Expert View: Tim Eayrs - Microsoft Teams and the Digital Workplace Challenge

On the 31st July 2021 Skype for Business Online will be retired, and after that date the service will no longer be available with enterprise users advised to migrate to MS Teams. Videocall recently published a Whitepaper to guide IT and Facilities leaders through planning their organisation's migration strategy.

We asked six of our Videocall experts to share their experience and answer questions on the opportunities, risks and key considerations when planning a large scale migration from Skype to Teams and what impact it is likely to have on an organisation's digital workplace.

Part 5 of 6: Tim Eayrs 
Solutions Architect, Videocall

Rob Portwood | Simon Shaw | Chris Young | Richard Clayton | Tim Earys | Jimmy Ferreira

What do you think an organisation’s biggest challenge will be when migrating from the platform (eg SFB to Teams) behind their digital workspace?

In short, user acceptance and training. Staff engagement through key information holders is vital to get the majority on board to embrace the new tech.

Despite extensive strategising, testing and triple checking, the most significant challenge with any platform roll out will always be getting the end users on board.

Humanity is a species of habit and often reluctant to venture outside its collective comfort zone. Using the same four applications day in, day out is a hard habit to break. When I open Skype I know where the call button is, I understand the difference between the options cog and the unfortunately placed drop down arrow. I can see my recent contacts and know where to look for the status marker.

Teams in essence is a very similar experience, but all the features and icons have been altered slightly, some may even be missing. A user may struggle to search for a contact, because they have always only ever needed to dial the same 4 colleagues from their recently called list.

Teams in practice is the conglomeration of multiple working techniques and practices, shoveled into a single platform. It is not a video conferencing platform, it is an entirely new way of working. Users need to see the benefits and features in practice and working from day one. This adoption will need to be driven from the top down, lest users remaining secretly using WhatsApp on the side.

Early training and familiarization is absolutely key to driving user adoption.

What future issue or hidden ‘gotcha’ is most commonly overlooked with a platform migration of this scale?

User input and introductions sessions can be a key to any platform upgrade.

An IT department may decide a strategy change or platform upgrade without user input, after all the IT team are the experts and have taken due diligence to fully investigate the project before coming to a decision. But just because the decision will happen regardless of whether or not the users are looking for the change, does not mean that user input cannot be valuable.

User input early on, no matter how negative or resistant, can identify problem areas that will need to be addressed in terms of adoption. Also, exposing users to the new platform way ahead of deployment will make the coming transition smoother through gradual acclimatization and time to adjust to the change in work practice. Teams is the combination of multiple ways of working into a unified space, not just the 'new Skype.' Users will require input sessions, Q and A sessions and other information to make them feel comfortable with the upcoming shift.

The IT department may dictate the shift, but it will never be successful without the users.

What future collaboration service or feature requirements should organisations be considering right now and why?

For good reasons, younger users and new graduates are questioning why offices are required at all. Increasing adoption and usage of mobile working practices are quickly undermining the need to be present in an office space at all times.

A younger generation is looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint, but also manage a healthy work life balance that technology is finally allowing us to re address. Mobile pop up offices, video conferencing, hot-desking and providing users the correct tools to be able to work effectively from home should be at the forefront of any employer looking to encourage application from the newest and brightest.

While the above is not specifically related to a collaboration service, a collaboration platform such as MS Teams is designed from the ground to function in a mobile and powerfully young way. It would not do to overlook this.

How important is it for IT leaders to align their platform migration approach with the wider business workplace strategy?

It is extremely important to keep a standardised approach and strategy.

What factors should be considered when choosing between a gradual or direct upgrade journey?

Firstly, the size of the organisation and localised management is a key factor – is it possible to upgrade at once, is sign off required at each individual site or can one person call the shots?

Who is the best suited to drive early adoption – IT is a standard choice here as they need to make sure everything works as intended and be able to answer questions from users. However – IT are usually not the best at promoting adoption/encouraging users to adopt a new technology so getting HR/Office managers and engagement teams involved is absolutely key.

Time frames – dragging a migration out will allow new staff to become used to the only platform, will further ingrain habits for existing staff Remaining support time – SFB has an END of life date .

Working practices – do you have a “teams” workforce, or a bunch of solo workers.

Duplicate software – What is currently deployed as your “teams” style platform, Are your workers using whatsapp? Is there a gap where adding teams would improve the experience for your current workforce? Are you using SfB already? – if not, at this point, why bother?

Early adoption issues – Teams is a fully released product, but waiting a while may let certain kinks get ironed out – Microsoft forced adoption, it was not an elegant shift, waiting for long terms usage feedback may be beneficial

Room system hardware – what is in use already, if not a windows ten device teams will not work at all. (CVI is your only option here)

PSTN services while running in islands mode – this will not be supported in teams while in islands mode, if you cannot switch directly, then you may need to gradually introduce your users over time until a switch is possible.

Run a pilot – get a localised bunch of users onto the platform and start identifying workflow and functionality issues straightaway.

In your experience what has/is the role of technology vendors in the evaluation, implementation and support of major platform migration across the digital workplace?

Vendors should provide any end user with a buffer zone between manufacturers and volume suppliers.

An experienced vendor will appreciate the power of a UC Strategy, over a UC deployment. It is important to distinguish between these two: strategy denotes the long term adoption and success of a productive and happy workforce with eh correct tools to achieve any given task, collaboratively. Whereas deployment is simply the installation and handover of a project. When shifting platforms, a competent IT team will be able to read the manual and 'Google' their way to a functional installation, but to truly create a successful collaboration space multiple factors such as strategy, adoption, project management, support, training, advice and proof of concept runs, to name a few, need to be taken into account.

An experienced vendor will be platform/hardware independent and look past a margin or bias in order to deliver the correct solution for the end user. This goes alongside understanding manufacturer road maps and having a close working relationship with said manufacturers. A customer needs to be able to rely on an ally to sift through the marketing speech and endless features lists to narrow a choice down to a manageable and appropriate set of parameters.

Finally, an experienced vendor should be exactly that, experienced. An experienced vendor will have undergone multiple platform migrations for both themselves as a business, but with other customers that do not have a main focus on UC and collaboration. A vendor will allow a customer to focus on what they do best.

"Microsoft Teams and the Digital Workplace Challenge" White paper.

This paper will show why it is critical for the Enterprise to have a digital workplace strategy in place and to ensure that employees have a good user experience as they navigate their way around this migration. It will look at the benefits of a seamless, consistent experience whether that is in a physical or virtual workplace.

For the leaders of organisations this presents one of the most significant opportunity for many years to improve how their workers interact and collaborate to foster greater engagement and productivity.