Extend the Capabilities of Remote Work Across Your Organization
by Sarah Coxwell & Meghan Tooley

Extend the Capabilities of Remote Work Across Your Organization

How Microsoft Teams is helping companies operate with a sense of normalcy

We are living in unprecedented times. The wide-spread of COVID-19 is affecting individuals and families across the world in heartbreaking ways and having a serious impact on how businesses operate. One of the largest changes being that more and more companies are asking their employees to work from home to help flatten the curve. Remote work has been on the rise for years- a benefit that employees were seeking to provide flexibility in their schedules and to accommodate their family life. With COVID-19, it is now a necessity. As companies across the world scramble to continue operating remotely, online collaboration has never been more important.  Since there isn’t an opportunity to get in personal face time, staying connected with your teams and clients plays a huge part in keeping project timelines intact.

Microsoft has been instrumental in keeping companies operating smoothly and with some sense of normalcy. If your organization uses Office 365, you might already be aware of Teams, which is their messaging and video conferencing app. With everything going on in the world today, Microsoft saw a 500% increase in Teams meetings and conferences- and a 200% increase in Teams usage on mobile in China since January 31st.

With the United States now having 186,101 reported cases COVID-19 and with several states issuing “shelter in place” order, we should expect to see similar spikes in Teams usage in the U.S.  Here at Affirma, we use Teams across our business every day, but it has become even more useful as we are all stuck at home, and we are finding new ways to use its functionality.

Whether you are familiar with Teams, are a brand-new user, or are thinking of implementing it for your employees to use during this time, we think you’ll find these tips useful.

Microsoft Teams Dashboard

Real Time Communication

One of the more obvious features of Microsoft Teams is the easy to use real time communication for employees.  Now that you are no longer in office, you can’t run down the hall to chat with a coworker on your project, or to get a quick answer from them on something urgent.  Rather than sending an email- which can easily get forgotten, ignored, or the response can take too long- Teams allows you to see who is online/available and send them an instant message to get a quick response back. Another reason response is quicker is because of their mobile app. If your teams choose to make themselves available on mobile, you can get your most pressing questions answered no matter wherever they are (which, let’s be honest, is still in their house).

Teams calling and videos are also imperative during this time. Important details get lost in email exchanges and a lack of communication can cause chaos when it comes to your deliverables, processes, projects, and deadlines. With Teams, you can quickly call someone from your computer or mobile device to ensure everyone is on the same page.  With the stay-at-home orders in our state, we highly recommend utilizing Team’s video conferences as much as possible. While we should all be practicing social distancing, we still need to find ways to connect. We find that seeing our teams faces helps encourage more human connection- something we have been missing for some time.

 

Utilizing Microsoft Office Suite Via Teams

In-person meeting obviously have some advantages including sharing notes, files, or projecting projects on the screen for everyone to see. However, Teams has some added functionality that allows you to get these same benefits virtually. For one, you can schedule meetings with people both in and outside of your company, making it easy to connect with partners, clients, and vendors.

Teams also comes with full integration of all Microsoft programs such as Word, OneNote, Excel, and PowerPoint, allowing you to simultaneously collaborate with those involved in your meeting. As you would in person, ask someone to oversee taking notes and outlining “next steps” to keep everyone on the same page and provide some clarity. You can then share the live document in the teams meeting, where everyone can continue to access it after the meeting is over.

Another convenient functionality of Teams is the ability to screenshare. This is essential if you were planning to present something, train someone, or just want to show your team what you are working on. Rather than simply talking about your project, you can walk them through it just as you would if you were all together in a room.

Apps for Collaboration

Showing where to locate apps in Teams

 

Brainstorming sessions with your teams are vital and can lead to creative new ideas and initiatives. One of the most useful tools for our brainstorming sessions are whiteboards. White boarding lets people get creative, map out their ideas, and can easily be changed as everyone provides their input. We were thrilled to realize that Teams offers a virtual whiteboard to use in video calls. With the virtual whiteboard, everyone has control and can add/erase things as you go and gives your team a way to work together in almost the exact same way as you would in a conference room. To locate the whiteboard app when in a meeting click on the “share” icon, then on the right hand side click on the whiteboard app icon. It will pop up on every person’s screen in the meeting and everyone will have access to use.

Trello, a project management app, is another useful app that integrates within Teams- especially as you try to maintain consistency and accountability from your team. Once integrated, you’ll be able to see what everyone is working on to get a better sense of where your team is at on projects. You can then create a specific thread to discuss each project, allowing you to stay organized and ensure you hit your goals.

A few other popular app integrations you might find useful:

  • Adobe Creative Suite
  • YouTube
  • Meural
  • Polly
  • Evernote

 

Using Teams to Help Boost Morale

One of the best parts about coming into an office every day are all the little things that create your company culture- going to lunches with your team, catching up on recent tv shows or podcasts with people as you grab your morning cup of coffee, and participating in company-wide events are just a few examples of how companies try to make their employees excited to come to work. Now that we don’t have access to this, people are feeling it. But now is the time to engage your employees and find little ways to bring that company culture to life.

One thing we have done is utilized Teams to create our own virtual water cooler for all our global offices to connect.  Within the page, we’ve created different channels for various interests- one channel people share their pets, another they can share recipes and cooking tips, and another that is more general (think: sports, tv, movies, music). By giving your employees a place to share photos, videos, tips, and tricks with other people, you are giving them a place to reconnect and a chance for more connection and community.

Another thing you can do is create competitions within teams. For example, Affirma is big on food, and we know our employees are missing out Costco stocked kitchen and our weekly catered lunches. We decided to do a competition for whichever team has the most virtual happy hours, lunches, or coffee hangouts using Teams video calls wins an UberEats gift card. This helps motivate our teams to still connect over food and drinks, even if it’s virtually.

 

The spread of COVID-19 is devastating and has taken its toll on so many people and organizations. While it may not be possible for every company to implement work from home standards, we applaud those that can and are doing their part to help fight this pandemic.

Microsoft Teams has made it easier on us as an organization to ensure our employees are able to continue to collaborate and communicated among each other and establish some fun ways to recreate a sense of company culture, even if it is just virtual. Our biggest concern right now is making sure our employees stay healthy and have the tools they need to continue providing excellent customer service. If you have any questions about Teams implementation or just want some advice, contact us. We are here to help your company and your people through this difficult time however we can.

 

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