Corporate community leadership and management in times of crisis

In these times of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is plenty of information about working remotely and crisis communications.  This post is about neither of these.  I want to focus on the role communities within organisations can play in supporting people through times of crisis

The Edelman Trust Barometer shows that in the last 2 years the most trusted people are now my employer and, after scientists, my fellow citizens in my country and in my community.  And whilst people are most reliant on news organisations for information on the coronavirus, it is, in fact, employer communications that are the most believed source.  This places a great expectation on organisational leaders, corporate communicators and community managers as employees turn to them and their work community for trusted answers.  So how can we address this?  How can we build community resilience and demonstrate care?

“Leadership in communities is as much about influence as it is authority”

Make your intranet your source of truth

With all the talk of collaboration and remote working tools, it can be easy to forget the humble intranet.

Make sure you have a dedicated page for the crisis response and that you are linking to the credible expert sources.  Your “sponsorship” of government or health sources passes on your trusted position to these. Use this page as the source of truth and link to it from any communications you send out and add it as a tab in any collaboration tools, such as Teams, so it is easy to get clear and consistent information out to different groups of colleagues.

Have a prominent link or news item on the intranet homepage so people can find it quickly – ideally show when it was last updated to keep people’s confidence it is accurate.  Call out any specific actions clearly and consider having sections on what you know and don’t know.  People are looking to see if colleagues have been affected, and what steps they need to take.

Activate and engage your employee community 

Tools like Teams helps get the work done remotely but doesn’t always engage the community or cut across pockets of knowledge. This is where enterprise social networks (ESNs) like Yammer come into their own. 

Whilst your intranet gives you your source of truth, your ESN gives your employees a voice.  Set up a crisis community to allow them to raise concerns and questions as it’s better to know what they are than think they don’t exist if you can’t see them.  Use it to ask for their help or ideas. Set up an official profile such as “Company News” to act as a spokesperson, posting links back to the intranet and giving the official view in any answers. It will save time and effort when people look at their ESN feed. 

Run Q&A sessions with senior leaders at set times to connect them to the issues faced by remote workers and frontline staff.  It makes the leadership team both present and visible. 

Coach your leaders

Leadership in communities is as much about influence as it is authority so make sure your leadership team feel confident to participate in your network.  In a crisis, the situation can change rapidly so have leaders post updates as close to real-time as possible and be authentic. Don’t try to control the narrative – you have the intranet page for that. Instead control how you react. Use natural language and if you don’t know the answers yet, say so. 

Remind them that the ESN is really an extension of the workplace, so ask them what they would say if they were briefing a group of staff in a meeting, or if they overheard a question in a corridor.  Get them to use this response as the basis for what they can post.  Take the time to thank people for their efforts or ideas directly – it demonstrates leaders are listening and builds the psychological safety for people to speak up.

The power in communities

Communities are geared to support their members. There is an unwritten social contract between members based on the common interest they share. This sense of connection and support is important, narrowing the emotional distance even when working remotely.  Trust is the currency of these communities, so listen to what is being said and be present. Remember that in many cases communities will mobilise to protect themselves.  If this mobilisation is supported with active leadership then we can create resilience in our people instead of reliance.

Simon Terry, creator of the Collaboration Value Maturity Model and collaboration thought leader draws similar conclusions in his recent article Three Key Roles For Yammer A Crisis

Matt Dodd – Digital Workplace Consultant – Engage Squared

“Matt changes the way people work, create and connect through human-centered approaches to culture, leadership and digital services.
He combines design, empathy and systems thinking to deliver value to individuals and organisations.
Since 2004, he’s been working with large organisations delivering digital-based change and workplaces. ”

Hourglass and laptop computer

SharePoint 2010

You might have read it before but I’m going to tell you again. SharePoint 2010 is going out of support on 13th October 2020. But what does that actually mean? We’re here to tell you!

SharePoint 2010 has been in ‘Extended Support’ for 4 years, meaning you’ve only been receiving security updates across that period. If you were an early adopter, you’re probably really happy with your return on investment. Perhaps you’re apprehensive about migrating.

Let’s start with what happens if you don’t. You won’t be compliant with standards & regulations and could lose business. You won’t have any support from Microsoft without a very costly support agreement. You’ll be vulnerable to any new security issues that arise. Your critical business functions could kick the bucket. You’ll be hard pressed to find agencies with people who remember how to use 2010, let alone want to.

So, what are my options? The way we see it, you have 2.5 options, On-Premise, Cloud or a combination of both (the half). However, for most of you, choosing the correct option has never been simpler.

Does my organisation NEED to be On-Premise?

With SharePoint Online as strong as it currently is, Office 365 is a truly great option. There’s no need to worry about servers, infrastructure or any maintenance. The lowest availability that Office 365 has had over since the start of 2017 is 99.97%. That’s about 2.6 hours a year, which would be a dream to achieve the 3 nines with an on-premise hosted environment. And what’s more, if you are affected by the outages, Microsoft will fix it for you.

You also get access to the entire Office 365 suite. Perhaps you can replace your costly, aging, 2010 customisations with, much easier to develop, Power Apps & Flows. If not, you have access to more APIs than ever (including the Microsoft Graph) and the SharePoint Framework (SPFx), which will soon integrate with Word, Microsoft Teams and Outlook as part of the Fluid Framework.

If the answer to the above question was Yes, our next question is:

Why?

Is your security & compliance team pressuring you to stay On-Premise because that’s what they believe is compliant? Office 365 is more complaint by global and local standards than ever & the Security & Compliance centre makes it easier to track any exceptions or potential threats.

Microsoft compliance offerings

Microsoft offers a comprehensive set of compliance offerings to help your organization comply with national, regional, and industry-specific requirements governing the collection and use of data.

Global & US Government Compliance
Industry & Regional Compliance

Image reference: Current Office 365 Compliance https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/compliance/offering-home?view=o365-worldwide


On Premises

If you do need to stay on-premise, what version is right for you? 2013 is already well into its lifespan, and you’ll likely have to repeat this exercise in 2023. SharePoint 2016 can use SPFx once it has been upgraded to Feature Pack 2, but SharePoint Server 2019 has SPFx & the Modern Experience (including all the out-of-the-box mobile responsive features that come with it) that, in our opinion, makes it a no brainer, despite sharing much of the underlying architecture from 2016.

Regardless of your decision, the steps to prepare are all the same.

  • Compile a list of customisations/business apps/processes that are business critical
    • Now is a great time to categorise them whether they need updating or not
  • Audit your SharePoint content to see what needs to be migrated (if any)
    • Now is a great time to have a spring clean so your new SharePoint environment isn’t clogged from the beginning
    • Identify who your content owners are

This will help you & your organisation to understand the size of the task at hand and can help you start planning your move. If you decide you want to upgrade your environment instead of starting anew, you will need to upgrade to SharePoint 2013, then SharePoint 2016 and then finally SharePoint 2019 (if you want to go that far).

SharePoint 2010 Server and Dependencies
SharePoint Servers & Dependencies

Image reference: https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/microsoft-sharepoint-blog/extended-support-for-sharepoint-server-2010-ends-in-october-2020/ba-p/272628


Online

Things are much simpler if you want to migrate to Office 365. You can create a new tenant in a matter of minutes, sync your active Directory to Azure Active Directory and have people up and running in less than the time it took to write this blog post. Microsoft PowerApps and Power Automate are natural successors to many of your On-Premise customisations.

Someone with intermediate Excel skills (a citizen developer) could potentially replace an expensive bespoke customisation made in InfoPath Forms and Designer workflows in a matter of days.

The page authoring experience of Modern SharePoint is now so easy to use that you can create an entire Intranet quicker than ever before, especially if you’ve consolidated pages from your old intranet in the audit, as suggested above.

Whilst there’s no way of directly migrating old Intranet pages to Modern SharePoint, you can easily improve them. You can also use migration tools such as ShareGate to migrate documents, files, images and lists from old SharePoint/Network drive to SharePoint Online & OneDrive respectively.

You will also get access to Microsoft’s continuous stream of updates to Office 365, constantly improving your return on investment.

Finally, most Office 365 licenses come with Exchange Online, making it easier than ever to give your users email on the move. Microsoft are also keen to help with licensing, offering FastTrack adoption support.

Remember it’s not the end of the world if you don’t migrate by 13th October… providing nothing goes wrong on the 14th!

Banner - Business User Group meetup

Event recap: “Bots in the Real World: Truth, Hype and Demos”

A lot of us long for the day we can kick up our feet and let Cortana manage our professional lives. Or we worry that our jobs will be stolen by bots.

This month at the Melbourne Office 365 Business User Group (BUG), they took a shot at cutting through the hype and getting to something practical.

Facilitated by Engage Squared and hosted at Microsoft’s office at Southbank, they had 90+ registrants and a full house on the day.

Host Jack Hendy (an adoption specialist at Engage Squared) kicked off the session with…

“What’s new in Office 365”:

  • Cortana can be tagged in emails to help arrange meetings (Your personal assistant, just @Cortana)
  • New Q&A functionality in Yammer (Lets you mark answers to questions)
  • Microsoft Whiteboard App (Allows you to add reactions, integrates with SurfaceHub and has “ink beautification”: Bad handwriting? No worries)
  • PowerPoint-designed slides (Make your company’s branding consistent using custom templates and automated suggestions)
  • New customisable and unified Microsoft Search (A reason to use Bing)

AnswerBot: Going with the Flow

Their first presenter, Jason Soo from law firm Hill and Wilcox, introduced us to the basic Question and Answer (QnA) bot, enhanced with Flow. The bot solution leveraged Flow’s approval workflow, allowing the bot to update its QnA knowledge base with new answers to new questions.

This bot/Flow duo:

  • Captured questions from a Yammer group (this could be any ‘front door’/entry point, such as an intranet or website)
  • Answered questions parsed through the Azure QnA Maker
    • If the question is “like for like” or the answer has a high degree of confidence (an adjustable setting in QnA Maker), the response is posted in Yammer
  • If the confidence score is low or no match has been found, an approval flow is triggered which then presents a subject matter expert with the question, a potential answer and an option to submit another answer
    • This can be extremely powerful for enterprise-wide bots, as subject matter experts can be tied to different knowledge bases (owned by different portfolios/organisational groups), all connected to one bot
  • The answer, once accepted in Yammer, is automatically added back to the associated knowledge base

Apart from the ‘learning’ AnswerBot is capable of, she can be used to drive uptake and draw audiences to platforms like Yammer.

Jason also showed how he was able to set up AnswerBot (Flow not included) in 5 minutes using an Ignite video found here.

Codee: Journey from FAQs to Teams Governance

Next on deck was Adrian Tan and Sarah Aquilina from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Codee started her journey as an Office 365 FAQ assistant and is currently on the road to becoming much more, starting off with Teams Governance.

How do you transition an organisation of 13000 people[1] off Lotus notes and onto Office 365 while keeping up with basic (but necessary) queries?

The answer was Codee (formally known as BAE).

Codee is a basic QnA bot (living in Teams) that also leverages the Azure QnA Maker. Sarah, a non-technical stakeholder, showed how she was able to use the QnA maker to manage and improve the bot without needing help from the rest of her team.

The related cost of Azure consumption and virtual machines in the cloud was also discussed. The group agreed that different business problems called for different levels of investment and the free options provided by Microsoft to trial bots made it easy to get started. Generally, the ROI associated with the automation of answers to high-volume, repetitive questions was seen to pay for the initial outlay quite quickly.

Adrian, the program manager at DHHS concluded that paying the monthly cost to maintain Codee allowed his team to focus their efforts on activities more impactful to the business.

Codee is currently being developed to have the ability to create Teams at DHHS and asking for Teams names, owners and settings during the provisioning process.

ZELA: The Truth and the Hype

Elaine Van Bergen finished off with the (not so cold) hard truth: bots are just apps.

They’re apps that can be used to supplement other content in areas such as websites, Yammer and Teams.

In its more advanced stages, a bot:

  • Can be used to greet and attempt to assist users (and refer them to humans if sentiment analysis or the specificity of the questions warrant it)
  • Can be used with voice recognition or integrated with IVRs to provide feedback and activate workflows

While these examples are exciting, Elaine emphasised that while it’s easy to create bots and get immediate returns, any complexity or customisation will find you needing developers. It was also recommended to run basic bot projects before delving into more technical projects.

Elaine then introduced ZELA to the group.

ZELA is Microsoft’s internally built bot that assists with high-volume, low-risk queries to the legal department which previously lead to bottlenecks. ZELA helps with:

  • Answering self-help queries such as “where can I find…”
  • Client requests for support
  • Answering general, front-line questions from clients

The group agreed ZELA was a good example of fast value-for-effort and was intrigued by its use in a department as critical as Legal.

 

The session concluded with a prize giveaway, thanks to sponsorship by Logitech.

If you’re in interested in future Business User Group meetups, please join them and us at the next meeting!

Melbourne: https://www.meetup.com/Melbourne-Office-365-Business-User-Group/

Sydney: https://www.meetup.com/Sydney-Office-365-Business-User-Group/

 

 

[1] DHHS, ‘People Strategy 2020’, Department of Health and Human Services, Victoria, 2017, p 15, https://dhhs.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/201708/People-strategy-2020_2017-07-03.pdf, (accessed 4 July 2019).