In an era when technology is becoming a more important part of our daily lives than ever, it makes perfect sense that an increasing number of businesses would be looking for newer and more sophisticated ways to capitalize on that fact — allowing their employees to work “smarter, not harder”, regardless of where they happen to be.
Microsoft Teams is one such solution, and it has been embraced by nearly every type of business you can think of as a result. At its core, Microsoft Teams is a chat—based collaboration tool designed to provide people with the opportunity to work together more effectively, all by way of a common space that enables superior communication, document collaboration and much, much more.
Little did they know it, but by investing in a solution like Microsoft Teams, those organizations were preparing themselves for a scenario that few could have predicted — the Coronavirus pandemic that created more remote workers than ever when it began to play out in the early weeks of March 2020.
It should come as a surprise to absolutely nobody that Microsoft Teams usage exploded over the course of 2020, and that is one trend that shows absolutely no signs of slowing down anytime soon. To put things into perspective, Microsoft Teams reached the milestone of 44 million daily active users as of March 19, 2020. That is a benchmark to be celebrated, to be sure. It also makes it even more impressive than just a few weeks later April 29, that number had climbed to an enormous 75 million daily active users.
Indeed, Teams brings with it a host of unique benefits that cannot be ignored — but it also presents its fair share of challenges right along with it. While it is undoubtedly true that Microsoft Teams can deliver the benefit of communication and collaboration as outlined above, it can create a new layer of difficulties across an enterprise regarding where information is stored and who has access to it at any given moment — especially when it is implemented haphazardly without checks against existing information governance and security protocols.
None of this is to say that Microsoft Teams itself is inherently problematic in some way. It is just that the chasm between a Teams deployment and a managed Teams deployment is a deep one, indeed. Understand that an important facet of collaboration and communication happens with documents staffers create — like sales presentations, contracts, invoices, quality documents, compliance documentation, marketing materials… the list goes on. They are built, shared, and edited on a regular basis. People need to give their input and sign off on them at various points. Eventually, you will need to figure out whether to dispose of them or retain them given your industry.
The problem is that within Microsoft Teams itself, documents and files are managed in a very static way. Not only that, but information is often stored in silos based on the repository it was originally created in. So, while all that information may be readily available to those with the highest level of authorization, it can still be hard to make sure that information flows freely across various departments in your organization and into the hands of the people who need it the most.
But again — Microsoft Teams itself is not the problem. Most organizations who experience difficulties do so because of an uncontrolled implementation coupled with unchecked governance procedures within the Teams environment.
But thankfully, the situation is not nearly as dire as it may at first appear. If you really want to make sure you get the most from your Microsoft Teams deployment and truly hit the ground running from a collaboration, communication and productivity perspective, there are a few key strategies that you are going to want to familiarize yourself with.
1. Defining A Clear Strategy
By far, one of the most important ways to get the most from your Microsoft Teams deployment involves coming to a better understanding of what, exactly, you are trying to accomplish in the first place.
Microsoft Teams is nothing if not versatile — meaning that it can be a lot of different things to a lot of different organizations, depending on the situation. When you also consider that no two businesses are created equally, there is no “one size fits all” approach to creating the most optimized deployment that you can.
Therefore, your next steps are simple. Do not look at Microsoft Teams in a general sense but try to figure out what you are trying to achieve and learn more about how Microsoft Teams can help you do that.
Begin by defining a clear strategy for what groups and/or distribution lists should become “Teams” to begin with. Sit down and really think about who can create additional Teams and why they need this level of control.
Note that one of the most crucial aspects of this involves thinking long and hard about your Teams deployment within the context of your existing governance, compliance, and security standards. Any piece of technology that you implement should not only give your employees the ability to work “smarter, not harder,” but it should also support and empower the processes you already have in place.
Because of this, you need to think about deploying Microsoft Teams in a way that compliments your existing governance, compliance, and security standards. You should not have to change anything just because Teams is now a big part of your infrastructure.
2. It’s All About Collaboration
Another factor you will need to keep in mind to get the most out of your Microsoft Teams deployment ultimately comes down to how it enables and empowers superior collaboration from your users.
To get the maximum buy-in from the largest number of people, you should emphasize the use of Teams for collaboration and you should do so as often as you are able to.
Go out of your way to create groups for project members, for example, and go into detail about why this is better than techniques they may have been using in the past. Show them what they can now do that they could not before and really get them excited and engaged with this new environment.
To make this part of the process easier, consider deploying the right information management system alongside your Microsoft Teams deployment in a way that allows them to complement one another. By using an information management solution like M-Files that is layered within the Teams environment, organizational leaders are therefore in a better position to manage permissions for sensitive documents, for example.
This is true all while still empowering collaboration, as those sensitive documents can be both classified and stored in a single location for ease of access. It is also important to note that M-Files allows everyone to have access to a single, updated version of every document — instead of the multiple versions and duplicates that you are probably used to dealing with.
Your people will spend less time trying to figure out if they have the most updated version of a file and will instead be able to devote most of their attention to putting the information contained within that file to good use.
Similarly, another way that a solution like M-Files can help to that end has to do with how it leverages artificial intelligence to the benefit of those within your organization. M-Files can effortlessly identify business-critical data and separate it from all the clutter that exists in the various repositories, allowing people to focus on the information that matters most to THEM while automating a lot of the menial tasks they formerly had to contend with.
3. The Power Of User Education
By and large, one of the major reasons why users fail to embrace a piece of software is because they simply cannot understand how it fits into the ways they already like to work. Maybe they do not really feel comfortable using it in a literal sense, or maybe they can’t see the forest for the trees and don’t see why it’s better than what they’re already doing. Regardless, both issues lead to poor adoption rates often — pointing to a situation you want to avoid as early as you can.
To avoid this problem, you should make training for users on how to effectively use the Teams client a big part of your change management process. People are not just going to immediately understand how to use the Teams client to schedule meetings or to make voice calls. But if you show them how easy and effective it is by way of robust and thorough training; you will enjoy widespread adoption across the board.
Users should also be trained on where, exactly, documents are stored and managed in Teams. Unfortunately, this can be many repositories, to be sure — unless there is an information management system like M-Files that is ready to act as a centralized location for all those files, documents, and other data objects.
Note that M-Files can also be deployed on-premises, in the cloud or as a hybrid solution depending on the needs of your workforce and your business. This, coupled with easy implementation and automatic updates, allows most organizations (and their hardworking IT teams) to enjoy a myriad of different efficiency benefits from day one.
4. The Implications Of SharePoint
One of the major benefits of Microsoft Teams is that it can pull data from anywhere — including the repositories that you are already using and are familiar with, like SharePoint. This does, however, come with a few key caveats you will need to address to get the most out of your deployment.
In no uncertain terms, your SharePoint strategy moving forward must be properly defined, as Teams literally depends upon SharePoint online. Your users will need to know the structure of where their files are stored in teams and channels — that way, they will spend less time trying to figure out where that information is and can devote the maximum amount of their attention on the important work, they have in front of them.
Thankfully, all of this becomes somewhat of a moot point with the right information management system by your side. A solution like M-Files, to use just one example, can serve as the central information hub for all documents and files across your enterprise. This is true all while still allowing you to lean into the governance, compliance, and security protocols that your business already has in place to always keep everything safe and secure.
So much of this has to do with the fact that an information management platform like M-Files organizes and manages information based not on where it is stored on the company network, but on what that data is. As a metadata-driven platform, it does not actually matter whether the data you are talking about resides across other systems and repositories or exclusively within the M-Files platform. Without exception, it can always be accessed and managed through a single view, all without requiring the costly and time-consuming (not to mention frustrating) data migration that normally goes along with it.
5. Reinforcing Those Business Processes
Similarly, you will need to pay careful consideration to moving any relevant business processes into the Teams environment — especially once you start to integrate all the various third-party apps that your employees depend on.
Sure, you can just drop a contract for signature into Microsoft Teams, for example. However, you will quickly find that this is an inefficient and error-prone process that makes things for your people difficult, not easier.
This is another one of those situations where an information management solution can come in handy, as it can be used to guide users through all well-defined workflows. M-Files has features specifically dedicated to workflows surrounding important ideas like the contract lifecycle, records management, training and learning and much, much more.
6. Policies Vs. Flexibility: What You Need To Know
One of the major sticking points of a Teams implementation project that a lot of businesses simply do not pay enough attention to has to do with the relationship between important policies and giving users the flexibility, they need to work in the ways they want to.
To put it another way, you need to consider which components of Teams will be a “required company standard,” versus which ones will be left up to the individual users, teams, managers, and people in similar positions.
Naming conventions, for example, can get particularly tricky in a large enterprise if some type of standard format is not nailed down at the time of deployment. If two different departments are naming identical files in different ways, you are immediately losing out on a lot of the organizational benefits that Teams was supposed to help with. Other topics that absolutely fall under this category include security levels, permissions and more.
When information governance efforts within an organization become too restrictive, that is when the concept of shadow IT starts to rear its ugly head. Rather than putting up with an “approved process” that people feel is too frustrating or time-consuming, employees start to find ways to work around them. Whether this means turning to unapproved processes or third-party applications does not actually matter — activity is going on across your network that you are totally unaware of and if you do not know it exists, you unfortunately cannot control it.
Not only does this mean that employees are using rogue applications and workarounds without the IT department knowing about it, but this also represents an enormous risk for your business from a cybersecurity point of view. When you know exactly what apps and services your employees are using, you can make sure they are updated regularly and that all bug fixes and security patches are always applied. You cannot do that if someone is using a program, you are not aware of — meaning that this user officially just became a vulnerability that could put your entire network at risk.
Balancing information policy with flexibility is not a zero-sum game, though. It does not have to be an either-or stalemate. Both can be achieved with the right toolset. Thankfully, so long as you have an information management solution like M-Files, all these considerations are managed in a centralized platform WITHOUT having to customize anything at the team or channel level. You can make changes to elements like document names once and immediately have that roll out to every user, regardless of where they happen to be. Even better — naming conventions do not really matter much anymore, since documents are classified with metadata, which prioritizes what the thing is rather than what it’s named (or where it’s stored). An information management solution also guarantees alignment with established governance and compliance — giving your own IT people one less thing to worry about.
7. Considerations About External Sharing
Finally, you will want to pay careful consideration to another important topic in the modern era: external sharing. This refers to not only sharing critical company information with third parties like clients or vendors, but also with all your employees who might work remotely — now or in the future.
Allowing collaboration outside of your company is clearly a need that must be met — but you need to do so while remaining in compliance with ALL company security and data protection policies.
Once again, an information management solution like M-Files will be an invaluable tool to that end, as it offers innovative features and advanced permissions that guarantee that only the people who NEED access to a document have it, no exceptions.
This is one of those areas where you are working against Microsoft Teams to a certain extent, as not too long-ago Microsoft made a change to its own permissions model to enable “guest” access for all Teams. This means that it is easier than ever for people outside of your organization to access teams, documents in certain channels, chats, and even entire applications — which is obviously concerning due to the lack of control it gives your own IT department over that information alone.
An information management solution, on the other hand, can help fill in some of these gaps in a way that prevents accidental leakage moving forward. With dynamic organizational permissions, for example, you can change someone’s permission to view and even edit a document based on their job within your company. You do this via metadata, which is far more efficient than updating everything on a document-by-document basis. This means that all you must do is make one simple change and it immediately becomes “true” everywhere.
You can also use permissions-based content and context, which is another straightforward move that will allow you to get more out of your Microsoft Teams deployment than ever. This technique allows you to set permission for not only entire types of documents, but for individual items. Note that you can even set these permissions for different versions of the same documents. So, if you wanted to assign permissions that give different levels of access to different types of users (like for hourly employees versus managers, for example), there is absolutely nothing stopping you from doing so based entirely on the context of the project that you’re working with at the time.
In the end, remember that absolutely none of this is to say that Microsoft Teams itself is inherently problematic. Quite the contrary, in fact — it is an invaluable communication and collaboration tool that is especially helpful during a time when more people are working remotely than ever before. When your employees are spread out in so many different locations now and in the future, Teams is the perfect opportunity to bring them all back together again in a virtual sense… provided you understand the limitations that Teams has when implemented in a rogue, slipshod manner.
Once you have a clear strategy in place, you need to focus on factors like user education and really call out the collaboration benefits for your users. You need to make sure they are aware of the SharePoint implications and help them see how Teams fits into the business processes they are already comfortable using. Work with your IT team to balance your existing policies with the new level of flexibility that Teams can bring to your enterprise. Really think about what external sharing means in this new context and above all else, make sure you have the right tool by your side like an information management platform to make everything that much easier.
If you can do that, it won’t matter that your employees are all working remotely or if remote work becomes the “new normal.” People will have access to any critical piece of data at any time, in any location and from any device. They will be able to be every bit as productive in the comfort of their own homes as they could be in the office — and rest assured that this is an exciting position for any modern enterprise to be in.