Helping you adopt & adapt the Microsoft Modern Workplace & Azure Cloud for your business

UPDATE: GA of Teams breakout rooms announced

Are you, like many organisations, looking at how you can replace your previously ‘in person’ training with an on-line service?

The technology we have available in platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams video conferencing makes the delivery of content relatively easy.

And, let’s face it, video conferencing removes many of the costs and logistical headaches normally associated with getting a bunch of delegates together:  There’s no hotels and travel to book, no catering, no social outings or icebreakers to orchestrate…

Recently I helped a law firm convert some ‘in-person’ course work into an ‘eLearning format’ hosted on Microsoft Teams, but I came a bit unstuck at the part where course delegates needed to split into smaller groups to work through an example case.  Whilst it is possible to ‘fudge it’ using Teams channels, it isn’t ideal and takes a lot of preparation as you will see in this Microsoft article.

Microsoft Teams Breakout Rooms to the rescue!

Rolling out to a tenant near you*, this new Teams feature is designed to support exactly the scenario where you need to split out and reconvene a training session (and many other scenarios, such as team building and brainstorming) using virtual breakout rooms.

How do Teams Breakout Rooms Work?

With Teams Breakout Rooms the meeting organiser can define up to 50 separate virtual rooms, into which participants can be manually or automatically assigned from all those that are currently on the call.

A point to note here is that in the first release it’s likely you won’t be able pre-configure your breakout rooms and who’s going to go in them (assuming you’re going to manually assign delegates).

You can only do this once you’ve started your first meeting.  You can of course have a rough plan as to how you’re going to split folk out in advance.  For example, if you have clear-cut learning ‘tracks’ (a great example is where you might want to deep dive into ‘sales’ or ‘technical’ content in a conference), you could have all the relevant names ready to refer to.

By default, your rooms are numbered 1,2,3 etc but they can also  be assigned names that are descriptive or ‘fun’, and as in ‘real life’, getting delegates to choose their ‘group name can be part of an icebreaker session.

Once the breakout rooms are started, the organiser (or tutor) can virtually leap from room to room to check in on progress and provide assistance (delegates have the ability to get their ‘tutors’ attention via private chat or specifically requesting them to join).

At the end of the allotted time (you can set a countdown timer and send a ‘5 minutes left’ message), the organiser can also close the virtual rooms and ‘pull’ everyone back into the main room.

Each virtual room can be used to share files, whiteboards, etc. and the individuals involved can connect and follow-up after the meetings, with the ability to access all resources.  This includes the ability for the groups to present the outcomes of their breakout sessions to the rest of the team, when everyone is reconvened.

Will features like this in Teams ever get to replace classroom training?

In short, no.  But until the time we can get back to classroom-based scenarios, we need to make it work for us.  Also I predict we will see a lot more blended or ‘hybrid’ training, which combines distance course work with in-person sessions.

The good news is that there’s lots more features to come in Teams that can be used to transform how training can be delivered to your workforce.

Along with the other recently-introduced Teams features such as the ability to view meeting participants in a shared background (as though they’re in the same room), live transcriptions (including who said what) and better powers for the meeting organiser and presenters when it comes to muting delegates, Microsoft is working hard to make your virtual workforce feel better-connected and better-supported.

For more details on breakout rooms, this video is a great resource.  Fast forward to minute 13:30 for information on future enhancements when it comes to managing breakout room members and inviting the different presenters that might be involved in delivering content for each ‘room’ or ‘track’.

If you are planning to deliver remote training to your workforce and would like to find out how we can help ‘boost’ the capability of Teams, with services that include converting legacy training content, tracking how well-engaged delegates are with the content you need to deliver and automated on-boarding for new starts, get in touch.

*You can track the release date of breakout rooms here.

Motivate, re-train, track progress:  Discover how your can build on native SharePoint & Teams collaboration capability to create a learning academy for your remote workforce.

Having a naming convention for identifying meeting rooms in a large organisation can be a challenge – especially when there’s 100’s of different rooms, floors, room sizes, room types, different locations and so on.

An example we saw at a customer site recently incorporated the following attributes into the actual room name:

‘RESOURCE TYPE’ + ‘LOCATION CODE’ + ‘BUILDING CODE’, ‘FLOOR NUMBER’, ‘ROOM NUMBER’, ‘CAPACITY’, ‘AVAILABLE EQUIPMENT’, ‘ACTUAL ROOM NAME’ resulting in, for example:

ROOM THAMES VALLEY PARK BUILDING 5 GROUND FLOOR 0.01 96 AV VC Chicago 1

Although this might be OK for ‘behind the scenes’ reference purposes, if you are planning to use room panels or interactive floor plans to streamline room and desk bookings, our advice is to present end users with a less onerous name.

Apart from being more aesthetically pleasing on a screen, it’s obvious the resource is a room, and hopefully the staff member will know what building they are in.

So really, the only relevant information is the actual room name ‘Chicago 1’ and its booking status (free/busy). Information like the room capacity and facilities can be included elsewhere on the screen – and not be part of the name.  

Here is a nice example of how a simple room name has been extended to the actual design of the room itself – all of which helps enhance the staff (and visitor) experience.

What about desk numbering schemes?

Likewise for identifying desks, you might contemplate giving all your desks a unique number, instead of using the floor level or wing as part of the desk number.

Why?

To give you an example: I spent ages hammering on the door of a hotel room wondering why my partner was refusing to let me in.  The hotel in question numbered its rooms starting from 1 on each floor, which did not account for the fact that I inadvertently got out of the lift on the wrong floor! Thankfully the occupant of the (wrong) room was out!

An intuitive numbering scheme that by design accommodates the ‘floor level issue’ is to prefix the desk number with the floor number.  E.g. 423 would be desk 23 on the 4th floor.

A further tip if you’re looking at desk booking (and therefore desk numbering) as part of your COVID-19 return to work strategy is to number ALL of your desks, not just those desks that are suitably distanced.

We have seen (and averted) more than one project where the intention was to only give the ‘safely distanced’ desks a consecutive number.  The problem with this is two-fold:

  1. It is not a future-proof strategy as distancing requirements change
  2. It will not lend itself to a flexible workspace booking system in the future (this being an inevitable outcome of the pandemic, as workspaces shrink and evolve to support a now ‘hybrid workforce’).

See our room & desk booking solution in action!

There’s many other minor (and major) things to consider when implementing systems designed to streamline your room and resource booking systems, contact us to find out more.

The mute story so far

As a Teams meeting participant, the mute button has proved to be a pretty useful feature during lockdown to mask out the various screaming baby/dog barking at the Amazon delivery guy/cheese-and-Marmite-toastie-munching interruptions.

And, it’s comforting to know, that if you have gone ‘on mute’ but later need to chip in with your two-penneth’s, there’s an AI feature that automatically detects that we’re talking mainly to the dog to remind us to unmute.

If you’re using Microsoft Teams as a training platform, however, the power of the mute button for role of the teacher has been sadly lacking.

So, for example, did you know that anyone can mute anyone else in a regular Teams call?    If there’s more than 3 meeting on a call, you’ll see a ‘Mute All’ button.  You can also mute individual participants ‘at will’.

As you might imagine, many a student has played this prank on their lecturer or fellow students in a Teams-based lesson, if only to alleviate the boredom of lock-down.

Additionally, even though the meeting organiser can mute all when they start the meeting to as to avoid late-comers disturbing a meeting in full flow, participants have always had the option of unmuting themselves whenever they wanted to.

Coming soon to a Microsoft Tenant near you

Initially rolled out to the Edu sector, and being generally rolled out through September/October 2020, there is a new ‘Hard Audio Mute’ feature that will give you the ultimate power to get folk to shut up.

This is how to set it up.

  1. You start by creating your Teams meeting and inviting the attendees:
  2. Next, you Edit your Teams meeting, where you get to see your original meeting details along with a new ‘Meeting Options’ link:
  3. The meeting options now include an option called ‘Allow attendees to unmute’:
  4. The other thing you’ll need to consider is who, besides yourself, needs to be able to present on the call (as presenters, by definition, need to be able to speak!).  In our example here, it’s just me:
  5. Attendees joining this meeting will now not be able to unmute themselves – like poor Charles here!
  6. His unmute option will be greyed out, and he will need to ‘raise his hand’ when he wants to speak (I love the power).Only myself as the meeting organiser (or a meeting presenter if I had specified any) can enable him to talk to the rest of the team.  To do this, I will need to raise Charlie’s status to ‘presenter’.Once I’ve made a presenter, he’ll be able to unmute himself and start shouting at me:
    Make presenter in Microsoft Teams
  7. Once I’ve let him have his say, I can set him back to an attendee to make him permanently muted again:
    Make attendee in Microsoft Teams

So there you have it!  The Teams platform is being enhanced all the time and the fact that it is widely used in the education sector is a huge influence when it comes to enhancing it for the purpose of collaborative training.  Watch this space for more functionality.

Read more about making the most of Teams for your learning management & training

In the early days of corporate email communications, messaging was not viewed as a formal business record despite emails being more verbose compared to the average email in 2020.

Policies about the use and retention of messages generally did not exist because of the relaxed view of email in the workplace. If there was a corporate policy about email, it was usually to impose small quotas on mailboxes, erroneously believing that this would control storage growth and would mean that messages were deleted after a certain period.

All of this changed when email messages played significant roles in high-profile litigations, with the smoking gun being an email that was thought to have been deleted.

The corporate world soon realised that what they did not know could hurt them, and governments moved to pass legislation imposing regulatory compliance requirements for specific industries to keep records.

Journaling provides a “golden copy”

There are two reasons that you need journaling:

  1. Your organisation falls under legislation or one of the regulatory regimes that mandate it, and/or
  2. Your legal department says so.

It is common for legal teams to require email journaling because it offers them the option of conducting early data assessments in the event of claims. Legal teams can make an informed decision about whether to fight or settle the matter when they have a reliable, golden copy to explore early in the process.

Many legal teams find the cost of journaling and early data assessment to be far less than deciding to fight and later losing based on surprise email evidence.

Does Microsoft 365 solve my journaling needs?

Does Exchange Online in Microsoft 365 support journaling? The short answer: Partially.

You can indeed enable journaling in Microsoft 365 to capture that “golden copy” of particular users’ mail flow from Exchange Online mailboxes. However, the catch is that you cannot use Exchange Online mailboxes as the target for your journaling.

As found in Microsoft’s documentation:

You can’t designate an Exchange Online mailbox as a journaling mailbox. You can deliver journal reports to an on-premises archiving system or a third-party archiving service. If you’re running an Exchange hybrid deployment with your mailboxes split between on-premises servers and Exchange Online, you can designate an on-premises mailbox as the journaling mailbox for your Exchange Online and on-premises mailboxes.”

Microsoft 365 journaling hacks

As for your legacy journal archives, residing in a third-party archive solution or on-premises Exchange Server, some organisations opt for migration of their journal archives into Exchange Online. The approach involves the use of migration software, such as TransVault, to “explode” the journal out to a mailbox per user in Exchange Online. On the surface, the approach seems to be ideal because you have Content Search, Core eDiscovery, and Advanced eDiscovery features in Microsoft 365.

There are some workarounds available for organisations that need to continue journaling their mail and want to achieve this in-place with Microsoft 365. However, these options are a hack as far as journaling goes because the mail flow is not technically journaled as an air-gapped golden copy. One option is the use of Preservation Locks for organisations that want to centralise on in-place Microsoft 365 for compliance and eDiscovery for SEC/FINRA/CFTC-compliant immutable WORM storage. The approach requires you to apply a retention period to your data, which may not be ideal for organisations whose journaling activity is motivated by a litigation strategy only. For legally-motived journaling requirements, Litigation Hold might suffice as a journaling replacement.

Cloud-based journaling alongside software-defined storage and cloud backup

Organisations may find that Microsoft 365 is not an ideal home for legacy and go-forward journaling because in-place features and hacks can impose downstream search and discovery complications. You should test any in-place strategy to ensure it aligns with your legal and compliance requirements and that the hold and collection workflows deliver the results you expect.

Cloud-based journaling, such as provided by HubStor, can work alongside Microsoft 365 to solve both the retention of legacy journal archives and the go-forward journaling for an air-gapped golden copy. TransVault has a direct integration with HubStor to intelligently migrate your legacy journal. And HubStor provides fully-managed, Azure-based SMTP journaling to reliably accept your journal feed from Microsoft 365 into an archive with discovery features for cases, searches, holds, and exports. While the use of a third-party archive will mean two places to search, there are numerous advantages, such as:

  1. Proper journal report handling for BCC search – The in-place methods of Microsoft 365 means that BCC’s only exist in the sender’s mailbox, which could be easily excluded from an eDiscovery search. However, if you create a journal rule in Microsoft 365, then the SMTP journaling feature will deliver a proper journal report, which exposes the full recipients list. HubStor will index this so that you can search sender and recipients, including BCC recipients, and even filter on whether or not messages have BCCs.
  2. Data sovereignty controls – Legal and compliance requirements can come with data sovereignty needs. HubStor’s single-tenant SaaS model gives you the convenient of a software service with the enterprise-grade flexibility and security to have a dedicated configuration that runs in an Azure region of your choice. HubStor can guarantee all aspects of its journaling solution to respect data sovereignty requirements, including the receipt, delivery, capture, ingestion, storage, and indexing of the data.
  3. Data management platform for your other backup and archive needs – The best way to make use of HubStor is to take advantage of the economies of scale provided by the platform and its subscription model. If you use HubStor for journaling and eDiscovery for messages only, it is generally price competitive above 750 users, and it is more price competitive the larger your organisation. However, even for smaller organisations, the platform includes features like software-defined storage to help you protect and manage file systems cloud tiering and NAS backup. HubStor’s recently launched Backup-as-a-Service (BaaS) for virtual machine environments such as VMware vSphere, Microsoft Hyper-V, and Systems Centre, which can simplify your data protection architecture and provide reliable cloud-based recovery and disaster preparedness at significantly less cost than incumbent backup products. Finally, you can satisfy requirements to protect your data in SaaS apps (Microsoft 365, Box, and Slack) and PaaS storage (AWS S3, Azure Blob, and Azure Files). Because of HubStor’s usage-based pricing model, adding any of these additional workloads to your single-tenant instance is only an incremental uptick in cost, giving you a unified SaaS solution for all things backup and archive while enabling you to reduce costs by eliminating legacy products and multiple vendors.

Much like insurance – you never know when your organisation will need to pull data from old emails.  If you don’t have a journaling system in place you run the risk of lacking the information needed which can ultimately cost much more than implementing a proper journaling solution in the first place. That’s why preparing in advance is key to preventing unnecessary problems in the future.

If you haven’t started looking into email journaling, now is as good a time as any to start.

Setting up the concept of bookable desks – otherwise known as ‘hot desking’ – is more than just a case of designating desks and making them ‘bookable’.

A lot more.

Some years back when housing association, Notting Hill Genesis, set up its hot desking scheme as a means of shrinking its office costs, they thought their carefully thought-out and funkily designed new workspace facility, complete with docking stations, VOIP, personal storage lockers and showers, underpinned by a slick booking system, would be enough.

They were wrong.

The housing association’s staff were not initially happy with the new arrangement.

According to Jenny Quigley, Notting Hill Genesis project manager at the time, “Staff were taken aback when we told them they wouldn’t have fixed desks anymore, even though we were trying to provide more flexible facilities. Some even had to speak with management before they got on board with our proposals. In retrospect, the cultural change aspect of the project would have benefitted from some external mediation.”

In the case of Notting Hill Genesis, pointing out benefits of the new regime, including the ability to reduce personal expenses through being able to travel to a nearer office, and being able to work from home where it was possible, smoothed the introduction.

While it’s true, in the past, the resistance to losing one’s own desk space would have been a barrier that needed sensitive handling, Covid-19 has effectively removed this ‘human barrier’.

Safety is the new priority

The over-arching priority for businesses now is to ensure a safe working environment as staff members return to the office. If your organisation has an office space that enables each member of staff that may potentially come into the office to have their own usual desk, then you’ll be in compliance with Government Guidelines on Working safely in offices during Covid-19, that recommend to avoid the use of hot desks. This guidance, in our opinion (which is based on what organisations are doing in reality) is a pipe-dream.

“The over-arching priority for businesses now is to ensure safely spaced desks as staff members return to the office, which means that the concept of ‘desk ownership’ has had to take a back seat.”

The key priority is to provision desks that are safely spaced, properly cleaned between uses, and bookable in advance.  Only by doing this can they assure staff members coming into the office that they will be accommodated safely.  It also means they can track who’s been sitting where, just in case there’s a reported case of COVID-19 amongst their workforce.”

The future trend

As the pandemic lifts, the writing on the wall* is that the concept of everyone coming into the office on a daily basis will be a thing of the past. Much smaller offices, alternative workspace arrangements (such as work hubs), and monthly team meetings in different hired venues, we be amongst the new trends.

*According to a survey commissioned by Skillcast, 70% of employees across all company sizes, regions, industry sectors, ages and gender, said that they can be as productive working from home as in the office, and 68% said they would like to carry on working this way when the crisis is over.

Another stark reality is that many organisations will need to reduce their rental costs or sell off property in order to survive. This will mean a significant change in the staff to desk ratio – going from the usual 1:1 ratio to 1 desk for every 2 staff members or more.

The savings are highly tangible: When it introduced its desk booking scheme a few years back, Genesis Notting Hill reduced the number of offices it had by 43%, resulting in year on year accommodation savings of 1M.

A more receptive audience to change

The ‘good news’ for organisations having to shrink their available workspace and introduce a booking scheme, is that having experienced the many benefits of home working (there are obviously downsides), staff members will be more receptive to this change.

In short, the trade-off of zero commute time and a better work-life balance will mean that the typical resistance to ‘hot desking’ we’ve seen of staff losing their own desk ‘shrine’, complete with (now wilted) pot plants, favourite chair and drawers full of god knows what, will evaporate.

Not having a fixed desk booking system does bring a whole batch of other challenges, such as how to be near to co-workers in the same team, how to facilitate ‘on the job training’ (especially for new starts), locating work colleagues and having ‘ad-hoc’ meetings, but all these are addressable with the right technology and careful consideration.

“…the typical resistance to ‘hot desking’ we’ve seen of staff losing their own desk ‘shrine’, complete with (now wilted) pot plants, favourite chair and drawers full of god knows what, will evaporate.”

Microsoft has announced that they will be changing the way that applications can authenticate with Office 365 Exchange Online. This change will be happening from October 2020 (although basic authentication support removal may be deferred owing to COVID-19) and may mean that your ResourceXpress and/or Resource Central system needs to be upgraded to V4.9J or above.

Background

Historically applications (and users) have authenticated with Exchange using a simple username and password. This has been the standard method built into most applications including ResourceXpress and Resource Central. Authentication has moved forward to incorporate more secure methods, including OAuth which is a modern authentication method. Microsoft has announced that they will disable basic authentication, which is the method of simple username and password, and allow only modern authentication.

The authors of the products we support have developed changes to utilise these new methods including OAuth.

When is this happening?

The change from Microsoft is not happening suddenly for all organisations, but the message from Microsoft is that they will be rolling out this change this year for all new tenants and any organisations that they detect are not using basic authentication. For this reason we are recommending that if needed your system is prepared in advance to prevent the risk of a sudden change stopping it from working.

Do you need to take action?

This change is only for connections to Exchange Online. If you are only using on-premises Exchange you will not be affected at this time, unless your company is pro-actively deciding to disable basic authentication for your Exchange environment.

ResourceXpress

The SaaS version of ResourceXpress and the on-premises version 4.9j onwards already support modern authentication so in these cases, you do not need to upgrade. You do, however, need to ensure that your system is configured correctly to use it. Essential can help you check this and advise on the necessary steps if needed, 

If you are running an on-premises version of ResourceXpress older than 4.9j you will need to upgrade and configure it.

Resource Central

The SaaS version of Resource Central will be upgraded in time to support the Microsoft change, all customer hosted implementations will need to be upgraded to a later version.  Whether on SaaS or customer hosted servers, system configuration will need to be updated in order to correctly use modern authentication.

What next?

Get in touch with Essential to find out more.

As Covid-19-related restrictions are slowly easing around the world, many businesses are preparing to return to the workplace. However, infection risks remain high and employees are naturally nervous about increasing their potential exposure.

So how do you create a workplace that not only supports social distancing and keeps people healthy, but also reassures them that it’s safe to come back to work?

For those employees willing and able to consider returning to the workplace, businesses have a legal and ethical duty to create the safest possible work environment.

There are several areas where technology can help in achieving this, including:

  • wearables that monitor social distancing,
  • implementing a workplace management strategy, and
  • effective communication of your strategy to your team.

Wearable Proximity Solutions

Available as wrist brands and on lanyards, these devices give a warning when the wearer is within 2 metres (or 6ft) of a co-worker (also wearing a device). The various options available, such as Estimote, include the ability for wearers to push a ‘panic button’ to update management on their status. The system, in turn, can be used to identify and notify any staff members that have been in close contact with someone that has been flagged as ‘at risk’.

This technology is especially useful where staff are highly mobile: working in a warehouse or on a building site, however when working in an office environment, other safeguards may be more appropriate.

Implementing a workplace management strategy

One thing we know for certain is that a traditional, static office environment is not going to cut it in the time of coronavirus. Agile workplaces are going to be a must in order to support the kind of strategic timing, seating and movement plans necessary to ensure safe social distancing.

Essential has been implementing agile workplace management strategies for a variety of businesses for many years. Here are a few ideas to consider when compiling your own social distancing ‘plan of action’.

Stagger start and break times

To be honest, in light of the current home-working situation we thought that managing the booking of meeting rooms and hot desks would be the last thing on the agenda.

Managing the most common staff bottlenecks is going to be important for social distancing. One of the easiest ways to do this is to stagger arrival, departure and break times. This minimises the number of employees sharing lifts, stairwells and exits, and prevents overcrowding in pause spaces and kitchens.

Depending on the size of your business, you may need to embrace shift work to achieve this.

Implement desk and meeting room booking systems

Preventing staff from sitting cheek by jowl or clustering in meeting rooms is a challenge of slightly larger proportions, particularly if you’re dealing with limited floorspace. Modern, configurable resource booking solutions can be very helpful in maximising the safe use of the facilities that you have, by:

With infection rates still sky high, it’s likely that people will be wary of using public transport for the foreseeable future. The result is going to be a big boost in road traffic and increased parking requirements at workplaces.

  • Enabling employees to pre-book a workspace securely from any device or browser
  • Ensuring desks are never booked side-by-side unless there is sufficient spacing
  • Limiting meeting room occupancy
  • Repurposing meeting rooms as extra workspaces if necessary
  • Flagging desks with specific attributes like standing desks, accessible desks, multiple screens, multiple docking stations etc.

Pro tip: A good desk booking solution doesn’t only help enforce social distancing. It also gives valuable peace of mind to employees by reassuring them that they have a safe, isolated workspace booked for the day.

Apply strategic seating policies

Above and beyond safe distancing, it’s also a good idea to apply a few strategic seating policies via your resource booking solution. For example:

  • Preventing critical employees from sitting in the same area to reduce the chance of them all needing to be quarantined at the same time.
  • Avoiding departmental clusters for the same reason.

Enforce sanitation windows

Sanitising workstations between users is vital to prevent the potential spread of infection. If you have cleaning staff on hand, consider using your resource booking tool to prevent successive bookings of the same desk, or enforce a short window between users to allow time for a deep clean.

If you don’t have a permanent cleaning team, a resource booking system can still help by reminding users to sanitise their workspace when they sign out of their desk for the day.

Automate parking assignments

With infection rates still sky high, it’s likely that people will be wary of using public transport for the foreseeable future. The result is going to be a big boost in road traffic and increased parking requirements at workplaces.

Just like with desks and meeting rooms, an automated resource-booking system can be invaluable in making the most of the parking space you have by:

  • Enabling “hot parking” – assigning bays dynamically on a daily/weekly pre-booking basis
  • Staggering parking bays assigned to employees starting or leaving work at the same time
  • Returning bays to the parking pool if employees:
    • have not signed into their desk for the day (off sick or working remotely)
    • leave work early
    • are on leave
  • Keeping security informed of who is where, and when (including visitors)

Track and trace potential infections

Chances are, no matter how good your health and safety protocol, someone, somewhere, is going to come to work sick. In this event, your resource booking tool can be invaluable in tracking and tracing any potential infection chains with a complete record of every desk, meeting room and parking space that employee has used in recent weeks. It’ll also be able to tell you who else used the same facilities or was seated near enough to potentially be at risk.

Manage visitors

Employees aren’t the only people you need to keep safe on your premises. Visitors movements also need to be managed for social distancing reasons. Consider using your resource booking tool to assign passes to restrict visitor numbers, pre-book meeting rooms and make appropriate parking available to ensure safe and easy entry and exit from your premises.

(Educating visitors on safety protocol before arrival is also important – more on that in a bit.)

Effective Communication of Your ‘Return to Work’ Strategy

The very best workplace management plan is completely useless without the buy-in of your entire team. That makes effective communication another vital component of health and safety during the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s how to do it well.

Very few employees are likely to return to the office without knowing exactly how they’re being protected, first.

Engage with employees on measures to make them feel safe

Consulting with your employees before finalising any workplace management plan is a great way to make them feel heard, and bring to light any specific concerns they may have that you hadn’t thought about.

Tools like native Microsoft Forms are great for polling staff on their ideas and expectations for a safer workplace, and can also be used to gauge important metrics like:

  • How many people need/want to remain working remotely
  • How many people plan to return to the office
  • How many people require parking on their return

Communicate and educate employees on safety protocol

Once you’ve incorporated any employee feedback into your final workplace management plan, you need to communicate that plan to your workforce. Very few employees are likely to return to the office without knowing exactly how they’re being protected, first.

Here, the Microsoft-approved learning management system (LMS365) can be invaluable by:

  • Informing employees of all health and safety measures in place – check out the latest guidance from the Health & Safety Executive.
  • Training them on any new tools and procedures (e.g. resource booking) or personal responsibilities that they will have (e.g. hygiene practices and use of PPE)
  • Tracking their participation in the training and capturing their acknowledgment of understanding for peace of mind and/or liability purposes

Prepare visitors prior to arrival

Visitors will also need to understand and abide by your health and safety rules while on your premises. For most businesses, Microsoft Forms is more than enough to:

  • Convey visitor procedures
  • Securely capture any pertinent personal details (subject to your pre-existing governance protocol)
  • Record consent to limit liability

Pro tip: Industries with more complex visitor protocol may prefer using LMS365 for its comprehensive training capabilities.

Conclusion

With the right tools and planning, we can protect our most valuable assets (our people), and minimise the anxiety of returning employees.

Returning to the workplace is going to be a challenging adjustment for many.  With the right tools and planning, however, we can ease that adjustment significantly, protect our most valuable assets (our people), and minimise the anxiety of returning employees.

Perhaps even more importantly, we can begin the transformation to a new and better ‘normal’ that embraces the flexibility of the workplace of the future.

For more information on leveraging resource booking and learning management tools to support social distancing and workplace agility, get in touch.

To be honest, in light of the current home-working situation we thought that managing the booking of meeting rooms and hot desks would be the last thing on the agenda.

It turns out that some customers are now using our resource management solution to optimise their usage of video conferencing services.

If you weren’t already using Microsoft Teams before COVID-19 took hold, and are now relying on services like WebEx, GoToMeeting and Zoom, you may well have purchased a ‘limited host’ licence subscription. That is, where you pay so much per ‘meeting host’ per month.

With everyone now scrambling to use this resource to communicate with co-workers and clients, it’s easy to run out of host licences quickly, but buying a host licence for everyone in your organisation might not be viable.

Our customer Tindall Riley, the management company behind 5 insurance businesses, is now using Resource Central to optimise its ‘pool’ of available Zoom host licences by making them a bookable resource. This means their workforce can pre-book a Zoom host licence as and when they need it.

If you’d like to find out more on how to use this service in Resource Central, get in touch.

 

Implementing a resource-booking solution for parking is a great way to maximise the use of an increasingly scarce (and costly) resource, but it takes exceptionally careful planning to navigate all the potential complications.

First off, you have the practical issues. For example: do you want your parking bays to be numbered and have those numbers correlate with your booking system to minimise human error, or would you prefer the simpler approach of just providing a fixed number of bays to be booked?

You also need to think about booking rules, such as:

  • Can bookings be made at any time, or will they be limited to the day before or a specific time window?
  • Will directors or senior staff get priority parking, and will they be allowed to block-book their bays?
  • How will you handle visitor parking? Will these bays be separate from the general pool, or booked on a priority basis?
  • Can staff book parking from their mobile devices?

What about when things don’t go according to plan? For example:

  • The person who booked Bay 9 parks in Bay 6 by accident, setting off an unintended domino-effect of “on-the-fly” adjustments.
  • An employee has a last-minute change of plans, or rushes off on a personal emergency, and forgets to release their bay back into the pool.
  • A senior staff member with priority parking forgets to release their bay when they go on holiday or enters into an informal arrangement with a favourite employee or friend to use their space while they’re out of office.
  • Somebody parks badly and takes up two bays.

And how do you plan to introduce the new system?

  • Will you provide training on the rules and technology?
  • Will there be a well-thought-out strategy to justify the change in behaviour?
  • Will there be counselling for when tempers start to rise…?

If you thought desks were the most contentious resources that booking solutions could be used for, you’d be shocked to find out just how strongly people feel about parking spots.

Jokes aside, you can’t ignore the emotive issues of car park booking. They can be even more challenging to unravel than the practicalities, particularly when subjective questions like fairness come up.

A great example that we came across recently involved a historic arrangement that gave female employees preferential parking after an unwelcome encounter occurred one evening after work. Male employees who had previously accepted the arrangement reacted quite negatively to its continuation under the new reservation system, voicing concerns over fair treatment for all genders in light of changing times.

While that specific situation may not be an issue for your business, broader challenges like declining public transport, more cars on the road, and overly-enthusiastic local traffic wardens affect us all.

Our best advice would be to brace yourself – switching from a no-rules parking scrum to a more formalised solution can be a bit of a bumpy ride…

Green Motivations

A lot of companies are shrinking their car park sizes not only to reduce overheads but also to encourage staff to use more eco-friendly methods of transport.

Essential client, Airbus, used a reduction in car park space as one of their key “green initiatives” in their multi-million-pound Aerospace Park development in Bristol. Many of their employees now ride-share, use public transport, or even cycle to work, making a real impact on their carbon footprint with the support of their employers.

The importance of a game plan

Balancing seniority, fairness and efficiency to keep everyone happy in a limited parking environment is always going to be a delicate process. Technology goes a long way towards simplifying the practicalities, but it can’t account for the human factor without some kind of game plan.

Creating this game plan really should be the first step for any business considering the implementation of a car-park resource-booking system. We’d suggest running through as many likely scenarios as possible and inviting employees to comment on any challenges that could affect their day-to-day experience. (Who better to shine a light on the unique eccentricities of your people and processes, after all?)

From there, you can start to formulate a basic strategy for your reservations which can be refined with the help of your service provider. Together, you can ensure your technology is implemented in the most efficient way possible, achieves your desired outcomes, and keeps conflict to a minimum.

COVID-19 Update

We suspect that the whole concept of having a dedicated desk or an allocated parking space will have to ‘go out of the window‘ in the wake of COVID-19.

Even the desk or the parking bay normally used by directors – will need to become part of the available ‘pool’ when not in use:

  • All available desk space will be required to enable the requisite social distancing, and
  • All available parking bays will be required for staff coming into the office so they can avoid public transport.

Reverse hoteling (where staff can release their allocated parking bay to be booked by other staff when they are due to be out of the office) is one way in which this can be achieved.

Given that ‘out of office’ is likely to be the default position for a lot of your workforce, you may elect to make all available work and parking spaces bookable (subject to policies you might set) by those that need them.

The Essential Solution

At Essential, we’re very proud of the flexibility of our resource booking system and our ability to integrate almost any functionality our clients desire.

From basic reservation systems to time-based check-in/check-out procedures, and reverse hoteling, our team is ready to help you find the right solution for your needs.

Get in touch to find out more