Collaboration in 2020

Collaboration, communications etiquette, and COVID

Some risualites got together to discuss a few subjects around collaboration and how this has shifted or adjusted since the start of the year. We discussed the tools available, communications etiquette, and a little about what tools to use and when. These subjects have been greatly impacted by COVID, for example, personal circumstances may have a significant impact not just on your availability, but also how it is best to contact you. So in this webinar and blog post, we discuss a few tips and tricks around how to encourage better behaviors. Lastly as a wrap-up, some example workflows that demonstrate how we can pull these technologies together.

Under the stream you’ll find some notes to summarize the discussion, images, links and a little animation describing those workflows, so we hope you find these useful too.

The tools

Outlook is still out there, of course. But with other tools available, we’re able to articulate reasonably precisely where Outlook is best used, and where it is not…

Teams exists to provide instant 1:1 messaging and chat amongst more focussed teams arranged around particular groups of subjects. These could be organisational teams like the typical ‘sales’ example, or people working on a particular project or topic. Another common method used in Teams is the group chat, which functions much like 1:1 chats but you simply add more people to create a spontaneous group chat (the name says it all). The group chat is frequently an easier way to get a message out to a smaller group of people.

Yammer has seen a real resurgence within risual, which partly triggered the idea for this webinar. It’s a fantastic tool to share news and information across an organisation through two-way dialogue, whereas email is very one-sided. For example, when some new tool or process becomes available, in the past we would send an email with some basic information, maybe with a link to a public SharePoint site with further information, but then direct people to a service desk if they needed assistance. With Yammer, people can ask questions directly and get a response straight from the subject matter experts. Others can view those interactions and benefit from them. And that works at an organisational level, this isn’t confined to individual teams or hidden away in people’s inboxes. The other thing Yammer is great for is all the non-critical information like corporate social events or industry news.

Go mobile!

The mobile apps for Teams, Yammer, and Outlook are all great at enabling a better set of collaboration practices. They feature nice out of hours/snooze options. The ability to flag certain groups or people for alerts rather than having to suffer notifications for every last piece of communication. And of course, they all comply with mobile device management or mobile app management policies from Intune.

Collaboration is king

All of these collaboration tools assist in the sharing of ideas and content. That content is going to include the usual suspects like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files. But modern tools such as OneNote, Stream, Microsoft Whiteboard, and others are equally viable and valuable methods of sharing information! As technology consultants we desperately miss the traditional whiteboard, almost every problem can be solved with boxes and lines! But the Microsoft Whiteboard app gets you very close, perhaps touchscreens and digital pens are doing good business in these more isolated times!

Think: Who is this for? Who is my audience?

When you’re sharing something, consider who would benefit from that information. And what the urgency is.

  • If it’s something that needs an action, then email as a primary contact method is not the best place. Email is great for confirming actions e.g. after a conversation or meeting where actions are agreed, then a confirming email detailing those actions can be useful. But the danger with email is people are busy, they have a million and one things calling for their attention. So try not to fall into the ‘fire and forget’ trap. If you want somebody to do a thing, make sure they have heard you, then perhaps follow up with an email to formalise the request.
  • If the message is for a group of people, consider if it’s something that is specialist information or appropriates only to a given set of people, in which case Teams are ideal. If it’s something which needs to be targetted but for which no Team currently exists, then maybe some focussed email is appropriate. Maybe consider creating a Team if this group collaborates on a particular topic frequently.
  • If the message would be of interest to a broader set of people, and actually carries little to no sensitivity or urgency, then maybe that would be good for Yammer? Sharing information publicly across an organisation is great for getting engagement and momentum on a subject. This saves you from spamming a smaller group of people who may or may not respond, Yammer could also result in increased engagement. Particularly useful where you want to encourage something and raise visibility.

One of the nice side-effects of moving a certain amount of communications to Yammer is this makes Teams far less ‘noisy’ throughout the day in terms of notifications. Which is great, because that means what noise is left, is typical of genuine interest and actually demands your attention.

Collaboration Etiquette

We each found that we’ve each had our own little ways of essentially having to train people in how to collaborate with us. A good tip was either to put an ‘email SLA‘ in your signature or actually a link to a Sway that explains things in finer detail. Examples of some rules you could use or customise would be:

  • If it’s urgent, send me a chat message in Teams (instant message me).
  • If it’s REALLY urgent, voice call me on Teams or even phone (remember those?)
  • If you email me expecting action, and I haven’t responded in three days, then I’m really sorry but your email has probably fallen into the mire of messages that we all receive each day and hasn’t been picked up. Please chat/speak to me first to confirm any actions before sending an email to confirm in writing.
  • For ‘Public’ news, information, and engagement – Yammer is a great alternative to ‘spamming’ the whole company.
  • For closed (team focussed) news, information, and engagement – An ideal place is Teams group chat or meetings.
  • For 1:1 requests – Teams chat or voice first, Outlook last.
  • If you’re going to IM somebody and the subject possibly requires some explaining, then it’s understandable to see if they are available by first asking if they’re free to give you some focus. Sometimes though, some people can get frustrated by a lengthy gap between the initial ‘Hello’ and the rest of the message arriving. So where possible, consider the person you are speaking to and maybe include a brief summary of what it is you need in that initial message. So instead of just “Hello”, maybe use “Hi Sue, could you spare five minutes to talk about Protect B?”. Some more on this at and
  • Respect the status. If I’m ‘busy’ then maybe IM but don’t expect a response. But if I’m marked Do not disturb, then please if at all possible, do not disturb.

One tip around collaboration tools but not necessarily in terms of etiquette we discussed was: Use the Teams DND (do not disturb) status and/or the Windows 10 Focus Assist feature! Both of these provide a much-needed respite from the daily din of notifications and distractions, which is really useful when you’re on the clock and need to get something done.

Domestic arrangements and wellbeing for remote workers

For some colleagues, there is no shortage of contact, but for others – perhaps they live alone and/or have jobs that largely involve a level of ‘professional isolation’, contact is a bigger issue. In these cases, the technology we discuss can absolutely help. Regular team calls at lunchtimes or even more social evening events can really help pull people out of isolation just that little bit. And try to encourage people to use their webcams. It makes a significant difference.

Also, another tip perhaps for the Sway is allowing people to know what your circumstances are. Perhaps with COVID, you have particular domestic arrangements that for example impact your availability. This could be homeschooling, or work/life balance, and so on. Putting a brief explainer in Sway could help you in letting people know about your situation and advising them on how that might impact things.

For an example of a Sway communications policy that you can link in your email, here’s a quick one I put together for you to use as inspiration for your own Sway! Note how you can share then copy the URL to place in your signatures or other places:

What goes where

Mark spoke a bit about the Microsoft inner/outer loop diagram:

Something I like to frame this around is some examples using a set of connected workflows that inform what tools to use and when. Do you put something in OneDrive or SharePoint? Do you send a message with Teams or Outlook? The whiteboard we were using didn’t appear in the Stream, so I’ve composed a short animation:

We hope this was fun and informative, and as always if you want to discuss anything from this post and ideas about collaboration in your own organisation, please get in touch!

About the author