Managing end users in the forever-changing Microsoft 365 workspace is crucial for a seamless and productive work environment. But we get it; there are many challenges, so we’ve invited Microsoft MVP and Modern Workplace Consultant at InSpark, Jasper Oosterveld, to share his top 5 tips for end-user success in Microsoft 365.
Before 2020, some organizations were getting ready for the hybrid workplace, but others were still working fully on-prem and many employees 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 its game and released one feature after another to support hybrid working. Teams became the number one productivity service in Microsoft 365. We became masters of our online meetings and collaborated with colleagues and guests.
In this article, I’ll dive into the challenges of managing a Microsoft 365 hybrid environment and my top 5 tips for maintaining a balance between security and productivity while promoting effective communication and positive work culture.
Table of contents
- Hybrid working is here to stay, but how can IT manage all the security concerns?
- 1. Secure your Microsoft 365 remote work infrastructure
- 2. Look at deploying Microsoft 365 as a way to improve employee engagement
- 3. Foster employee engagement and culture in a hybrid environment
- 4. Establish a rock-solid Microsoft 365 governance strategy
- 5. Utilize smart monitoring and analytics with Microsoft and third-party solutions
- Collaboration is key
Hybrid working is here to stay, but how can IT manage all the security concerns?
Now we feel more settled in our new work environments, is it time to sit back? Not really, no. You are now facing substantial challenges to facilitate and run a successful hybrid or fully 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 about how they want to work and trying to find ways to facilitate that.
Not only does keeping your ear to the ground lead to greater productivity, but it also 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 end users about new and updated features, creating and following a governance strategy, and ensuring security compliance require time, energy, and specific skills.
Let’s discuss these challenges, and I’ll offer some ideas to help IT leaders face them head-on.
1. Secure your Microsoft 365 remote work infrastructure
Microsoft 365 contains your business-critical information. Accessing and collaborating with this information should be done in a secure and compliant way. 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.
Ensuring a productive remote work environment without compromising security
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. Watch this:
Common security challenges of hybrid working
Mobile device management
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 remotely from home with all the capabilities normally provided to workers, within the borders of the office.
External access and reviews
Instead of blocking external access and sharing, try implementing 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. You won’t say no to that.
Still worried about unauthorized access and the sharing of sensitive information? Implement Microsoft Purview Information Protection and use sensitivity labels, which allow 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!
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 the 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.
Leverage open communication with your end users
The key to success, within security and compliance is not only the technology. You must 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 office. Build trust with an end-user communication framework built for remote teams.
2. Look at deploying Microsoft 365 as a way to improve employee engagement
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.
Good change management means improved team collaboration
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.
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.
Keeping up with Microsoft 365 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 the management and implementation of these updated products easier.
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.
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. That’s a win-win!
Successful hybrid work happens when you work collaboratively and communicate often
The key element within this entire process is communicating with your colleagues. Listen to them, and ask follow-up questions. Truly understand their needs and requirements.
You build a bond and a working 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.
3. Foster employee engagement and culture in a hybrid environment
Maintaining a positive company culture using Microsoft tools
Maintaining positive culture is a team effort that concerns business leaders and employees alike. But did you know you can utilize Microsoft 365 tools to help achieve this while improving end-user management?
With communication being key to establishing culture, consider adopting Teams for regular check-ins and company-wide announcements; it’s simple and collaborative. It’s a unified platform that champions teamwork (the clue’s in the name), from instant messaging to file sharing, and can help to streamline workflows. More importantly, it enables hybrid employees and on-site employees to build valuable social connections within your organization: more on that in a second!
Yes. Gone are the days of heavy corporate emails vanishing into the abyss of employees’ inboxes. Let recipients react to company-wide good news with love hearts, shocked faces, and quick, direct replies.
Okay, social connections: one of the challenges of hybrid work is creating a space for the entire workforce to connect on a personal level.
Consider free channels on Teams promoting open topics such as ‘music’ or ‘cats’ for employees to connect and engage on subjects of interest with those not working on site together. If your organization allows for it, try promoting such activities to make them part of hybrid employees’ work-life balance, as free spaces can help boost personal connections, communication, and even mental well-being.
A company can ensure transparency and also improve communication by centralizing information.
Take SharePoint communication sites; easy-to-find, centralized sites with valuable, dedicated content, that improve end-user management and satisfaction by keeping everyone on the same page.
Company culture should always promote transparency through effective communication with reliable, resourceful, up-to-date information that minimizes confusion and maximizes end-user productivity.
Success stories, for example, can help document how an employee’s work can impact customers’ lives, so these should be easily discoverable among your end users. By creating a centralized SharePoint communication site for success stories and accomplishments, end users can quickly access crucial information that will impact morale positively.
Teams and SharePoint enable collaboration and communication, building the foundation of your workplace culture. By utilizing these platforms, end users engage with Microsoft 365 and see the real-world benefits in action, making it easier to understand and integrate these tools into their workflow while impacting culture positively.
Encouraging employee engagement with virtual events and recognition programs
We can all agree that employee engagement is essential to defining company culture. It creates a sense of belonging, accountability, and satisfaction, which drives organizational success. So, how can we wield Microsoft tools to help boost hybrid employee engagement?
Let’s start by throwing a company-wide net.
Hosting virtual town halls and webinars through Microsoft Teams live events—essentially a supercharged Teams meeting—allows you to host large online talks and presentations and potentially reach thousands of participants. Whether working in a physical space on-site or working remotely, with hybrid meetings, workers can ask questions like they’re in the same room and even express their feelings with emojis. It’s a simple yet effective way to stay connected and ensure everyone in your organization knows what’s happening—one of the many challenges of hybrid working.
Let’s bring it down to an individual level of engagement. Someone once said that a person’s own name is the sweetest sound they can hear (bonus points if you can tell me who that person was, in the comments below). Personal recognition encourages, boosts confidence impacting morale, and acknowledges a job well done that deserves a big shiny sticker.
Microsoft Teams praise badges are an easy way to give virtual recognition and appreciation to a deserving employee; they shouldn’t replace physical rewards, but at least it’s not pizza! Again, it’s a fun and cheerful way to maintain a positive working environment, includes hybrid team members, and contribute to the culture. Company-wide high five!
Consider establishing a committee to promote open discussion and to get the most out of the decision-making process on how to incorporate the above best practices. The objective is to boost employee interaction within your organization, and the tools offered by Microsoft 365.
Leveraging Microsoft Teams for team-building activities
There are many ways to engage with your hybrid team members and boost enthusiasm and team spirit. Don’t worry; I won’t suggest trusting your team members to catch you while you fall backward!
Teams is an excellent platform for hosting events like educational workshops and tutorials. And remember, we want to develop an engaging virtual environment encouraging employee participation in hybrid work models, so it doesn’t have to be formal communication exclusively: consider virtual team social gatherings like lunches, after-work happy hours, and birthday celebrations. These activities help establish personal connections outside of the workplace and positively influence the mental health and well-being of remote workers.
For collaborative needs, we can also utilize breakout rooms to serve teams’ needs to solve problems, brainstorm, and digitally cooperate with Teams’ shared whiteboards. Shared whiteboards enable real-time collaboration as if hybrid workers were in the same physical office space, together. Take advantage of this feature by integrating it across other Microsoft 365 applications, such as OneNote and SharePoint, for seamless integration.
4. Establish a rock-solid Microsoft 365 governance strategy
Microsoft 365 is an extensive platform with a multitude of tools and services. These support your organization in facilitating your for in person work or working remotely. But you need to set up guardrails for how they should be used. You need a governance strategy.
Why do you need a governance strategy?
A governance strategy establishes how Microsoft 365 is implemented within your organization on a procedural and technical level. 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 adequate external sharing policies. The increased workload will remove your IT team’s focus from other, more valuable areas.
Although we all agree this is a scenario we want to avoid, many organizations struggle with the realization of a 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 try to retroactively put them in place after end users had 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. Still, 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.
A self-serve organization also needs a strong Microsoft 365 governance strategy to ensure a seamless and secure structure.
Enhance your hybrid work environment with a good governance plan
Okay. So, most of us have probably experienced a poorly implemented governance plan, or even a non-existent one, so let’s take a minute to recap how a well-defined governance plan can enhance hybrid working while dealing with common challenges such as security and poor communication.
And if you really need a deep dive into creating, implementing, and monitoring a good governance plan, check out this free course (certificate included) on Microsoft 365 governance—it’s good stuff!
Streamlined processes and guidelines
A well-defined governance strategy for Microsoft 365 can help your team stay on the same page and work more efficiently. With clear guidelines and procedures, everyone can feel confident using the tools and services available on the platform, even in a hybrid work environment. Add clarity. Minus confusion. Equals a happy IT team!
Enhanced security and compliance
By executing a Microsoft 365 governance strategy, organizations can keep their workplace secure and compliant (and by “organizations,” I mean you). Managing access controls, data protection policies, and monitoring user activities help reduce some of our biggest challenges, like data breaches. This is especially important in hybrid work situations, where remote work can make security more challenging.
Improved collaboration and communication
A solid governance strategy for Microsoft 365 can boost teamwork and communication by establishing guidelines for using helpful tools such as Teams and SharePoint, the dynamic duo I touched on earlier. These practices allow colleagues to collaborate more efficiently, regardless of physical location (subject to Wi-Fi strength), with essential information flowing smoothly throughout the organization, eliminating poor communication.
5. Utilize smart monitoring and analytics with Microsoft and third-party solutions
Last but definitely not least is smart monitoring and analytics and their crucial role in enhancing the hybrid work experience. Remember: data is your best friend when it comes to proposing changes!
Using monitoring and analytics tools to optimize the hybrid work experience
Microsoft analytical solutions offer organizations valuable insights into their digital ecosystem, including usage reports on Teams, SharePoint, and other tools. However, organizations can significantly enhance their monitoring capabilities by adding third-party analytical solutions into the mix.
ShareGate, the number one Microsoft 365 sidekick, boasts powerful pre-built and custom centralized reports that pinpoint issues and facilitate direct action without jumping from one Microsoft 365 admin center to the next.
By employing various tools, an IT department can continuously fine-tune its hybrid environment across multiple levels for maximum end-user efficiency and success—in other words, making that investment count.
Okay, so what can they do?
Gaining insights into end-user behavior and performance
Generally speaking, Microsoft 365 usage reports help you and your team monitor how employees use Microsoft 365 services and any potential issues they may face, giving you a clear idea of which are frequently used and which need more attention. Most data can be filtered to generate results for the past 7, 30, 90, or 180 days.
For Microsoft analytics, try using usage and activity SharePoint reports, allowing your IT admins to quickly answer questions about how a SharePoint site is performing. This could include user interaction, storage, or search queries—a common request from site owners.
With OneDrive usage reports, you can provide an overview of how end-users interact and collaborate with files on OneDrive, such as how many files have been viewed and edited, shared internally and externally, and synced.
While Microsoft 365 usage reports are extensive, they can be overwhelming if you need help knowing where to look and how to act on them.
ShareGate has a distinct approach to analyzing Microsoft services such as Teams, SharePoint, and other Microsoft 365 tools. Its primary focus is improving these services’ efficiency and effectiveness—while ensuring the process is as simple as possible!
With ShareGate, your team can generate customized reports that provide valuable insights. You can choose from pre-built templates or customize them according to your needs. Reports and dashboards will also inform you of user activity and potential problems, allowing your team to take action and get back to more pressing matters!
Microsoft Power BI for data-driven decision-making
So, we’ve generated all that Microsoft data, but what do we do with it? Enter Power BI.
If you’re stressing out because I just said some words that you’ve never heard of, relax. You’re doing great so far, and I’m here to help!
Let’s explore a little how Microsoft Power BI can help get the most out of your data. Power BI is a mighty tool that enables you to understand and visualize data quickly and interactively from a huge collection of data sources.
Simply put, you feed it your numbers and information, and it turns them into colorful charts, graphs, and reports that are easy to understand.
It helps you see patterns, trends, and insights in your data, so you can make better decisions and understand what’s happening in your business or organization.
You can make interactive dashboards that let you see and analyze metrics, like how people work and collaborate. Power BI’s advanced features help you dig deeper into the data, giving detailed insights and even forecasting future trends.
And if Teams and SharePoint are your go-to tools, you’re in for a treat.
ShareGate reports provide targeted analytics and insights specifically for Teams and SharePoint. These game-changing reports can revolutionize your team’s operations by automating a process that would otherwise take up valuable time.
ShareGate keeps an eye on your Teams and SharePoint environments and then sends all the usage and access data to easy-to-read dashboards or reports that can be scheduled to run automatically at a time that works best for you. This way, you’ll always be up-to-date and in the know.
Collaboration is key
The hybrid workplace became a reality for remote workers and organizations due to COVID-19—it was inevitable. We now live in a world where remote working and the hybrid model of working are no longer new solutions to new problems: they’re here to stay.
This has made the role of IT even more crucial as workplace culture and employee experience are no longer solely defined by physical office spaces and perks like snacks and parties. With digital spaces and online collaboration becoming the norm, IT is under more pressure than ever to ensure a smooth and positive employee experience.
My challenge to you is implementing as much of the above as possible within your organization and hybrid work model, from security to employee engagement to communication and culture. It’s there to help your end users get the most out of our new reality.
TLDR: The formula for success starts with a trusting relationship between IT and end users. Listen to each other and keep communicating.
Looking for more helpful how-tos on end-user performance? Go, you! Grab yourself a hot drink to recharge, and then get back to it with this super helpful guide to boost end-user productivity!
About the author
Jasper Oosterveld is a Microsoft MVP and Modern Workplace Consultant at InSpark in the Netherlands. With great passion, he inspires and helps you implement the Modern Workplace with Microsoft 365. Jasper is a specialist in compliance, governance, and adoption within Microsoft Teams & SharePoint. Interested in learning from him? He loves to share his expertise and love for Microsoft products!