Covid-19: Six digital workplace challenges and six offers of help

The Coronavirus crisis is having an unprecedented level of impact on all our lives; everybody is affected in some way or other. This includes profound changes to the way we work which many organizations are continuing to find very challenging.

In the last few weeks, the digital workplace has assumed huge importance in two main ways:

  • as a platform to keep employees informed about the latest developments in a rapidly changing and highly stressful situation
  • as a way to enable employees to carry on their work remotely and collaborate at scale.

These two main ways both come with their particular challenges and weve been approached by a number of existing customers and new organizations who need to set things up very quickly. Here are six particular challenges and some suggestions that may help.

Challenge #1: Making sure the entire workforce gets authoritative and timely updates

During a crisis its absolutely critical that everybody gets the right information quickly and from an authoritative and trusted source. In a time of stress and in a rapidly changing and evolving situation like the Coronavirus crisis, misinformation and rumours can spread quickly and cause more stress if all messaging is going through Whats App and other shadow IT tools. Getting timely updates can help everybody work together to navigate this crisis and carry on work as normally as possible.

Generally, most organizations will have an intranet or employee portal where news is delivered, although email may also be used for important updates. To receive important updates quickly, ideally employees should also be able to receive messages via their mobile device. In some organisations where mobile access is limited or where frontline employees who might not have digital identities or a corporate email account, this may not be possible and realistically organisations may need to roll-out a rapid solution.

If you are in this situation then perhaps we can help. We are offering all companies in UK, Europe and US a free 6-month licence of the Condense pocket intranet app, including free implementation and training. Condense can be set up quickly and you will have an official news channel for your employees in a matter of hours. Whilst quick to set up, Condense is a powerful app that allows you to target content to different audiences and it includes comments and likes. Its ideal for the full workforce as it can be used by employees who dont have a digital identity on your corporate network (such as an email or Active Directory account). Note that you do not need to be on Office 365 for Condense to work. If you want Condense free for 6 months, please get in touch.

Challenge #2: Scaling up MS Teams at breakneck speed to facilitate homeworking

One of the biggest challenges facing many organisations is the overnight transition to remote working. With so many organisations working with Office 365, MS Teams is becoming a key application to support distributed collaboration and communication. We know of multiple organisations who have been forced to bring forward or significantly scale-up roll-out plans, and others who are planning from scratch, or who have switched from pilot mode. Microsoft themselves have reported a swelling to 44 million users, and this seems likely to rise.

The very rapid roll-out of MS Teams can cause some significant challenges around governance, site provisioning and training that if addressed properly at the start of your roll-out can help optimise the use of Teams and help make your digital workplace more successful and sustainable through this difficult time. If youd like some advice on MS Teams governance in the context of a very rapid roll-out then please get in touch.

Challenge #3: Configuring MS Teams for crisis communications for all employees

MS Teams is a fantastic tool to use for issuing crisis communications that can be delivered directly into the flow of work. With conditions that are still rapidly evolving its ideal that everybody is going to the same place for updates, but an issue can be that not all employees may be able to access MS Teams. For example, if you have firstline or disconnected employees they may not have access to MS Teams, or the required digital identities. You may also not have the licence to cover all the functionality you need.

Recognising this, firstly Microsoft has extended the use of Teams so basically everyone can access it, even if it previously wasnt covered by your licence. Secondly, Microsoft has issued a very useful free crisis communications solution based on a PowerApp that can be accessed via MS Teams but also via mobile and on the web.

This solution leverages Power Apps, Power Automate, Teams, and SharePoint; Microsoft has temporarily allowed access to Power Apps Push Notifications which is normally a premium feature. The solution aids communications across teams, allows crisis updates via push notifications and allows employees to report their work status. If you need help implementing this app or want us to build something similar for you, please get in touch.

Challenge #4: Getting all employees up to speed on new processes and ways of working

Many employees finding themselves working from home for the very first time will find this challenging for a variety of reasons. It can be stressful and lonely; some employees will be working in cramped conditions or beside the rest of their family. It can also be hard not having your colleagues beside you and you may be using new collaborative tools for the very first time. Organisations may need to deliver training to a large number of staff very quickly to upskill them for the new situation, but the scale and speed of implementation can feel daunting.

If this is the case, a cloud-based Learning Management System like LMS365 that integrates with Office 365 and Azure Active Directory can be a good way to implement learning very quickly across your existing digital workplace. The easy course creation tools also mean that you can set up a course extremely quickly. As part of any implementation we can also offer you two free courses to that cover best practices on working from home as well as staying safe from the virus. LMS365 is quick to implement get in touch if you want learn more.

Challenge #5: Answering questions and requests from a global workforce

In uncertain times employees are going to have questions for information as well as different requests that can put support functions under enormous pressure. IT and HR support teams and helpdesks can expect to have lots on their plate and may be overwhelmed. They may find themselves unable to meet very sudden demands and this can cause confusion and more stress.

One solution to this is to use chatbots that can help triage employee questions and provide relevant simple information. Automation can also then trigger workflow, for example sending an email, updating information in a system, interrogating a database and retrieving relevant data and even triggering a Teams conversation with an individual. Using a chatbot as the first point step for employee questions and requests can help reduce the demand on IT and HR support teams and resolve issues more quickly.

Microsofts Power Platform provides an excellent platform to enable simple bots that can be programmed by non-IT citizen developers. Using a combination of Virtual Power Agents to programme the bot and Power Automate to define subsequent workflows across different applications, you can create highly effective way to triage employee requests. If youd like more information, then please get in touch.

Challenge #6: inability to target messages to specific audiences

Its becoming clear that the extraordinary working conditions that many of us face may last for a sustained period. During this time, it may become important to start using your intranet to target information to different groups, particularly as the crisis situation can be different from country to country or region to region. Its also important to have a solid employee directory that everyone can access to locate experts and ask questions; this becomes increasingly imperative when everybody is working remotely.

Both content targeting and a strong employee directory are enabled by having accurate Active Directory (AD) data. Most modern intranet solutions such as Wizdom have solid content targeting features, but this has to be enabled by accurate AD data that covers an individuals location, division, role and so on. Similarly, this information also needs to power the employee directory. Unfortunately, too many organizations have considerable gaps or inaccuracies in their AD data to be able to switch on effective content targeting.

To help organisations get more accurate AD data were making the Hyperfish solution available on a sign up now and pay later basis until the end of March. Hyperfish is a fantastic employee directory solution that also uses AI to prompt employees to complete their profiles, both improving individual profiles but also the underlying AD data which can be updated automatically as it is updated. If this sounds of interest to you then please get in touch.

Getting through the crisis

Getting through this crisis isnt going to be easy, but we will get through it together. If there are any aspects of your digital workplace that youd like to discuss then please get in touch and well do our best to help.

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