Recently, the West Coast Office 365 community, organized by Joel Oleson, Ryan Shouten, Galen Keen and other rock stars set out to organize a worldwide event, the Microsoft 365 Virtual Marathon (#M365VM). The event took place in mid-May of 2020, a perfect time for those who like me felt a bit nostalgic due to the postponement of the SharePoint Conference 2020.
From the day it was announced, I was in! Being part of this community has helped me so much throughout the years and having the opportunity to support was something I could not miss.
Volunteering as a producer
As a volunteer, I got access to the tenant where it happened, the SharePointKnight community. It was amazing! I suddenly felt part of this “secret society” and I watched amazed as my Twitter feed was reflected here by many of the friends I follow but now we are all part of this experience.
Being producer was a great learning opportunity. I had very little experience running a Live Event with Microsoft Teams, but with the support provided I was able to quickly rise up to the challenge.
Galen provided a set of solid training sessions accompanied by one of the best training materials I have ever seen. They thought of everything, even edge cases and what to do in each along with step by step instructions with screenshots. Times were clearly marked.
Attending the session was also very important as this allowed me to ask key questions to run the event and hear what others had in mind to produce.
For the producer role, I nominated myself as a producer for the Spanish track. This was a great decision as I had the opportunity to connect with other colleagues, MVPs and Microsoft speakers in my native tongue and support the amazing community from all over America (the whole continent friends) and Spain.
During my time producing, I also tweeted on the sessions as they occurred, to elevate and bring the amazing talent that this track had to offer to others.
In future opportunities, I would like to produce other events but also step up my game as I will be more comfortable having done this a first time, but also having experience how others produced their blocks.
In my opinion, this was also a great learning opportunity for Microsoft to run an event at this scale and to find areas where Live Events and Microsoft Teams can be improved to support such an endeavor with the added challenge of everyone being remote.
Speaking at the event
I could not miss the chance to also participate as a speaker. As a Digital Workplace Crusader and Office 365 Consultant, I am passionate about clients learning about key areas that will make them more productive, but also more secure.
Given the rush to enabling remote work, and that Azure Active Directory Premium P1 made it to the Microsoft 365 Business offering, I though pertinent to highlight to small business owners the great features they now have access as part of the bundle while remaining in the Business SKUs, devoted to organizations of less than 300 employees.
It is exciting for me that these features can help companies ensure the right people have the right access to data, to support standards for managing group creation and supporting remote workers by providing easy access to information and tools needed to perform their job.
As more companies realize that remote work is here to stay, they will need to embrace technologies such as Azure AD Join and Intune to keep their devices up-to-date and compliant.
Group management is also another area were onboarding and offboarding can be simplified if we take the time to devise the needs for each of our groups and leverage dynamic groups to ensure department users or users of a given title have access to specific resources.
There’s lot’s to to cover, so instead, for a high level, check out the slide deck for my presentation.
All you can eat Microsoft 365 content
If you missed the event (and even if you didn’t, you couldn’t possibly attend 20 tracks at the same time) keep in mind that all the recorded sessions are trickling in to the event’s official Microsoft 365 Virtual Marathon YouTube channel, make sure to subscribe and enable notifications to keep up to date with the latest uploads from the organizing team. The recording of my session is now available.
Also, if you want to learn more about the history and behind the scenes of the event, check out Joel’s post for his thoughts and insights.
Back to face to face (hopefully)
One of the big announcements for me is the return of the in-person event, now transformed into the Microsoft 365 Collaboration Conference which now includes Microsoft Teams, Power Platform and SharePoint under one umbrella. Check out Jeff Teper’s message as he announces the return #inJeffWeTrust. My hope is that we can make it to Vegas in March and that by then our world is a much safer place to gather in bands like we used to.
I miss the in-person interactions and being part of an amazing community of folks devoted to empowering others to be their most productive selves. It cannot be replaced with a screen, but for now… virtual will do! 😊
I recently joined 2toLead as an Office 365 consultant and so far, it has been a great experience! I’ve had many opportunities to learn and challenge myself in different areas.
One of the major changes in my day-to-day was adapting to use Microsoft Teams daily to communicate to keep my team appraised of my progress in the different projects and tasks as well as holding various meetings per-day using this tool. If you haven’t tried Microsoft Teams, check out this interactive demo to get a sense of how it works.
I collected a few thoughts on this transition that I wanted to share.
Emails? What Emails?
One of the first things I noticed is that I spent way less time sorting through email. Where as previously I would get anywhere from 100 to 200 emails per day (including communications from internal clients, external partners/vendors, systems notifying me of stuff happening and other various things), most of my internal communication is now happening in Teams and keeping tabs on items that need my attention is easier. Granted, I don’t have to receive many of the system notifications I used to in a previous life, but this change also helped me avoid managing old emails and thus I feel more focused on what’s important.
More Teams than channels.
In Slack, I was a member of various channels, we had one team for the whole company and each channel related to a specific department, team or topic. This was a bit challenging as being added to so many channels created quite a bit of noise and it lacked a formal information architecture that helped sort what conversation belonged to what channel. If we needed a new channel, we just created one, so from that point of view, that contributed to channel duplication and sprawl.
Conversations in context
While Slack allows to set up a current subject or topic for the channel, I found it difficult to keep the conversations in context to what was being discussed and while you can reply to a message and keep things in context, it created a separate window to contextualize your answer, which made it a bit cumbersome to focus attention on the conversation.
In Teams, I found using the subject line very helpful to provide context and craft a message that will help the team get a good sense of the intent of the communication. It took a few tries to get used to this, but once I got it, it became second nature.
I find the reply system a more involved in Teams, which I find slows me down a bit, but in general I take that as a positive as my replies have more context and are far more valuable for the group. In Slack, the conversation flows a bit faster, but without that context, I only found this useful when the conversation was not critical, for example in channels devoted to TV shows or non-work stuff.
The power of the full Office 365 ecosystem
The killer feature in my opinion is the tight integration with the rest of the Office 365 platform. Finding documents related to the project or task is a breeze and helps me avoid navigating through sites to get to where I need to find the document I need. Sharing is also very easy and allows me to give others information in context, including documents we need to review of discuss. I’m excited about future integrations where I won’t need to switch back to the full SharePoint site or document library to perform additional tasks such as moving a document or starting a Flow.
Also, having a Planner for managing my tasks or OneNote tab is great as I don’t need to switch to the browser and work my way to find the plan or notebook relevant to the project.
Dude where’s my App?
Outside of the usual suspects, finding other apps, bots, tabs is a bit more involved. Certainly, some of the third-party extensions outside of the Microsoft realm are missing or not as mature as they are in Slack. This gap will shorten with time, but I think it is fair to say it is not where we need it.
Also, adding a new extension is not very intuitive. Take exhibit A. Adding Planner to your Teams apps. While Adding to a team is intuitive, adding “to you” shows a link that says “Available”. Took me a bit of time to realize that “Available” is actually a link, this plus the fact that Install shows grayed out doesn’t help.
Managing available or approved Apps/extensions
I used to be an admin for the Slack service in my previous company and we had a very simple process for approving apps or extensions. Whenever someone needed a new app/extension, they will “get” it from the store, and this would send a message to admins where the user needed to justify why they wanted the extension. This message also helped me as an admin to review permissions required for the app, but also to ensure we were not adding yet another app which had similar functionality. From this message, I could approve in line, (from my desktop or mobile) or decline and add a message to the requesting user on why the request was denied, usually suggesting an alternative app or providing context on why the request was not honored.
Teams, on the other hand, has no such functionality out of the box. Admins need to manage the apps available and can block new third-party apps from showing in the store. First party apps, however, will show up as soon as Microsoft adds them. This can pose a challenge and be a missing opportunity to provide employees with context and guidance on what they can do with some of these first-party integrations before they are exposed to them. It may also expose users to apps that do not add value to their needs.
Personally, I rarely used the online meeting experience in Slack. When we did, it was helpful to do screen sharing, however, meeting with external users was off the table unless they were already guests in our Slack environment and did not allow for dial in capabilities for participants.
We used Skype for Business for this, and while we were using Skype for Business Online, we constantly had challenges with online meeting quality. Sound, jitter, drop-off, audio/video off-sync were usually experienced.
I use Microsoft Teams meetings quite extensively today and I’m very happy with the audio/video quality. Also, working from home or remotely is much nicer and less distracting for others given background blur.
Joining a meeting from my mobile is also a great and seamless experience.
Another thing I love about Teams meetings is the recording capabilities. It all happens it the cloud and there’s not much work involved, you just turn it on and once your meeting is done, the recording is saved to Microsoft Stream and can be viewed by all people invited to the meeting. Sharing with everyone in the company is also just a click away.
On private Channels
For the most part, I don’t use private chats, as the interactions related to a project might be useful for others in the team to see. I can see the value of having private channels (upcoming) as there may be conversations and files around the project where not everyone needs to be involved or informed, but for the most part, for my day-to-day activities I don’t really feel I’m missing it. When it arrives, I can see a few use cases where we would a apply it.
Key Success factors for using Microsoft Teams
With Microsoft Teams, as with any collaboration tool, consistency has been key to ensure we are leveraging the tool properly. For example, making sure a new thread has a title has helped immensely to keep things organized and focused on a topic. Also, channel meetings have been helpful to keep the team informed of a meeting as it is happening and staying informed of any notes or comments related to what was discussed. I also find that good training and communication helps others in adopting the tool, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in adoption campaigns for deploying Microsoft Teams and by far the most effective way for people to start using the tool is enlisting champions within their team or department to help them through the transition.
So, what do I miss about Slack?
Not much really. Once I got used to creating threads and staying in teams/channels, I felt much more productive. Also, because we mostly coordinate and work in Teams, I don’t feel the need to move back to email for internal communication.
I miss the vast app ecosystem and the approval process for adding apps to the environment, and while Slack had a head start, I think this to be less of an issue over time as the uptake of Microsoft Teams in the enterprise has been massive and third parties are noticing.
Oh, and party parrot! 😊
Competition is heating up, and Slack’s recent jump to the stock market has risen awareness for others and that might not have been aware that Slack is in use in their company (yes, it does happen). At the same time, it is also a great time for team collaboration as both Slack and Microsoft Teams continue to improve. The transition to dispersed work teams is has never been easier and, in my opinion, Microsoft Teams has played a major role in helping me adapt to work from home. I spend most of my time communicating and collaborating there and I love it!
Not long ago, Internet Explorer was the standard for corporate and of course was the browser that came pre-installed with your Windows PC.
Being so integrated with the operating system, it was only natural that Microsoft would provide plenty of “knobs and dials” to control the behavior of IE. IT Pros all over the world took advantage of these group policies and shaped Internet Explorer to work and behave in a way that suited internal security policies. This, in my opinion played a role in the demise of IE.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure most system administrators meant well by locking down Internet Explorer and took advantage of things like compatibility view mode, zone configuration and others to keep their users safe.
Unfortunately, in many cases, some of this settings were applied across the board, with little testing, and caused frustration for users accessing internal and external services.
Nature finds a way
Given IE’s reputation, users thought the browser itself was the problem, and in order to get the job done (and I don’t blame them for it) they sought alternatives.
This, in my opinion helped Firefox, Chrome and others make their way into the workplace. Sure, they were far less configurable by IT, but they worked, and they worked even better than IE, not only because they had better support for modern web standards (HTML5, CSS3, JS) but also due to this reduced support for “configurability”.
Living on the Edge
I’m probably one of the few users still favoring the default browser. In Windows 10, that’s Microsoft Edge. Edge is fine for the most part (sans the occasional memory leak, or intentional lack of support from certain web properties), as it has HTML5 support and I think given the latest releases (I’m currently on Windows 10 1803) it has improved quite a bit. I’ve only had to switch back to IE so I can use older websites that use Silverlight (yes, they are still out there!) and SharePoint 2010 (yes, I know, 2010…) , which just doesn’t play nicely with Edge for anything else than reader access.
Balance is key
If there’s one thing I’d like you to take from this is to consider user experience while securing your environment. This doesn’t just apply to browser group policy settings, but overall, we need to ensure the digital workplace experience is solid, enabling, and one that is not forcing users to find workarounds for your security settings.
To note, this won’t bring back the good old days of IE, and Microsoft still has a lot of work to do to bring users to Edge. I’m quite confident though, that the new Microsoft has the culture and the bright minds needed to make an impactful change to bring new pride and joy to using the browser behind the “e” logo.
For the longest time I used Windows Live Writer (WLW). Back then (2012) you had to download this extra package called Windows Live Essentials to enhance your Windows experience with tools like Movie Maker, Mail, OneDrive , and a desktop-blogging app, very similar to other Office apps (with the ribbon UI, and the feeling of Microsoft Word, but tailored to create content for blogs).
WLW was a great tool, however, active development for it concluded in 2012.
Thankfully, a group of passionate Microsoft folks took on updating the tool, which eventually was released as open source, and today is maintained by them and the community.
You can download Open Live Writer from their website, http://www.openlivewriter.org/. The source code on is available on GitHub. You can also follow the group’s latest updates on Twitter (@OpenLiveWriter)
I made this blog post using the tool, I have to admit the experience did not work flawlessly for me. Once my theme was imported, I was not able to do simple things like creating a new line to start a paragraph. I finished this post by first disabling the blog theme from the Blog Account tab. Once I did, I had no issues entering new lines, adding an image or doing basic formatting.
Publishing in draft mode worked as expected. Making changes meant to re-publish as draft, as the save button didn’t really work for me.
I’ll keep testing it and I’ll report back on any major findings.
My SPC18 Experience
SharePoint Conference 2018 was a very different experience for me as this year. I assisted the organizers with sponsor/exhibitor registration and helped exhibitors get settled into their booth. I had a lot of fun! Monday morning was definitely fast paced and kept us quite busy, but it was also a great chance to meet and greet quite a few friends from the community.
Being there once again (and I doubt I’m alone in this) felt like one big family reunion after 4 years!
This wouldn’t have been possible without Jackie Baillie, Bill Baer, Jeff Teper, my parents (who provided me with flight tickets as present) as well as the folks from the community who lend a hand promoting and in buying a t-shirt from the Mikeware T-Shirt Store (closed at this time).
Setting up the store, creating the t-shirt designs and wearing the marketer hat was also quite fun and a great learning opportunity.
Now, back to SharePoint!
It was very exciting to see the focus on the humble SharePoint list. I’ve always been a fan of lists and how they enable, in just a few clicks, a very powerful way to capture and visualize data without the need of an Excel file.
This, combined with Flow and PowerApps for improved process automation and optimizing the data entry is no doubt a winning combination. Having lists that update in real time is amazing and will make SharePoint feel truly modern.
Microsoft Flow, PowerApps, Power BI and SharePoint can be considered Microsoft’s core building blocks for business applications. The SharePoint Business Applications roadmap recently published by Chris McNulty shows just how invested the team is in creating a right environment to empower the non-code folks.
Personally, I have been waiting for the ability to add a PowerApps web part so I can present the app/form on a page, I guess for my use cases I have more use of desktop for work than mobile, so bring it as soon as possible!
SharePoint spaces was definitely a surprise! I see this as the first opportunity to dream how to bring an immersive experience into the world of enterprise content management and being able to create an experience that truly delights and engages. On the other hand, spaces will help make this type of technology easier to reach, so I’m excited for what this could enable in the future.
I heard a lot of discussion about hub sites, for my perspective, this will be a key piece that will allow us to provide structure and simplify management of permissions and customizations. #hubifyEarlyhubifyOften!
I’m a big fan of the Microsoft Graph so I attended a couple of sessions where this was presented. While there’s work ahead, I think the Graph is at a point where it can be a very valuable source of information and a way to explore and learn more about the organizational dynamics of where the work happens.
In summary, I think this SPC kicked off the roadmap for 2018/19 on a high note, with lots of exciting things to look for, both for on-premises and cloud, but I’m guessing a few things will be revealed in September at Ignite, Microsoft’s premier conference for IT pros. Looking forward to that!
If you didn’t make the event and would like to see some of these announcements, check out the SharePoint Virtual Summit video on demand.
Did you hear of any features you find exciting or “just what you needed” to solve a business or communication need? Please share, I’d love to know.
Talk to you soon!
Quality is not cheap
Hook, line and sinker
Kanban board tool as an example
Wait, what about Office 365, the big bundle?
So, is Trello better than Planner?
It depends! (drink if you are playing architect/consultant bingo)
What value are you getting from one over the other? Can you manage workload in Planner and keep your project work/ communication in one location while team communication is happening though MS Teams? Is this best of breed app going to really affect the bottom line, your productivity?
If a tool is providing real value, making life easier, helping you make clients happy, then, by all means, deviate from the standard. Buy the Le Creuset fondue set!
Otherwise, for day to day use, why not stick with the bundle that works great together and as a whole provides more value than all best of breed tools that can’t really talk to each other that easily.
In summary, I think it comes down spending wisely. Personally I believe that the value proposition of the Office 365 ecosystem is the best out there to cover all aspects of collaboration. As other apps go, focus on what provides an advantage to delivering your product or service by improving your time to value, or customer satisfaction.
Cookware image by Stevensnodgrass
Day-to-Day Task Management at Work
I have been using Outlook to manage tasks for over 10 years now. The integration is great if you live in an “email centric” world where you can quickly flag an email so that it will end up on your task list to be eventually dealt with. I manage about 50% of my workload this way…
…That’s a problem! Work comes from all different sources, not just email.
Working in IT, have my own work queue for Incidents, Problems, Changes and other types of (ITIL type) tasks in my IT Service Management System. These are critical for my day-to-day, and yet, they do not show up on my task list in Outlook unless I flag the email notification (which adds to the burden of email) and now managing two work queues.
If you are in internal/external communications, you probably have a running list (backlog) of “postings”, articles, new employee announcements so on and so forth that need to be published on your Intranet, Extranet or Public portal. Again, these might come in the form of an email, however, most modern systems provide an approval or content review workflow functionality or at the least, the work is managed by using an online form that sends an email or creates an item in a list for you or anyone in your team to tackle.
This covers the day-to-day work for the most part. Now, if we add projects into the mix, we open another can of worms.
Project based work
Most traditional environments will use some form of project management software, such as Microsoft Project, which provides the team with the work items for the project. Again, in some cases this information is not usually stored in a centralized location.
In recent years, newer project management practices such as Agile or Scrum benefit from using tools such as Jira, Trello or Planner which can be used to create Kanban boards.
So, yes, more buckets!
Last, but definitely not least, comes life related stuff!
Life is filled with other things such as errands, things to buy, “honey-do” lists, etc. How are those managed? My spouse asks me to pick a specific brand of cereal on a text message, that also needs to go on a list or I will forget!
I’ve used tools such as Wunderlist (and recently I’ve been exploring Microsoft To-Do) to manage my personal tasks. Also, on a whim, I’d probably ask Google to keep a reminder for me, which adds yet another bucket!!!
Let’s recap the many “buckets of work” I keep an eye on, with the occasional fluctuation, especially in the projects area:
Can this be improved? You bet!
Simplifying personal buckets
Personal tasks should be the easiest to tackle, since there’s no need to consult anyone else. The key here is to reduce the number of buckets as much as possible and stick to one standard. I have chosen to stick with Wunderlist for the time being.
Moving to Microsoft To-Do is in my plans in the next few months, as the Wunderlist (now part of Microsoft) team has had a few months to polish the new app and improve it based on the feedback received early on when the tool was announced.
While using voice commands (with Google Now or Siri) to create tasks or reminders is handy, I find it only useful when my hands are tied with something else, I rather type my new task and have more control.
Project work management bonanza
If you are leading a digital workplace initiative, this potpourri of tools may not be a surprise to you. Any mid/large size organization will, at some point, have all these different systems and more. Some of them, being Cloud based (Software as a Service), don’t even need servers, and in most cases, a free version is provided in hopes that shadow IT will prevail.
In some areas of the organization, a project management tool will be deeply ingrained as part of the process, however, in other areas, managing tasks happens organically, but work still needs to be managed and tracked. The key here would be to find a common set of needs where the number of tools can be reduced, providing a common ground for most teams to be familiarized with. Another benefit to this will be cost savings, as some of these tools can be costly to manage and keep running
Day-to Day tasks, aka The daily grind.
Integration and savvy use of rules should help easing the load. While there are systems you can’t really change. Creating a few rules to move email notifications into folders could go a long way. For bonus points, enable a retention policy (If your license allows) to ensure you don’t keep those notifications for longer than you need.
In other cases, use tools such as Microsoft Flow, IFTTT, Zapier, that make automating tasks between systems a piece of cake. We will cover this type of tools later on.
Finally, my buckets of work reduced a bit, hopefully, further iterations and some work done at the project level can bring a simpler setup.
An ideal state would be to further reduce those buckets to a minimum. If you’ve also thought about this? What does your ideal look like? How do you plan to get there?
Mine looks like this:
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash
Part of the challenge of working with teams that are geo-distributed is having a tool to work together and sketch or prototype new products or ideas together.
Microsoft is previewing a new service, Microsoft Whiteboard app. The tool (at the time only available for Windows 10 users) allows you to have multiple people work with notes, images and free form drawing, this experience is much better if you have a touch screen but you can use your mouse to draw, drag or select elements on the whiteboard.
Running a few tests I found the app to have some challenges zooming in/out and being able to exit the search menu. The main premise is there, so I expect this to be refined in a few months when they clear the preview label.
You can start using it on your own today provided you have a Microsoft account (like Hotmail, Outlook, etc.) or a work account with Office 365 enabled. Co-authoring is only allowed for Office 365 users.
If you plan to use it for work, during the preview, the app is disabled by default but your Office 365 admin can enable it for on your tenant. Keep in mind that at present, the data you generate will be stored in US soil (if you care about that kind of thing) but will be stored in other regions in the future.
My 2 cents here: try it out, but “let it simmer” for a couple of months before you try using it for something other than testing.
Want to learn more, check out the Microsoft Whiteboard help page
I recently read Everybody Lies, a book that discusses how big data and, in some aspects, machine learning can be used to explain certain behaviours in today’s world and how our digital interactions can help explain current events. I highly recommend this book!
One of the main sources of information used in the book is Google Trends. If you are not familiar with this service, it allows you to explore and compare different topics and identify their trends over time.
For example, the chart below compares the terms “Digital Workplace” and “Intranets”:
Not only it will provide a graph showing the trends of both topics over time, but will also provide information on the regions where the term is most popular as well as related searches using this term.
While this works wonders for learning about interests and social behaviours at a global scale, this got me thinking about our options for “corporate land”. If people don’t lie to Google and for example, Trends can help to identify where an outbreak of a disease can start, or how an election was won despite many pools showing different results, the closest thing we have to this type of information is our Intranet search.
Well yes, our often neglected, left to it’s own devices, good old Intranet search can be a great source to identify the trends of what employees are thinking (or caring about) inside the corporate “firewall”.
Thankfully, the search history or top searches report of your intranet (most popular Intranet solutions have this out of the box, if yours does not, let’s chat!) doesn’t need much maintenance and is definitely a great way to take the pulse of your organization.
You can use your intranet search or top searches report for:
- Creating new content (articles, how-tos, lists, resources) of information employees are searching for – If, for example, people are looking for cost centres, but are not finding this information, compile it, publish it!
- Rising the best content to the top – If people are looking for the term vacation, they are most likely trying to find the vacation policy. If your Intranet supports it, make it a best bet or a preferred resource.
- Identifying trending topics – in today’s corporate world, chances are your have a topic or two that are top of mind. Consider using this to create AMA (Ask Me Anything) forums or use tools such as Slack or Teams to help employees engage with subject matter experts in real time.
- Enrich your editorial calendar – There may be slow months (rare this days, but it could happen) where there are no big company announcements or events. Use this gold mine to provide employees with information and resources around topics they care enough about because they are searching for them.
- Obtain ideas for a corporate bot – A rising trend, an internal bot can help employees with their day to day work and there are tools out there (such as Tangowork) that are making this happen even easier. Use intranet top searches as input to help build the knowledge of topics your employees might ask your bot.
I hope this helps plant the seed to take a look at your Intranet search statistics on a regular basis, try also looking at abandoned search results and other trends in your analytics.
Are you using your top intranet search results in other ways? What other sources of information can you identify internally to help build that corporate pulse? We would love to hear your thoughts.