Improving Communication with Office 365
I frequently describe Office 365 as a “bit of a beast” due to the amount, and variety, of applications that are made available to your users through this product. Today I want to focus on how these different tools can be adapted for improving communication – both internal and external to an organisation.
It is common to work with organisations who have either released all products into the organisation and quickly find that their IT Team is swamped in requests and administration to tidy up the outcome. On the other hand, we see businesses who have hidden and locked down most of the Office 365 functionality, which then leaves them paying a high cost for very little functionality.
My core focus of this article is on concept of delivering a Digital Workspace through the use of Digital Transformation, that will improve communications. Please do get in touch if you wish to dive into the technical elements of what I propose.
Minimise email, through its use for external (customer, client & supplier) communications only . . .
It has become all the more apparent that Microsoft are slowly moving users away from the common practice of sending and receiving emails. Each and every organisation that I have visited always has an issue with email overload, and need to reduce this dramatically to help improve efficiency in the business. The following are common themes;
– Daily or Weekly emails, like reports or newsletters, that begin to clog up mailboxes.
– Extremely long chains of emails when trying to source feedback or answers from multiple personnel within the organisation.
– Emails with an overload of personnel within the “TO” and “CC” fields.
– Emails with no clear actions defined per recipient
The above examples can all be mitigated through the use of new and exciting features provided by Office 365 and Microsoft that are detailed within this post.
It is my suggestion that Email should be strictly for external communications only, as there are plenty of internal tools that can be used to avoid getting a cluttered inbox, avoiding missed emails or long external response times. This may be a culture change to an organisation, but, efficiency should be improved as each member of staff can control the way they react to emails e.g. instant response as it is understood that emails will only be from customers of whom you want to offer a good and consistent service.
Provide a new internal communications channel through the use of a SharePoint Intranet, with a focus on Modern Experience . . .
SharePoint is commonly used for the creation of an Intranet, to share knowledge, news, events and common documentation (e.g. Templates, Forms, Policies and Procedures). An intranet can be used as a doorway into your organisation; loading up as the home page of each and every employees browser when they arrive for work. This can then act as a pathway to a number of different tasks and systems e.g. booking holiday or raising an IT support ticket.
Intranets are only ever successful when they are kept dynamic, this has recently been improved through the creation of SharePoint Communication and Hub Sites. The idea behind this methodology is to allow Functions, Teams and Departments to have ownership of their own mini intranet which can then feed into a group wide location – the Hub. The use of Hub and SharePoint Sites allow for shared navigation, shared branding and rolled up content.
The split between group and departmental intranets allows for improved governance, as the core Intranet Management and Internal Communication Teams can control organisational news – with feeds being supplemented by the minor stories being delivered by each business area.
You need to ensure your employees visit the Intranet, to receive the best return on investment (ROI). This can be achieved through making it the only place to go to review certain types of data and information. As an example, business reporting that is provided via email can be hosted within the Intranet allowing for staff to go searching for the data they want to see rather than it being pushed into their Inbox – which as stated earlier, will only now be used for external communications.
Improve document and correspondence management and collaboration using Office 365 Groups . . .
So we currently have emails being used for external communication, and an Intranet with Communication Sites being used for Internal Communication. Up next is what I like to refer to as Workspaces, simply put, this is the area that employees go to do their work. These workspaces may consist of Project Areas or Departmental Areas where sets of personnel will collaborate on documentation and materials.
It is recommended that Office 365 Team Sites are used for this purpose, as they provide you with a SharePoint Site that can be built as required e.g. Document Libraries, Lists, Calendars and Notebooks. These Team Sites can also have their Site Information configured so that they live within the required Hub Site to allow sharing of your organisational theme and navigation.
Another unique feature of a Team Site is the availability of an email address that can be used instead of a Distribution List. Any emails that are sent to this email address (TeamName@Domain.co.uk) will be logged within Conversations which are hosted in Outlook – available via the Outlook Web Application (OWA) online and via local installations of the tool.
As suggested earlier, emails will be used for external communication only. However, adding Team Site addresses into the CC field of your emails can ensure that all correspondence is tracked. This is extremely useful when personnel are out of the office, as team members will be able to review older emails and continue any required correspondence.
Improve departmental and project discussions through the use of Microsoft Teams . . .
SharePoint Team Sites are being used to control documentation and correspondence as opposed to emails and attachments, but, how do we manage internal communication without the use of Outlook? The answer is Microsoft Teams.
A new Microsoft Team can be created from an existing Office 365 Group and SharePoint Team Site, thus ensuring all elements are connected. It is important to ensure that Teams are created in this order, as you otherwise risk a Team creating a separate site which may cause confusion for the end users.
Microsoft Teams can also contain a lot of different channels so that chat is categorised. Each of these channels will generate a new set of folders in the standard Document Library so that any materials that are uploaded for comment is also stored in the defined Workspace. Tabbed conversations can then take place when reviewing and updating documents with the assistance of your peers.
The product also allows for emails to be forwarded to a set address – providing the ability to converse about an External Email as opposed to forwarding it around the business. Once discussions have been had the answer can be collated and email can be used to push this externally.
Users can be alerted of open conversations through the use of Mentions. The use of the @ symbol can ensure that messages can be directed at individual users or at the entire channel – with users Microsoft Teams Application flashing and remaining orange when a message has been directed at them.
Teams has begun to integrate Skype for Business. This means that you can jump straight into a phone call, video call and conference meeting without having to log into a separate application. Another culture shift is to push users into making these phone calls, as they will locate answers and information quickly without needing to wait for responses – this of course depends on the presence of their colleagues e.g. Away, Offline or Do Not Disturb.
Build a social community through the use of Yammer . . .
We have currently tackled all workplace communication which is related to the business, however, the majority of organisations also wish to create a social profile internally. The tool of choice would be Yammer.
Yammer is a business network, much like LinkedIn, that can be used by members of your organisation. Yammer allows for sharing of content that can be commented upon, liked and shared. It also enables the use of Polls and Surveys that may assist in decision making e.g. How many employees are available for Go Karting!
Yammer can be integrated into your other communication routes, through embedding the messages into a SharePoint Site.
The new user journey . . .
In summary, the following User Journey can be achieved through embedding the above suggestions into your business;
- An employee logs in and is presented the Intranet, in which they catch up with latest News, Alerts and Announcements that may affect their working day/week
- They then check their emails, knowing that they are of most importance as they are from external sources which impact upon the business and profitability
- After answering some emails (ensuring that correspondence is also tracked in Office 365), they forward a few into Microsoft Teams to begin discussions where the input of their colleagues is required
- Whilst in Microsoft Teams they also respond to other discussions surrounding emails and documentation that are already in mid flow, especially those in which they have been mentioned with the @ symbol.
- Having completed the core communications, they dive into work within their Workspace. Always keeping an eye on their emails and Microsoft Team discussions – with the perusal of social discussions in Yammer taking place over lunch.
Spending time, effort and resource as part of your ongoing Office 365 projects can ensure that the efficiency of the workplace is improved. Assisting your employees through the transition to a Digital Workplace via Digital Transformation with training and documentation will lead to a greater success than providing too many unstructured tools through the “big bang” approach.
Please get in touch if you would like to discuss this further, and do not forget to comment, share and communicate about this article.
This article was written by Steve Glasspool – Senior SharePoint Consultant at AMT Evolve.