Microsoft recently announced that Teams will be available during the time of the COVID-19 outbreak as per this announcement. I have been receiving many questions from clients around how the best leverage Teams, particularly from a communications point of view as they try to quickly move into a remote working scenario.
With that in mind I want to showcase are some of the ways that you can leverage Teams to help with COVID-19 from an organizational perspective in three common scenarios:

  • Communications Strategy: How can you leverage Teams to communicate to your organizational about COVID-19 include news, policies and provide ways for two way engagement with office and remote workers.
  • Response Planning: Planning a response to COVID-19 will most likely involve many parts of an organization to make quick decisions and collaborate together. Teams can be used to bring people together, assign tasks, collaborate on content and then communicate this out to the rest of the organization.
  • Support Remote Workers: Many organizations (Microsoft and Amazon) are encouraging their workers to work from home as to limit the amount of face to face exposure and the risk of passing on the infection. Luckily Teams has many, many features to help organizations to work from anywhere

So lets get started with using Teams for our communications strategy!

Teams as a communication platform

Even though many organizations use Teams as a collaboration tool it can also be used as a great internal communication tool. Since Teams is quite new organizations are having trouble understanding that fit between where the Intranet versus Teams can be used for internal communications but there is definitely a place for both.
In this article we are going to assume that you have chosen to leverage Teams as your platform but please know that you have other options (such as SharePoint or Yammer).

In working with a couple of organizations already I have seen some common requests from an internal communications perspective:

  • The ability to target and push information to all users so that we can communicate information about COVID-19 rapidly
  • The ability for some two way dialogue between the organization and its employees. Email isn’t going to cut it and it has to be much more agile and engaging for us to be successful
  • The ability to provide information to workers regardless of their location or device, particularly if we are enacting a work from home policy which seems to be something that many organizations are doing
  • Information can change daily or even hourly so the platform must be simple to use from content authors,reviewers end users

So how can we leverage Teams to help us? Well lets find out.

Creating an Organizational Wide Team for communication

Firstly we want to create a Team that we can use for this communication. Luckily Teams has something called an Organizational Wide Team that will add all users from the organization into this Team so that makes things simpler.

Unfortunately the maximum number of users in a single Team is 5000 people so if you need to communicate to more than 5000 people then you will have to use either SharePoint or Yammer. Yammer is probably the better option in this particular use case but please do NOT create multiple organizational wide Teams and copy information between them.

So lets create and name our team. A couple of quick points before we do that:

  • Typically using capital letters for Team names isn’t best practice but in this case you might want to have at least COVID-19 in capitals since it is an acronym.
  • Make sure that you have COVID-19 in the Team title? Why you ask? Because nothing is going to get your users attention more when they glance at a Team and see that as a name.
  • Everyone in the organization will be automatically added to this Team so creating a welcome message on the general channel is a good practice to help people understand why this is.
  • I would also add an image for this Team to differentiate it. In my experience most users that create Teams don’t add an image so adding something like an alert icon can help the Team stand out even more.

Creating Channels for our Team

Channels in Teams are a great way to organization conversations and information into logical units. The other subtle thing that channels are going to allow us to do is to use channel moderation so that different channels can support various communication requirements. Here are some channel examples that would be a good starting point:

  • General: This channel will get automatically created and you can use this for any type of important information. Bear in mind that everyone will get notified on this channel so use it sparingly.
  • Announcements: Channel that you can use for news and announcements driven by the SharePoint news feature. This will be a controlled channel that will only be available for certain users to create posts in (in our example we are going to use the Corporate Communications team) but we will allow any user to comment on.
  • IT Updates: With most organizations having to move people to work remotely it might be a good idea to have a separate channel for IT updates that help support this move. I have seen this work really well as IT quickly rolls out services or features to help support this transition.
  • Ask A Question: This is a great way to have anyone from the organization ask questions and get answers. This channel will be more open than the rest with anyone allowed to post a question and reply to it. It would be good to call this channel Q&A’s but unfortunately channels cannot contain some special characters.
  • COVID-19 Response Team: Making sure that users know who is on the team that is handling the response can be really beneficial. This channel is used to show who is part of the response team and any types of specific information that they might want to share.

When creating each channels choose the following options:

  1. Make sure that you add a description to each channel that reflects its purpose
  2. Set the privacy to Standard (we are not going to use any Private channels)
  3. Check the ‘Automatically show this channel in everyone’s channel list’ since you want to make sure that all users see all channels with out any additional configuration

Using Channel Moderation to configure our channels

Channel moderation is a highly underused feature that will be useful in our Team. Since this is an organizational wide team the typical approach of creating channels and letting anyone post anything isn’t the best idea since:

  1. Letting the entire organization post anything anywhere could lead to some issues particularly for users that are new to Teams
  2. You want to make sure that communication that is authoritative has a chance to be promoted and controlled
  3. With such a large amount of users that could be part of the Team you want to ensure that content isn’t lost in the noise
  4. If people can post anywhere they can also @mention anywhere which triggers a notification. With a large amount of users this could add up to a huge amount of notifications.

Basically we need to control who can and cannot post in our channels and channel moderation is perfect for this. So how do we leverage this in our scenario?

General Channel

This channel has slightly different options than the others but by default anyone can post messages and we don’t want this. So for now lets change this to ‘Only owners can post messages’ so that this general channel is a little more controlled.

Announcements, IT Updates and COVID Response Team

The purpose for the channels above is for news and announcements relating to the particular topic area. In this case we want to provide the ability for the relevant teams to be able to create posts but also allow everyone to reply.
We will turn on Channel Moderation and add the various groups to the moderators list that will allow them to post.

Now we have a group of channels that can be used for posting messages as well as allow any user to comment on these postings. These channels have the same functionality as the general channel but the main difference is that in the general channel its only the owners of the Team that can post, in channels that are created you have the option to adding additional users as moderators. If you think about this its very useful since we now have channels in a single team that can be managed independently of each other.

Ask A Question Channel

This channels purpose is slightly different than the others since we actively want people to ask questions and be allowed to reply. In this case we don’t have to do anything since this is the default setting for a channel. So no moderation needed and everyone can start posts. This Ask A Question channel will be a great way to allow anyone to ask a question and provide some of the two way dialogue that is commonly asked for.

We have our channels ready to go. Some are for push down communication, some for two way engagement but we also want to make sure that users can get access to more static types of information such as documents, links, videos and other features.
In the next article we will further build out our Team by configuring the SharePoint News feature for communicate, integrating in Stream and leveraging tabs across our channels to provide information.

What else can you do now!

This article concentrates on Teams channels set up but there is a lot that you can do without needing to wait. Here are some great examples of tools and free templates that have been released.

  • SharePoint Site Example: Great example on how quickly you can build a SharePoint site to communicate with your users can be found at build a crisis management site to connect people and information
  • Power Platform: Microsoft has just released the Crisis Communication template for free which is fantastic tool that can aid in reporting. Well worth looking into that leverages the power platform for data entry and reporting.
  • Yammer: Leverage Yammer if our organization is greater than 5000 people and use the Yammer Q&A feature to capture important questions or concerns
  • Stream: Using Stream for video communication or even a live townhall is another fantastic tool. I have seen one organization have a daily stream for 10 minutes where the response team has a live event going. Super engaging and then the live event is kept in Stream if people wish to view it at an alternative time.
  • Microsoft Forms: Great and easy way to capture any information that you might need from people. Easy to create, easy to gather responses and works across all devices.
  • SharePoint News Connector: Creating news via SharePoint and having it automatically shown in a channel is simple and easy to configure.

Thanks again for tuning in and if you have any questions please let me know. Also I am trying to understand more about the challenges that you are having with Teams from an adoption perspective and would love your help. Simply go to http://bit.ly/msteams-survey and fill out the short survey for a chance to win an Amazon Gift card.

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