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Work From Home Best Practices: #2 – Collaborating in the Office and at Home: Microsoft 365 Edition

Welcome back to our WFH best practices blog post series. In our last blog, we discussed some high-level remote collaboration considerations that IT Administrators and business owners should keep in mind during this period. In this second blog of the series, we will be taking a closer look at Microsoft 365 / Office 365 features including Outlook at Teams, and how to leverage the SaaS platform to maximize employee productivity and collaboration wherever they are. With some employees working from home, and others at the office, it becomes imperative to establish and embrace a digital workplace that can become the new foundation for your empoyees, regardless of where they need to work from.

Many Office users are familiar with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook, but there are enhancements that Microsoft 365 provides to those classic Office apps which make virtual collaboration considerably easier. In addition, tools such as OneDrive, SharePoint, and Teams provide a foundation to ensure documents are stored, organized, and accessible to your employees in the office and at home.

While the value of classic Office apps such as Word, PowerPoint, and Excel cannot be overstated, in this blog post we will focus on other Microsoft 365 solutions and features which improve the virtual work experience, and help overcome the challenges that come with working remotely.

Maximizing Microsoft Outlook

With employee’s physical workspaces in flux, email communication has skyrocketed, leading to overly-filled inboxes and an abundance of disorganized messages. Luckily, some lesser-known features can empower remote employees to stay organized and informed, despite the large increase of incoming emails. Here are some under-valued features that IT Administrators can educate their workforce on to enhance communication and productivity.

Rules and Folders: Various rules can be defined based on sender, subject lines, and other factors. A helpful method to stay organized can be establishing a dedicated folder in Outlook for a specific project or person. Establishing Outlook rules to ensure relevant messages end up in the same folder can help de-clutter your inbox and provide an easier time navigating back to important emails. In addition, color-coding emails based on defined rules can help visually differentiate a topic or specific person’s emails.

Follow Up Flags: Follow up flags can help users set simple reminders to follow up based on elapsed time. Users can select from several preset options or define a custom time frame to follow up. Without having a coworker’s desk to walk by, it can be helpful to use follow up flags as a reminder.

Categories: Categories enable users to color-code emails and meetings for visual organization purposes. Color coding based on projects or workstreams can make emails or meetings glanceable by simply acknowledging the color of each item. Assigning a special color to video calls, for example, can be a quick way to remind yourself to stay seated when not wearing pants (or you can just remember to wear pants!).

Blocking Calendar Time: With virtual meetings becoming more common with everyone working remotely, calendars can quickly become inundated with a variety of short meetings sprinkled throughout the day. For some, it can be difficult to constantly switch gears while needing to get work done, so one tactic to help can be blocking time in your calendar. Essentially, you create an Outlook “appointment” for a set amount of time and set your status as “Do Not Disturb”. This way, you can clearly establish a time to get work done and preemptively let others know not to schedule meetings during this time. In addition, Microsoft provides the free utility ‘FindTime’ to help organizations streamline meeting scheduling by utilizing a voting system for meeting attendees, both internally and externally.

Teams Meeting Invites: When scheduling meetings in Outlook, integration with Teams automatically provisions Teams Meetings with a provided link to all meeting invite recipients. Whether they have Teams or not, invitees can join via a web link or natively through Teams.

Teams Project Management and Collaboration Features

In-person collaboration is a critical aspect of office work that has been negatively impacted by the ongoing pandemic. Proximity to employees is a major concern, and thus it is a new challenge to find ways to facilitate virtual collaboration. How can employees collaborate like they used to in the office, but while working remotely? Most Teams users are familiar with how the platform is used to instant message, share files, and create groups for employees. However, Teams also has features to make it easy for multiple people to collaborate in real time simultaneously. Here are some additional Teams features that help re-create in-office collaboration capabilities.

Project Teams: Teams integrates directly with SharePoint, enabling some interesting capabilities that employees can leverage. When creating a new group in the “Teams” tab, a connected SharePoint site is automatically provisioned. When files are shared within a group, they are automatically uploaded to the group’s associated SharePoint site which all members will have access to. This enables real-time co-authoring for documents inside of Teams, and the ability to create Tabs within Teams groups using documents uploaded to SharePoint. In addition, documents on SharePoint gain version control and access permission features to ensure previous versions are accessible and only approved users are allowed to make changes.

Whiteboard: Teams features the ability for multiple collaborators to draw on a shared whiteboard during virtual calls. This tool is an excellent way to digitally recreate the collaborative whiteboarding sessions that commonly occur during in-person meetings. After collaborating, the Whiteboard can be saved and exported as an image and distributed to the team.

Wiki and OneNote: As mentioned above, documents can be added as Tabs in Microsoft Teams groups, providing additional resources in one convenient location. By default, a blank Wiki tab is included, which can be an excellent resource for Teams to provide content and context. In addition, a OneNote tab can be added which can act as a valuable notetaking knowledge base with multiple contributors. For example, HR Teams can define a “New Employee Onboarding” channel and utilize the Wiki and OneNote integrations to build out guides and onboarding resources in one easy-to-manage location. Corporate policies, company resources, and other HR specific content can be defined, organized, and presented easily. Any changes to the Wiki and OneNote are automatically updated for all users, making it easy to continuously update an Onboarding knowledgebase over time.

Socializing with Teams

While this may not be strictly productivity or collaboration-related, creating “Social Channels” in Teams can help your organization stay connected at a human level. With Teams, it’s possible to digitally recreate the social watercooler experience outside of the office, allowing employees to connect and bond wherever they’re working from. Here are some ideas for inspiration:

Food and Recipes: Everyone needs to eat, and the lockdown has presented people with the opportunity to try cooking new recipes. While people can’t share the food they make right now, they can share pictures and recipes for coworkers to enjoy.

Praise and Recognition: A dedicated channel for employees to praise each other and highlight successes can be a great method to improve spirits and elevate deserved recognition among your employees.

Music, Movies, and TV: Streaming services have been dominating the world’s internet bandwidth lately, and allowing people to plan virtual watch parties or discuss their favorite media helps employees stay connected.

WFH Best Practices: Not all WFH challenges can be solved with software. Encouraging your workers to share their remote working best practices can help others stay physically and mentally fit. Tips like properly setting up your home office, learning meditation or yoga, and sharing daily exercise routines can encourage your workers to take care of themselves.

Filesharing

Employees need to share files securely to successfully collaborate. While sending files via email works well enough, some files are simply too big for most mail servers to handle. Simply handing over a USB drive with the needed files is no longer practical. Fortunately, Microsoft 365 subscriptions come with filesharing services that can make it easy for employees to share and collaborate on heavier files and projects. In addition, many users keep critical documents on their devices, which presents a potential data-loss risk if the device is lost or compromised. Microsoft 365 makes it easy to ensure employees migrate key documents from devices to the cloud.

OneDrive: With OneDrive, workers can ensure that a digital copy of their documents are uploaded to the cloud and accessible from any device. IT Administrators should educate their employees on properly setting up OneDrive to ensure all their work is synced and contained within the OneDrive folder. In the case of endpoint device issues, OneDrive can act as a de-facto backup, although there are some limitations and considerations to keep in mind. Namely, if a OneDrive file becomes corrupt and is synced to the cloud, then the cloud copy may become equally problematic.
SharePoint: Like OneDrive, SharePoint can ensure digital copies are available online. The primary difference is that OneDrive is mainly designed for one user, whereas SharePoint is designed for entire teams. Typically, SharePoint and the associated files are accessible through a web browser, however, SharePoint folders can be synced to your local device. This enables real-time co-authoring where multiple authors can simultaneously edit a single document, which can be a powerful collaboration experience. Document access is based on SharePoint permissions, but specific permissions can also be defined on a per-document basis through the “Share” interface. Invite links can be created, or folders can be shared with permissions defined by the folder owner. In addition, users can decide to be alerted when a folder or document on SharePoint changes. These alerts can be scaled from a single document to an entire SharePoint site if the user so chooses.
Version History: Both SharePoint and OneDrive feature online version history, enabling users to restore a previous version of a file stored in SharePoint or OneDrive. Version history helps ensure that previous versions of overwritten files can be quickly and easily restored or downloaded based on timestamps of when the document was last saved.

Dropsuite ensures your Microsoft 365 data is backed up and secure.

While OneDrive and SharePoint, and their associated features can help keep your critical data and documents available in the cloud, they shouldn’t be considered true backup solutions. Microsoft explains in their Shared Responsibility Model that they are only responsible for maintaining the infrastructure of Microsoft 365, and not specifically the data that resides in your company’s tenant.

Should your IT Security fail for whatever reason, it is critical to ensure you have timely, reliable and secure backups that can be accessed in case of emergency. Backup and archiving is the most straightforward method to be proactive and ensure redundancy.

Dropsuite’s Microsoft Office 365 Backup solution ensures your data is constantly backed up, protected by military-grade 256-bit AES encryption, and GDPR, HIPAA, and FINRA compliant. Your data and the documents your employees work with are too critical to be exposed to the various cyberthreats that exist today. Dropsuite ensures your business-critical data is backed up, secure, and accessible at an affordable cost.

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