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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: