How to use Office 365 for policy management

A key requirement for the digital workplace is for employees to be able to find the trusted, authoritative information and documents they need in order to complete tasks and be fulfil their role. This includes policies and procedural information covering everything from the staff handbook, to Health and Safety procedures, to travel expenses, to rules about how to use social media channels. Policies can also cover areas relating to professional development, as well as required reading for new joiners as part of an onboarding process.

Managing your policies in the digital workplace is very important, albeit not particularly glamorous! It requires attention to four different but overlapping areas:

  • Dissemination and storage: Ensuring everybody can access and consume policies and procedures easily.
  • Findability and discoverability: Allowing employees to find the right policy at the time of need.
  • Governance and workflows: Creating clear ownership and authoring processes so that policies are always up-to-date and employees trust the policies they access.
  • Reporting and tracking: Tracking policy authoring and consumption, including covering mandatory reading of policies.

If you do not employ effective policy management, you can run into both inefficiencies and risks, with people using out-of-date policies and not carrying out tasks correctly. The consequences of this can be anything from relatively unimportant to severe for example, health and safety policies, procedures and related information must be up-to-date so it’s critical to spend time perfecting policy management across your digital workplace.

Using Office 365 for policy management

The backbone of most organisational digital workplaces is Office 365 / Microsoft 365, so it’s unsurprising that we’ve recently been asked about the best way to deliver effective policy management within the Office 365 environment. Thankfully, there are a variety of different 365 tools that can support all four elements of policy management already detailed, and in this article, we explore your options.

Note that we’ve used many of these technologies (and relative approaches) in developing our Xoralia policy management solution – an easy option for organisations who want an off-the-shelf product that can fit effortlessly into their 365 digital workplace (including SharePoint and Microsoft Teams), and support best practices in managing policies across the digital workplace.

Let’s explore each of the four elements of policy management.

Dissemination and storage

Disseminating policies to employees is best done via a central policy library that can be accessed through a central channel that every employee can easily reach, such as a corporate intranet, Microsoft Teams or a mobile app. The best option for creating this library is through SharePoint, which can be integrated seamlessly with your other 365 channels. For example, LiveTiles intranet software comes with its own policy library feature based on SharePoint, while our Xoralia solution can integrate with a SharePoint intranet and Teams. If you have a frontline workforce, there is also the potential to use the intranet app or build a dedicated Power App so policies are available through mobile devices.

Because of SharePoint’s flexibility, you can disseminate policies as pages, documents or both; for example, you could present the essential points of a policy on a page for readability, along with the ability to download the document from the page to access more detail. SharePoint’s in-built version control for both pages and documents helps ensure users are viewing the very latest version of a policy.

Another essential strength of SharePoint is the ability to target policies to particular audiences based on Active Directory profiles. Just as you want to ensure internal communications are relevant to locations, divisions, roles, levels of seniority and language, policies must be targeted for relevancy. For example, in global companies that have been built up through acquisition, HR policies will often differ from country to country, and it is critical that employees see only the policies which apply to them.

Findability and discoverability

Strong findability is a foundational principle for both a successful digital workplace and a reliable central policy library. Employees must be able to find the right policy at the time of need. Here, you can use Microsoft Search to ensure your policy content appears in your intranet or SharePoint search; applying the right metadata will allow your users to filter and refine the search.

A central policy library should promote good findability, with a dedicated contextual search for the policy library with appropriate metadata and filters, as well as the right categories and labels. Applying targeting through AD profiles to personalise the search for different groups can also improve findability here.

When we came to build the Xoralia policy management tool, feedback from clients continually stressed the importance of robust findability and discoverability. Bearing this in mind, we included the ability to:

  • Filter results by different tags defined for the organisation, including subject categories, departmental owners or intended audience
  • Filter by contact name, such as the owner of a policy
  • Browse through policies alphabetically
  • Assign appropriate views for policies that must be read or need to be reviewed by a policy owner
  • Access a Teams app where policies can be searched for and appear as cards.

Governance and workflows

Any good policy management solution needs to have robust governance, principally around the authoring and content management processes. Here, you can use both SharePoint and Power Automate to ensure that policies are always up-to-date by applying the right permissions, and introduce workflows to make it easier for policy owners and authors to remain on top of this task.

Establishing clear ownership of a policy to drive accountability is dependent on supporting governance; the permissions that can be applied in SharePoint at the page and document level mean that only defined owners have the rights to update the policies they are responsible for. A good approach here is to display the name of a policy owner or appropriate contact on the policy itself, as this supports accountability, transparency and trust. In our Xoralia solution, there is a clear contact displayed not only on the policy itself, but also in the policy listing view.

You can use Power Automate to define appropriate workflows and automated reminders around the authoring process. This includes approval workflows where review and approval are required before a policy can go live, as well as expiry workflows which send automated reminders for policy owners based on defined review dates. These are all features we chose to build into Xoralia, as well as the views for policy owners to see all the policies they own and those that are approaching review. To further underpin governance, Xoralia also displays when a policy has expired because the policy owner has failed to check it by the review date.

Power Automate can further be used to support repeatable dissemination workflows. For example, perhaps you want to push out a particular policy to a specific audience that for compliance reasons you require to be read at a set time each year, or whenever it goes through a substantial update. You could use Power Automate to trigger this process every time the policy goes through an appropriate update or on a particular date.

Reporting and tracking

Reporting on your policy library and tracking its usage is beneficial in ensuring that employees are using it, but it becomes particularly important when you need to ensure there is a mandatory read of a policy. This could be for compliance reasons from a regulatory body, or for internal purposes such as when you need everybody to urgently read the new flexible working policy introduced to support hybrid working. Mandatory reads usually work by presenting a user with the policies they must read, and then requiring them to complete a declaration that they have read each one.

The reporting becomes important to:

  • Track who has read a policy so you can carry out interventions to make sure everyone has done so
  • Provide updates on progress to senior stakeholders
  • Use reporting to show external parties read rates for compliance purposes.

As you might expect, in Microsoft 365, the versatility of Power BI allows for the required tracking and reporting, enabling filtering by location and department and allowing administrators to filter based on group, specific policy or group of policies. Strong reporting is at the heart of Xoralia, with quick views for policy owners to get the headline statistics to track the progress of mandatory reads, and support the flexible reporting you need. Users also see the policies they must read.

Automating this tracking and reporting is excellent news for anyone who has had to use a combination of email and spreadsheets to keep on top of who has read a policy – a thankless and highly inefficient activity.

Going further

The beauty of Microsoft 365 is you can also integrate your policies into other areas where relevant, such as:

  • Creating an employee onboarding app using PowerApps that includes mandatory reads of policies
  • Creating a chatbot using Power Virtual Agents that references your policies
  • Providing access to your policies within Teams channels
  • And more!

If you’d like to discuss our Xoralia Policy Management tool or managing policies across your Office 365 digital workplace, then get in touch!

10 essential features of a SharePoint intranet for schools

Secondary schools are complicated organisations that usually have an equally complicated digital landscape, with a wide portfolio of disparate systems, apps, tools and channels being used every day by staff and pupils. The complexity of this digital workplace increases sharply when you have a chain of schools such as an Academy Trust or schools group who share resources across multiple locations. How do you ensure the right communications and information can be accessed by everybody? How do you make sure that staff who are already incredibly busy can easily and effortlessly find the content, news, documents, processes, tools and apps they need every day?

Here, a good Office 365 intranet can make a huge difference, doing some of the heavy lifting in helping both teaching and non-teaching staff find what they need for their working day, as well as providing a robust platform for essential communication and collaboration across multiple locations. An Office 365 intranet likely to be based on SharePoint Online, so we use the terms interchangeably can also leverage the investment schools have already made in Microsoft 365, and prove to be highly cost-effective for an Academy Trust operating across a number of schools.

But what features and capabilities should an Office 365 intranet for schools include? Here at Content Formula, we’re currently working with two Academy Trusts to improve their 365-powered digital workplaces. Here are our thoughts on what a school intranet needs to include.

1 Personalisation and audience targeting

Modern Office 365 and SharePoint intranets support personalisation and audience targeting, allowing content and experiences to be targeted to each user based on their Active Directory (AD) profile. This means you can ensure the intranet is made relevant based on attributes such as a user’s location, role, level of seniority, whether they have recently joined and so on. For complex organisations with highly diverse workforces, personalisation underpins intranet adoption and value, and without it, an intranet will be less successful.

For an Academy Trust intranet, personalisation is a must-have feature. When you have multiple locations with different schools and highly diverse roles (for example, leaders, teachers, teachers assistants and non-teaching staff) with different information needs, personalisation means your intranet will be more relevant for each employee in providing access to the right content and resources. At some stage, you may also want to open up some access to students or even parents; personalisation is a dependency for this option.

2 Integrations and access to apps

In most schools, staff and pupils need to access a vast array of different systems, tools and apps in order to carry out their work and get things done. Some of these are common to all organisations, such as an HR system, a financial system, IT ticketing support and more. A school that has Office 365 will also be using some of the suite of 365 tools such as Yammer and particularly Microsoft Teams, which has proved to be essential for supporting online lessons during the coronavirus pandemic.

Within schools, there may be a School Management System, a Student Information System, different apps relating to specific educational use cases, an array of educational resources, a Learning Management System, an analytics and reporting suite (perhaps Power BI), a portal for parents, social media channels and more.

Accessing so many different apps and systems with varying credentials and inconsistent interfaces can be time-consuming and confusing. An intranet can play an important role in providing an easy and convenient gateway to the wider digital workplace through a directory of apps and the ability to configure personalised links to commonly used tools. Integrations with the intranet allowing for simple transactions to be completed or information to be viewed can also save time; for example, an integration with your HR system that allows staff to view how many days annual leave they have and then book a holiday all from within the intranet means they don’t have to visit your HR system separately.

An Office 365 intranet based on SharePoint Online will also allow you to integrate 365 tools, including embedding Yammer conversations and potentially allowing staff to view a list of different Teams spaces that they are enrolled in. This is covered in more detail below.

3 News and internal communications

A staple of any organisational intranet is support of internal communications. A school or chain of schools is no different, and an SharePoint intranet should support news publishing – not only organisation-wide internal communications, but also local news and updates at the individual school or department level – reflecting the hive of activity across the entire school network.

A good Office 365 intranet will allow for both; for example, the LiveTiles intranet solution has tightly controlled news that appears on a homepage with approval workflow, as well as a stream of noticeboard local news that appears on different sites but is aggregated on the homepage. This supports both official internal communications and more informal updates; it also allows for audience targeting so news is displayed to particular groups or schools. Added to this, LiveTiles is also available on mobile devices, a key requirement for a school intranet.

4 Robust findability

Helping staff find what they need in their everyday work is part of the job of an intranet. Sturdy findability to connect people to the right information, content, documents and apps is a central feature of a good Office 365 intranet.

Findability is usually delivered through both search and a user-centred intranet navigation. Successful Office 365 intranets support good findability using the Microsoft Search which continues to improve, as well as user-centred intranet navigation using a mega-menu with links into different sites and pages. Of course, each organisation defines its own information architecture, so defining good navigation is a dependency here. An intranet also supports strong findability with central collections of high-value resources such as policy libraries a feature which we explore below.

5 Policy management

Being able to access and reference school policies, procedures and standards is critical in a school environment. Across a chain of schools in an Academy Trust, it is also likely that common policies will need to apply across all locations.

Policy management is an important element for an Office 365 intranet, providing a central policy library where documents are easily discoverable and staff have absolute confidence that they are accessing the very latest, up-to-date versions of policies. A policy library also needs to have content governance built-in with the right ownership, approval workflows and review periods to ensure policies are kept up-to-date.

Thankfully, SharePoint libraries provide a strong base for policy management with elements such version-control and the right permissions, but additional features are usually required to make policy management more robust. Intranet software like LiveTiles has an in-built policy library feature which is good, but some Academy Trusts might need a dedicated SharePoint policy management solution like Xoralia that will tightly integrate with your Office 365 intranet and provide robust policy managenent.

6 Flexibility and scalability

It’s essential for a school intranet to be both flexible and scalable when responding to organisational changes. For example, an Academy Trust might acquire a new school. Being able to add a new school to an intranet and onboard all the staff quickly can support the merger process, and provide access to important information to help standardise approaches where appropriate. It is also good to have the flexibility to extend access if you wish, such as in adding students and even parents to your intranet ecosystem, as well as implementing new integrations and features to meet staff needs. A truly flexible and scalable intranet is future-proofed, meaning it will remain fully fit-for-purpose.

Flexibility must extend to methods of access too. An Office 365 intranet should be available to view on mobile devices and even potentially through Microsoft Teams – both inherent capabilities in the LiveTiles intranet software.

7 Governance and content lifecycle management

An Office 365 intranet needs robust governance to ensure it is successful and sustainable. Governance takes on many forms, including ensuring security and data privacy – particularly important for a school intranet – which can be done by leveraging the enterprise-grade security of the 365 platform.

Governance around the content lifecycle is also key to ensuring content is accurate, up-to-date and of high quality. This is not always easy to achieve, as your intranet publishing model will be decentralised with a community of content owners and publishers spread across your schools, most of whom are going to be incredibly busy, so updating the intranet is not going to be their priority. Content governance features such as page-level ownership, automated reminders for reviewing content and approval workflows can do some of the heavy lifting here, as well as having an easy-to-use interface, making life easier for content owners and having a direct impact on the success of your intranet.

8 Social and collaboration features

One of the strengths of an Office 365 intranet is the ability to support enterprise-wide collaboration and strengthen a sense of community right across an organisation, seamlessly integrating the different social and collaboration tools that are available within the 365 suite. For Academy Trusts, this means staff can collaborate and connect across different schools.

An intranet can include social tools that are used for wide, open discussions as well as engagement, including the ability to comment on and rate news, add blogs and use polls and surveys. Perhaps the most important feature is the ability to embed Yammer feeds right within an intranet page, adding context to both content and conversations. An intranet can also potentially aggregate a list of Microsoft Teams spaces that employees belong to or may want to join, helping facilitate collaboration.

9 Automation and workflow

One of the main aims of Office 365 and Office 365 intranets is to drive efficiency and improve processes. Across the 365 environment, there are many opportunities to increase efficiency by deploying workflows and automation using tools like Microsoft Forms, Power Automate (workflow) and Power Apps (app creation). These can be integrated with your 365 intranet, reducing and eliminating the need to rely on paper forms, email trails and spreadsheets to complete processes. For example, requests for new equipment that might previously have been carried out by email or even through a paper form can be recrafted as online forms available through the intranet that then go through the right approval workflow defined in Power Automate. When you start to automate multiple processes like this, it has a real-world impact, saving time, reducing costs and making life easier for everybody.

10 Learning management

Learning might be at the centre of a school culture, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that staff have access to a learning management system. A good learning platform can help support IT training, introduce staff to new processes, complete onboarding for new starters, deliver professional training, offer courses on softer skills and much more. For the admin team, it can also help to track the progress of mandatory training and provide valuable analytics on staff training and learning.

Bringing learning into the heart of your Office 365 intranet can make it far easier to access and support adoption. At Content Formula, we implement LMS365 – a dedicated learning platform that is based on SharePoint – that can integrate so seamlessly with your intranet that users are not always aware that they have entered a different system.

School intranets for Academy Trusts

An Office 365 intranet can make a huge difference to the life of a school, an Academy Trust or a schools organisation. If you’d like to discuss your intranet needs for your school, get in touch!

How to communicate with employees without email

Email is still the most prevalent digital communication method in the workplace, but it remains an inefficient and unpopular medium. Have you ever heard anyone say they really love their inbox? Employees can be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of emails they need to respond to, not to mention the time they need to spend doing it. Then, when they actually get to their inbox, not all of the messages in there are relevant. For example, all staff emails get sent out too frequently, many of which are not even intended for different groups. The result of this is that email communications end up being routinely ignored and missed.

Another key issue with email is that it is not always a fully inclusive method for workplace communication. Not all members of the workforce will necessarily have corporate email addresses; this is particularly true for frontline employees who may work in retail outlets, call centres, manufacturing plants, distribution centres and more. In recent years, some organisations have bridged the gap and given all their frontline employees email addresses, but this can prove expensive, particularly due to licensing costs. In organisations where an email address is also tied to a Microsoft 365 license, corporate email identities for frontline staff are often not enabled because of the costs involved.

Clients frequently ask us how they can communicate more effectively without relying on email. In this post, we’re going to explore eight approaches that can actively help in both reducing email and finding alternative methods of communication in order to:

  • Open up digital communications to those who don’t have or use email – mainly frontline staff
  • Reduce the amount of time employees spend on email to improve efficiency and raise productivity
  • Reduce the amount of data generated from email
  • Make employee inboxes less overwhelming to support wellbeing
  • Improve the quality of conversations and interactions
  • Make communications more impactful and ensure important messages don’t get missed.

We’re also going to place particular focus on some of the challenges associated with communicating with frontline or remote employees who may not have or actively use email.

1 Understand your workforce and communication needs

Any attempt to improve communications and reduce emails has to start with a good understanding of how and why your workforce use email. What are the main types of emails they send? What are their business objectives in sending them? What are the alternative channels they might use? What are their communication and information needs?

Undertaking a research and discovery process that involves speaking to stakeholders and employees, and that audits the use of email, is essential. From here, you can start to plan an employee-centric strategy that builds better alternatives to email.

2 Control all staff emails

An obvious but essential step in communicating to employees without email is to shut off some of the options. Often, one of the best approaches is to strictly control the sending out of all staff emails, limiting the use of this option to only when it absolutely needs to be used, such as for key updates from the CEO. This forces the use of better alternative channels for company-wide or wide circulation communications.

3 Pursue an omni-channel strategy for communications

Many IT functions and digital workplace teams have actively been trying to reduce their collective reliance on email. The principal way of doing this is to provide and promote the adoption of more efficient alternative solutions. These include:

  • Messaging and chat for one-to-one messaging
  • Social and collaborative solutions for communications involving more than two people
  • Intranet and portals for top-down corporate communication
  • Workflow and transactional systems to replace system notifications and / or workflow updates
  • Employee apps available on personal mobile devices for frontline communications.

These messaging, social and collaborative tools are now well-established and well-adopted across the enterprise. Anecdotally, we have heard that the use of a tool like Microsoft Teams has also been effective in reducing email consumption across some teams, so similar tools can work too.

Most organisations operate in this omni-channel world it’s unavoidable. But not everyone brings a strategic view of communications to it, and thus some fail to deliberately target the use of channels based on the purpose of communication, the audience, the message being delivered and other factors. Particularly for internal communications, having a more co-ordinated omni-channel strategy that takes into account the strengths and weaknesses of each channel can start to reduce the use of email, at least for internal communications.

For example, you may start to use an employee app like LiveTiles Reach to drive communications with a remote frontline workforce who predominantly use personal mobile devices for communication.

4 Bring communications and messaging to the daily flow of work

To encourage good adoption of email alternatives, they need to be brought into the daily flow of work. For example, many knowledge workers are spending their day in Microsoft Teams, and it therefore makes sense for employees to access internal communications and the intranet from there.

This can be more challenging for frontline employees as they are far less likely to be spending all day in a digital system. Sometimes, you need to think of creative ways to communicate with remote employees.

Recently, we completed a project with TTEC where we brought messaging into the daily flow of work through the creation of an innovative messaging system, hard-baked into the intranet experience.

TTEC provides outsourced customer experience solutions, including by providing call-centre staff for global brands. Employees actually already had email, but it was seldom used, and the TTEC team were seeking an alternative solution. An existing intranet was well-adopted, so we created a brand-new system for internal communicators and managers to send targeted messages to employees, all accessible from within a lively intranet. Frontline employees can also access these communications on their personal mobile devices via an intranet app.

This has had an excellent response from both communicators and employees, and we’re already working on the next phase of the release. In this case, bringing communication into a place where employees are more likely to be working has proved far more effective than email.

5 Ensure relevance by supporting targeted communications

Communications must be relevant to each employee for them to be read and resonate with the individual. If you bombard employees with messages that don’t apply to them, they will simply stop reading them. Here, targeting communications to employees based on their AD profile covering aspects such as location, division and role is key; any effective alternative to email must support targeting.

When we built our messaging system for TTEC, we included hyper-targeting capabilities with the ability for communicators and managers to select multiple attributes to pinpoint message recipients down to the individual employee level. Dynamic filters allow groups to be defined by country, location, department, level of seniority, type of employee, client team, team supervisor and more. Internal communicators love the ability to have such targeted messaging capabilities, while managers and supervisors can also use it to communicate with their teams. Note that having reasonably complete and accurate AD profile data is a pre-requisite for successful targeting.

6 Simplify the ecosystem and support digital employee experience

Whatever messaging system is in place, it needs to support a good digital employee experience. One way to do this is to help simplify the communication ecosystem in place, and reduce the number of channels that your employees have to access on a daily basis. For example, our solution at TTEC brought messaging into the intranet, reducing the need to access email as well. Attractive and intuitive interfaces have also contributed to the solution being well-received by frontline workers.

7 Drive self-service to reduce email

Self-service approaches can be highly effective in reducing the email traffic that is sent to IT and HR helpdesks relating to questions and issues. Here, a range of tactics can help, including:

  • Supplying content that provides answers to key questions
  • Encouraging interaction in online support communities using tools like Yammer
  • Using a chatbot to get answers
  • Encouraging users to submit and track tickets using a system like ServiceNow, integrating these with other key channels.

8 Focus on tools and tactics to engage remote employees

Engagement needs to be part of any internal communications strategy that reduces email, particularly to engage remote frontline employees who may feel less connected to an organisation than knowledge workers. Here, tools like polls and employee recognition channels, as well as tactics such as posting videos, can make all the difference compared to formal and often dreary formal corporate communications.

Communicating without email

Email has its place, but it’s simply not the best method for internal communications and communicating with frontline staff. A range of other approaches, tactics and tools can help find an effective alternative. If you’d like to discuss how to communicate without email, or find out more about solutions similar to the one implemented at TTEC, then get in touch!

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