Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Answering common questions with Office 365 Part 4

This is the fourth article in a series of typical customers questions around Office 365. These questions were part of presentation I did with two other resellers at the Australian Microsoft Partner Conference in 2016. You’ll find the other parts of the series here:

Answering common questions with Office 365 Part 1

Answering common questions with Office 365 Part 2

Answering common questions with Office 365 Part 3

The question for this article is:

My team isn't in one location and staying in touch is a challenge. Email is not the answer as we already get too much of that as it is. How can I allow my team members to stay in touch in real time and be connected better so we can respond to customers faster?

There are obviously many potential solutions here that Office 365 can provide, however the biggest question is around mobility and real time communications.

This means that the solutions that makes the most sense are ones that are available on all platforms, both desktop and phone. Now the question also doesn’t speak to ‘collaboration’ per se, it simply talks about ‘staying in touch’. So to narrow our choices somewhat, let’s focus on Office 365 services that can typically replace the bulk of email communications inside a business.

The most likely candidate to replace many email conversations is Skype for Business. This will allow employees to conduct things such as text chats, one on one phone conversations as well as group video meetings if required. It cam even be connected to normal phone lines.

What is Skype for Business?

Skype for Business has a desktop app as well apps for all mobile platforms. You can also attend Skype for Business meetings with nothing more than a modern browser.

Download Skype for Business across all your devices

All Skype for Business chat conversations are automatically recorded within each users inbox for later reference and is also interfaced directly to each users Outlook so they can schedule meetings with others directly from their personal calendar. When they don’t have access to their Outlook calendar they can use the Outlook Web Scheduler to create meetings for anyone, inside or outside the business, to attend. Skype for Business meetings can also be recorded and output from those recordings could be uploaded to Office 365 Video for internal use or YouTube if for public consumption.

Now Skype for Business is probably more about immediate communications, much like using a phone. It is however going to eliminate many of those annoying emails that require only a simple response. For communications that you want to be more persistent, in that people can revisit topics at their leisure, you probably want to consider something like Yammer.

Yammer is an enterprise social network that allows people to post information and others to comment on it. Information appears in user’s feeds as part of their membership of different groups within the Yammer network.

The Business of Yammer

Yammer allows the posting of text discussions, images, links, videos and so on. It also supports standard social networking features such as ‘@’ mentions and ‘hashtags’ to allow people to easily focus on relevant information. Yammer also allows you to create internal or external groups, typically focused on a single topic. These groups can be have their access restricted to only designated members (for example management).

Getting Started with Yammer

There are Yammer apps on all platforms and on a desktop you simply access Yammer via a browser. When a user looks at their Yammer they will see all messages directed to them as well as other relevant messages they have not have directly participated in as yet.

The real bonus about Yammer information is that it is easily searchable using the search box in the top left hand corner of the browser page. This makes it quick and easy to locate information.

By making information that was once siloed public in Yammer it makes it easier for people to not only find the information they need but also share with others. Why email when you can Yammer?

The final option to look at here is the new Microsoft Teams, which can be thought of as basically a combination of the features of Skype for Business and Yammer with SharePoint also thrown into the mix. With Teams, messages are persistent like they are in Yammer but it is extremely easy to jump into a direct video conference using Skype for Business from Teams.

Teams also has apps on all devices, including a dedicated version for Windows 10 now!

Teams is more a collaboration solution than a pure communications service. However, most collaboration challenges require communications, so Teams is probably the right place to start if you are looking at sharing and working on files and documents, even down the track.

The great thing about Office 365 is these are only a few of the services that you can use to help make your employees more connected and productive in real time. The other great thing is that many of the services detailed here are integrated through the rest of the Office 365 suite. For example, in SharePoint Online, you can see who last modified a file and quickly launch a Skype for Business conversation with them as you can see directly whether they are online.

Working out what the right tool or tools are for organisation is probably something you’ll discover over time and with experience. However, services like Skype for Business and Yammer are a great place to start when it comes to easing the burden of email overload on staff.

Watch out for the answers to more common questions with Office 365 coming soon.