Head into the new year ready to tackle the top challenges IT leaders are dealing with. Microsoft MVP and Modern Workplace Consultant at InSpark Jasper Oosterveld shares his advice for succeeding in Microsoft 365.
Before 2020, some organizations were getting ready for the hybrid workplace, but others were still working fully on-prem and felt like they were spun for a loop when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and caused a definite switch in the way most of us work.
All eyes, as usual, were on IT.
Fortunately, Microsoft stepped up their game and released one feature after another to support the hybrid workplace. Microsoft Teams became the number one productivity service in Microsoft 365. We became masters of our online meetings and collaborated with colleagues and guests.
Now we’re feeling more settled in our new work environments, so is it time to sit back? Not really. You are now facing substantial challenges to facilitate and run a successful hybrid or remote workplace in 2023 and beyond.
End users have more freedom than ever in Microsoft 365, especially with Microsoft’s push to encourage self-service. In the past, IT often chose what tools end users could work with, where, and how. Now, IT is (or should be) listening to end users to discover how they want to work and trying to find ways to facilitate that.
Not only does that lead to greater productivity, it helps to avoid issues like shadow IT.
It all sounds wonderful—IT and end users working together—but it’s easier said than done. We know that encouraging adoption, educating about new and updated features, creating and following a governance strategy, and ensuring security compliance all require time, energy, and specific skills.
We’ll discuss these challenges and offer some ideas to help IT leaders face them head-on.
Table of contents
1. Microsoft 365 adoption and change management
IT leaders know why moving to the cloud is so important, but end users aren’t always as excited about changing how they do their work, especially if they don’t know why they’re being forced to make those changes. And this can have a detrimental impact on Microsoft 365 adoption.
After interviewing 30 senior technology executives, McKinsey compiled data regarding organizations’ ambitions to move their business to the cloud. One of their findings was that “there has been a gap between aspiration and execution in cloud adoption.”
Instead of trying to force these changes on end users, IT should offer support to end users and help them get on board.
Technology should make end users’ work lives easier and more efficient. They need to embrace Microsoft 365 and naturally move into a new way of working.
Together with your communication and HR colleagues, you need to define a change management strategy for Microsoft 365 to increase the level of adoption.
Before we continue, it is important to understand what change management is. Change management is the discipline that guides how we prepare, equip and support individuals to successfully adopt change in order to drive organizational success and outcomes.
Why is this important? Because when employees affected by the change do not support it and are not involved in it, you can’t achieve your goal of successfully implementing Microsoft 365.
The key element within this entire process is communicating with your colleagues. Listen to them, ask follow-up questions. Truly understand their needs and requirements.
You build a bond and a work relationship on trust and understanding. This will result in your colleagues embracing change and when successful, you can implement new Microsoft 365 features more quickly and efficiently.
This will also help you move faster as an organization. Using Microsoft 365 helps you to become more agile, innovative, and productive, which organizations need to survive in our fast-paced world.
2. Keeping up with Microsoft 365 features and updates
Do you remember the on-premises years? We do. Every three years Microsoft released a new version of its products, for example, SharePoint Server 2010 or Office 2013. This meant you had time to prepare everyone before making the switch and you had three years to get used to the new version of the product—six if you chose to skip an update! This made management and implementation of these updated products easier.
More recently, the world around us stepped into overdrive. The constant updates to smartphones, tablets, and high-speed Internet changed our lives forever. This created an impact on the way we expected our tech to evolve and how we wanted to work.
People were able to communicate anywhere, anytime, on any device. Cloud services, such as Box.com and Slack, were embraced by people all over the world. Microsoft changed its philosophy—they had to in order to survive—and embraced the cloud. There was no going back.
Now, Microsoft 365 is continuously updating its features or releasing new ones. These updates aim to increase productivity, stimulate innovation, and make the lives of your colleagues easier.
But knowing how and when to use them is easier said than done. You need to find a way to integrate all these updates into your organization’s culture and processes. Eventually, your entire organization receives and sees these updates. This could lead to questions for your support desk, irritation, and misunderstanding with your colleagues.
You need to be able to communicate with end users, educate them, and help them understand why these new features and updates are important and what the benefits are.
One way of facilitating this process is through building a committee among IT and end users. The main responsibility of the committee consists of trying new features and updates and communicating the impact within the organization. When successful, this reduces the questions for your support desk and results in happy and productive end users.
3. Establishing a Microsoft 365 governance strategy
Microsoft 365 is an extensive platform with a multitude of tools and services. These support your organization in facilitating your hybrid or remote workplace. But you need to set up guardrails for how they should be used. You need a governance strategy.
A governance strategy establishes on a procedural and technical level, how Microsoft 365 is implemented within your organization. In our experience, this is how you set yourself up for long-term success.
The absence of a governance strategy results in an increased workload for your IT team. They are faced with an explosion of teams without a clear naming convention, without owners, and without adequate external sharing policies. The increased workload will take your IT team’s focus away from other, more valuable areas.
Although we all agree this is a scenario we want to avoid, many organizations struggle with the realization of governance strategy. Especially those organizations that moved to the cloud faster than they’d originally planned during the COVID-19 pandemic. They didn’t have a chance to build or roll out their governance strategies and trying to retroactively put them in place after end users have already established workflows and created a bunch of test teams just to see how it works.
If you’re in that situation, we get it. Implementing a governance strategy now can be difficult, but it’s not impossible, and it’s definitely worth it to free up the valuable time of yourself and your IT staff from endless end-user tickets.
And thankfully, you don’t need to do it alone. Connect your Microsoft 365 administrator with an information manager, security officer, communications employee, and HR employee to help devise the right governance strategy for your organization. Then find an experienced local Microsoft partner, and within one month, you can have a governance strategy ready to be implemented.
Of course, you can always use ShareGate to get guidance on Microsoft 365 best practices, automate compliance, and use custom and built-in reports to better understand your environment.
4. Microsoft 365 security and compliance
Microsoft 365 contains your business-critical information. Accessing and collaborating with this information should be done in a way that’s secure and compliant. But that doesn’t mean that that information should be completely locked down. Your end users still need to be able to do their work.
IT leaders need to find the balance between ensuring security and facilitating productivity. During an expert roundtable ShareGate hosted with Microsoft MVPs Maarten Eekels, Marc D. Anderson, and myself on the evolution of IT, Marc summed it up perfectly: “IT should put up guardrails, not take away the steering wheel.”
Provide your colleagues with managed devices (provided by MDM or MAM), combined with MFA and Conditional Access. Allowing them, within the security boundaries of your organization, to work from home with all the capabilities normally provided within the borders of the office.
Instead of blocking external access and sharing, implement a review process. Whereby you empower your colleagues in executing the reviews and making them responsible. This builds trust between your IT staff and colleagues, and takes some of the burden off IT.
Still worried about unauthorized access and the sharing of sensitive information? Implement Microsoft Purview Information Protection and use sensitivity labels, which allows your colleagues to classify—manually or automatically—sensitive information.
These labels can provide an extra layer of security with encryption. Once a sensitive piece of content is encrypted, you’ll have one less worry!
Still worried about a data leak? Time to enable Data Loss Prevention (DLP). DLP prevents the conscious or unconscious sharing of sensitive information.
Classifying sensitive information is one side of the coin. The other side is managing the end of lifecycle of certain content. Content needs to be preserved or deleted after a certain timeframe (days, months or even years). This is the area of Data Lifecycle Management within Microsoft Purview.
The key to success, within security and compliance, is not only the technology. You need to showcase the advantages and necessity of a secure and compliant Microsoft 365 environment to your end users.
Provide and show guarantees these won’t negatively impact their productivity. This process continues the bond of trust you are building. Allowing you, and your colleagues, to create and work towards a common goal: a secure and productive hybrid workplace.
Collaboration is key
Being an IT leader has never been easy. Everyone in the organization looks to you for guidance and support. That’s because of the crucial role IT plays within the organization.
IT binds an organization together.
Due to COVID-19, the hybrid workplace became a reality for organizations—faster than they had thought possible. To continue and survive in a changed world, this was inevitable.
To successfully continue this journey, you face certain challenges. The formula for success? A trusting relationship between IT and end users. Listen to each other and keep communicating. By doing so, 2023 will be a beautiful year.