Communicating with end users is critical to adoption, especially with hybrid work. Here are some examples of how to do it through the channels available in Microsoft 365.
Everybody’s talking about hybrid work. The COVID pandemic made it commonplace, and employees everywhere have fallen in love with the flexibility of opting between working from home and going to the office. It also resulted in a rise in productivity, which made organizations seek out the best hybrid model for them.
IT has a central role in making a hybrid workplace more efficient. IT admins must ensure employees adopt their tools and use them the right way, and this is where having clear communication objectives for your target audience can make a huge difference.
In this framework, we’ll present a communication strategy to drive Microsoft 365 adoption in hybrid workplaces. This framework will provide IT admins with a comprehensive tool to help end users make the most of Microsoft 365 and generate results for the organization.
Table of contents
Understanding the Microsoft hybrid workplace
What is a hybrid workplace?
Simply put, a hybrid workplace allows employees to work both remotely and in the office. For hybrid workplaces, it’s crucial to build cloud platforms that help employees collaborate regardless of where they are. Microsoft 365 and its suite of tools and services is a great platform for hybrid workplaces.
Included in Microsoft 365 are SharePoint, Microsoft Teams, OneDrive, and many other collaboration tools that end users can access from anywhere with agility, flexibility, and security.
After staying 100 percent remote during the lockdown, many companies realized employees enjoyed the flexibility and the work-life balance provided by working from home. So, to keep everyone satisfied and productive, they decide to move into a hybrid workplace model, leveraging the Microsoft 365 tenant they relied on while working fully remote.
Common challenges IT admins face in a hybrid workplace
The nature of hybrid work, with its cloud-based apps and remote employees, presents IT admins with recurrent challenges in managing environments. We’ll talk about 4 of them, and for more details, you can read our article about the pros and cons of enabling self-service.
Data and security breaches
One of the key elements of hybrid work is security since cloud-based environments are at constant risk of data leaks and cyber-attacks. That’s why IT must put a strategy in place that secures data continuously, with constant reviews and updates while keeping users productive.
This is even more crucial with self-service because while self-service promotes end-user autonomy and adoption, it can also bring along increased security risks if end users can organize their own teams, invite visitors, and share information without guardrails in place.
Data management control
As we’ve just seen, self-service without control is too risky. But, when IT severely limits what end users can do, it often leads to employees lacking autonomy and losing motivation or resorting to shadow IT, which also risks your data security.
That’s why you need customizable provisioning templates, so end users can create spaces in Microsoft 365 from templates provided by IT, with previously established guidelines that will future-proof the tenant. This way, you’ll have the perfect balance between self-service autonomy and IT control.
IT should also explore automation for better data management control. End users having more autonomy through self-service can lead to sprawl and clutter in their Microsoft 365 environments, and since cleaning it up manually can be impossibly time-consuming, automating governance is definitely your best option (especially with ShareGate and its automated features).
Ensuring end users adopt their tools requires true intelligence work by IT. One of the most efficient methods of tracking usage is running reports and cross-referencing them to detect trends and understand why people might not be resorting to the tools made available to them.
While there are plenty of usage reports available on Microsoft 365, running and acting on them efficiently will depend on having reporting on your side. That’s why a solution such as ShareGate comes in handy: its customizable and actionable reports are a great help for tracking usage and maximizing Microsoft 365 adoption.
Training and support
Even for tech-savvy end users, Microsoft’s tools aren’t always the most intuitive. So it’s important to make sure that all employees understand how to use the tools you’re providing them with. Even more important? They should understand the value of using Microsoft’s tools.
That’s why training and support are essential to Microsoft 365 adoption, even more so when your company decides to enable self-service. Otherwise, IT teams will find themselves up to their necks in tickets, keeping them from using their talents to work on projects that add value to the business.
ShareGate’s partner and Microsoft MVP Marc D. Anderson summed it up perfectly in a recent interview he gave us:
Key tools and components used in the hybrid workplace
Here are the main tools end users will find in Microsoft 365. All of them are available in the Microsoft 365 Business Basic Plan:
There are 5 key measures IT admins can take in their tenants to help end users work in Microsoft 365 without risking your organization’s security:
- Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) so that only authorized users can access your environment.
- Configure Azure Active Directory (AD) Identity Protection to monitor and detect potential security threats like suspicious login attempts.
- Use Azure Information Protection (AIP) to classify, label, and protect sensitive data.
- Update software and devices with the latest security patches and updates.
- Use Microsoft Defender for Cloud Apps to monitor and control access to apps and services.
The communication strategy framework for IT admins
Communication is one of the key components in maximizing Microsoft 365 adoption. It’s about IT building a process that provides end users with all information needed to do their work efficiently.
The effectiveness of this initiative will be measured not only by overall adoption but also by increased productivity, smaller ticket queues, and end-user satisfaction, among other things.
In this section, we’ll see who your target audiences are, how to communicate with them, and in what channels your communication efforts will take place.
Communication plan for each stakeholder
This communication strategy framework is a starting point for IT admins to improve adoption and decrease shadow IT while boosting collaboration and productivity. First, let’s see who the target audiences for your communication strategy framework are—the stakeholders.
- End users—They’re your most important target audience. They’re the ones who’ll use Microsoft 365 on a daily basis. The focus here is to give them a good idea of how to use the tools in their daily work and focus on how their lives will get better and easier with these tools.
- Key users—These are the more experienced, knowledgeable users in their teams. As Microsoft MVP Emily Mancini says, these “Microsoft 365 champions” are into sharing their knowledge to drive engagement. So, let them know they’re a major force for adoption and enlist them to help others. Also, don’t forget to acknowledge their efforts:
- Managers—These are the ones who’ll most likely communicate about Microsoft 365 adoption with end users. When you talk to managers, specify how the tools impact their team’s work and anticipate what users will regularly need and ask.
- Executives—The ultimate enablers, they must be “sold” on Microsoft 365. In your communication with them, list any potential mid- and long-term business results.
How to use the various communication channels in Microsoft 365
Now let’s see the main communication channels you’ll be using with stakeholders and how each one fits your communication objectives.
- SharePoint communication sites—They are ideal for large organizations with various departments. There you can host your Microsoft 365 knowledge database, with how-tos, FAQs, tips, and useful links, and raise relevant topics with news posts.
In these cases, you’ll typically communicate in a more formal, neutral tone. Think of communication sites either as news websites or user guides, where straightforwardness is always preferred.
- Teams—Along with hybrid and remote work came the virtual meetings which everyone’s already used to. For that purpose, Teams’ video conferencing is perfect for communicating with remote users (think of company-wide town halls to announce big changes) and doing training sessions.
What’s more, Teams’ interactive features are great for live support. Tip: consider creating a team for key users to support each other and share tips about helping other users.
- Yammer/Viva Engage—Viva Engage (known as Yammer until early 2023) is Microsoft 365’s “social” tool. It works similarly to social platforms such as Facebook, allowing users to interact and ask questions in communities. This makes Viva Engage the perfect channel to notify people of updates, upcoming training sessions, and news about the tools they use. And like other social media, it has a more informal, emoji-friendly tone.
- Outlook—It might sound outdated, but you should consider including Outlook in your communication strategy. Not only are people connected to their Outlook accounts all day, but some of them are less eager to adopt new platforms and might stick to “old” tools like Outlook. So resorting to it helps include all kinds of end users.
You can use Outlook to communicate smaller changes that shouldn’t generate that many questions, so you avoid receiving tons of email replies asking the same questions.
You can also use it when you’re announcing bigger changes and include links to the more comprehensive, interactive communication sites, teams, and communities to make sure you’re still including those end users that prefer Outlook.
Ongoing training and support for end-users
As we already mentioned, training and support are some of the biggest challenges in a hybrid workplace and a key aspect of Microsoft 365 adoption. Without it, your communication efforts will be incomplete, and adoption will be affected.
The main message here is: be available. Get in touch with end users in your channels, answering their questions and receiving feedback. Also, build a strong support community—and make sure to engage Microsoft 365 champions in it, since end users can easily rely on them to solve their issues.
Measuring success with performance metrics
Once you use this framework to build your Microsoft 365 communication strategies, you’ll need to measure success efficiently. And to make it happen, you can’t escape automation.
Through automated reporting, you’ll be able to easily monitor data sprawl and inactive teams, oversee external sharing and guest access, and put your governance plan in place. Solutions such as ShareGate provide you with custom, actionable automated reports, no scripts needed, so you can act on any issues the minute you spot them and mitigate security risks in your tenant.
And because communication is a two-way street, another key performance metric is end-user satisfaction. Before you roll out your new communication strategy, send out an end-user survey to get baseline data. Ask questions about what tools employees use (both authorized and unauthorized), how frequently they use them, and their level of satisfaction with them. And take the opportunity to ask for suggestions or concerns.
Then, a few months after you’ve launched your communication strategy, send out the same survey to compare results.
How can you improve employee productivity?
Here’s where you close the loop of your efforts to drive Microsoft 365 adoption. The insights you get from reports will make clear what needs to be done in your environments, and your communication plan will be improved accordingly. This is a dynamic process: it never stops!
Best practices for better communication between IT and end users
You want to tell your target audiences the right thing, the right way. Here are some tips on how to do it in your communication objectives.
Building a clear and consistent messaging
- Know your target audiences—Each stakeholder we mentioned responds better to one type of messaging. So, adapt your tone, voice, and jargon according to who you talk to.
- Be approachable—Be clear and friendly, and don’t get too “techy.” Don’t think you have effective communication skills? Ask others for help, like the HR or communications department.
- Build a knowledge database—This is the “Bible” end users will refer to any time they’re in doubt. Explore SharePoint to create meaningful sites and resources for everyone.
- Keep people in the loop—Always inform end users of updates that impact their work—for example, if some Microsoft tool is being retired or if provisioning templates will change.
Steps for successful implementation
- Assess the state of things—Do you have a communication plan already in place? What communication channels are you using, and which ones are you ignoring? Evaluate how things are going and adjust them to your needs.
- Engage consistently—End users are your main audience, but don’t forget other stakeholders, such as business leaders. You must all be aligned in terms of needs, goals, and risk aversion.
Tips for overcoming common challenges
- Foster a communication culture—Don’t just wait for end users to come with their questions. Encourage them to reach out for support and provide their feedback.
- Always improve—Look at usage data and study your analytics to adjust and improve your framework. Make this the starting point of your long-term communication success.
- Seek automation—Wasting time with manual tasks is a surefire way to let the more strategic and valuable work fall by the wayside. When and where it’s possible, automate your repetitive tasks and processes.
Oxford Instruments: a success story about end-user communication
Now, let’s see a success story that helps illustrate our points about communicating with end-users. Oxford Instruments—a provider of high-technology products and services to industrial companies and scientific research communities—had no visibility across their sites and teams and couldn’t keep track of permissions and unused teams in a sustainable way.
The solution was found in ShareGate, which provided them with centralized visibility, a decluttered environment, and automated prompts that help team owners take action on issues like team inactivity and review potential risks such as guest access and external sharing. According to Astrid Gibbon, Oxford Instrument’s Communication Systems Manager, ShareGate has been critical for her to communicate with end users—and they like it too.
“I haven’t had any ‘why on earth are you watching me?’ It’s been more like, ‘oh great, thanks for reminding me’ and ‘this is the best thing ever because we should definitely be looking at this.’”Astrid Gibbon, Communication Systems Manager, Oxford Instrument
By seeking automation, Oxford Instruments was able to establish consistent engagement and nurture a communication culture that brings actual results: after adopting ShareGate, they regained control of their environments and improved productivity for IT and end users alike.
More adoption, more satisfaction, fewer tickets
We can’t stress this enough: effective communication is absolutely critical for IT teams who want to drive adoption in their Microsoft 365 tenants. If end users don’t know how to use their tools, they won’t collaborate or stay productive, and you’ll start seeing those tickets piling up.
We hope this end-user communication framework helps you to:
- Reduce shadow IT
- Boost adoption
- Increase collaboration
- Decrease sprawl
- Raise end-user satisfaction
- Reduce ticket queues
- Improve overall productivity
Now, before you go, you might want to check our free Microsoft 365 maturity assessment tool. It consists of a series of questions that help you figure out your maturity level when it comes to Microsoft 365 security, governance, adoption, shadow IT, and sprawl.
It only takes 10 to 15 minutes of your time to complete, and in return, we’ll provide you with personalized improvement tips based on your results to take your Microsoft 365 environment to the next level. Check it out!