Microsoft vs Covid-19: How tech is helping amidst the chaos

As we watch the rest of the world move to remote working, we are all preparing ourselves to hunker down into the isolation of our homes.  However, many organisations are just beginning their journey to the modern workplace and may face significant disruption to their business and financial wellbeing in the coming months.

As a Microsoft Partner, we wanted to share with you some useful resources available to you and your company right now, no matter where you are on your journey to the cloud.

  1. Crisis Communication App

First up, The Crisis Communication App is a single portal that equips companies in delivering all COVID-19 related communication to their users, as well as updates from reputable sources such as WHO or the CDC. Employees can report their work status (whether they are working from home or sick) or send requests for help. The app is built on PowerApps and is ready to be rolled out very quickly (within one day) to the whole workforce for no cost.

During this uncertain and challenging time, your workforce has an expectation that they will be well-informed and feel supported. The app provides:

  • A platform for companies to push out updates and communications, targeted by country or group
  • Offers a single source of truth for information
  •  A reference point for emergency contacts
  • A way to easily update your working from home status and out of office message

NB: Microsoft has temporarily changed the PowerApps licensing requirements for this app by classifying ‘push notifications’ as a standard connector not requiring premium licenses. 

  1. Free Microsoft Teams

“Teams is a pivotal part of the remote work experience, and Microsoft is committed to making Teams available to everyone,”

Gavriella Schuster, Microsoft Corporate Vice President

Microsoft has offered Microsoft Teams (Office 365 E1) free for 6 months as a response to a new working dynamic. Companies can get on board with Microsoft Teams rapidly to allow their remote employees to keep in touch by sending instant messages and making calls, sharing files and collaborating with their teams in a central, secure location. Since 31st of January, Microsoft has seen a 500% increase in Teams meetings as companies rush to adopt.

If you want to get started on Teams yourself sign in here with a work or school email address, or here with a Gmail or Outlook email. If you want to roll out Teams to your whole organisation, contact your Microsoft representative.

If Teams is completely new to your company, here are some free training resources available at Microsoft LearnRegionally delivered webinars and Role-specific learning paths

  1. Health Bot Service

The Health Bot Service is an AI-powered, compliant healthcare experience that can take requests, ask about symptoms and assist in getting people to trusted services and information. The specific COVID-19 template has built an up-to-date medical library based on CDC recommendations for concerns and care navigation. The service can integrate into channels such as Teams, Facebook, Webchat etc. The Health Bot Service is a great tool to organise request loads from the business and triage information requests.

For more information, click here.

  1. Focus Assist

Disclaimer – this is not a recent feature specific to COVID, but it’s more useful than ever with remote working. It’s difficult withholding a good work/life balance when we are literally working where we live. I envy those lucky few with a full office set up at home that can close the door on their laptop at 5 pm. But for some of us, it’s hard to not graze away on emails throughout the evening, jump on questions or feel a niggling sense of an unread notification.

Focus Assist is a handy feature that allows you to minimise or completely stop notifications. You can set up your hours of work and enjoy the tranquil relaxation of a noiseless phone after you have commuted from your dining table to the sofa.

We hope these resources are useful to you and take away (some of!) the stress of getting everyone working from home. We will remain online and will operate as usual throughout this challenging time. Stay safe out there everyone!

See here: for the full bank of Microsoft COVID 19 response resources.

Laura Williams – UX Designer – Engage Squared

Year of Yammer Down Under

When we heard that the global Yammer team was in town for the Ignite tour we jumped at the chance to get up close and personal with them and the new Yammer. We knew we wouldn’t be the only ones, so we organised two exclusive business user group events, in Melbourne and Sydney respectivly, to satisfy the Yammer die-hards (and those without Ignite tour tickets).  

The events kicked off with an animated demo of all the new features from Steven Nguyen the primo Yammer evangelist. The live video capture was a highlight, but he also covered some great advancements in community management features such as pinning conversations at the top of a group and stopping replies all together on controversial posts.

Jason Mayans, Yammer Program Manager, then continued to define the new simplified Yammer vision as well as some stories from his colourful 21-year tenure with Microsoft. We ended with an insightful audience Q&A and more importantly drinks and nibbles.

Main takeaways from the events

  • A clear vision for Yammer: It’s great to have a clear direction from the team for the future of Yammer, simply summed up with three pillars: Leadership engagement, knowledge and community. This helps to clarify and position Yammer as an ‘outer loop’ tool to enable broad, organisational conversations, in contrast with the ‘inner loop’ tools; helping to answer the common questions around when to use Yammer and when to use Teams.
  • KISS: The much-loved acronym for ‘Keep It Simple Silly’ sums up the new direction from the Yammer team – don’t over complicate things. Simplifying the design by reducing to only one feed, decluttering the layout and adding a splash of colour makes the new interface feel modern and relevant.

The best of the new with Yammer

  • Yammer from Outlook: Don’t just consume – respond directly from your email. Interactively reply to the Yammer post from within the email to ensure everyone has their say.
  • Live video mobile video capture: Natively film, edit and publish a video from within Yammer. And do it quickly. With supercharged rendering, your video will be ready before you know it
  • Community focus: Communities replace groups in the new Yammer, bringing with them some needed customisation options and clarity on their purpose.

What can you do to prepare?

  • Join the Yammer public preview program from here  
  • Get a sneak peek and ask a member of Engage Squared to give you a quick demo
  • Join the O365 BUG (Business user group) meetups in Melbourne & Sydney to keep up to date with all the new updates
  • Start engaging your business now to plan for your launch or re-launch   

My Top 4 Microsoft Ignite Learns

My recent visit to Microsoft Ignite in Orlando was a trip of firsts for me. Before last week I had never been to either America or a Microsoft conference; it was a sensory assault to say the least. Everything was big, the coffee was strange and I witnessed grown men do outrageous things just for some free swag. There has been a lot to process in the week following so I wanted to round up some of my thoughts and favorites in a top 4 list of learns and observations.

Top 4 product learns at Ignite:

Yammer: There were lots of exciting updates, but Yammer stood out for me – and not just because of the radical facelift. They doubled down on the core use cases for an enterprise-wide knowledge-sharing platform. This explanation of the ‘how’ provided a clear link to the ‘why’; connecting leaders and employees, which was great to see. The integration story was another strong focus, promising a consistent Yammer experience across Teams, SharePoint and Outlook. Hopefully, this will finally quell the rumors that Yammer is going to be culled from the O365 stack. My top updates:

  • Modern look and feel – Simple, less cluttered and more ‘social media-esque’.
  • Communities replacing groups – Following the updates, communities will be better able to brand themselves and define their purpose.
  • Community manager tools – Filtering and closing questions in communities
  • Refined Feed – Enhanced by AI and machine learning to further personalise the experience; showing you what’s important, driving discovery and open sharing
  • Video on the go – Instantly capture, trim, apply filters, and publish with a new video experience
  • Outlook integrations – Participate in Yammer conversations without leaving your Outlook inbox

Teams: There wasn’t any one stand out announcement for Teams for me – rather, a wave of useful and much needed improvements to experience and functionality. It’s great to see how closely Microsoft are listening to feedback. The abundance of some of the less sexy administrative updates show that they are continuously building out this tool into a powerful teamwork tool for enterprises. There are so many updates, but here are my top picks:

  • Live captioning in meetings – Captions for speech will be available, appearing in real time
  • Meeting options – Introducing the ability to clearly define presenters and attendees, allowing you to take back control of speaking arrangements  
  • Tasks in teams – Provides a new, unified view of your personal and assigned tasks within Teams
  • Private Channels – Enable users to create channels within existing teams that can be viewed and accessed only by select members
  • Pop out chat – Easily manage chat windows by popping them out of your
  • Outlook integrations – Users can move an email conversation from Outlook, including attachments, into a Teams chat or channel conversation
  • Echo avoidance – Detects another endpoint and automatically mutes. No more echoes!  (Probably my favorite)

Project Cortex – Coined as the biggest announcement since Microsoft Teams, there was certainly a lot of buzz around Project Cortex. As a non-technical consultant, I will attempt to describe it (albeit crudely). It is an artificially intelligent knowledge network that automatically connects and defines information so that users don’t have to.
It is was borne out of the difficulty of connecting the information in your company to the people who need it. The three core outputs are:

  • Organize knowledge across teams and systems
  • Empower people with knowledge and expertise “just-in-time”, in the apps used every day
  • Intelligently manage and protect content with built-in security and workflow

Fluid framework – I can best describe the fluid framework (again, a non-techy so bear with me), as a deconstructed collaboration framework that takes the principle of document co-authoring and simplifies it down a level to specific data sets. This allows users to collaborate on sets of content that live in numerous locations at the same time, without going into each document to modify. This will help to ensure that only the latest content is displayed and will be invaluable to critical and sensitive information. I think this graphic does a great job of explaining it:

Yammer will now use the Office 365 profile

Yammer profiles are about to change. And for many, this is long overdue!

From late September, profile pages in Yammer will synchronise with your Office profile – which means that staff will no longer be able to have different personal information in Yammer and Office 365.

What does this mean?

After September’s update, Office 365 profiles will become the single source of truth for contact information, ‘about me’ bios and profile pictures across all applications. This has long been true in most of the Office 365 apps – but Yammer has always had a separate profile system.

Sometimes this has been desirable – savvy Yammer members were able to change their display names to include additional information (such as indicating that they were out of the office or travelling).

But more often than not, having different profiles led to confusion. The disconnect between Office 365 and Yammer profiles meant that Yammer often had outdated or inconsistent information. It also meant that staff could (unintentionally) contravene HR policies – like changing their job titles. The disconnect also occassionally led to technical problems, with official profile pictures showing up in Office 365, but completely missing in Yammer!

Moving forward Yammer profiles will automatically sync with Office 365 profiles to ensure parity.

*If a Yammer member does not have a corresponding Office 365 identity, they will not be affected by this feature.

After the change takes effect, Yammer members who wish to change project, education and skills information will have to navigate to their Office 365 profile. Get there by selecting the profile picture in the top right and corner after signing into and then update profile (see below). Depending on your settings users may have to contact their IT administrator to update their name, job title and profile picture.


Office 365 profile

How to access your Office 365 profile


How will this affect your users?

Office 365 user profiles will soon override Yammer profiles. When this happens anything that has been added to the Yammer profile will be lost and any non-AAD profile properties (profile fields that are only found on the Yammer profile) will disappear, for example, custom ‘about me’ information, or a link to a staff member’s Facebook page.

Next steps

There are a few steps that you may want to take to ensure minimal disruption when this update comes into play:

  • Update training content, materials and onboarding processes

It’s handy to get in quick and update any reference materials so that users can self-serve any issues and add Office 365 profile population to the onboarding process.

  • Let your users know

Communicate the change to your staff, explain that their Office 365 profile is now the single source of truth and let them know how to edit it. This is important as it may affect keyword searches and results on Yammer.

And if your staff have created custom information in Yammer – let them know that this change will cause that data to dissappear.