Occasionally, there is a seismic shift in how we see the world. As a nation, it happened on September 11 when two planes flew into the World Trade Center. It happened when JFK was assassinated in November 1963; and it happened in March 2020 when nearly half of the American workforce suddenly became remote workers.
No, the pandemic won’t last forever, but there’s good reason to believe that an increase in working from home and sales calls via video conference are here to stay. There are obvious advantages, including the time saved traveling, the ability to work irregular hours, and greater control of your workspace. There are also obvious disadvantages to remote work, such as: a loss of cultural influence, a lack of face to face interaction, and greater difficulty collaborating.
Fortunately, we live in a time where most people have high-speed internet at home and there are many internet driven tools available to assist collaboration. Microsoft has a wonderfully integrated platform with business-class features and security which Lighthouse IT has been implementing in our client base for years, including:
- Exchange Online – an enterprise class email server with advanced filtering technology
- SharePoint – a file server in the cloud with enormous customization potential
- OneDrive – syncs files between SharePoint and individual computers for easy access
- Azure Active Directory – controls access to company PCs regardless of location
- Teams – a communications hub for video meetings, team chats, and collaboration
Microsoft Teams addresses many of the disadvantages of working from home. At Lighthouse IT, we’ve been mostly working from home since March, and it’s the center of our daily office conversations. As a company of 18 people, we’ve sent over 22,000 chat messages in the last 30 days. Here are some of the ways Teams keeps us connected.
Teams Video Meetings
Our company has a short daily meeting with each major organizational unit called a huddle. No matter where the various team members are located on a particular day, they can join the huddle using Teams video conferencing on their PC or smart phones. The video element helps us to stay connected and allows us to entertain others with our custom backgrounds.
Meetings with people outside the company can be scheduled too. Simply go to the Calendar in Teams, create a new meeting, and enter the email address of the required attendee(s). They’ll receive an email with a link to start the meeting from a browser if they don’t have Teams installed. If their PC doesn’t have a camera and microphone, they can join from a smartphone. We are starting to have client meetings this way instead of Zoom because call quality is great, it’s very convenient and it doesn’t cost extra.
Sending text chat messages with Teams is incredibly useful. At Lighthouse IT, we have chat channels for functional teams (technical, escalations) as well as some for fun (News, Random, Gaming). Of course, we can chat with individuals or ad-hoc groups as well. These chats keep us connected to our team even when working from home.
Much like a smart phone, there are hundreds of apps that can be added to Microsoft Teams. We use a Forms app to request nominations for our Core Values Champion of the week. A polling app called Polly has been used to decide when our company gaming party would be held. We use Microsoft’s Flow app to automatically post links to our new blog posts to the News channel. What you make of your Teams environment is up to you.
A couple advantages to the Microsoft 365 suite is that their apps are well integrated and there is an app for just about every need. Here are a few examples of how integrations impact my environment. My Outlook calendar shows up in my Teams app. SharePoint sites are linked to Teams channels for easy reference. If my calendar says I’m in a meeting, a red indicator shows up next to my name so that others know I’m not available.
The Future of Teams
With more than 75 million active daily users, Microsoft is aggressively developing Teams. A recent article “Reimagining virtual collaboration for the future of work and learning” demonstrates just how seriously. You’ll soon be able to meet with up to 1,000 people, enjoy an upgraded Whiteboard, and even purchase a Teams-dedicated device similar to Facebook’s Portal.
Microsoft Teams helps our team feel closer. While some of us have continued to go to the office, many have been working from home for months. Though we haven’t been in the same office, video meetings and chats have allowed us to maintain relationships and share personal wins and losses during this period. While we’ve been using the chat feature for quite a long time, video meetings have been a welcome addition and they’re here to stay.
In the last several months, millions of people across the country have experienced the value of video meetings through Zoom and other platforms. Even when social distancing is no longer a concern, the efficiency gained by avoiding travel will cause virtual meetings and remote working to accelerate.