest expectations and they were nicely exceeded. At the time, I’d been on Twitter for eight years and had found a good community of comms and intranet people. That was very important for selling tickets.

Of course, something goes hilariously wrong every year. I remember prawns being served for the morning break instead of pastries, exhibition stands failing to turn up and speaker notes being unavailable (each speaker did a marvellous job without them!)

Why was digital workplace strategy the theme for the most recent one?

Even if our digital communications and collaboration work is brilliant, it’s not always seen as valuable by stakeholders and leadership. We have to marry our daily tactics to the overall strategy.

I love seeing how practitioners improve the digital workplace, or extend its functionalities, to meet people’s needs while delivering value to the organisation (I apologise for saying ‘delivering value’).

I don’t like seeing comms people sending stuff out because a director told them to, or seeing intranet managers uploading another PDF sent from HR. I like knowing we’re doing our best to achieve shared goals, aligned to a shared vision.

What caught your eye this year?

I liked how some speakers talked about content, and the importance of good content management and communications.

Suzie Robinson has highlighted the themes better than I could, and my Intranet Now partner, Lisa Riemers has shared her remembrances too.

It was a bit of a blur for me. I’m anxious throughout the event and was up for 21 hours on the day. The party afterwards is always fun.

Photo from Intranet Now on Flickr

How has the event changed over the last six years?

No more venue hunting! It was a major stress early on. Hotel conference centres were so expensive and we couldn’t book things in advance because we couldn’t guarantee another conference next year!

We settled on America Square in 2018. They have a personal, caring service unlike other hotels we experienced. Nothing is too much trouble for them.

We’re happy to play with our format and not everything we do works! But at the heart of it, we offer 15+ lightning talks (now upped to nine minutes each) that cover real work from organisations of every size, plus an interactive afternoon of workshops and discussions.

Everyone is a participant, nobody is an ‘attendee’. And we’re thrilled to be highly valued by our partners and guests.

What do you enjoy the most about it?

Producing Intranet Now makes me feel nicely involved with the amorphous internal communications and intranet communities. I love being able to bring those together.

I like inviting people to speak too – it’s nice to be able to compliment someone by saying you’d like to see them on stage.

On the day, aside from the attention my shirts get me, I like making sure things go well, although Lisa Riemers is fast at fixing glitches, and our volunteers know what they’re doing too. It can sometimes seem that that day runs itself!

Lots of people help make the day a success, but it’s the speakers that are the stars and of course the agenda has got to showcase topics that are relevant.

Wedge and one of his fine shirts. Photo from Intranet Now on Flickr

What’s your favourite conference lunch?

I like small square desserts, preferably two or three of them. Something chocolatey and something citrussy.

I don’t actually eat much at any conference as I always seem to end up talking with my mouthful.

I’m getting better at networking – luckily I can ask anyone how they’re finding the conference, but I know it can be hard to socialise. We’ve designed Intranet Now to help meet people. I think everyone should leave with a new friend.

What advice would you give to someone organising their first conference?

Whether it’s an internal employee event or an external event, you need a vision and purpose, an understanding of your audience and consideration for your stakeholders.

Create something people want and give very clear instructions, so nobody feels confused or left out.

We needed around three months to sell tickets. It feels good to give yourself longer, but people often buy them last minute.

Photo from Intranet Now on Flickr

Attending, and speaking, at conferences has all been because of Twitter for me, and meeting people has solidified my network.

I would encourage anyone to get away from their desk and share time and experiences with your peers. Conferences are great for revitalising your approach to work and developing relationships.

Will there be another Intranet Now?

Every September I say to Lisa “never again”, but somehow things come together and we have a splendid day filled with positivity.

So, against my better judgement, Intranet Now will be back on 2 October 2020.

Save the date!

Thank you to Wedge for taking time out to answer the questions. He’s on Twitter @Wedge and works for Clearbox Consulting.

Posted in Flow, Office365, SharePoint

How we setup our intranet glossary

We’ve recently published a glossary of company acronyms and abbreviations that employees can scan and contribute to.

The initial response has been enthusiastic from new starters learning the ropes to long-serving experts submitting their terms (however obscure).

Other glossaries have also emerged from around the business – even from dark corners of the intranet we didn’t know about!

Here’s some brief notes about how we created it on our SharePoint intranet.

How does it work?

We created a page in classic SharePoint (with an intranet-in-a-box product Wizdom on top).

The page has four web parts.

Four web parts that make up our glossary

Intro

The text area of a standard page template explaining the purpose of the directory and how to use it.

Searchable list

A front end view of the master SharePoint list behind the scenes.

The original version in Excel was imported (Add an app>Import Spreadsheet) and converted nicely into a SharePoint list.

This made life a lot easier than manually inputting 300 items one by one.

The sheet has four columns:

Abbreviation Full title Definition Category
       

These columns are shown in the main view. The web part also has a search box enabled to look up items quickly.

Recently added

Pulling from the same list, but a reduced view with Abbreviation and Full title only.

It’s limited to six items and sorted by Created date to show new ones first.

Add new or amend

A form web part (part of Wizdom) where people can submit an entry.

It submits to a separate SharePoint list, and using Flow, is then transferred to our master list. Here, we’ve added a Status column so every new item is Pending.

The next step in Flow notifies our internal comms team of a new entry. Once they’ve vetted the item, they can change it from Pending to Approved.

The new term will then show on the front end view.

Hope this helps, happy to answer any questions or share more screenshots @ tpchip on Twitter.

Come on, tell us what’s in it!?

OK, OK. Here’s a flavour for you:

C-MeX – Customer Measure of Experience
CSO – Combined Sewer Overflow
CESWI – Civil Engineering Specification for the Water Industry
GCN – Great Crested Newt
DAF – Dissolved Air Flotation
PRV – Pressure Relief Valve

EBCT – Empty Bed Contact Time

I feel I need to include a definition with this last one to clear things up…

A measure of the time during which a water to be treated is in contact with the treatment medium in a contact vessel. EBCT is equal to the volume of the empty bed divided by the flow rate. Commonly used for chlorine contact tanks and GAC absorbers (Granular Activated Carbon).

Right, that’s quite enough excitement for one day.

Posted in Office365, Planner, To-Do

A quick look at Microsoft Planner

If you’ve not used Planner before, it’s Microsoft’s platform for managing group tasks, aimed at taking “the chaos out of teamwork”, according to the blurb.

As a part of our Office365 subscription, Planner talks nicely with other platforms too and offers a more appealing solution than a third party tool such as Trello.

We’ve trialled it for a few months before full company launch.

Here are some observations so far…

SHORT GLOSSARY

Task – a single job that can be added to a bucket in Planner.
Bucket – vertical columns which act as categories for tasks.
Plan – a container for buckets and tasks for a specific group. You may be involved in one Plan, or many!

Planner glossary

WHAT WE LIKE

Simple, familiar interface

Planner tasks can be created, edited and dragged around buckets easily. The look and feel is similar to Trello or a social media aggregation tool like Hootsuite.

My stuff

You can quickly see what’s assigned to you. A useful starting point to prioritising your jobs, which could be spread across multiple Plans.

Integrated

Planner tasks are now available in To Do, so you can see your assigned work alongside your personal list of stuff (submit expenses, feed dog etc.)

Planner and To-Do

I pluse To Do a lot! Surprisingly, it’s still a bit clunky in the browser for such a simple application. It can be tricky ordering and moving things, but behaves better as a mobile app.

We’ve also hooked up Planner to our intranet using Flow – see more in my previous article about improving our intranet requests.

Microsoft Teams offers an alternative view into your tasks, as well as linking out to each plan you’ve been given access to.

Planner in Teams

You’re late!

If due dates are set on tasks, Planner gives you polite nudges via email, within Plans or ‘My Tasks’.

This could be useful if you’re working to high level SLAs or deadlines in projects. (See Gregory Zelfond’s useful article about using Planner for projects)

WHAT WE’RE NOT SO KEEN ON

Performance

As with SharePoint, I see quite a few people get frustrated with the speed of Planner in a browser.

I’ve experienced pauses or delays when creating a job card or adding further information. This lagging can make things tricky when trying to promote Planner as a better way of working.

However, it has improved and the embedded view in the Teams desktop application performs much better.

Moving/copying tasks between Plans

Migrating a task from one plan to another is a bit long-winded as it only copies some information across.

This was one of the most popular requests on the Planner feedback site, where users can submit ideas, but I don’t think Microsoft have nailed it yet.

Limited search

Once you start using Planner more, navigation isn’t really enough. It becomes more of a challenge to track down stuff quickly.

There is a filter option per plan, but it’s not ideal. A more comprehensive and prominent search option would definitely help.

Planner filter

Integration with email

With the best intentions to move work requests away from email, our dear old friend remains one of the main channels for correspondence.

If a task arrives via email and needs moving to Planner, it’s not a smooth process.

Flow can link the two together, but a more seamless method of forwarding a relevant email into Planner would be most welcome.

All in all, Planner is a nice, user-friendly way to manage work. We’ll certainly continue to use it and keep a close eye on how it’s received in the wider business.

If I’ve missed something, or you know of any workarounds to issues (there are always workarounds!) feel free to add a comment @tpchip.

Posted in Flow, Office365, Planner, SharePoint

Intranet requests flowing better

Our intranet team receives various requests internally including changes, bugs, training requests, ideas and news stories

It’s a lot to keep track of from an email inbox, and tricky to track progress of each query.

With the help of SharePoint and Planner – with Flow joining the dots – we’ve managed to make the process a bit smoother.

Rather than asking people to email us, we’re now directing them to a contact form on our SharePoint intranet (using Wizdom web parts).

Thanks to Flow, we were able to setup a simple three-step process

Once submitted, the item is sent to a SharePoint list, then onto Planner . The task is now ready to review, assign and set timescales.

How did we set it up?

It was pretty simple! In Flow, head to the “Templates” area.

Searching by SharePoint and Planner, there is a template called “Create a new Planner task for each new SharePoint item”.

The template can then be edited to point to the data source in SharePoint and setup the steps to Planner.

The main changes we made were:

  • Added thank you email to user.
  • Removed notification to Teams.
How the process looks in Flow

Within the Outlook and Planner steps, you can define the text, with the option to pull in dynamic fields from the original form.

For example, “Thanks [Created by] for your request of [Title of request]…

We would also like a final “job completed” email back to the user, which sounds straightforward, but we haven’t quite cracked it yet (tips welcome).

Once created and saved, I shared the Flow with the team (we have an AD group but you can do it by individual). Otherwise, it will remain private to me – not in the spirit of collaboration if anyone else needs to access!

Smoother process

Our team coordinator tells me she now loves work requests going straight to Planner instead of email (one happy customer!)

She can monitor Planner for new requests, add her own jobs and report on the status of tasks.

Meanwhile, people are assigned work avoiding risk of duplication and keeping all updates in one place, away from a dreaded string of emails. Team members can also dip in to check the status of other tasks.

While not as complex as a ticketing system for larger teams, SharePoint, Planner and Flow have helped improve the management of requests for our intranet help desk.

With a few more tweaks, it’s a model we can hopefully expand to include other queries and adopt to other business areas.

We’re quite new to Flow, so any tips or feedback please drop me a note on Twitter @tpchip. Thanks

Posted in Office365

Rolling out Office365

Last week Simply Communicate ran a session about rolling out Office365, lead by James Robertson from Step Two.

The audience was a mix of professionals from small UK companies to multi-nationals. I chatted to people from mainly comms and IT, who were all seeking to understand planet O365 and how to best tackle a rollout.

Some thoughts and observations below…

It’s a lot to get your head around

A very busy Office365-in-a-graphic by Onpoint Solutions was shared to illustrate the volume and complexity of everything in the toolbox.

This machine has many moving parts with segments appearing (and disappearing) regularly. It’s a full-time job staying up to speed.

The agency hosting the course, Content and Code, said it employs a person full time to monitor the Microsoft roadmap. Perhaps a sign of what’s to come for IT departments too?

As James commented, “it’s too much for normal people to understand”. Part of our role is “deliver simplicity”.

Don’t panic!

There is a sense the influx of weekly O365 changes is unsettling teams who normally have more control over their IT landscape.

Understanding each tool was a common theme, as well as dealing with frequent changes, which may impact other platforms and areas such as comms, training and IT support.

The “change debt”, as James put it, cannot be underestimated as the environment grows.

One of the challenges discussed was how instant messaging is moving to Teams because Skype for Business is being “turned off”, according to Microsoft. Some people in the room hadn’t even turned on Skype yet, and there was general confusion over what this meant in practice. Time for a coffee break!

With so much noise, there is also the fear of missing out, or being left behind. The cool-headed advice was to stand back from the noise, evaluate, and establish a clear business approach.

Even if Microsoft is launching its third new application of the month, it doesn’t mean you have to.

Strategy first

The digital employee experience (#DEX), a term defined by James’ consultancy Step Two, incorporates O365 as well as other digital interactions in the workplace.

A show of hands confirmed that while some people had intranet or internal comms strategies, nobody had one for the digital workplace.

Underpinned by a DEX vision, the digital workplace strategy is the starting point for Step Two’s recommended way of deploying O365.

And crucially, if delivering great customer experiences is your aim, joining the dots to the internal digital environment and “great support for employees” is key.

Clearly defined building blocks will then help senior stakeholders understand and support the DEX to ensure a business-driven approach.

This seems a very logical methodology that has roots in more traditional project delivery where requirements come before the selection of a suitable technology.

But once you’re on the O365 bandwagon, it can become hard to adjust to this mindset of retracing your steps and sizing up a technology you’ve already invested in.

James added, “there is no Office365 project”. Each tool has its unique purpose, and each should be linked to your goals.

Rollout in chunks

The recommendation for rolling out O365 is to carve it up into digestible pieces. If we’re struggling to fully understand it, our employees won’t have a chance. Therefore, people need to be introduced to new ways of working bit by bit.

Instead of a mass rollout (which is sometimes needed with something like Teams) James prefers “people waves” where specific groups receive something new based on their needs.

These requirements could be gathered through a more traditional survey or workshop, although methods of closer observation were recommended to gain real insights and build authentic stories for your business case.

The enterprise front door

O365 doesn’t really have a decent entry point, so helping users find their way around and understand the context of each application is difficult.

The app launcher/waffle offers global signposting to the tools themselves, but as they multiply, there is a risk of overcrowding and “waffle fatigue” (nice phrase James!)

He argues there is still a need for an “enterprise front door” into the digital workplace. A SharePoint intranet is the obvious choice if you’re signed up to O365.

This represents a major project, so Clearbox Consulting’s intranets-in-a-box report was suggested for those starting their journey, or needing a refresher from the fast-moving SharePoint intranet software market.

The pace isn’t slowing

Overall, it was a thought-provoking and valuable session.

As the Microsoft juggernaut rolls on, workshops of this nature will continue to be a valuable stop-off for new and existing users.

Thank you to everyone involved!

Posted in Uncategorized

Stream mobile app

We are in the process of migrating our company videos from SharePoint to Microsoft’s video platform, Stream.

As well as the standard desktop experience, the mobile app has now been released.

We’ve had a quick look at the new app to see what our users can expect.

The shots below are the iOS version. It’s also available on Android.

A light experience

The Stream app is pretty easy to get to grips with. It offers a search and filter at the top and three navigation tabs at the bottom.

stream mobile app landing
Stream app landing page

This is a very trimmed down version of “full fat” Stream, which contains a more feature-rich home page (with spotlight and trending videos) as well as channels and extra navigation options.

The app acts as more of a library, so if you know what you’re looking for, the searchable list should work well.

Unlike the full version, you can’t browse videos by channel. So, for example, if you have placed videos in channels (categories, essentially) such as News and Projects, these are not visible.

And there are no admin controls either, so administrators and content creators need to upload or edit details in the full version.

Watch offline

The My Content tab makes a watchlist available, but also allows videos to be downloaded.

This is a new feature that could prove very useful for more remote workers who don’t have a reliable connection, or just want to watch something at their leisure.

My Content tab

Note: downloaded videos will take up storage, so when offline videos are no longer needed, delete them to free up that precious space!

Stream “live events” (video broadcasts) are also available via the app, but we’re not using this feature yet so couldn’t test or comment.

In the pipeline

For the full version of Stream, some popular requests from users include:

  • Sharing videos externally, or inviting external guests (outside an Office365 tenant)
  • Better analytics
  • Presenting videos in a specific order (playlist)
  • Content approval

Feedback and requests are available in the Stream forum/community

Overall

While videos can be viewed in context (eg, a news story, online training) there is sometimes a need to watch a video on its own (eg, a CEO message).

Our current video library in SharePoint is a much longer user journey and less-friendly experience for this requirement.

So for us and probably others, the app is a more appealing option to watching videos quickly and easily via a mobile device, particularly with the option to download videos.

It also makes up for a more clunky experience if you’re accessing Stream in a mobile browser.

Once we’re all systems go with desktop and mobile next month, I’ll see what our users think and add a follow up article.

Links:

Microsoft blog on Stream app 

Posted in Uncategorized

Sorry, I’m about to email you

It’s a new year and a return to work to refocus and refresh mind and body.

However, a familiar five-word phrase is already dragging me down: “Sorry for the mass email”.

Tackling global emails among all the other traffic is a daily battle for many, so perhaps it’s not surprising people are apologetic.

Despite new platforms emerging to host more collaborative activities, email isn’t going anywhere.

When we looked at activity recently, around 100,000 emails were received by the company per day (around 40 per head), with 24,000 of those unread.

It’s a huge challenge to deal with the noise, yet we couldn’t be without one of our longest-serving digital servants for correspondence, notifications, company updates and more.

As a result, we’ve got this bizarre situation where some people are adding to chaos, but feeling guilty about it. Here’s how one global email started this week:

“Dear All,

Sorry for the repeated mass emails.”

How I read this (in a less succinct way) is along the lines of:

“Dear All,

Email is the quickest and easiest way for me to distribute a message to a mass audience, so I’m sending it to everyone so whoever needs it, gets it.

Sorry if this isn’t relevant to you. It’s annoying I know, I receive similar ones from other people.

But what can I do? I don’t know what else to use without asking someone, but I haven’t got time.

Anyway, here goes…

Could the owner of a Ford Fiesta parked in space 89 please get in touch, you’re in the wrong space.”

Cornered

Sometimes people just need to get a message out.

And in the absence of a more effective platform, you can understand why trusty email wins again.

But we all know this poses problems because our inbox contains messages of all shapes and sizes.

Importance is unclear. Information can be relevant to a few, but sent to many. It’s a constant firefight if you step away for any length of time, so emails become stressful to manage.

The stuff you really need may never get read. If you open it, it may not get the attention it needs, because it’s just part of a backlog you’re wading through.

How can our digital comms team help?

Anyone can send to a distribution list (for example, location or department). Group these together and you can pretty much hit the whole company.

Restricting these would cause too many issues, so our team is starting to deal with the problem by stepping back and reviewing what’s being sent.

As with the “sorry” examples, there’s a degree of self-awareness from authors when sending out messages to a large audience.

From what we’ve recorded so far, it’s all pretty valid content, even if it’s not in the most appropriate place.

At this stage we’re replying to authors and making them aware we’re here to help.

We don’t want to ban mass emails. We want to support getting their message to the intended recipients in the best way.

Importance

The types of messages vary, so dividing them up by “need to know” or “nice to know” (plus planned or reactive) is helping us draw up a matrix.

For the important stuff, we’re recommending a mix of intranet/email predominantly, supported by other channels if needed.

For the optional updates, it’s more of a shift towards informal communities (Yammer) or intranet noticeboards to share updates.

We’re basically saying in a digital workplace full of communication choices, a blend of delivery methods is needed. The majority of the time, relying on email alone isn’t sufficient.

So an important business change can be shared as an email, SMS or in a team meeting, but the single source of truth lives, in this case, on the intranet.

Sounds simple, but the habit of sending out an important message via email only (because it’s quick and easy) goes all the way up to senior level.

Improving the experience

We’re also working on content and design so certain emails are recognisable and include copy that clearly indicates importance and target audience.

Once we start to provide branded templates (using a system called Poppulo) we can also measure engagement levels too – opens, clicks, depts, locations etc.

If only a small proportion of staff are interacting with a global e-newsletter, we can start to challenge the way we communicate.

There’ll be a fair amount of groundwork, awareness and support to ensure we strike a balance using email for internal comms.

Longer term, we can improve our audience data too, to help target content more to those who need it.

How do we measure progress? Fewer apologetic emails would be a good start…

Are you providing guidance on sending emails?

It would be great to hear other experiences on this topic.

Reply mentioning @tpchip on Twitter so I can share. Thanks.

Posted in Uncategorized

It’s SharePoint, but which bit?

SharePoint (SP) performs two main roles in our company – document collaboration and intranet.

One site could be a small area for a team to share files, while another could be a section of the intranet.

Working under one technology has its benefits. However, these two types of site in SP serve largely different purposes.

This is causing some headaches for us when trying to on board newcomers.

Tricky navigation

While our intranet has been established for over a year, there are still people being introduced to the file management part of SP.

Unless they’re given a link, the majority will get there by clicking on the main tile in the Office365 app launcher or portal.

Arrive on Microsoft’s default landing page and you’re given a personalised view of content including recently visited, favourites and suggested sites (newbies won’t see much at all on a first visit, except a few intranet pages).

On my login below, the highlighted sites on the top row show intranet sites I’ve visited recently. In between, there are document collaboration sites.

The problem is there’s not much to distinguish between your document store and intranet section.

And whether it’s presented as a link in the left column, or a box in the middle, it’s just a site in the eyes of SP.

Working out what’s what is tricky – it’s a disorientating experience.

The ideal launch pad?

In our digital workplace, it could be argued the SharePoint landing page is as important as the intranet home page.

The majority of people access team content daily – and this is the main route in.

So, what can we do to make it more user-friendly and appropriate to our organisation? Answer: very little as I understand it.

Apart from a few “Featured Links” lost in the bottom left of the screen, there is no way to customise it.

That seems really odd for such a widely-used tool. Surely Microsoft would provide something better for their flagship application?

Members of the SP project team have been scratching their heads about how people get to SharePoint and get all they need to understand and use it appropriately.

To help, reference material has been created on the intranet, but that‘s not going to cater for the majority of user journeys.

If Microsoft are going to stick to this page, it’s crying out for more flexibility to make the employee experience better.

Here a few things that would help us…

Prominent “featured” area

First up, a simple, prominent area to explain what SP means in the context of the business, how to use it, where to go for help etc.

We’d probably add an intro video, text and links to resources here.

Show/hide 

The intranet is everyone’s browser home page and has its own app launcher tile.

Therefore, we don’t need intranet sites listed or indexed on a launch pad for document collaboration.

Ideally, we’d be able to hide certain SP site collections completely from this view, or at the very least show them separately.

Global navigation

Similar to our intranet, a global navigation menu would give people an option to reach their site through an agreed site structure.

(Depending on how your navigation is configured, this can be available once you reach your site, but it’s missing from the landing page.)

A mobile-friendly introduction

The SP app is no different for on boarding, but I would suggest some mobile-only information may need to tell them something different to desktop users.

And finally…

One final observation. I’m creating a document for my new team collaboration site, and I click save.

Unfortunately, and all my intranet sites are surfaced again – which in 99% of cases, I won’t want to save directly to!

We’re quite new to this, so it would be good to hear other people’s experiences and workarounds.

I’ll add some thoughts to the Microsoft forum

Feel free to reply/drop me a line @tpchip on Twitter. Thanks.