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

Many workspace booking systems offer the ability to book and locate a workspace via an interactive floor plan.

An interactive floor plan typically comprises a series of graphics depicting your office layout floor by floor (or area by area), overlaid with an intelligent and dynamic booking element that uses ‘hot spots’ and colour coding to show free/busy status, along with pinch and zoom, point and click interaction.

Many systems also support the ability to book a socially distanced desk. Some systems can even identify the location of co-workers that have booked desks on the same day, enabling you to book a desk that’s close by for optimum collaboration.

In short, floor plans are a great way of doing things, as they give your workforce at-a-glance visibility of what workspaces are available on the day they want to come into the office, and where the workspace is located.  I for one, am keen to find a desk that’s close to vital services, such as the coffee area, printers and the loos!

Regardless of which booking system you select – or even if you simply want to use printed maps in your reception/lobby areas – here’s some top tips on how to create the best floor plan graphics to use as the basis of your workspace booking system:

1. Put yourself in the shoes of the observer

Before uploading a map into your system, check it’s the right (and logical) way up.

A key thing to bear in mind is that conventions for orienting a map or architectural diagram can vary.

For static ‘geographical’ maps, north is always up.  If you’re depicting objects like buildings, the convention should be to show the main entrance of the building at ‘the bottom’ of the map, regardless to where north is.  Plans for new builds, however, can tend to follow a ‘north equals up’ convention.

Another consideration is context.

If your booking system is to be displayed on a big screen in your main reception, then our best practice guideline is to create a ‘heads up’ experience for the viewer.

By this I mean, if meeting room ‘A’ is shown on the left of the floor plan, the room itself should be physically ‘off to the left’ of the screen it’s displayed on.

Covid has, however, changed the whole ‘touch screen in reception’ experience. 

Now, given that most bookings will be made remotely from home or from a mobile device, the best strategy is to orient your floor plan according to the most typical ‘end user experience’ of entering the office.

This means orientating the map with the main entrance at the bottom of the screen (and clearly labelling any other entrances – e.g. Car Park Entrance).

2. De-clutter (don’t just use a default CAD diagram)

CAD diagrams of your office are great for the facilities team as they show details of cabling and plumbing and provide accurate measurements for occupation planning and so on.

Showing the detail of every stall in the loos and every stick of office furniture is too much information when you just want to book a desk.

Avoid floor plans that have far too much detail.

Tips for simplifying your maps are:

Focus on just the basics.  Drop the details and leave behind just the components that will help your workforce select, and then later find, their chosen workspace.  This means paring it back to:

  • The basic office shape
  • Entrances & exits
  • Lifts & staircases
  • Desks & numbering*
  • Storage for personal effects (important where staff no longer have a dedicated desk)
  • Meeting rooms & names*
  • Coffee areas (everyone knows where these are)
  • Loos (ditto)
  • Copying/scanning equipment
  • Recycling points
  • Accessibility
  • Features & attributes of the desk, such as:
    • Standing desk
    • Docking station
    • Multiple screens
  • Likewise, facilities available in a meeting room, such as:
    • VC equipment
    • Flip chart
    • Smartboards

Strip away the detail using your CAD package. It may be possible to go back to the originator of your CAD drawings and get them to ‘turn off’ the layers of detail you don’t need, and just leave you with the elements that are required for the job in hand.  Refer to this article for an example of how to achieve this in AutoCAD

Use icons where possible. Instead of drawing every cubicle in the loos, just put the relevant symbols in place. And there’s no need for a legend if your chosen symbols are recognisable.

3. Be prepared to re-draw your CAD floor plan from scratch

Our top tip here is to be prepared to re-draw your optimal floor plans from scratch, using your CAD diagrams as a guide.

Why?

Often access to the original CAD application and drawings is difficult.  Although you may have a PDF version of the CAD diagram, being able to access the individual layers and disable them is either a) impossible or b) can take an inordinate length of time.

Another reality is that you may only have access to a rough copy of an original CAD diagram that’s been copied, scribbled on and re-drawn several times over.

Below is typical of what we might be given to work with.

In this case the client didn’t have access to the original CAD diagrams and many ad-hoc changes had been made over time anyway.

The resolution was poor and you’ll notice that the main entrance to the building is depicted at the top of the diagram, so the map actually needed to be rotated by 180 degrees and recreated from scratch in order to be legible and make logical sense to the viewer.

By redrawing your maps you will benefit from:

  • A clearer visual for staff
  • A much smaller file size that will render quickly and cleanly on any browser or mobile device

Scalable vector graphic (SVG) files in particular are very efficient file formats to work with and enable rapid zooming in and out without loss of resolution.  Even if your chosen workspace booking platform works with jpgs, we recommend creating your original graphic in a vector diagramming application as this will make it easy to go back and make any amendments in the future.

Tips for creating your vector graphic floor plans are:

  • Use a vector diagramming package such as Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape (available free online)
  • Start with an initial page size/format that matches in with your typical viewer’s device.
    •  If this is the desktop, then start with 1920×1080
    • If this is a mobile display, start with 414×896
  • Import any existing floor plan graphic you have as a starting point
  • Scale it on the page to be a large as possible
  • ‘Lock it in place’
  • Start ‘tracing’ over your floor plan, adding just the basics**
  • Use copy and paste, step and repeat to build up key components, like blocks of desks.

You’ll quickly build up a floor, and then with a bit of luck, you’ll have similar layouts that repeat from floor to floor.  At the very least, the building footprint, stairs, lifts and WCs are often in the same location across all floors in a building!

Before:

After:

4. Don’t be afraid to use artistic licence

Just like the award-winning design for the London Underground map, helping your workforce choose and find a workspace does not demand a slavishly accurate rendition of your actual floor plan.

Believe me, individuals will NOT be out with their tape measure with a view to calling you out on a discrepancy of real-life VS your electronic floor plans.

For this reason, you may wish to employ the following techniques to aid visibility:

  • If your default layout is landscape in format, but your building is long and skinny, simply make it ‘wider’ than it is in reality. This will allow you to use larger proportions for workspaces and labels.
  • Reduce the size of insignificant features like a long connecting corridor

5. Pick up on design cues & use colour to ease navigation

If there is a strong design element to your office, then reflect this in your diagrams to aid familiarity.

For example, we have depicted such navigation ‘aids’ as:

  • Reflecting the different coloured carpets used in each zone.
  • Labelling ‘external landmarks’ (for example, a customer in Canary Wharf wanted to help staff navigate by depicting the view out of each window (HSBC, O2, etc)
  • Picking up on décor such as different coloured meeting rooms

Ultimately, we always recommend you reflect any corporate colours and fonts that reinforce your company brand.

TIPS

  • Avoid over-use of the colours red and green. Red, green (and often amber) are the colours that are typically used to show the free/busy status of workspaces on your floor plan.  It’s therefore a good idea to avoid use of these colours to avoid confusion.
  • Avoid design by committee. Whilst it’s a good idea to get input from the various different stakeholders in your company, reflecting everyone’s views in the design process can result in a lack of simplicity.

6. You may need to review numbering and naming conventions

This subject is a whole new conversation again.  Bear in mind that the labels on CAD diagrams may not relate to actual meeting room names in use.  Also many of the customers we work with that are implementing desk booking systems don’t already have a desk numbering system.

Once you have devised your optimal desk numbering system, you’ll need to individually number each workspace, but you don’t necessarily need to apply a number to each desk shown on the interactive map.

Covid-secure workspace booking

Are you planning a ‘Covid-secure’ workspace booking system? Here’s 4 top tips when it comes to how you go about identifying your Covid-secure desks.

Your workspace booking floor plans are a great opportunity for you to reinforce your Covid-secure messaging and precautions to provide reassurance to your workforce.

In addition to any built-in Covid secure capability your booking system has, such as automatically blocking off adjacent desks when you make a booking, consider adding the following:

  • Traffic flow signage
  • Hand sanitising stations
  • Departmental zones
  • Cleaning stations & contact points

Other capabilities you should look for in a Covid-secure workspace booking solution include:

  • Self-certification of staff members when they book workspaces
  • Authenticated (yet contactless) check-in (this will allow you to track exactly who’s used what workspace)
  • The scheduling of between-use cleaning
  • Policies that govern who can book what spaces when (and how often) – the subject of our next blog
  • Capture of information to support contact tracing
  • Registration of visitors and safety instructions

Conclusion – It’s Worth Putting in the Effort

Making your office floor plans clear, informative and great looking will be a good investment on your part:

  • By helping staff members choose and book their optimal workspace, that’s near the resources they need and has the attributes they desire, they will be as productive as possible when they’re in the office.
  • It will allow you to demonstrate the precautions you are taking to keep your workforce safe and help put minds at ease as they return to the office.
  • It’s a very visible service, and as we get back to the ‘new normal’, may be seen by visitors to your office – not just your own workforce.  Done well, it will convey a slick and professional image for all concerned.

See our meeting room & hot desk booking solutions in action!

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

Essential has worked on some of the largest Public Folder migration projects in the world.  Here’s a few tips from our gurus:

A few years back you didn’t have an option to migrate your legacy public folders to Office 365 – in fact public folders on-premises were to be end-of-lifed.  SharePoint was initially tabled as an alternative, but this didn’t ‘wash’ with a lot of Microsoft customers because it didn’t offer the same functionality and was over-complicated.

Microsoft quickly changed its position (no doubt following uproar from lots of disgruntled customers) and now you can take advantage of modern public folders – a service that seems to be hanging together reasonably well and growing bigger in capacity all the time.  It’s now 100TB in total – it started out at 2.5 TB and then 50TB so it’s always worth checking here Exchange Online limits – Service Descriptions | Microsoft Docs!

As you might imagine, there are some caveats, clean-ups and other considerations that come into play if you want to make the move.

But first off, it’s worth getting a bit of background on the modern public folder construct:

The Modern Public Folder service is very different from the Public Folder database architecture you’ll already be familiar with.  It basically uses regular mailboxes that are automatically linked together and load-balanced (for Office 365) as your Public Folders grow in size.  Being regular mailboxes they also benefit from being part of data availability groups (DAGs) instead of having to undergo painful public folder replication.

Here’s how the modern public folder to Office 365 architecture works:

  • You kick off with a single, Primary Public Folder (PF) mailbox (which can grow up to 100GB in size)
  • Office 365 detects when a PF mailbox is approaching the 100GB limit and uses an auto-split feature that creates a linked Secondary PF ‘overspill’ mailbox.
  • As the next mailbox fills up, another PF mailbox is added and content is automatically re-balanced across all the mailboxes.
  • This expansion continues until you hit an overall limit (at the time of the last update to this article it is 1,000 public folder mailboxes and 100TB in a single Microsoft 365 tenancy).
    See this page for the latest info: https://technet.microsoft.com/library/exchange-online-limits(EXCHG.150).aspx
  • A PF hierarchy is maintained alongside the PF contents in the Primary mailbox.
  • This hierarchy is updated to reflect the new location of items as new PF mailboxes are added and as content gets ‘re-balanced’ across the available mailboxes.
  • Read-only copies of the PF hierarchy are also stored in each of the Secondary PF mailboxes and these are kept in sync with the Primary using Incremental Change Synchronisation (ICS).

The key thing to note that is that as far as users are concerned, although the Public Folder to Office 365 mail comprise multiple, ‘lashed together’ mailboxes, they can be viewed and navigated as a single, logical entity.

This is a really great PowerPoint by MVP Peter Schmidt that describes the whole thing in more detail:

https://www.slideshare.net/petsch/modern-public-folders

See also this Microsoft document for details: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/exchange/collaboration/public-folders/limits?view=exchserver-2019

Planning Your Migration

Can you migrate?

If you’ve already upgraded to Modern Public Folders on-premises (i.e. you’re using Exchange 2013 or above), Microsoft Office 365 does not currently offer a ‘native’ migration solution.

At the time of writing you will need to look to a third-party migration solution to help out.  If you don’t want to go down that route, the other option is to keep your PFs on-premises and access them from the cloud until Microsoft delivers a solution.

If you are using ‘old school’ PFs (aka legacy PFs) hosted on Exchange 2010 SP3 RU8 or later or Exchange 2007 SP3 RU15, Microsoft has a migration solution using batch migration scripts as described in this article:

https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dn874017(v=exchg.150).aspx.

You’ll need to run around 11 separate scripts in total (including a final synchronisation and switch – yes – it’s using MRS) which means it can be quite complicated to use.

Using a third-party tools can simplify the process. The tool from Binary Tree (now Quest) is interesting as it performs a two-way PF synchronisation between Exchange on-premises and Office 365.  This has the benefit that all users are able to continue to access up-to-date PF content regardless of where they are in the migration process – on-premises or in the Cloud.  You can also elect when you migrate yours PFs, as otherwise you would typically wait until you have migrated all your mailboxes into the Cloud.

There’s another neat tool that we offer that you might want to check out too.

If you’ve been archiving public folders in the past, for example, using Enterprise Vault, we can help you migrate archived public folders, and indeed regular PFs, to Office 365.

At a push you can also use PST files as a mechanism for uploading on-premises PFs into Office 365, but you need to know what you’re doing when it comes to splitting your PFs into ‘mailbox chunks’ (see below).

Do an Inventory and Have a Clean Up

Some of our customers store vital customer records in PFs.  They also have a lot of rubbish in them and migration is a great opportunity to do a sort out.

Start by doing an inventory of your PFs at a ‘high-level’, and get statistics such as size, item count, owners, permissions and last accessed dates.

In order to make solid and defensible decisions around whether content can be deleted prior to migration you’ll need to do a LOT of deeper digging, however gathering initial meta-data can give you some excellent pointers.  For example:

  • Removing empty and duplicate folders can be a quick fix.
  • Orphaned folders with an old last accessed date are a very obvious candidates for a clean up.
  • Knowing the owner of a PF (assuming it’s not ‘Administrator’) can help signpost who you need to contact in order to see if content can be disposed of.

As ever with records disposition decisions, seek to get the relevant data custodians to call the shots – don’t go it alone!

Bear in mind that a potential downside to deleting or excluding older/stale contents from your migration is that you could create an eDiscovery headache later. For example, an HR dispute may refer back to employment terms and conditions, pension fund arrangements, etc, that were published decades ago.

Analyse Your PFs for Potential Glitches

Given the inherent differences between the architecture of old PFs and Modern PFs, you’ll need to spend some time eliminating things that will upset the migration process. For example:

  • Check for stale permissions
  • Check there are no orphaned PF mail objects or duplicate PF objects in Active Directory
  • Check PF names – syntax errors in your legacy PF naming convention can cause problems. For example:
    • If the name of a PF contains a backslash () it will end up in the parent PF when migration occurs.
    • Trailing whitespaces within Mail enabled PFs and commas in the Alias field will also create synchronisation problems.
  • Check all mail enabled folders to see that they have the right proxy address.
  • If you have any forms, these need to be exported and re-imported into Office 365
  • If users have PF ‘favourites’, they will need to document these before you cut over, as they will disappear

Chunk Up Your Legacy Folders to Slot Nicely into the New Separate Mailboxes Model

As we said earlier in this article, Office 365 performs an auto-split and load-balancing function as PFs approach 100GB in size, but this process can take up to two weeks to complete.  This is not usually a problem when you are populating a PF during ‘normal use’, but when you’re in a midst of a wholesale migration, you’ll be chucking data into Office 365 PFs at a rate of knots, and Office 365 can’t recalibrate itself fast enough.

Common to all migration approaches, therefore, is the need to take the Office 365 PF size restriction of 100GB per mailbox into consideration and effectively run scripts to ‘chunk up’ your PFs into separate PFs that are less than 100GB in size before you start your move.  We suggest you check that your ‘chunks’ are split according to logical subfolders.

Don’t overlook that fact that some of the items in PFs may be archived, as this will not only impact how you do your migration, it will also impact your sizing analysis (as shortcuts to archived items can be a fraction of the actual item size).   Check the message class to do this – e.g. IPM.NOTE.EnterpriseVault.Shortcut

There are many other considerations to take on board to ensure the best outcome post-move, such ensuring optimum retrieval times by putting PFs in a geographic location that’s near to users that will be accessing it.  Ensuring the number of people accessing PFs is kept below 2,000 per mailbox is also recommended.

Post-move you’ll need to do lots of checking and you might also need to re-mail-enable mail-enabled PFs post migration as this attribute might not get migrated.

You can find other considerations here:  https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dn957481(v=exchg.160).aspx

Essential can help you with reviewing your public folders migration to Office 365, and can provide insights that include:

  • Storage Trending
  • Public Folders by Access Time (Tree View + List View)
  • Public Folders by Size (Tree View + List View)
  • Top 10 largest folders
  • Empty PFs
  • Top 25 Public Folder owners
  • Public Folders by Last Post

Let us migrate your Public Folders to Microsoft 365 (or elsewhere!)

We can simplify your Public Folder & Public Folder Archive migrations – or help you migrate to alternative platforms like Azure  Get in touch to discuss your options.

Unlike other LMSs that either a) are totally separate, or b) need to synchronise the provisioning of learner groups with Microsoft Teams (a process that can take up to 48 hours), LMS365 lets you use native Team membership to control learner enrolments.

This video looks at how you can harness the power of Microsoft Teams to manage learner enrolments in the LMS356 Learning Management System for Microsoft 365.

This includes the provisioning of Guest accounts and the automatic onboarding of staff to essential reading and training when they are added to an ‘all company Team’

Last week Microsoft announced Viva – an employee experience platform (XP) that pulls together the threads of a number of existing applications including Teams, SharePoint, Yammer, AI, Workplace Analytics, etc. to provide solutions in four key areas:

  • Viva Connections:  A way of curating, centralising and personalising workforce communications that builds on SharePoint, Yammer and Stream
  • Viva Insights:  Tools to bolster workforce wellbeing, both at a personal level (MyAnalytics) and an enterprise level (Workplace Analytics)
  • Viva Topics : A way of harnessing knowledge ‘in line’ leveraging (what you will have previously known as Project Cortex)
  • Viva Learning:  Learning content delivery ‘in the flow of work’*

We’re excited about this direction from Microsoft.

Our own experiences and those of the organisations we work with, tell us that migrating to Office 365 was just the beginning.  Finding ways to get the most out of the ‘technology rocket’ we’re now all strapped to, is a whole other thing.  This is especially true now that we now have the challenge of supporting, nurturing and enhancing the wellbeing of a modern ‘hybrid’ workforce.

In the case of Viva Learning, learning content providers Coursera, Pluralsight and Skillsoft have been quick to announce their support for the Viva platform.  You’ll also have access to content from LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn, and of course, your own content (although there’s no mention of support for importing SCORM content that we can see with Viva Learning).

Similarly, learning management solution providers Cornerstone, Saba and SAP Success Factors have announced their plans to integrate with the Viva Learning platform.

We’re excited to say that the LMS platform Essential works with (LMS 365) is also going to integrate with Viva.  There can’t be much work to be done to achieve this in our opinion!  Why?  Keep reading.

*What does Learning in the Flow of Work Mean?

The Viva Learning approach is to use Microsoft Teams to deliver learning content, enabling users to organise, locate and share training in Teams chats, channels, and tabs.  That is to say: putting the learning experience right where they collaborate every day.

In fact, in describing its solution, Microsoft uses a sentiment that’s been the LMS365 mantra on the outset, namely training and development ‘in the flow of work’.

The fact is, anything that involves logging into a separate portal becomes a disjointed experience for the end user, and therefore risks being neglected.

Sharing learning in Microsoft Teams
Source: Microsoft

How to get learning in the flow of work today

The timelines around when Viva Learning will launch are not solid (perhaps towards the end of the year), but invitations have gone out for private preview.

Given that the cost for licencing Viva Topics (which is available for free evaluation now) is $5 per user per month, we anticipate that Viva Learning may demand a similarly high price.

So, if you want to get going with workforce development in the flow of work now and at an affordable price point, get in touch.  The fact that LMS365 is licenced as you go will mean nothing is lost if Microsoft Viva Learning evolves to have any extra functionality you require.

On this latter subject, in our experience of working with learning and HR managers, deep functionality is high on the agenda.  Viva Learning will be more about aggregating and presenting content, but not so much about managing enrolment flows and reporting.

We therefore predict it could be some while before Microsoft’s Viva Learning offers the management capability and flexibility that’s typically demanded of fully-fledged LMS.

LMS365 gives this depth of functionality combined with an embedded Teams and SharePoint experience, and many other things besides, such as handling the enrolment and tracking of Virtual Instructor Led Training (using Teams sessions).

Learning in the Flow of Work

If you want to find out more about learning ‘in the flow of work, how LMS365 compares with Viva Learning and indeed, what’s involved in migrating from an existing LMS system to LMS365, get in touch.

Are you planning a ‘Covid-secure’ workspace booking system? As and when your workforce can return to the office*, here’s 4 top tips when it comes to how you go about identifying your Covid-secure desks.

*Tip 3 in this blog is even more important given the announcement of the new four-step plan to ease England’s lockdown

1. Walk the floor

It’s tempting to use CAD diagrams as a reference when numbering workspaces, however in our experience these can quickly become out-of-date.  Desks can get informally ‘nudged’ around and added or removed over the years.

You may also find there’s glass partitions or dividers that give extra protection that are not obvious in a CAD diagram.

There could also be some ‘desire paths’ (as opposed to the originally intended walkways around the office).  These will need to be taken into consideration (or blocked off) to avoid traffic passing too close to desk occupants.

If possible, the best starting point is to physically walk the floor with a tape measure and a critical eye.   Numbering each desk as you physically encounter them is also the best to ensure your staff can easily find the particular desk they’ve booked with minimal hunting around.

2. Treat your desks like hotel rooms.

It’s always a good idea to use familiar and intuitive conventions, and the way in which hotel rooms are (usually) numbered is worth emulating for your desks.

So:

  • Use the first number to indicate the floor, and the next digits to signify the workspace number. 3 digits will give you up to 99 numbers to ‘play with’ per floor.
  • If you have more than 99 desks on a floor, you will need to use 4 digits in total.
  • Ideally your numbering should count up in a clockwise direction as you walk around the office floor, starting from the main entrance (e.g., the main lifts).
  • Numbers should be allocated logically within a desk block, to minimise the amount of walking around to find a desk.
  • You may consider adding signage in strategic places (e.g. other entry points to the floor) to signpost desk ranges.

Consistency helps with this process, so number desks counting up clockwise around a block or zig-zagging across a block of desks, but don’t mix these ‘conventions’ up.

The above example shows the right way and the wrong way to number your desks.  Our great tip is to imagine you are walking along the floor using the main thoroughfares.   How would you feel if desk 19 was on the other side of the floor from desk 16?  Confused, we think.

Finally, even if you just have one floor of desks, it’s useful to include a ‘0’ on your desk numbering, so count 001-099, not 1, 2, 3 up to 99, as some desk booking systems sort alphanumerically.

3. Number all potential desks (not just the safely spaced ones)

We have seen (and thankfully, averted) more than one project where the intention was to only allocate a consecutive number just to the ‘safely distanced’ desks.

For example:

The key downside to this approach is that social distancing requirements may change.

For example, changes to Government social distancing guidelines from 2m to “1m Plus” came into play last year, and (given half a chance) you may have changed your desk arrangements accordingly.

*STOP PRESS – As of Monday 22nd February, Boris’ new four-step plan set out guidance on when we can expect easing of restrictions, but when we can return to work looks like it will follow a review into social distancing – which could see us well into June 2021.  

Even after this date, Sir Patrick Vallance indicated that additional measure may need to be re-introduced when we move into next Winter.   This could mean the wearing of masks, but also the increasing of social distancing measures in the office.

Of course, it may just be as simple as un-sticking your desk numbers and re-applying them as required, but this will confuse staff.

Also, if you use a workspace booking system you will have to change up your desk numbering accordingly.

By allocating a consecutive number to each potentially available desk on the outset, you won’t need to make any physical changes to your desk numbers at a later date.

Instead, you’ll just have to amend what’s bookable in your workspace management system.

By numbering each desk, you can also take advantage of auto-zoning technology.  To see this in action, check out this video.

As you’ll see in the video, when a user selects their preferred desk, adjacent desks are automatically ‘blocked out’ according to specified rules that can be applied across the board and updated as needed.

4. Prepare for something different altogether

With the home working genie fully out of the bottle, our physical office spaces will probably never be the same again.

Research carried out by Cisco indicates that 77% of larger organisations will adopt a more flexible working policy post pandemic.   It’s not surprising, therefore, to learn that 53% of organisations predicted a reduction in their future office space footprint.

Whilst turning half of your office space into a fully stocked bar (like high-end tonic maker Fever Tree) might not be an option, shrinking or re-organising your office space to reflect your predicted future utilisation, should be on the agenda now.

If there’s any silver lining to this situation, it’s that pre-pandemic, introducing a desk sharing scheme (often referred to as hot desking) tended to be an emotionally charged affair.  In short, staff were happy to be able to work from home but were not at all happy about losing their desk.

Coronavirus has forced the situation, with workforce safety trumping desk ownership politics.

Given that ‘return to work round two’ could be a while off yet, enterprises like Fever Tree are taking action and re-mapping their office now.

Whilst a bar might be a popular attraction for your workforce, rearranging your office space to accommodate your future needs might be more realistic.

Figuring out what workspaces will be required going forward may need some analysis:

  • How many days in the week will staff typically want to visit the office?
  • Will staff want to come in for focus time? In which case, you may need to more quiet areas.
  • Is the main driver to meet with co-workers? If this is the case, you’ll need more smaller, collaborative areas?

It’s probably going to be a mix of both types, but the reality is, you may never return to a 1:1 ratio of desks to staff.

Covid-secure workspace management

Read more about services to help your enterprise book, provision & manage your workplace for social distancing & beyond.

If you want to ensure safely spaced desks for staff members visiting the office, you can pre-assign just those desks that are bookable in advance.  Alternatively you can make life a lot easier by setting up auto-zoning….

See how easy it is to provide Covid-secure desk booking for your workforce by using a pre-specified safe-distance that can be applied to your floorplan.

In this short video you will see our auto-zoning capability in action, including:

  • How it works from the ‘end user perspective’, and
  • How it’s configured ‘behind the scenes’

See our room & desk booking solution in action!

Request a personalised full product demo

The ‘need for speed’ has always been essential in today’s highly competitive world, and the pandemic has called for even greater pace and agility on the part of businesses as they fight to adapt – and hopefully thrive – in these challenging times.

Just before Christmas a leading UK estate agent went live with its Microsoft Teams-based learning management system (LMS 365) from Essential.

Keeping its staff up-to-date on safety guidance and other changes in the housing market was vital, and speed was ‘of the essence’.

Up & running in 4 weeks (*or less) with LMS 365

For this particular customer it took just over 4 week to progress from ‘solution selection’ to rolling out their first training courses to their 1,800+ workforce with our learning management software.

A big contributor to their rapid deployment was the fact that the LMS we work with is specifically developed to run in the Microsoft Teams (pr SharePoint)| environment.  This significantly accelerates the job of setting up learners and managing content and access, with services that include:

  • Learner enrolment to courses according to existing AD groups
  • Access management & content protection according to already defined security policies
  • Support for SharePoint hub sites enabling connection of related content & common search, navigation & branding
  • Super-easy set-up of existing training content, including SCORM

The ‘not so good’ news …

The bad news (for us, at least) is that this particular customer intends to switch to a different LMS that is part of a much bigger all-encompassing ERP solution at a later date.

They confessed to this on the outset.  Their explanation was that the timelines involved rolling out their originally planned ERP system were much longer than the HR & Learning team wanted to wait….and they needed to get going with training asap.

This is the beauty of on-demand, software as a service and pay-as-you-go licensing.

The other factor that made this ‘throw away’ strategy possible was that the investment on the part of their workforce in getting to grips with LMS365 would be minimal.  This is down to the fact that LMS365 presents itself as a seamless extension to an existing Teams and SharePoint environment.

I guess their rationale is that a pain-free adoption will make moving to a new LMS in the future less of an ordeal for end users.  Easy come, easy go, if you will.

Our LMS team secretly thinks that they’ll get on with it so well, they’ll want to stick with it in the long run….we’ll watch with interest.

Related subjects:

To find out more about the benefits of delivering your learning management system in Teams & SharePoint, get in touch>.

* We are working on another project right now for a recruitment agency that will roll out within 2 weeks of purchase.  Other recent projects have run at 18, 22, 30 an 35 days from purchase to implementation. Projects typically commence within a week, installation within 2 weeks and training within week 3.

When your team can easily find and book the workspaces and other facilities they need on the move, they’re free to focus on getting the job done.

Our mobile app lets staff view and book resources: either in advance or on the day along with catering, parking, AV equipment, visitor badges, and more, including:

  • Covid-safe operation with automatic safe-zoning, cleaning scheduling, contact tracing & contactless check-in
  • Ability to locate co-workers & book a resource nearby
  • Support for Microsoft Outlook, web bookings & app with a consistent user experience
  • Flexible policies that will enable you to optimise your workspace in the future
  • Ability to intercept requests (making them subject to approval)
  • Facilities reporting & management

See our room & desk booking solution in action!

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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!

Now rolled out, this 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.

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).  Up to 50 virtual rooms can be created – which sounds exhausting.

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.

There’s a good ‘blow by blow’ description of how to use breakout rooms here, but before you get going, here’s just a few tips to bear in mind based on my work with breakout rooms so far:

A few top tips

1. Have an idea ‘up front’ who you want to be in each team

In the first release* you can’t pre-configure your breakout rooms and who’s going to go in them.  You can only do this once you’ve started your first meeting. 

So the first bit of advice here is that if you want to be in control of who goes into what team (for example, you want to ‘mix up abilities’), 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), it’s a good idea to have all the relevant names grouped accordingly, ready to refer to.

Otherwise your delegates are going to be sitting, watching you peer at your screen and scratching your head for a long time whilst you pick and choose your breakout team members.

By all means, if you don’t care who’s in what team, you can automatically assign delegates – you just need to specify how many rooms you want.

By default, your rooms are numbered 1,2,3 etc but it’s a good idea to 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.

2. Get any documents for your teams ready in advance

Each virtual room can be used to share files, whiteboards, etc. and the individuals involved can connect and follow-up after the meetings, and access all the resources worked on.  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.

Again – to avoid waiting around, have your individual ‘handout’ documents in a folder on your desktop or in OneDrive ready before the meeting commences.  Once the rooms are assigned will need to add your documents into the individual breakout room chats (after which the participants in that ‘room’ will be able to work collaboratively with the file(s) in question).

Note that you won’t be able to upload the same file for use in different breakout rooms (Teams will tell you that the file is already in use).  You’ll have to create separate copies.

Also you can’t drag and drop a folder of files – you’ll need to move individual files.

3. Practice in advance

It might seem easy when you read the instructions, but as with Teams Live Events, you’ll need at least a few dummy runs with ‘tame’ colleagues to become proficient.  Note that you’ll need a minimum of 5 participants on a call (otherwise the breakout rooms feature won’t be available to you).

Also setting expectations to delegates on the call is important, otherwise the experience ‘on the receiving end’ can be confusing.  To help with this, it’s a good idea to have someone in each breakout room that knows what’s going on and can advise the rest of the team accordingly.

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 and migrating legacy training content, tracking how well-engaged delegates are with the content you deliver (e.g. compliance training and automated on-boarding for new starts) and providing a great Netflix style learning content experience that leverages Teams collaboration, get in touch.

*You can track enhancements to the breakout rooms feature here.

Motivate, re-train, track progress:

Discover how your enterprise 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.