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.

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.

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.

 

By using workspace more intensively and wisely we can reduce our use of buildings and thus our impact on the environment…

Sir Gus O’Donnell, former cabinet secretary and head of the Home Civil Service

Making the necessary changes that enable workforces to adapt to a shrinking office space – especially where that means adopting ‘non-territorial working’ – requires a multi-discipline strategy involving people, design and technology.

For example:

  • The personal benefits of working from home or having a shorter commute should be made clear as part of a hot-desking initiative – it has to be a two-way contract.
  • Office interiors should be designed to be more vibrant and flexible, with a variety of difference workspaces, storage options and fun areas for socialising – there should be compelling reasons to come into the office for team building.
  • Technology to help remove the stress of booking and finding free workspaces should be adopted.  The needs of other stakeholders such as the facilities management team also need to be addressed by whatever you choose.

If you use Office 365, the great news is that you already have the ideal platform on which to build and streamline resource booking and management.

The room booking benefits that Office 365 offers include:

  1. A familiar Outlook & (increasingly familiar) Teams UI –These are the default collaboration and scheduling applications that are already embedded in users’ working practices.

2. Sophisticated calendaring – With Office 365 you have:

    • Support for shared calendars across co-workers
    • The ability to delegate calendar management to team members
    • Support for shared calendars across Outlook & Teams

4. Robust, centralised security –Your existing platform uses Windows auth and AD access rights/privileges to govern access and enable SSO.  This can be used to govern who can book what resource.

3. Advanced scheduling – Powerful tools like the Resource Booking and Scheduling Assistants and Cortana make it easy to find the right time for a group of people and coordinate schedules across multiple time zones.

5. Business continuity – Using regular Outlook calendar and other Microsoft-standard infrastructure means failover and protection against obsolescence is built-in.

6. A reasonably* robust room and resource booking model –You’re probably already using Microsoft’s native resource mailbox capability for booking rooms…

It therefore makes 100% sense that any solution you choose to streamline resource booking and management uses this functionality and doesn’t try to replicate it with a separately managed, secured and disjointed platform.

Available on-premises or in Microsoft Azure, our resource essentials solutions have been developed from the ground up to run in your Microsoft environment and leverage your existing investment in terms of user skills and infrastructure.

This means that issues like user learning curve, security, calendar privacy, delegate access, cross-time zone timings, integration with Microsoft conferencing, duplicate meetings, etc, are all non-issues.

Building directly onto your Office 365 platform we deliver:

  • Smart room and desk booking screens and devices for outside meeting rooms, receptions, lobbies, etc
  • Support for RFID badges and tags for on-screen authentication
  • The ability to book virtually any additional resources such as catering, special requests such as vegan & allergens, equipment, seating layouts
  • Facilities management dashboards for managing catering requests, rearranging meetings
  • Ability to strip meeting subjects out to avoid sensitive information being displayed on booking screens.
  • Management reporting including utilisation reports
  • *Fixing the shortcomings of native resource mailboxes, such as smarter handling of recurring meeting requests, a dashboard for FM/admin staff to manage and view all bookings, visitors, and much, much more.

Get a demo today>

With the GDPR and other industry-specific regulations in full force, it’s not a good idea to take it on faith that your employees are up to date on their compliance responsibilities. For a lot of organisations, it’s mandatory for employees to be regularly retrained on organisational codes of conduct and industry regulations. That can be a time-intensive and costly exercise using traditional training methods, and a monotonous chore for employees.

Thankfully, the increasing availability and adoption of Learning Management Systems (LMS) for corporate training, has made these issues far easier to overcome. We’re particular fans of Microsoft’s LMS365 for compliance training, but let’s take a look at some general LMS benefits before we dive into why.

What is a Learning Management System?

A learning management system (LMS) is essentially a software application or platform that enables the creation, administration, delivery and tracking of eLearning or online training programs. Depending on which LMS you’re using, these programs can have varying degrees of integration into your existing environment. They can be completely standalone experiences or seamless components of daily workflows.

Major benefits for corporate training

There are several benefits of LMSs over more traditional learning environments. One of the most obvious is that they are unaffected by time zones or geography and can accommodate a variety of learning styles and schedules.

Even more important for corporate applications, however, is the ability to deliver enterprise-wide training in an easy-to-manage, easy-to-track, and centrally managed way.

Targeted and scheduled training modules with completion reminders and comprehension tracking make it simple to monitor user progress and address any shortfalls quickly. Course content delivery that leverages gamification also encourages learner participation, and tight integration into existing work environments (available on platforms like LMS365) minimises “barriers to entry”.

It’s also very useful to be able to deliver training programmatically, making it possible to streamline and automate processes like onboarding new staff.

What makes LMSs a great fit for compliance training, specifically?

When your company’s reputation and well-being is on the line, you don’t want to take chances on employees forgetting or neglecting their compliance training. However, ensuring everyone (organisation-wide) is up to date on their responsibilities isn’t easy – even if it is essential to prevent potentially expensive litigation.

Using an LMS helps overcome these challenges in a variety of ways:

Quick, easy course creation and roll-out

Most LMSs have intuitive course creation interfaces that make it easy to create – and adapt – courses as your corporate needs change. This is very useful in the compliance space, which is constantly evolving.

For example, Microsoft recently extended sensitivity labelling functionality to Office applications on Windows. Labelling can be a potent tool in an organisation’s compliance toolbox, but requires a fair amount of understanding and labelling expertise from users. Since labelling policies vary dramatically from business to business, standardised training is of little use. Using an LMS would make it relatively easy to build a custom course around your corporate labelling policies and help you make the most of this powerful, built-in functionality.

Flexible and Fun Course Content Delivery

Let’s face it, reading corporate policies and legalese isn’t anyone’s idea of fun. LMSs can help you deliver learning content through a variety of media and interactive learning activities. Implemented well, these can entice and incentivise employee engagement, making the whole experience more enjoyable for everyone involved.

Most LMSs also offer mobile device compatible training for participation on-the-go. The flexibility to engage whenever and wherever they learn best can have very positive effects on employee information retention and long-term outcomes.

Pro tip: Remote employees and mobile device use can increase a company’s risk of data breaches – make sure you secure these channels and provide adequate training on out-of-office safety protocol.

Automated Reminders and Notifications

With the help of an LMS, you can ensure compliance training is completed on time, every time, with convenient, customisable and trackable automated reminders and notifications.

Even better, some LMSs (like LMS365) let you tie training modules to activities that form part of a normal workday. For example, context-sensitive mini-modules or procedural reminders can be triggered when a user navigates to a specific SharePoint page. This is a great way to relate training to real-world applications and develop the right habits to ensure ongoing compliance.

Comprehensive Assessments and Reporting

LMS assessment and reporting capabilities tend to be extensive, including live tracking of engagement and completion, as well as automatic grading of performance.

Depending on your chosen system, your LMS may also be able to leverage advanced analytics to highlight specific trends and statistics from course modules. These can be integrated into business intelligence platforms to draw some very useful insights, including:

  • Learner engagement, timelines and completion levels
  • Performance on an individual and/or group level
  • Potential knowledge gaps that need further reinforcement or clarification
  • Areas in which course material could be adapted to better serve its purpose

Having access to this kind of comprehension-level reporting is particularly valuable in the compliance space. A lack of understanding can seriously hinder the adoption of new behaviours – a frequent requirement as legislation continues to evolve.

Auditable reports also help organisations prove due diligence in their compliance training remit, further minimising the risk of falling foul of legislation.

Easy Certification Management

For industries or organisations with mandatory certification requirements, keeping track of who has successfully completed what can be an ongoing headache. With the help of a good LMS, however, you can automate most of the certification management and retraining processes, including:

  • Tracking course completion and understanding
  • Enforcing regular retesting
  • Automatically updating procedural content to reflect latest corporate protocol

Manage compliance and all other training activities effectively with LMS365


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In which compliance areas can LMSs be of help?

LMSs are extraordinary tools for almost any type of education or training. When it comes to compliance, their application is particularly useful for organisations in financial services, law, healthcare etc. which have very specific compliance regulations. However, an LMS can be useful to virtually any organisation for training in the following areas.

The GDPR and other data protection legislation

Using an LMS to train employees on their role in safeguarding data makes it far easier to accommodate the evolving nature of this space. Periodic training updates can be actioned for a relatively low financial and time investment, and regular reminders can be triggered to reinforce good habits (such as securing company mobile phones and laptops).

LMSs also make it possible to track employee training and measure understanding to make sure users (both remote and in-office) are genuinely equipped to handle all relevant data-related situations. This reduces the risk of employee data breaches, for which employers may be held vicariously responsible (as in the case of UK supermarket company Morrisons). In these cases, an LMS’s comprehensive training records could also be of use in proving due diligence to strengthen an employer’s legal defence.

Pro tip: Your LMS also needs to be GDPR compliant, so make sure you’re using a reputable platform that conforms to international data privacy standards.

Health and safety

Mandatory health and safety training often comes at a high cost, and isn’t always as effective at minimising incidents as organisations may like. LMSs can offer a more effective way of driving the necessary knowledge home through engaging and flexible learning environments that encourage and incentivise learner participation.

They’re also able to track engagement and assess understanding to give employees the strongest possible foundation on which to build long-term behavioural change.

Information governance

The need to correctly label data items according to their sensitivity and data retention requirements is something that end users are becoming increasingly involved in.  Its processes tend to be a lot more nuanced (and frequently affected by technology advancements and updates) than other areas. This makes the flexibility of an LMS extremely valuable, particularly when using a platform that ties into your existing infrastructure and can trigger updates and policy reminders based on user activity.

Codes of conduct

Data breaches aren’t the only areas employees can be held vicariously liable for their employees’ conduct. Discrimination, bullying and harassment in the workplace can all have serious repercussions for employers as well. By providing training on appropriate workplace behaviour, anti-discrimination and equal opportunities policies, employers can demonstrate an active commitment to a non-toxic work environment and reduce their likelihood of liability.

An LMS can not only make this training easier to implement, update and monitor organisation-wide, it can also deliver content in a compelling manner that supports genuine understanding and drives real change.

Why introduce an LMS which uses existing technology to manage training

One of the biggest reasons we love LMS365 (apart from its great functionality) is because it integrates so seamlessly with the Office 365 environment.

Users don’t need to sign into a different learning platform to access their training or reminders. Instead, access management is aligned with their active directory entry. That means learning plans, courses, personal progress reports, certificates and more are all automatically accessible through completely familiar Office 365 channels.

That familiarity can make a big difference to user engagement and adoption.

Pro tip: LMS365 can also tap into Office 365’s productivity and social apps to add an element of friendly competition – or teamwork – to the training environment.

Choosing an LMS that integrates with your environment is about more than just learners’ user experience, however. It also makes the creation and administration of courses far easier. With LMS365 you can build, deploy, track and schedule everything relating to your training programme using Office, Outlook and SharePoint. No need for third-party web services or ongoing maintenance fees, and no integration costs.

Have you used (or considered) an LMS for compliance training? Leave a comment below and let us know the pros and cons that affected your experience or decision.

Manage compliance and all other training activities effectively with LMS365

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Prior to Microsoft 365, enterprises were fully responsible for providing their own business continuity and data protection.

A multi-pronged, belt and braces approach for backup, that included the following elements, was typical:

  • Multiple backup copies written to physical storage disks or tapes
  • Use of secure offsite locations
  • Full & incremental backups
  • A regular cycle
  • Recovery testing

Along with the requisite backup hardware, procedures and people, most enterprises invested in third-party backup and recovery solutions to meet their Microsoft Office-specific needs, with value-add functionality that included:

  • Granularity down to individual message restores
  • Fast, touch-of-a-button restores

With the shift to Microsoft 365, the expectation is that failover, backup and recovery is ‘baked in’.

According to Essential’s CTO, Dave Kellett, however, “Organisations used to the sophistication on offer with third-party backup and restore solutions will be somewhat disappointed by what’s on offer from Microsoft.”

So let’s dig a bit deeper into what protection you are actually getting for your subscription fee.

1. It’s more about prevention & resiliency – not backup per se

There’s a raft of security services and ‘fail-safes’ on offer in the Microsoft 365 ecosystem to protect your data from malicious corruption and malicious (or inadvertent) deletion in the first place.

There’s also infrastructure services to protect the integrity of your data.

But nowhere does it say in Microsoft’s service descriptions: “We provide a guaranteed backup and recovery service”.

In fact, with respect to Exchange Online, Microsoft specifically states, “Although lagged database copies are used in Exchange Online, it is important to understand that they are not a guaranteed point-in-time backup.”

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/compliance/assurance/assurance-exchange-data-resiliency

So what should you know about Microsoft’s backup and recovery capability?

2. Restores by Microsoft are slow

As a base level of protection, Microsoft runs an automatic backup of your all your primary Office 365 apps (Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, OneDrive for Business, etc) every 12 hours, and keeps those backups for a period of 14 days.

In the event that all your in-place preventative measures fail, you can restore from backup by logging a call with the help desk, but this is a notoriously slow and inelegant process.

It could take up to 4 days for your system to be fully up and running again and this timescale may be unacceptable for your organisation.

Also, there’s a lack of granularity.  For example, with a SharePoint restore you can only restore at site collection level (unlike specialist backup solutions that go down to document level restores). This means there is a chance any work done by users since the last backup will be over-written, and this could include work carried out in the last 11 hours and 59 minutes.

To put it simply, Microsoft’s current backup system is ‘there’, but it arguably lacks the sophistication and service levels that you may be used to if you’ve previously experienced 3rd-party specialist solutions for on-premises environments.

3. Restores can be labour-intensive for you

We often hear tales from IT teams of spending hours helping staff recover from inadvertent data loss.  For example, constantly having to restore individual items to users OneDrive by using Microsoft’s eDiscovery tools to recover items from places like second-stage recycle bins and retention folders.

As well as proving to be a huge time sink, this also presents privacy issues as it requires giving the person doing the recovery access to the information those items contain.

Having a recovery capability that minimises intervention and indeed, enables a self-service approach to recovery where required, might prove valuable to your company.

4. There’s no guarantee

Another key aspect of the Microsoft backup service is that there are no guarantees around protection of your data. 

It’s worth reviewing your Microsoft Services Agreement and reading ‘the small print’ – specifically 6b.

Although this paragraph relates to service continuity, the recommendation from Microsoft to ultimately ‘be responsible for your own data’ is clear…..

Productive meetings have been a hot subject since that Elon Musk leaked email. But why did Elon chose to target meetings in order to increase company output?

Did you know that that the average Executive spends about 18 hours a week at meetings?

Yet, almost half of us view meetings as one of the biggest time-wasters at work.

Elon is not alone in thinking that effective meetings can increase productivity.

Why effective meetings are so important

Does that remind you of your meetings? Take heart because we’ve all been there.

Everything in business is about reducing costs and increasing profit. You will be surprised at how much a meeting costs and the impact they have on your bottom line. That’s why it is very important to aim for effective meetings.

Forward-thinking organisations and individuals alike have found several new approaches to drive effective meetings. Some approaches are straightforward, but some are more radical.

Most CEOs agree that being on time, reducing meeting times and setting the agenda early are ways to improve meeting effectiveness. Some have taken more extreme tactics including removing chairs and banning phones and laptops during meetings.

Technology can also have a positive impact on running meetings more effectively. From assisting with scheduling meetings to facilitating meetings altogether; there are several tools that can supercharge your meeting efficiency.

Streamlining the Scheduling Process

Finding the right time and place for your meeting can be a huge time sink before you even start your meeting. You get the endless back and forth emails to find the best meeting time or to reschedule double-booked meetings.

Outlook scheduling assistant can be a great start and help you save time finding a mutually convenient time slot with co-workers.

However, not all meetings are internal, and in most cases, you do need to meet with people outside of your organisation.

This is where tools like FindTime, Doodle or Calendy come into play. By synchronising your available or desired meeting times, you can quickly get to a mutually convenient slot.

We love using FindTime in conjunction with our solution, as it’s the free native Office 365 tool from Microsoft.

Booking Additional Services

What happens when you need to book meeting rooms and other resources and services like catering, AV equipment, or even parking? This can result in even more phone calls and emails to catering and reception staff.

Resource Management solutions enable you to book meeting rooms and other resources all in one place. On top of that, integration with Outlook Calendar provides greater end-user experience.

Making Sure Everyone is On Time

When people are late to meetings, this can result in unnecessary delays. There is the need to recap and to extend meetings to cover the agenda. Over-runs start interfering with other meetings, causing disarray not only to you but to colleagues.

Calendar apps notify individuals through email and push notifications, helping staff to be on time.

Yet, that covers only the meeting participants. What about all the other elements that come into play to get your meeting off to a fast start.

It would not be the first time a teleconferencing camera or microphone failed to work.

Similarly, visitors and co-workers from other offices can get held up in reception as they attempt to locate where they need to go.

Resource Management tools make sure that any service providers, such as technicians, reception staff and the all-important catering staff get timely notifications on exactly what meetings are taking place and what their role is in making them go like clock-work.

Maps and wayfinding displays can also help visitors navigate to the right meeting room.

Aside from helping get everyone to the meeting on time, these types of services make great first impressions, especially on visitors!

Stopping meeting no-shows

Nonetheless, getting people on time to meetings is not even your biggest challenge. Meetings that fail to take place are!

A study carried out by collaboration experts Atlassian found that 96% of the people they surveyed had at some point missed a meeting and this is money down the drain when real-estate costs are at an all-time high.

When our customer, Airbus, went through an estates rationalisation, they decreased the number of meeting rooms by 20%, but still had to facilitate the same number of meetings.

Through our utilisation reporting, they came to realise that people had a habit of booking recurring meetings and forgetting to cancel them.

That meant empty rooms that could have been used for other meetings.

Using meeting room display technology, Airbus is now automatically releasing meeting rooms when organisers don’t check in on time. This enabled them to release a staggering 3,300 hours of meeting room capacity each month.

Other companies are going more hard-core in an attempt to break the no-show habit. For example, with our solution, it’s possible to stop repeat offenders booking any more meetings for a while.

Apart from tracking actual room utilisation and check-ins, room screens enable a at-a-glance visibility of meeting room availability and create a great impression.

Remove the bricks and mortar constraints from your meetings

You should always test whether you actually need a meeting. Once you have established that, then you can decide the time and place.

Importantly, the place doesn’t necessarily need to be a meeting room. It can be a nearby café or, even better, online.

Leveraging tools like Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, Zoom and many other online meeting tools can reduce the costs associated with physical meetings.

Resource Management solutions make it extremely easy to schedule virtual meetings and conferences. With the click of a button, you can turn your meeting into a Skype for Business meeting or conference call.

Keeping your meetings on track!

Meeting agendas, as we saw, was high on the list for running effective meetings.

There are lots of great tips to on how to create an effective meeting agenda.

However, having an agenda in place and making people stick to it are two different matters. And sometimes, removing technology can be a good thing.

To make your meetings stickier, as pointed above, you can eliminate laptops and mobiles from meetings.

Laptops and mobiles can become counterproductive, especially in meetings. by allowing people to hop on to other tasks (73% of us tend to do other work).

Our tip is to only allow laptops for the designated note takers and for presentations, thus gaining more control over your meeting.

Subsequently, to be even more productive with your meeting action plans, you can use several tools for minutes and note taking.

As cloud empowers collaboration, you can share note-taking and no other tool is more straight-forward or familiar than Word; and in this case Word Online.

And, if you are running a task management tool like Planner, Asana or Trello, you can easily attach a shared Word link to the appropriate task.

Final Thoughts

Recent advancements in Cloud computing and apps have enabled us to increase our efficiency. There are lots of tools that we can use to be more productive, and meetings are no exception.

It is important to choose the right tools, get the most out of them and make sure they tie in with what you currently use for your day-to-day calendaring and collaboration.

Add technology to your meetings, like the tools we mentioned above, and watch your meeting effectiveness skyrocket and your workspace optimisation improve.

Let us know in the comments if you know other ways that technology promotes effective meetings.

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Free retention of ex-employee’s data

At present, if you want to retain the mailbox contents of former employees’ mailboxes there’s a facility called ‘Inactive Mailboxes’ that you can use.  The great thing is that if you follow Microsoft’s steps, you can re-use the licence associated with the ex-employees mailbox for someone else, so effectively there’s currently no charge for this facility.

Watch this space, however, as back in 2017 Microsoft was on the verge of introducing a charge for inactive mailboxes, and it’s our guess they could consider doing it again.

Inactive mailboxes could be chargeable…

Back in late 2017, Microsoft was on the verge of charging for inactive Office 365 mailbox licences.  It’s our prediction that this could happen again.

At the time, Microsoft faced a backlash from their customers and MVPs during Ignite 2017, and did a U-turn on charges for inactive mailboxes.

https://www.petri.com/no-licenses-office-365-inactive-mailboxes

Having seen the proposed licence plans, we’re not surprised it caused a stir. Inactive mailboxes represent a significant volume of data.

“When we do an analysis scan before moving email archives to Office 365, it’s not unusual for about 70% of the contents to belong to ex-employees” Annie Holder, Migration Consultant

The U-turn highlighted the demands that businesses are making on Microsoft to support proper governance of their email and other data.  Right now, the way Microsoft 365 helps you manage the full lifecycle and eDiscovery of email is impressive.

We will, however, watch with interest how Microsoft adapts to accommodating the vast churn of mailboxes from a licencing perspective.

Not just because of the potential future cost of retaining sheer volumes of it, but also because of a greater responsibility to keep it secure, minimise the risk it represents and fulfil obligations around data protection.

Managing data that doesn’t have ‘an obvious home’

Handling the retention of leaver’s mailboxes, SharePoint and OneDrives is sometimes still only part of the story.

Many cloud project teams are now turning their attention to other more complicated stores of data – like legacy Journals, public folders, PST files, file shares… data that sometimes doesn’t seem to have an obvious home in the Microsoft cloud.

Retention of content that doesn’t fit neatly into Office 365 (such as legacy data on file servers), is a topic we regularly address with our customers.

If you have legacy on-premises content you want to preserve and do eDiscovery on, but you’re not sure where to start, get in touch.