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Using Office 365 to unlock collaboration in the workplace


recent study by Ernst & Young identifies failure to encourage collaboration and teamwork in the workplace as one of the top 5 reasons why people quit their jobs.

Historically, uncollaborative workplaces have been detrimental to employee health and wellbeing, with knock-on effects combining and complimenting each other, damaging employee's chances of advancement, introducing undue stress in the workplace and restricting employee flexibility and resilience.

Not surprisingly, all those negative effects of a siloed workplace are also listed in Ernst & Young's study, fleshing out the other top-5 reasons why folks quit their jobs.

The rapid adoption of digital communications technology in the workplace however is making collaboration across distance and time not only possible, but an absolute necessity for organisations who want to reduce employee turnover and/or have employees spread across disparate geographies.

In this post, I'll explore 5 ways in which collaboration suites like Office 365 can help increase efficiency and employee retention by breaking down those pesky barriers prohibiting teamwork.

Keeping the communication flowing

In the olden days, projects would spring up organically between people working in close physical proximity, reaching out to recruit team members, figuring out which filing cabinet would store all the project files, setting up a wall calendar to track tasks and deadlines. Boy how times change. Today, everything is done… pretty much exactly the same way, only digitally.

The filing cabinet becomes a shared folder, the wall calendar is integrated across all devices and meetings are held virtually over Skype instead of in the conference room.

The problem comes in when these systems, which are often also set up organically, begin to fail because they're disparate systems which have grown over time and were never intended to be plugged in together or work together. This leads to one of the biggest time-wasters in today's office: looking for things. Looking for content. Looking for tools. Looking for that conversation thread which had a specific piece of information buried in countless replies and responses.

Enter Microsoft Teams. Suddenly, all employees have a dedicated place to 'chat' about the project they're working on. They have instant access to any file necessary to complete the project, can instigate ad hoc video meetings with other team members right from the Teams interface and collaborate on virtually any aspect of the project, instantly, with everyone else in the team getting real-time updates on the work being done.

Do away with lengthy approval processes and scheduled conference calls. Teams lets team members contact decision-makers instantly, via group chat, private chat or online meeting. Employees can also co-author documents and share files, ensuring approval in an instant with side-by-side chat and collaborative editing.

Ditching disruptive meetings

Meetings have always been a catch-22. They're absolutely necessary to make sure that your entire team stays on point, but are also one of the biggest time-wasters when counting preparation, travel time and the intense redundancy in reporting and information sharing. Online meetings have a reputation for being even worse, with technology issues being identified as the single biggest disruption and cause of lost time.

Taking things digital however is still the way to go. One just needs to ensure employees have access to reliable, feature-rich video conferencing.
All of which are provided by Skype for Business. Formerly Lync, Skype for Business brings reliable video communications with a whole load of neat features like easy screen and file sharing, voice or video calling and instant messaging, all on whichever device your employee happens to be using at the time.

VoIP and PTSN conferencing and calling round out the features, allowing employees to reach outside of the organisation using regular phone lines, providing a single point of administration to keep everyone organised and giving accounts a single, fixed monthly communications cost.

Breaking open those silos

"We've found that Yammer facilitates spontaneous conversations among employees, sparking innovative ideas that help us operate more efficiently and improve customer service."

Adrian Steel, Global Head of IT Operations, International Airlines Group

Keeping heads-down during the work day can be a great asset, but it can also be a tremendous detriment if it's not balanced with healthy interaction between fellow employees.

Not only does a siloed, heads-down approach negate the sharing and adoption of organisation-wide best practices, it routinely causes employees to feel their time isn't being used wisely at best or isn't being valued at all in the worst-case scenario.

In the same way that social networks have brought together families and friends across the globe, a social network for your organisation brings together your employees in a similar fashion. All too often however, organisations attempt to utilise the same social networks that they routinely utilise in their private lives. What's needed is a social network dedicated to work, and that's exactly what Yammer provides.

Yammer is an enterprise-grade social tool designed specifically to bring employees together and foster a sense of unity and company loyalty. It brings a conversational nature to collaboration and allows employees throughout the organisation to leverage the organisation's collective intelligence on relevant topics of interest.

Your workers are already familiar with social networking. It just makes sense to bring it into the workplace, but in a controlled manner, focused on interpersonal relationships and workplace collaboration.

Versioning files & sharing access

File versioning and sharing is one of the biggest hurdles facing organisations adopting digital collaboration. Historically, once a document has been created, its typically emailed to project members, multiple versions are then spawned and either nobody has a clue which is the most current version, or one poor soul has the unhappy chore of trying to keep it all straight.

Time is lost emailing team members trying to figure out who was the last person to work on the document, revision rounds extend from hours into days, the original is too often lost, meaning that rollbacks are all but impossible and generally, folks just have a really negative work experience.

File sharing, versioning and collaboration is built in to the heart of Office 365. Employees can work together on the same document in either Word, Excel and PowerPoint, co-authoring documents in real-time from a single version of the saved file.

What's more, those files can then be shared outside your organisation easily, in a controlled manner with access analytics and all manner of access controls.

Files can also be accessed anywhere, from virtually any device and of course, all the afore-mentioned chat, collaboration and social networking features are available in any document.

Reducing administrative clutter with custom apps

These days, everyone's got an app. There's an app to find a place to crash or a lift at 2am, virtually anywhere in the civilised world. The importance of organisations providing their clientele apps to interact with and access information about the organisation is well known. Providing apps to your employees however is still a fairly new prospect.

Furthermore, when apps are routinely used in the workplace, they tend to be the same disparate hodgepodge of non-connected apps that don't really work together, much the same as those communication systems I mentioned earlier, killing efficiency and introducing serious security concerns.

Using an integrated applications suite like Office 365 provides a holistic, system approach to meeting the needs of diverse teams, making sure that everyone has the right apps available at the right time.

This not only reduces time lost trying to mould disparate applications into something which works for your organisation, granular access control ensures your employees aren't distracted with superfluous apps they don't actually need to do their everyday work.

In short, there is no real reason to resist the move to an integrated suite like Office 365. The days of struggling with technology, trying to tie unrelated systems together into a cohesive whole your staff can use are quickly and thankfully coming to an end.

This post has focused primarily on Office 365, since Microsoft have really stepped up their game in the collaboration and productivity suite market, and all of their new products are tied in nicely with the existing products you've more than likely come to know, if not love.

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