Collaborating with people has never been more important than it is in today’s COVID-19 world.
A few years back Microsoft developed Teams to compete with chat-based collaboration tools like Slack and BaseCamp, and provide organizations with a hub for information sharing, everyday Q/A, and video conferencing as part of its Office 365 suite. In essence, a one-stop shop for employee engagement.
As many of us know, it can be risky to adopt new technology platforms. We must consider ROI (yikes, the cost can be steep!) and determine if and how employees will use the systems we put in place. After mulling over the pros and cons, Wheelhouse Group decided to take the leap to adopt Microsoft Teams in 2019 as a collaboration tool for our company. For us, it would become a part of the everyday routine for our more than 75 consultants. We would move away from using the multiple platforms that often caused our heads to spin as we tried to remember who said what, where and ask ourselves and our colleagues on the regular – “Where is that file again?”
So, how’d it go?
Good question. It wasn’t a quick process and it required work. But we learned a lot during the transition, and we’d like to pass on that information to you!
Enter my wonderful Wheelhouse colleagues—those who led the transition. I interviewed our part-time IT gurus Maripat Hinders and Kathi Scott to get the inside scoop.
Devin: Before we dive in, could you give a brief overview of what Microsoft Teams is and the difference between Teams and Channels?
Maripat: It does get a bit confusing. Teams is the name of the chat-based collaboration tool. In the tool, work is organized around…yep, Teams! So, a Team might be created for a project or for a collection of people with a shared role or interest. At Wheelhouse Group we have a Team for the whole company, then a Team for each internal project or department, and finally each client project has its own Team.
Kathi: Then, within each Team your work is categorized into Channels. A Channel might be a task or a sub-project (Virtual Events, for example, is one our Channels). Channels are where files are stored, and the chatting happens! They can be public Channels, where everybody within the Team can access or private Channels with restricted access for a subset of the Team.
Devin: Tech adoption takes some planning. What was the Wheelhouse approach to the rollout of Teams?
Kathi: As a firm specializing in the people side of technology adoption projects, we knew we needed to follow our own advice – the same we give our clients – and use The Method and The Magic approach that focuses on the “people” side of change. We identified our stakeholders and developed messages that would both prepare our people for the change and guide them through the transition. Throughout the process we checked in with staff regularly to learn about their experiences, their likes, and their frustrations—and adjusted as needed.
Maripat: After analyzing the pros and cons and giving it two thumbs up, it was Kathi and I who brought the idea to implement Teams to leadership. We did our research, which allowed leadership to immediately see the benefits of the chat, collaboration, and file management aspects of the tool. We created a pilot team of Champions – colleagues who agreed to adopt and use the tool pre-launch – to help us figure out how to leverage the system effectively in a way that aligned with our unique business model and company culture.
Each week we’d give our Champions new tasks and use cases to try out – for example, create Channels in a Team organized around key deliverables, schedule meetings, collaborate on documents, and host video meetings. In effect our Champions “kicked the tires” and reported back each week on their results. They were essential to our success! We took their insights and recommendations and cascaded communications to the stakeholder groups starting with leadership and flowing down to our project directors and their teams. We backed up the digital communications with topical brown bag learning sessions that included plenty of time to ask questions.
Devin: What did you think worked well with the rollout?
Maripat: At Wheelhouse, we have quite a few project teams, and meeting with each of them was key. We learned early on that setting up the Channels to fit how each team operates was perhaps the most important task we needed to support. Since Channels are where files are stored and where most team collaboration and chatting happens, it is important to organize them in a way that aligns with your work. Through a bit of trial and error we realized the best approach for our organization was to organize our Channels around tasks aligned to client contracts. That way we’d have all the files and related work products for each task easily accessible.
Another really important consideration was teaching everyone how to set up and manage their notifications. We had to make using the platform an org-wide habit; setting up notifications really helped build that habit. Many of us now use Teams more than Microsoft Outlook!
Kathi: Each project and team have their own Team(s) to manage their day-to-day work. We also set up a company-wide informal channel we call The Watercooler. It’s been a great virtual space for staff and leaders to share insights, ask questions, communicate client wins, and even celebrate birthdays and share funny GIFs and emojis. We also post regular tips to support each other in our client work and maintain a Teams “Frequently Asked Questions” cheat-sheet library in that channel. For a company like ours, with team members distributed all over the country, it has been a huge win to have this virtual watercooler to keep us connected.
Maripat: Though as a dog lover there are too many cat GIFs in that Channel!
Devin: Anything you’d do differently? Something that didn’t work as you’d hoped?
Maripat: We initially used our Employee Handbook to provide staff with information on Teams but realized that a more hands-on “Introduction” to the platform for new hires worked best.
Kathi: Because Teams is a relatively recent addition to the Microsoft family of applications some of our new colleagues are unfamiliar with it, and it is a tool that really lends itself to a live walk-through.
Devin: Were there any surprises as the company transitioned to Teams?
Kathi: It can actually replace the need for internal email! Though we still use email with our clients and partners, the internal volume has dropped significantly. I now send less than a handful of internal emails a month! We no longer add attachments to emails that we later misplace in our email folders; we use Teams to share files, provide updates on projects and to-dos, and connect on both project- and company-related content.
Maripat: I’m kind of a tyrant about pushing folks to Teams – if I get an email with an attachment that could have been shared in Teams, I’ll often respond via Teams. In the first few months I was especially dogmatic with my colleagues about using Teams, but even a year into using the app I still send gentle reminders to transition conversations and collaboration to the platforms. With everything living in the platform, you don’t have to search multiple places to find what you’re looking for!
Also, we were surprised by the quality of the help files that Microsoft embedded within the application. Really good videos and tips – a huge improvement over the old Microsoft Word paperclip – Clippy. His “help” was far from helpful.
Devin: Do you have a favorite Teams feature or tip?
Kathi: Document collaboration. It cuts down on version control issues – gone are the days when we edited the old version of a proposal! We’re able to execute our client deliverables in much less time than it took to email a document around to all the team members, tagging the next reviewer each step of the way.
Maripat: Download the mobile app – it’s fantastic – and take the time to set your notifications appropriately for each Team and Channel so that you don’t miss any important content.
Devin: How would you encourage a firm that’s just getting started?
Kathi: Create a cross-functional Champions pilot team to help you avoid a number of potential pitfalls before rolling it out and then work closely with them to get the most from the solution. Make sure you have identified your stakeholders, know what their challenges and issues are, and prepare targeted messages to engage them in the benefits of the transition. It was so satisfying to see our colleagues really embracing the tool, sharing their success and encouraging others to try new things.
Maripat: Engage leadership at the start of the transition to ensure a consistent roll-out and enthusiastic adoption of the tool in a way that adapts to your company’s culture. When they walk the talk by posting, sharing, and engaging on the platform it really sets the tone for the rest of the company, showing the tool is beneficial and the new – and better! – way of working. It is for us at Wheelhouse!!
Senior Consultant, Wheelhouse Group
Devin supports the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT) as Emerging Technology Lead. An experienced communicator and avid writer, she has authored articles for national, local, and trade publications to advocate for societal change and social inclusion for vulnerable populations.
Senior Consultant, Wheelhouse Group
Maripat has over 40 years of experience at the intersection of marketing, communications and technology. She prefers dogs over cats, and grandchildren over pretty much everything.
Senior Consultant, Wheelhouse Group
Kathi has more than 30 years of experience providing communications strategy and execution support for large-scale IT programs and technology deployments.