Tame Your Internal Communications Chaos With Office 365

Dear reader, it is with the utmost pleasure that I’m addressing you in this new, wonderfully promising year. I hope that your organization achieved its 2018 goals, that your leadership’s vision is clear, and that your team is motivated. I wish you further success in 2019! 

Now that you have set your strategies for the year, it is time to look at your operations and processes.  There is always a lot to do here. Today, I am writing about the benefits of using Office 365 tools to improve your internal communications. I will also go over a few points that drive efficiencies and, hopefully, provide you with more clarity. 

 

The challenges of internal communication 

Before I wrote this article, I spent some time researching recent and emerging topics of interest and promising trends in the area of internal communications. Here is what I found:

  1. Digital Workplace is the new Holy Grail in ensuring an effective and integrated work environment.
  2. Chat bots, video, and gamification – we are captivated by video content, interactivity in gamification and chat bots. Unfortunately, these new ways of engaging employees are taking up a lot of resources, both in terms of time and budget. What’s worse, a successful technical implementation doesn’t always mean that you have the best solution.
  3. Email, the eternal mantra of business, is still the main form of communication. But, many say that they get too many emails. Getting back from a holiday and cracking open your email client is always a daunting task. There are hundreds, if not thousands of emails waiting for you to review. Most of them are unnecessary. In 2018 email is still king, mostly because we still use it to share documents.
  4. Dialogue with employees. This is really about giving your employees a way to be heard and provide feedback. Using the digital medium to encourage two-way conversation with management moves your culture towards greater transparency. 
  5. Staying connected with remote personnel. Organizations are looking for tools that make it easier for remote employees to communicate and collaborate.
  6. Measuring the efficiency of communication.  We can’t improve if we don’t measure. We need to identify KPIs adequate to our scenarios, check the effectiveness of our actions and make adjustments that drive improvement. 

Why Office 365?

The answer is simple: the majority of med-large organizations already have office. The unfortunate part is that many times IT reduces its deployment to a complete minimum.  Meaning, even though you are licensed for much more you likely only have Outlook, Excel, PowerPoint, and Word installed, and maybe a few other things that you don’t ever use. Office 365 offers so much more than the old implementation. New features and services make a big difference in improving internal communication and collaboration.

Unfortunately, we can’t expect employees to adopt features and services that they have never used before.  They sometimes require training, a culture change, or even new processes.

It is not easy or cheap. Promoting these services is a difficult and long-term endeavor. Depending on the level of engagement from the board, department directors, budget and a good plan, it can take six months to a year to get things going, and success is not always guaranteed.

But before we dive into solutions, let’s look at the services themselves. 

 

What’s inside? What will be useful for internal communication? 

Let’s ask ourselves: What is Office 365? When naming the entire family of its products–currently around 20 tools–Microsoft decided to select a name derived from it’s well-known Windows office suite.

This tactic made it easier for consumers to adopt a familiar brand. But in some cases, it also confused the consumers, because Office 365 may not always include all the familiar parts of the previous office suite. For example, Microsoft currently offers two similar plans: E1 and E3, both common in the enterprise space. E3 contains many tools and services that you might already be familiar with; E1 doesn’t provide the typical office applications that you would expect.

Let me give you a little tour of Microsoft’s E3 plan. It offers many new and interesting applications and features. I am going to mainly focus on tools that will help you to implement your communication strategy.

Microsoft Teams  

This is a multi-faceted tool used both in personal communication (chat, audio/video conferences 1:1 or 1:many). Very powerful service for project work. If you were thinking of implementing Skype for Business, abandon this idea and introduce Teams instead. This is where Microsoft sees the future of communication and collaboration. 

Microsoft Teams demo

Image 1. Microsoft Teams interface – screenshot from Microsoft

 

SharePoint Online  

Intranet pages for departmental or group level. SharePoint makes it easy to publish documents, posts, graphics, videos, surveys and a lot of other content.

But it is missing key enterprise features, such as ease of changing content, a unified menu, content targeting to specified recipient groups and ease of use although Microsoft did a lot to improve this offering. 

SharePoint Online example

Image 2. SharePoint Online – an example page

 

Yammer

Enterprise social network. A straightforward, intuitive platform for broad-scale communication within a company, with a lot of ready-made graphics, memes, and videos.

It’s a lot like Facebook for companies but protected from outside access, along with the IT department’s oversight of employee usage (basic level statistics). 

Yammer demo

Image 3. Yammer – screenshot from Microsoft

 

Stream

These days it seems that everyone is talking about video publishing. Stream can help us immensely with this. Think of YouTube for our company.

You still have to create the video content yourself, but publication and usage are made more accessible.

Additionally, depending on the bandwidth and the device we use to watch the video, Stream automatically scales video resolution to prevent buffering and unwanted pauses. 

Microsoft Stream intro

Image 4. Microsoft Stream – screenshot from Windows Central

 

Forms 

A simple polling tool. You can create a survey in a few minutes, send it to your recipients or publicize on SharePoint/Teams and gather employee feedback. You can even export the results into Excel. 

Microsoft Forms demo

Image 5. Microsoft Forms – example

 

Sway  

A simple storytelling tool. If you’re bored of PowerPoint, you can get creative with Sway, and then post the results, e.g., on a SharePoint site.  

 

Delve

This service is mainly used to find information in Office 365. If you have Office 365 implemented at your organization then definitely give it a try. You will be surprised by the amount of information available.  

Microsoft Delve screen

Image 6. Microsoft Delve – screenshot from Microsoft

 

Where to start?

There are a few steps you can take to improve the odds of success when implementing your communications strategy.

1. Make a plan!  

Rolling out new software and simultaneously changing your company culture is so challenging that without a plan you are doomed to fail.

Remember that your employees have been using old tools for years. They developed habits and processes for getting the results they need. Even the best feature demonstration and training won’t change their ways overnight. 

Your implementation plan should begin with you taking stock of all tools and software that your employees use daily. The best way to do this is by surveying your employees. You will be surprised to learn how various departments use these tools.

Learn what channels of communication are used by the Communications Department, employees, and other content managers (branch/department heads, mid-level managers) to communicate the following: 

  • Business mission and vision 
  • Corporate news 
  • Company events – both announcements and reports
  • Changes in company processes
  • Information on personnel changes
  • Department-specific information 
  • Required training
  • Company procedures 
  • CSR activities. 

 

Evaluate and execute your policy

Assess your current situation. Is your organization using the appropriate tools? Are the procedures and document templates stored on the employee portal, where they are centrally updated and have business owners? Or are they always sent by email and everyone is left wondering whether they have the right version? 

At this point, you can begin creating a Business Communications Plan. I know most of you already have an up-to-date one already.

Wherever possible, it is essential to reserve a particular type of communication to a particular channel. For instance, if we’re talking about meals in the work canteen, we only do it on Yammer in a “Meals at work” group instead of an email.

Examples:

Examples of Office 365 usage

Examples of Office 365 usage

2. Set goals and follow through on their implementation 

  • Find out what you care about the most. (E.g. employee activity level, the amount of site visits on the company project website, the number of messages sent via Teams etc.) 
  • Measure the current state 
  • Set your goals 
  • Measure the rates regularly – e.g. every month or quarter 
  • Customize, change, experiment with content, targeting or channels. 

 

3. Set up a group of Ambassadors of change

A group of people eager to act, appropriately led and motivated, trained and distinguished will have a completely different level of persuasion across the business, especially when implementing a new communication tool. 

 

4. Get leadership on board 

Without their support, it’s just not going to happen! Support from the top will solve plenty of doubts among the team.

If a busy CEO or HR Director adopts a new tool, it is difficult to argue on whether or not it is worth using. The support of leadership will give you wings. Trust me; it’s worth selling this idea and engaging an influential business owner. 

 

5. Reward engagement 

Before the snowball effect happens and people have plenty of discussions or creatively produce content of their own, they need to be motivated.

This is an excellent opportunity for creative people to come up with neat ideas.  We’ve seen various types of rewards, from the simple trinkets to development training, to concepts like assigning a parking space at the HQ building for a month. 

 

What not to do? 

You can try to do nothing… 

The frequent reason for disappointment is the hope that conducting training and showing use cases are enough for our employees to happily begin using the new tools.

The engagement might grow, especially among the younger employees. After all, they can use a social network (Yammer), publish videos, use mobiles and tablets, work remotely… 

Once the IT department announces a successful deployment, usually a year later, we see frustration coming from the business side. What happened? All these great tools, modern, constantly developed, used successfully around the world, and yet they don’t work for us? 

Once again – have a plan, execute it, monitor progress and amend as needed. If you need support, you can always contact me, and we’ll work out a solution that’s right for your company. 

 

Links and sources 

Blog posts about internal communication

Microsoft resources 

Key takeaways
  1. Unstructured internal communication can lead to lack of standardized systems and processes that may lead to operational difficulties
  2. Most Office 365 plans are equipped with services that can improve communications within an organization
  3. Implementing the services is not everything – a major change like this requires planning and preparation
  4. We can advise on how best to implement and use Office 365 in your organization – just get in touch!

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