Where To Start with Internal Comms and Microsoft Teams

Over the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of having candid conversations with a wide range of organizations about the challenges they face with the rise of Microsoft Teams. Every one of them had a similar story, and whether they had 36,000 employees or 36, the pain points were the same. In this article, I’ll discuss the top challenges communicators face in Microsoft Teams and offer solutions to get you on a path forward.

Top Three Challenges Communicators face with Microsoft Teams

1. Fragmented Channels

Until recently, many organizations felt they had a decent enough handle on reaching everyone they needed to. There might have been some part of the company that they wished to engage with better (like field workers), but for the most part, their aging Intranet, internal communications app, and newsletter system were doing a satisfactory job. Then the world got turned upside down, and suddenly a significant portion of their users were living in Microsoft Teams.

Microsoft Teams users then stopped using the Intranet as much, if at all, missing out on corporate communications that were strategically positioned on key pages to get their attention. What’s more, having convenient Chat and Voice/Video conferencing features, these users were becoming increasingly insulated from the emailed corporate newsletter as they went to their Outlook less and less. And Microsoft Teams mobile kept the user in its warm and inviting world, and away from corporate-branded communication apps.

The internal communications team, already taxed with the surge in demand for keeping the organization informed and unified, was left wondering how to reach these people.

2. No Built-in Communications Features

Some organizations bravely jumped in, posting links to Intranet articles into the Posts tabs (i.e. conversation stream) of various Teams, trying to get people’s attention and draw them back. Unfortunately, as soon as people started posting anything – from work-related questions, to even remarking on the article – the article got pushed off screen and lost to history. Anyone just joining in had no idea that there had been a post.

A few organizations created Teams tabs that pointed to SharePoint Intranet pages, but they looked unnatural given how Teams works and presents information, resulting in poor adoption.

Experts in the communications field have written many articles about where Teams’ out-of-the-box functionality doesn’t align with the needs of communicators. We, at Sparrow, have written a few ourselves (Let’s Talk about Microsoft TeamsTurn Microsoft Teams Into The Ultimate Communications Hub)

3. IT, the Intranet, and Budget Cuts

Communicators are great problem solvers and often take reaching their people personally. Internal communications is the lifeblood of the organization, keeping everyone informed of common purpose and making them feel knit together as a greater whole.

Some organizations had an aging SharePoint 2016 (On-Premise) Intranet and were using Microsoft Teams (part of Microsoft Office 365, cloud-based), leaving them feeling technologically fragmented. Many communication plans for revamping the Intranet and drawing everyone back for the great content were met with the stark reality of finances being already significantly strained. In a few cases, some costly communication channels that were up for renewal were going to need to be reconsidered. This was the last thing that communication teams needed.

3 Pieces to the Plan

At Sparrow, we have a very clear mission – to make the lives of professional communicators better. This brings with it several vital responsibilities; the greatest one is listening to what our customers are going through, not just how they are using technologies (ours included). From there, we’ve helped customers find a path forward. Here are the key things we’ve learned.

Accept the Disruption – This Isn’t the Old School Intranet

One of the most important things to recognize is that Microsoft Teams’ quick adoption will be very disruptive to the corporate Intranet. There are many responsibilities we’ve associated with Intranets for a long time, from being our communication hub, to the source of documents, policies, and procedures, to how to contact IT when we have a support need. With Microsoft Teams, a number of these responsibilities will naturally start to shift over, while others may be shared between SharePoint and Microsoft Teams. Also, recognize that whereas the classic Intranet has been a lot more authoritative in how it was managed, Teams is going to be a lot more user-empowered.

Revisit the Channels – Do I Still Need All This?

It’s important to step back and look at the proposed new world order for communications. By accepting Microsoft Teams into the fold, is there some other part that can be retired? This creates a shift rather than expansion. Particularly with a unified publishing platform that provides some newsletter capability, this can reduce complexity. There is also an opportunity to reduce the overall cost (and make you IT’s best friend).

Act Quickly – Don’t Go into A Planning Tail-spin

Rather than diving into a year of planning and continue to lose momentum as people adopt Microsoft Teams, it is better to get moving. There’s a lot of lessons that can be taken from the world of Agile Development. The idea to get moving and create a cycle of constant improvement is probably the single most important one.

The right type of solution should have the following traits:

  • Can be put in place within days, not weeks or months,
  • Provide you a single authoring experience to reach all of your users on the platforms that they are using
  • Provide the ability to segment and target users and enforcing communication security where needed to avoid any ‘accidental accessing content,’
  • Provide both information destinations (news to specific Teams) and active notification and subscription features to bring the right news to the individual.
  • And most importantly, is economical and gives you options as you restructure or grow.

Rate of Change

Someone asked me recently, “But what if in 6 months, something else comes along and disrupts everything?” As a solution architect of more than 20 years, this type of conceptual disruption doesn’t come along very often. If you look at Microsoft Teams, it’s the convergence of conversational systems like Slack + Collaboration elements that never quite took off in SharePoint + Skype/Zoom. All of those, fusing together into something that becomes a “killer app” is rare. That said, it will go through evolutionary change, but at the end of the day, there’s no reason to wait.

Another important factor to consider is that an organization that acts and brings corporate communications to where its people are, rather than trying to re-direct the traffic to somewhere they aren’t naturally going to, shows them both respect and value. “Your time is valuable, keep being awesome. And by the way, here are some great things we want you to know about.” It’s like slipping the piece of paper in the big meeting rather than calling them down to the principal’s office.

No Excuse, Get Started

Over the past few months, I’ve had the honor of going from discussing the pain with communicators to being able to put our platform in place to solve these issues by the end of that week. These issues are real, and they aren’t going away.

If ever there was a time for corporate communications to seize the day and bring in a unified publishing platform while giving IT some cost flexibility, it is now. Who can argue with driving up effectiveness without a dramatic increase in cost?

And lastly, here are a few other helpful articles on communication strategy:

Getting the CIO Onboard With Your Communication Strategy

Without the CIO and IT on your side, your internal communication strategy might be heading straight for the storm. 

There’s nothing worse than having an internal communication strategy approved, choosing a new tool to implement, and then run into IT manager who is standing in the way with crossed arms. Over the past few decades, I have worked as a technologist who has implemented many communications systems and designed an award-winning communications platform. In this article I share some key strategies for getting IT and your CIO onside. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to assume that your organization already understands the value of a well-executed internal communication strategy. 

The best plans can be quickly derailed by an uncooperative IT department, or worse yet, one that wants to cooperate but doesn’t understand what you are trying to accomplish. It’s no secret that IT and Internal Comms speak different languages and have different drivers.

The following probably sounds familiar. Not that long ago, I met with a client who had a solid, well-thought-out communication strategy however their IT department was against getting a new a mobile app for internal communications. They agreed that they had a highly mobile and remote workforce, but IT proposed using Microsoft Kaizala – a group chat application included with their Microsoft subscription – IT did not understand what Internal Comms was really after. Kaizala is great for what it does, but corporate communications isn’t a chat. Using it would have undermined the entire strategy. Without IT having an “I get it now” moment, the initiative was stuck. The situation could have been avoided by laying the groundwork for understanding.

Here are the top three things you need to do:

1. Understand the CIO’s Strategy

Schedule a one on one session with your CIO to understand, in detail, their strategy, technology stack, and priorities for the coming months. This will help you understand how IT is viewing the road ahead, what technologies may or may not be in alignment, and give you some of the critical language to communicate more effectively. This meeting should focus on:

  • Maturity: How mature is the IT function in your organization? From your point of view, maturity does not matter. You simply need to understand where your organization sits in the spectrum. This will help you make decisions down the road. Mature organizations will have a well laid out plan and will have a history of consistent execution. They will have a review and evaluation process that you may need to align with if you want to bring in new tools. Immature organizations may need more consultation of different parties, over a formal review process, and may require more vendor support and quick-and-simple configuration over enterprise deployments. 
  •  Build vs. Buy: You need to understand if your organization prefers to build in-house (or through an outsourcing partner) or prefers to buy COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) products. When deciding to pursue third-party communication products organizations with system integration capabilities will tend to gravitate towards products with extensive APIs (Application Programmer Interfaces, i.e. programming connectors). These can then be leveraged and used by their internal development teams.
  •  Cloud Strategy: Is your organization open to cloud solutions? Are there any regulatory constraints that you need to be aware of? Is there a preferred platform – Microsoft, Google, Amazon? This will narrow down your technology choices and make sure you align with your CIO strategy.

Understanding IT priorities is crucial – is there capacity for IT to take on more projects? If so, when? If there isn’t – does IT work with an outsourcing partner that can provide the additional capacity you might need for your plans? If not, would it be best for IT if you only considered SAAS (Software as a Service, i.e. an online subscription type of service) vendors? 

Your communication strategy will inevitably have a technology component. The sooner you understand the constraints and priorities of your CIO, the easier it will be for you to align your strategy with your corporate reality. 

2. Communicate Your Strategy and the Gaps

It’s important that the CIO and IT understand not only where you’re going, but also the value and effectiveness of what’s in place today. By understanding their strategy, and them understanding yours, it can potentially result in better solutions than you originally had in mind, and we’ve seen that. Sometimes it’s a matter of excellent timing that allows you to accelerate what you were hoping to deliver, and sometimes to allows IT additional cost savings that can cover some, if not all, of your initiative.

Some CIOs and IT leaders may not have a clear understanding of what’s happening with the wealth of tools and channels that they think are at Internal Comms’ disposal. Experience has taught the IT side that all because some area of the business wants something new, doesn’t mean it will solve the problems of old. Therefore, it’s critical to help them understand what channels are being used, how effective and efficient those channels and the tools are, and where the gaps are that you’re addressing with the new strategy.

You know that using one channel to communicate does not work for your entire audience, or that the channels in play may be missing a key type of person at the organization. Maybe it’s the factory floor worker or the salesperson on the go, that’s being left out. Perhaps there’s a group with high attrition whose consistent complaint is ‘I don’t feel connected to the organization.’ Perhaps that is costing the organization in recruiting and lost productivity. Having numbers available to you to support your arguments is very useful because it helps make the argument for you. 

The importance of making sure you have proper coverage between channels and your people is key, especially for companies with a multi-generational workforce. Some employees prefer email, others mobile apps, the Intranet or chat-based collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams or Slack. IT may not fully understand who is left out, or what isn’t effective and why. You need to paint the big picture.

In communicating all of this, the CIO may see opportunities to retire existing, potentially costly, systems that they thought were helping and thereby have the funds to support accelerating your plans.

3. Establish Ownership and Support

This is a very important area to discuss upfront. IT is responsible for application support and your CIO will be rightfully concerned about how to handle new communication platforms and products. Even if the new tooling you want is an online service and therefore seem to be “of no concern to IT”, it is. Corporate usage and corporate data, understanding what needs are being met with what, are key areas of the CIO’s responsibility. 

Discuss with your CIO the technology stack (all Microsoft? all Google? Is there SalesForce?) that your organization has endorsed and the capability/capacity to support new communication products in that stack. It can be unnecessarily challenging to have picked a tool that would require a whole new skillset for IT in order to support. Understanding the tech stack will narrow down your choices, but it will bring IT to the table as a partner and with IT there, you may find that they are willing to make an exception because it is the right call.

Lastly, it’s important to communicate what your expectations of IT will be regarding anything new that’s being proposed as well as what their expectations are – from level of support, handling upgrades, dealing with user login issues, and the like.

Is this worth it?

Yes. Years ago, IT was fighting for the business as a whole to listen to them. It wasn’t uncommon for different business units or divisions to have completely different systems, sometimes having their own vendors of preference. The amount of inefficiency and overlap was painful, but nothing was more painful than IT then being told they had to support something they had no say in getting.

The CIO and IT understand that technology isn’t in place for technology’s sake, it’s in place to serve the good of the business, and that includes internal communication. Telling IT what you’re thinking and planning could give more weight to their plans, or support them switching up their priorities. Aligning upfront and discussing communication in a way your CIO understands will save you time, money, and headaches. Good luck!

Can Internal Communication be Agile?

Are there lessons learned from how IT has grown up over the years that could make Internal Communications nimbler?

Over the last several years, I have spent many hours talking to internal communication professionals worldwide. I have had the pleasure and privilege of learning from smart and driven individuals in the field. My background is in Information Systems (IS) and Information Technology (IT). I have worked as a consultant building corporate communication solutions for large and small organizations alike.

Agile Software Development changed IT, and I believe some of the fundamentals are adaptable to Internal Communications (IC) field. In my experience, Internal Communications in most organizations follow a two to three-year cycle:

  • A new IC director/manager or VP is hired. They spend time doing research – understanding the current communication channels, the type of content being produced, and by whom. They survey managers, leadership, and employees on the status of corporate communication. They create a baseline understanding of where the organization is and formulate a strategy for improving internal communications in the future. This research and strategy development usually takes between 6 and 12 months. 
  • In their second year, they shift to implementing the strategy. Vendors are contacted, IT/IS is brought into the conversation, solutions are chosen and implemented.
  • The third-year is spent measuring the results of the previous two years, analyzing the results. Then, based on the findings, the cycle repeats itself.

If you and your organization are not following this cycle, then congratulations. You are in the minority.

I could not help but notice that this is how Information Systems used to work years ago. We used to execute projects in what we called a Waterfall model. We had to understand and document detailed requirements, do an upfront design, estimate the project, and then implement it. It just did not work. Business users were disappointed by IT slow progress. There was wasted opportunity between the time in which a project was conceived and when it was finished. The company would often change dramatically between project concept and the eventual project completion, so much so that the anticipated benefits no longer aligned with what the company needed. This results in disappointment and frustration. Then it usually starts all over again with a new initiative.

That’s why a new model was created and adopted by most organizations – Agile Software Development. Agile is a term used to describe approaches to software development emphasizing incremental delivery, team collaboration, continual planning, and constant learning, instead of trying to deliver it all at once near the end.

How could Agile work for Internal Communications?

The main goal is to reduce the cycle time that I described above and deliver results to the organization sooner. As a CEO (and admittedly, an impatient one), I work with my teams to prioritize good over perfect and starting early over extensive planning and analysis. We experiment and adapt as we head towards our goal. We review what’s not working and incorporate it into our next iteration of improvement. 

How could we complete analysis and planning upfront if the world around us changes so much? This is not the same as not having a plan. We simply do not spend months, or years, putting together a plan that will likely be obsolete before it could be started, let alone finished.

Here is how Internal Communication can apply agile principles:

  • Define your true north. This is your ultimate goal – everything you do, including research, tools you purchase, implementation steps, etc. should align with this goal. The True North won’t change. The process by which you get there will inevitably change. For example, who could have predicted back in February that Microsoft Teams was going to be a dominant platform in the collaboration space. It has become an important communication channel (check out our post on Microsoft Teams and Internal Comms).
  • Research is continuous rather than a one-time effort. As a senior practitioner, you can use your experience from past organizations to make educated bets and experiments without having to wait a year. You can gauge those on a continuum of complexity and cost. Prioritize the ones that can give you the best results with minimum effort. For example, a full Intranet rewrite can be costly and complicated, versus an experiment with communications via a mobile app or MS Teams.
  • Create a backlog. This is a set of features and capabilities that you want to incorporate over time, and you draw from as you define each iteration of improvement. Here is a definition that you will need to adapt from software development to your field: 
  • Start executing on your backlog with a mix of big bets and small experiments, based on your priorities.
  • Once a month, review and groom the backlog to ensure that you and your team are still working on the highest priority items

Years ago, IT didn’t have a seat at the table. Now it’s hard to think about a company that doesn’t have a CIO. Internal Communications is in a similar position to what IT was years ago. One of the great challenges IT had, and Internal Communications often still has, is the classic “take a year to make a strategy which we won’t get to start executing until the middle or end of the following year.” I believe that taking an agile-style approach can help make a difference.

I would love to hear from you – would this work for you? Why and why not? If you are already executing in this manner and I’m sure some of you are, share your results, successes, and challenges. Contact me here.

Let’s Talk About Microsoft Teams and Your Internal Communications

Should we add Microsoft Teams as a channel to communicate with our employees? It is one of the most debated topics in corporate communications today.

It’s not an easy decision as we already have many channels, for example, email, Intranet, Newsletters, Mobile Apps, etc. Each channel has had varying levels of success when it comes to effectively communicating with your employees – and how do we, or can we, measure that effectiveness. For decades, we’ve been blindly publishing content and hoping for engagement or maybe using simplistic means for measuring it. So, given that state of affairs, would we really want to bring Microsoft Teams into the picture? Particularly with its challenges on certain fronts like authoritative communications.

Let’s quickly dissect each of the classic communications channels and then make a case for Microsoft Teams:

Intranets – they have been the standard of employee engagement and communication for years. I have worked with companies that have redesigned their Intranet in three-year cycles for the last 15 years with the hope that a new version of SharePoint or a new Intranet product will save the day. I have seen organizations track hits on their home page as a measure of adoption while forcing everyone’s browser to default to the Intranet’s home page – as the saying says – “There is no worse blind man than the one who doesn’t want to see.”

Intranets do have a place in the corporate communication ecosystem, but we have to acknowledge that they are time-consuming and costly to implement and support. A good Intranet needs to provide employees with reasons to return on a regular basis for it to be effective at corporate communication.

Despite the most valiant of efforts, Intranets have never become the holy grail of engagement and communications many had hoped they would become. We have gone through many revamps, each hoping to get it better, only for whatever initial success was found to often slip away. We are not advocating for an organization not to have an Intranet, yet. They do have shortcomings that we seem to be unable to escape. Shortcomings that a truly collaboration centric-platform like Microsoft Teams doesn’t have.

Newsletters – The first challenge with newsletters (both printed and digital) is around timeliness and immediacy of information. Newsletters are a good way to summarize what has happened during a time period (say a week or two). However, they are lacking when you have an important message that you need employees to see and act on immediately. They also tend to be one-way communication channels, and therefore difficult for the audience to engage. We become the classic professor in a lecture hall focused on saying content, rather than being the approachable leader who draws people in and discusses items of importance. During this pandemic, the latter has never been more critical.

Email – The most used medium of communication today and for the last few decades. While email does have the immediacy that you would need for important, timely messages, it is overused to the point where many of us tune out all but the most essential ones. DMR reports show that the average office worker receives 121 emails per day. That’s a lot of emails.

There is no effective way to distinguish between important corporate communication and other emails. There is too much noise on this channel, and it is challenging to have two-way conversations with your entire audience without overwhelming them with even more email. Also, engagement often becomes confused as people are responding to comments that are out of order.

Let’s talk about Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Team is a modern platform built around collaboration. Your employees can chat with each other, they can collaborate on files, projects, attend virtual meetings, and you can host virtual townhalls.

If you are like most organizations, you are realizing the following:

  • Your employees are spending less time in email and a lot more time in Microsoft Teams.
  • Your employees are spending even less time in the Intranet and a lot more time in Microsoft Teams.

COVID-19 and social distancing has expedited the adoption of Microsoft Teams and accelerated a digital transformation as we have never seen before. The usage stats are impressive, including over 75 million daily users, more than 2.7 billion daily meeting minutes, etc. More importantly, you can check your organization stats by running these Microsoft reports.

After you verify your stats, you will likely confirm that, yes, your employees are spending most of their day in Microsoft Teams – collaborating, attending meetings, chatting. Microsoft Teams does not have the lack of adoption that your Intranet suffers from.

Unlike newsletters, Microsoft Teams provides an excellent channel for important and immediate messages. You can reach your employees on the platform they are using several times a day. It is also a platform that provides an inherent segmentation mechanism by grouping employees into Teams and common interests; email doesn’t have a good way of accomplishing this.

To summarize: 
  • Unlike Intranets, Microsoft Teams does not suffer from poor adoption.
  • Unlike Intranets, Microsoft Teams, as a platform, is likely used by most of your employees several times a day.
  • Unlike email, Microsoft Teams provides a built-in segmentation mechanism.
  • Unlike Newsletters, Microsoft Teams provides a channel built for immediacy and important messages that need to be seen now.

Microsoft Teams has received some key criticisms, and on its own, they are entirely valid.

  • Critical communications and authoritative posts can get lost in the chatter.
  • No means to manage corporate communications and delegate publishing.

Sparrow for Teams is a product that fills those holes and completes the picture, allowing for Microsoft Teams to step up and be the hub of communication for the enterprise. We have detailed an article that goes into depth on this.

It’s far easier and more natural to bring the content to where the people are (in Microsoft Teams) than trying to haul the people out of their now natural work environment and get them to visit the Intranet or read a newsletter email. With a few days and Sparrow for Teams, your org could be good to go.

Book your Demo Sparrow for Microsoft Teams today to see this in action. Best of all, it is easy to install and configure that you can be communicating in Microsoft Teams by next Friday.

 

Download the White Paper

Sparrow turns Microsoft Teams into the Ultimate Communication Hub

Today, DevFacto Technologies released Sparrow for Teams, a real-time employee communication application that turns Microsoft Teams into a communication hub for the enterprise.

Sparrow for Teams enables organizations to quickly and reliably communicate with all employees, regardless of where they are. Built natively in Microsoft Teams, Sparrow for Teams reaches desk-based, mobile and remote employees alike right inside the platform they are actively using throughout the day. The app allows companies to publish and distribute media-rich messages and news articles keeping the workforce up-to-date on vital information.

In recent weeks, Microsoft Teams allowed countless companies around the globe to continue operating remotely while their offices remained closed. As a result, Microsoft Teams usage has grown by 275% since last fall establishing it as the leading workplace collaboration platform.

This comes as companies notice a progressive shift away from the traditional internal communication channels. “This new era has thrust many companies to embrace collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams, which provides tremendous benefits and brings an incredible challenge for internal communication. How to provide effective communication to everyone when they are organized in small tribes? This is where Sparrow for Teams is a great help,” says Adrian Cropley OAM, former Chair and fellow of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) worldwide, and founder of Cropley Communication and the Centre for Strategic Communication Excellence. “Sparrow for Teams bridges corporate communication gaps by bringing authoritative communication right into Microsoft Teams, helping our customers reach all their employees – including those on the frontlines” adds Chris Izquierdo, CEO of DevFacto Technologies.

With Sparrow for Teams, news articles and messages can be distributed to all company employees or targeted to those in specific roles or locations. The app prioritizes information in the newsfeed so that nothing and no one gets missed. Authors can notify employees of urgent communication and indicate when an article is a required read, breaking news or needs to be acknowledged by each staff member. Sparrow for Teams comes complete with a rich analytics dashboard to measure, analyse and report the effectiveness of communication efforts.

Learn more about Sparrow for Microsoft Teams.

Create Your Content Once and Maximize Your Distribution

Create your content once and distribute it to as many channels as possible

We’ve all heard one version or another of this statement. Creating the same content, shaped for different platforms, is error-prone and timeconsuming. All too often, the tools supposed to help us write once, publish everywhere, don’t focus on that as a key feature. They quickly become burdened with tons of additional features and increased complexity, requiring us to revert to manually dealing with our various communication platforms. 

Organizations today inevitably end up with multiple channels of distribution, yet not everyone in your organization consumes content the same way. We are dealing with multigenerational workplaces with varying degrees of digital literacy and a range of device preferences. Most large organizations today rely on Email, their Intranet, and potentially Mobile Apps to communicate with their employees. These channels are usually siloed with separate analytics (if any) that make for a challenge when communications professionals try to get a good understanding of how content is being consumed. Analytics should be feeding the virtuous circle of improving content and delivery, driving up engagement, which feeds the analytics, which helps improve the content and delivery.  

At Sparrow, we strive to make your life easier. We have the communications professional at the center of our universe, understanding the different ways they need to reach out to all of their communication ecosystem. With Sparrow, you can create your content once and have it published automatically by our platform into many different channels, including: 

  • Email 
  • Intranet 
  • Mobile Apps 
  • Microsoft Teams 

What’s more, posts can be marked as must-read (mandatory), targeted to select audiences, be in multiple languages, and more. 

Sparrow Publishing

Quick, easy, and flexible. You focus on creating your content in one place and leave the nuisances of distribution and scheduling to SparrowWant the post to be published later? We have delayed publishing. Need to ensure people explicitly click a box to say they have understood that policy update? We’ve got that too. Want to reuse a post from a few weeks ago? Clone it with a click of a button. Need only the leadership team to see it, or maybe new employees? Set the audience to exactly who needs to see it. Sparrow will help you get the right message to the right people at the right time. 

If we already have other systems in place, can Sparrow work with those? 

Yes. We understand organizations have made significant investments in other tools, and replacing them is not easy. That’s why we have built Sparrow with the hooks to integrate our platform with your existing tools. 

Do you have an Intranet that you would like to keep? That’s great; let’s integrate. This can allow your organization to take advantage of our mobile apps and Sparrow for Microsoft Teams while continuing to use your Intranet. 

With Sparrow, you decide which components you deploy. For example, you can trial our platform by adding the power of corporate communications on the Microsoft Teams platform and deploy our Intranet, Intelligent Newsletter, and Mobile Apps at a later time. The choice is yours! 

Sparrow Mobile

Analytics for the data scientist in you 

There has been a push in recent years for internal communication to provide concrete measurements, “Where are the numbers?” Sparrow has a comprehensive analytics module that helps you understand how the content you are producing is being consumed by the organization. Our analytics start with the content itself by providing you with detailed metrics on the readability, grade level, length, as well as the number of unique opens, complete reads, and more. Stay tuned, as we’ll be writing more about this in an upcoming article. 

Analytics

 

When it comes to “Write it once, publish it across all the channels,” think Sparrow. 

Experience Sparrow for yourself – book a demo today!

 

Experience Sparrow for Yourself - Book a Demo Today

Corporate Communications on Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams has quickly become a vitally important tool of the enterprise, with employees greatly benefiting from its collaboration and immediate communication capabilities. However, Teams has also brought significant challenges for corporate communications, creating isolated tribes within the organization and leaving the leaders pondering: How to keep our company whole and our people unified? And how to make sure everyone stays informed?

Sam Marshall from ClearBox points out in his recent article, “Blueprint for crisis comms with Office 365”, Microsoft Teams is not the place for authoritative communications due to a number of missing elements and features. The corporate communications functionality is on the Intranet, and thus, we have to bring our people there to consume it. However, this is an uphill battle when people are in Teams all day. Now we have a solution that brings it all together.

Sparrow for Teams brings corporate communications and employee voice directly into Microsoft Teams and integrates with SharePoint Intranets as well as Sparrow’s and Team’s mobile applications. This helps ensure one cohesive communication backbone for the entire company.

Why not use Microsoft Teams for Corporate Communications out of the box?

Microsoft Teams, as Sam Marshall and others have pointed out, has several shortcomings that prevent it from becoming the de facto platform for corporate communications. For example:

  • It lacks rich content editing capabilities. Official corporate communications are usually well-structured with rich text, images and video.
  • It is difficult to differentiate between authoritative comms and immediate comms (instant messages).
  • The analytics available for reading and engagement are limited, making it difficult to get true content consumption metrics.

Essentially, Microsoft Teams works best for immediate conversations within a single team, even one large, company-wide team. Often, official communications to those teams is done in the form of an announcement with a link back to the article on the Intranet, and potential pasted in multiple teams. Or worse, it’s pasted in one team that goes unnoticed because of the way activity notifications work.

This approach, unfortunately, strips posts of their authority and does little to differentiate them from instant messages that can quickly follow. What’s more, the ‘link-back’ strategy forces employees to leave one platform (Teams) and go to another (SharePoint), which disrupts the flow of work. This leads people to leave the article for later, often forgetting about it entirely.

Enabling Corporate Comms inside Microsoft Teams

Sparrow for Teams helps organizations bring authoritative communications to Microsoft Teams, while also bringing the ability to empower employees to actively participate in the conversation. With Sparrow, Teams gives communicators the ability to create rich, multi-lingual, media-enhanced content that has clear authority such as compliance posts, breaking news, and mandatory reads. No longer will employees need to leave Microsoft Teams to be fully and properly engaged by comms.

Posts published in Teams can be segmented via tags that employees subscribe to. These tags can be restricted to specific users and Active Directory groups, allowing comms to target selected internal audiences, maintain confidentiality, and even make subscription mandatory.

Employees have two ways to consume corporate communications. The first is through a personal Teams tab: My Sparrow (see in the image below on the left-hand side). This provides a user-centric view, aggregating all the Sparrow published content that the user is subscribed to into a single, comprehensive, feed. They can then read, react, and comment on posts and manage what they’d like to see.

My Sparrow Tab

Personalized for each user, My Sparrow News Tab in Teams displays all posts published under tags the employee is subscribed to.

Complementing My Sparrow is the ability to enhance individual teams a Sparrow News tab. This allows corporate, regional, and functional teams to have relevant news as part of them, centered on the team rather than the individual. For example, a corporate team could have its Sparrow News set to show CEO Messaging, COVID Updates, and Announcements, while regional teams may be focused on other tags. This creates an opportunity to have specialty destinations within Teams for content and helps keep the organization connected.

My Sparrow Tab in Teams

Team-specific Sparrow Tab in Microsoft Teams

In addition, Sparrow enables any selected Team to have the ability to publish content with the same, easy to use, rich, multi-lingual enabled, publishing system. This can be used to promote employee or regional voice, such as providing a means to publish on less formal or social tags, which adds to the corporate culture and connectedness without conflicting with corporate communications.

What about the Intranet?

Sparrow for Teams doesn’t forget about the intranet, far from it. It includes flexible post viewer webparts for SharePoint Online intranets (both classic and modern). This allows organizations to breathe new life into their Intranet and have a single place to publish, with many places to consume. All posts, comments, and reactions are available on the Intranet, Teams, Sparrow mobile and Web, making both authoritative voice and employee communications available where people are spending their time.

Sparrow Intranet

Post a story once, and let your employees read it wherever it is convenient for them on the Intranet, in Teams or in Mobile app.

Schedule a demo today.

Paul McCartney said it best “You say you want a revolution, well you know, we all want to change the world.” We believe the time has come to change the world.  Let us show you how. Schedule a demo today by contacting us at info@SparrowApp.io and experience for yourself the magic of corporate communications in Microsoft Teams.

 

 

Tips for Engaging Remote Employees During the Coronavirus Quarantine

How to keep employee morale up when facing what will likely be the worst crisis in recent history? Remote work can wear down even the most experienced workers. It requires a different mindset than working in an office where employees interact with each other daily in person. Engaging remote employees is notoriously difficult. At the best of times, 20% of remote employees say they lose a sense of belonging and sometimes feel disconnected and lonely when they’re working from home. This number will most likely increase when more people join the ranks of remote employees due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

As the pandemic grows, so does the pressure on internal communications.  

Your employees naturally have questions that need answering. They want to know how the coronavirus will affect their work and what’s the company’s plan for mitigating the risks brought by the pandemic. Finally, they want to know if they will get to keep their jobs.  

You inform your employees and answer their questions right away. You can’t leave their questions unanswered. And, although unintentional, this can mean your internal communications ends up sounding quite serious at timesHow do you avoid eroding your people’s morale and productivity in this difficult time? 

Since coffee with a coworker and water-cooler talks are off the table, internal communications should evolve too and include some casual fun posts to keep both engagement and spirits up.  

Make Internal Communications More Human 

Here are some ideas for less-formal internal communications to help your people feel connected and supported: 

Share Breakthroughs and Uplifting News about the Virus

Sharing positive news about what’s happening in the world and your community can help loosen up deep-seated fears. For example, our own CEO shared his story of getting tested (he tested negative, in case you were wondering). It humanized the experience, gave hope, and created an opportunity for those who might go through the same thing to reach out and connect with him. 

Sharing good news with organization during coronavirus pandemic

Shine the Spotlight on Your (Remote) Employees

This classic ‘get to you know you’ post, highlights something unique and unknown about an employee. Have an employee share a little-known fact about themselves; their identity is only revealed at the end of the post. This exercise proved to be a lot of fun on my team. I didn’t know that we had a former championship bowler and a former police officer. If your internal communications tool lets you include photo and video, you can leverage that to make the post even more fun.  

Good News from Within

Share a ‘good deed’ story that the organization or someone within the organization has done to help the community. Every company has inspiring stories that are waiting to be told perhaps someone volunteers their time to an important cause or the company raised money to support a charity. Including motivational or inspiring stories feeds the sense of being part of something good. 

Give a Shout Out

Recognize those who go the extra mile. This ask your co-workers: who’s been awesome this week?”. Employees can submit their responses via the comments section including the colleague’s name and a story about something that happened to them. It’s a form of kudos that’s less formal and more conversational.  

Having Some Fun: The Imaginary Commute

Share a fun post about a disrupted daily routine. Here’s one I shared with my team the other day about my encounter with fiery dragons and puppy dog stares.  

Engaging remote employees during covid-19 with fun posts

Break Thing up and Start a Story

This is a form of the kids’ game, Pass the Story. Post a short prompt and ask people to comment with the next piece in the tale. Who knows, your team could be writing the next NYT’s bestseller. You can think of other creative ways to engage your teams by helping them create fun content to share and interact with.  

Share Tips for Coping with the Crisis

The pandemic is affecting your employees differently. Those who are parents may be overwhelmed with keeping their kids engaged while schools are closed. Others, might be struggling with planning their life around remote work.  

Take this opportunity to highlight a resource or have someone share their schedule for one day so everyone can benefit from other’s creativity. You can embed video links to recommended content for kids, or help co-workers organize dinner plans by sharing recipes. At the bottom of the post, ask people to suggest the next day’s feature idea, while in the comments, they can discuss what’s been proposed.  

Set a Tempo 

Having a variety of posts is great, but you will also need to maintain a schedule of publishingWhen people see there’s a pulse of different types of content provided, without it being a merciless barrage of notifications, it builds a sense of pattern and structure. This helps underpin their day and week. 

Gather Instant Feedback 

Poll employees to get quick feedback. For example, you could ask them if they have all the resources they need to work from home.  

In Sparrow, you can use the compliance post feature to do just that. Compliance posts allow employees to check a box to reply to the post. Normally, this feature is for policy updates or to confirm understanding. But you can also use them to quickly find out who needs extra help. Here, is an example: 

Internal communications during coronavirus pandemic

You’ll get an automatic report with names of people who check the box making it easy to plan further follow-ups. The post can be set to expire after a day or two so that it’s not open-ended. 

Poll employees to increase engagement among remote employees

Surveys or polls, are another way to engage people. They can be used to measure the pulse of the organization and see how connected your employees are. They can also be used to understand how employees are doingHere are some questions you could ask your staff: 

  • How many departments have you connected with this week? 
  • How many people have you video called this week? 
  • What’s the best way to break up your day? A. Walk, B. Workout C. Coffee/tea break D. Howling at the moon (always provide one silly option). 

Lower the formality and increase the humanity 

Because much of our social interactions happen at the office, remote work comes with a higher risk of social isolation. Adding uplifting information and a touch of humor to your internal communications keeps your tribe engaged and connected through the crisis. 

Have you tried any of these methods? Are there other ones you recommend? Let me know in the comments.

 

Engage Remote Employees - Get Sparrow Free

Stay Connected During COVID-19 with Free Internal Communications Tool

Enhance internal communications during the Coronavirus pandemic, with Sparrow. Now available to all businesses for free.

In this time of uncertainty, businesses are facing unprecedented challenges in how they work remotely and stay connected during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

As a growing business ourselves, we understand the importance of effectively communicating with the entire workforce in times of crisis and social distancing. Emails and intranets alone aren’t enough when your organization seeks dynamic updates, or when your employees are working remotely.

As such, we want to play our part in helping businesses stay connected, informed, and productive in the challenging months ahead. That’s why we are offering Sparrow’s mobile app for free through to June 30, 2020.

Sparrow is a rapidly deployable communications platform that’s capable of providing a layer of trust and assurance throughout the organization. Whether its issuing time-sensitive information or pushing out safety updates and ensuring they are read, Sparrow’s built to handle these critical communications.

We are seeing a lift in utilization in response to the pandemic and I’m happy to report that Sparrow is making a difference for many organizations. If you are not yet familiar with Sparrow, I encourage you to check it out.

Sparrow is an award-winning platform that elevates internal communications and engagement. Connects employees meaningfully when and where they engage the most. Ensures companies can reach every employee with the right information at the right time to drive engagement and productivity.

With employees around the world working from home to protect themselves from the pandemic, organizations need to extend the reach of their internal communications. Sparrow’s engaging mobile app connects with your entire team wherever they are. Its easy-to-use interface pushes communications to employees’ mobile devices.  Communications can be targeted to define the information most important to each user. Sparrow notifies users when relevant information becomes available with push notifications.

Sparrow’s mobile app is a solution our customers have valued for some time, but over the past two weeks, we decided to make it available at no cost to support businesses in this time of need.

Whether it’s a company-wide message, a quick safety update, or a post to gain feedback from the team, our goal is to enable your organization to share important information with remote workers securely and seamlessly.

Sparrow for Internal Communications: Free Through June 30

Sparrow’s mobile app will be offered at no cost to businesses until June 30, 2020. The solution provides the following capabilities:

  • Secure, mobile message delivery to groups inside and outside your organization
  • Mandatory and compliance post capabilities
  • Quick content creation, including image and video support
  • Audience targeting
  • Extensive measurement and analytics tools

What’s more, this service can be enabled for almost any organization in under 3 days.

Let’s Get Through This

These are challenging times for employees and businesses. It’s also a time to adapt to new ways of doing business and to discover new ways of thinking. The days ahead will be challenging for all of us, but hopefully, the Sparrow tool can help you and your team stay connected at a time when it matters most.

Effective Internal Communications During COVID-19 Outbreak

The COVID-19 is spreading at a rapid pace across the globe, more than 190,000 worldwide have been infected thus far. This pandemic is being described as the ‘worst public health crisis for a generation.’ With it comes an unprecedented societal and business disruption.

Businesses are concerned about the welfare of their employees, while at the same time rethinking how to work and survive this crisis. The current situation has made remote work a real necessity. Employees are looking for clear guidance while working through this. Misinformation in the workplace can become rampant, making your employees feel stressed and insecure.

For both the safety of employees and business continuity Internal Communications and HR teams find themselves needing to adjust their communications strategies to align with the new situation. They are looking for effective ways to keep employees informed about the virus and its impact on the staff’s day to day activities.

Timely, accurate, and effective communication is vital when dealing with this outbreak. Waiting to respond until something has happened is hardly an option. During times of crisis, internal communication is the glue that holds the business together.

It’s time to ensure there is an excellent remote working system in place together with a transparent and ongoing communications strategy for employees. One of the most challenging aspects of crisis communications is the need to create a wide range of critical content and have it pushed out to the right audiences as quickly as possible.

Here are 5 crisis communications best practices that you can implement during the coronavirus outbreak:

Keep Your Employees Informed in Real-Time

Turn your current internal communication strategy into real-time communications. Not responding immediately to your employee’s concerns may accelerate the spread of panic and misinformation across the organization. In times of crisis, you need to create and distribute updates related to the pandemic quickly. Offer a two-way communication channel to foster engagement and comradery. Giving your employees a way to comment or react to company communications will help you collect feedback and address any questions that come up.

Reach Every Employee Wherever They Are

No matter where your employees are, they need the right information. More than ever, during a crisis, you need to ensure your content is getting to them. One way to do it is by extending your reach beyond the company intranet and pushing your updates to employees’ mobile devices or email.

Get the Right Information to the Right People

Your employees need information that’s relevant to them. Different groups within your organization will require different types of messages. For example, you might consider sharing specific resources with your company’s leadership to help them model stabilizing communications; or you may post FAQs for the frontline workers. Use your internal communications platform to segment your content, so your employees only receive the information they need and nothing else.

Make Sure Critical Information is Delivered and Read

At times, you will need to share urgent news or information that’s critical to your internal stakeholders. But it is not always easy to tell whether people have read your memo and taken the desired action. Having a communication channel that helps you easily track who has read and acknowledged your message, can make all the difference. Mandatory and compliance posts are a great way to clearly indicate to your audience that your message is mission-critical. Mandatory posts are visually distinct and stay at the top of Sparrow’s newsfeed until read. Compliance posts require the readers to acknowledge they have read and will comply with the information or policy change.

Measure the Impact of Your Internal Communications

Measuring the impact of your internal communications is even more critical than ever with the COVID-19 crisis. Track your most important metrics such as the number of unique views, complete reads (e.g. have they read the entire article or dropped off before an important piece of information?), or audience engagement. Knowing how many employees have read the latest COVID-19 update and are aware of important changes will empower you to make informed decisions about your crisis communication strategy. Additionally, it will arm you with data that you can share with the leadership team to help them understand the situation.

Proper communication will help protect your employees, build trust, prevent the spread of misinformation, and help employees feel secure. Transparent and real-time communication will help your business weather the coronavirus storm.

Learn more about Sparrow.