Amongst our client organizations, there are many degrees to which Microsoft Office 365 (O365) has been implemented. A fraction are truly up and running successfully. Some have partially implemented but have left more onerous migrations like SharePoint and Yammer on the backburner. Others have implemented O365 without fully engaging the communications function and are now struggling with limited user adoption, team sprawl, and file management issues.
With so many organizations suddenly thrust into supporting remote working scenarios for their corporate and regional office employees, O365’s cloud-based infrastructure is a silver-bullet solution to an unexpected problem. Communicators have an opportunity to add immediate and lasting value to the organization by re-invigorating efforts that support the implementation of O365, regardless of the state of its implementation and adoption.
Transitioning your business to O365 demands strategic planning; both from your IT department and your internal communications function. Anything else is rolling the dice. And those dice can land in several ways:
First (and most common) is the “chaotic” side, where users discover and begin using new tools in unpredictable ways. Storing and sharing files from within applications on OneDrive is so convenient it can begin to supersede your established file storage and security policies. Some enterprising groups may begin using the “Files” tab in Teams at the expense of established file repositories and the associated document management policies. Yammer can become flooded with redundant social pages and bandwidth-heavy video content that steals employees’ attention and strains your network infrastructure. Many of all these disorganized activities confound enterprise search, particularly in the SharePoint context.
There’s also the “dangerous” side. Groups within the organization can begin to derive real business value from unsanctioned use cases within the Office suite. While it seems great at first, this can create nearly unbreakable silos between teams as people get invested and entrenched in their own distinct ways of working. There are other risks as well: for example, customer-facing departments may adopt Teams for daily communications and become so immersed in the platform that they miss key corporate communications or become unresponsive to clients in their regular email inbox.
Finally, there’s the “safe” side, where employees manage to completely avoid the new features and treat O365 as a glorified update to Word, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Excel. This scenario comes with its own cost: the steep opportunity cost of the suite’s full potential to drive collaboration and efficiency.
If your organization has already transitioned to O365, one or more of these states may look familiar. And it’s worth remembering that these outcomes aren’t set once you launch the suite; the dice get rolled again whenever someone new joins your organization. The processes, policies, and communication resources you dedicate to the transition will ultimately determine where that dice lands – and continues to land as your business grows.
Clearly, there’s a lot at stake, particularly as the COVID-19 remote working scenario creates renewed focus on the accessibility and effectiveness of internal tools.
So what do you need to know as a leader and communicator?
Implementing or simply re-aligning O365 will require your leadership and comms teams to delve into enterprise operations far enough to understand how teams are currently collaborating to see where the new platform is relevant. With so many tools available within the suite, there is often more than one way to address a business need, but each comes with its limitations and caveats. Are you going to use Yammer and Teams simultaneously? How does OneDrive relate to SharePoint? …and what the heck is Sway, anyway?
Cross-functional input is required to understand the possible use cases for the various tools and determine what makes sense for each stakeholder group. These discussions must happen to ensure clarity around the desired outcomes to support planning and to decide who will own both the implementation and ongoing governance in each area. Once this framework is established, a communications campaign can be designed to communicate how the various tools will be used and integrated, to help avoid the “chaotic” and “dangerous” outcomes.
Even if you’ve already deployed O365, this is the best place to start. You need a comprehensive communication plan to reach every member of the user population with relevance to their role. The ultimate purpose of the suite is to complement your broader strategy, and stakeholders of all levels need to understand that connection and why it matters.
In brief: Convey the reasoning and need behind the specific changes you’re making, draw a line from those changes to your overarching goals, and communicate a compelling “after” picture that makes the friction of change worth it.
To communicate the framework and create the behaviours you want, it’s necessary to use a broad range of internal communication tactics, with particular attention paid to reaching the remote audience. You can even deliver some of these through the Office 365 platform itself, using it for both awareness and education. For example:
Remember that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Engage your IT team as early as possible to equip you with usage metrics and audit reporting so you can keep tabs on engagement and tweak your internal campaign in an agile way. Metrics will also help you keep up with what users are doing and can even be used to demonstrate progress, building momentum and enthusiasm along the way.