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Features that delight and distress when switching tech tools

Normally I talk about the former, features that delight, when I review any new use of technology or features I’ve come across. But there is most definitely times when distress is the case. And so in this post I have examples of both.

Spike in delight

First up is a new email app I tried on my PC called Spike. I’m absolutely loving it. They talk about “The power of email. The simplicity of chat.” Therein lies the first surprise, the way they convert email threads into a chat-like look and feel.

But it’s way more than that.

It’s also a very credible note taker. I have tried and use tons of note taking tools from Evernote (now replaced by OneNote) to Outlook Notes, Apple Notes and IA Writer, to name but a few. This is one of the finer alternatives. Most of the simple gif above shows the note functions.

I also love the way it integrates the many email addresses I have into one simple unified feed. And setting them up was no problem at all. I normally use Outlook Web App (in the browser) for work but I have lots of different email accounts on the Microsoft and Google platforms and Spike made short work of bringing them in. Since I do so much work in the browser, I didn’t want to have to open new Tabs for each of my email accounts. I was using the Windows Mail App but that was causing lots of problems with my many accounts.

All in all, email needs disrupting and this tool comes the closest I’ve seen to doing just that. Spike also does a great job of setting you up for success from the get-go with super simple in product guides and communicated instructions.


Migration hell

This is not so much about a feature or tool but more about a technology (platform) selection. For many years I’ve run email with my own domain on G Suite with Google for free. Now that the freeloading has been stopped, as part of a revamp and renaming exercise (to Google Workspace), I’ve had to consider my options.

And it’s how the companies facilitate the consideration of options that has been a bit of a nightmare and distressing to say the least.

Some of the challenges I’ve faced:

  1. Do I stay or do I go. If I want to stay on Google Workspace, do you think they make it easy to establish the cost of the alternatives – short answer, no. You have to go into your account as an administrator and go through the upgrade process and after only a few steps do you find out. The free alternative that I did have insight into does not include email with your own domain which is why I started exploring.
  2. Migrating to M365. I pay for Microsoft 365 already and use email from that subscription with another domain already. My first thought was, can I add a domain to the account after using the handy migration tool Microsoft set up: Perform a Google Workspace migration to Microsoft 365 or Office 365. I had known about the migration tool and thought the automated option would be pretty straightforward.
    1. A question of domains. However, on the questions of domains, although you can add as many as 900 domains to an M365 subscription without paying extra, what I could not find an answer for was whether I could send and receive email from the added domain.
    2. Using domains in email. I use that domain address for many accounts so it was imperative I could communicate with it exactly as it was. Firstly I could find no formal Microsoft documentation that verified I could. And then I found lots of forum topics that said it was only possible to send and receive email from the default domain which I was already using.
    3. Documentation distress. Also in the forum threads, I read that an alternative was to create a shared mailbox and set up the shared mailbox address with the newly added domain – this would allow one to send and receive with that domain email address.
    4. Support heaven. It sounded complicated so I decided to create a support ticket from my Microsoft 365 admin interface. Here was one bright spot – the response was almost immediate and I received a call. It was verified that a shared mailbox was the best way to set things up if I wanted the email address to show to the receiver in its original form (otherwise it will show as being sent from the default address). We tested this on the call and it worked. Here is some detail on how.
  3. In conclusion. Now that I had established I could use my domain, I went back to the migration process. It seems not to be so straightforward and I will likely have issues and spend more time on it than I care to. Not anyone’s fault, it must be complicated. For now I’ve decided to pay for one year of Google Workspace (Business Starter edition) which was discounted for me. I will try and migrate all the accounts with which I use the address with and then stop using that domain for email since its not my primary email.
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Starting a business remote first – 10 priorities

I mentor startups from time to time, in my spare time. I am doing so at the moment with one. I am bringing my past experience to bear starting and working in startups and I’ve also written an eBook on a related subject. In the current case though, it’s more my current experience I am advising and focusing on based on my professional work at Microsoft (disclosure). This is around the use of the Microsoft 365 platform (mostly) to support collaboration and productivity.

First some assumptions to be clear on:

  1. Remote first. The team members are all distributed and not all in the same country. So far, so normal 🙂
  2. Side job so multiple other tools. Some of the members have other jobs and so there is a question of competing and even conflicting technologies that need to be considered.
  3. Early stage. This is a very early-stage startup with founders just starting to work together on this – hence the need to start from scratch.

Then here is my list of top 10 things I am focusing on – not that they are necessarily the most important, just what I can and need to prioritise for the team now:

1 Create a new Microsoft 365 account and license the users. Just because I work with this tech, I did not want to push it. Many of the members have familiarity with other platforms and this needs to be considered. In the end, after some discussion (and I presented the case in a DanelDoodle), we agreed on M365. I chose an M365 Business Standard option and here is a handy guide when setting up for the first time if needed.

2 Assign a domain that can be used in email and beyond. The team already had a domain, I was given access to manage the domain through GoDaddy, the domain registrar. Assigning it was a doddle.

3 Create a Team for internal collaboration. I started with a great template for project management. More about Team templates here. We are using this for all collaboration naturally, asynchronously and through Teams Meetings on regular sync calls.

4 Orientation page or description with clear outline of purpose. In the General Channel for the project management Team I set up, I created a simple wiki page in a Tab with pointers to everything they needed to know to get started and up and running. It also collates links and info on the function of each Channel and the tools available in each Channel.

5 Simple Task Planning – Planner in Teams is the perfect lightweight option to get started with. Members access it from a Tab in the Planning Channel in the Team that was set up from the template. Tasks are listed by sprint buckets.

6 Viva Learning and powering a growth mindset. Setting up a Tab in a Channel is straightforward and other than to bring in content covering Teams and the broader M365 platform, you can choose from the 125 free LinkedIn courses to driving learning in other important areas to fill any skills gaps.

7 Automation for competitive intel – Power Automate. One simple automation I have started with (based on a template) is to bring in tweets with relevant hashtags related to competitive activity. Will be looking for more and much of these kinds of templated flows plus many you can build come free with the M365 license (but beware of the limitations).

8 Marketing – start a website prototype. I had already started working on that and I documented that in this post: Content management with WordPress evolved – full site editing 1. This covers both the content management and website creation side of things as well as eCommerce.

9 Forms for surveys to get feedback on prototypes and other things. Microsoft Forms which comes with the license is a simple and useful tool.

10 Chat Bot in Teams (employees), later for website (customers) using Power Virtual Agents (PVA). I started with a simple pre-made BOT to support understanding of Teams. It’s snappily called the Teams Training Assistant App – you can watch it in action in this video here. I’m not actually sure it was built on PVA but regardless, it is useful for the Teams newbies. I will look to build a customer facing BOT later using PVA.

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Navigating the modern work landscape – impact and effort

As things have shifted so dramatically over the last few years and there is no sign of it abating nor of going back to normal, I wondered what that meant for modern work. Time for a DanelDoodle. This is a really high-level view and naturally I will have missed key elements. But I just wanted to map the landscape (the important factors being effort and impact) and then plot some elements I thought worthy. Some notes after the doodle.

What’s needed to get ahead at work in the next 10 years

Pick one or two at most, because you cannot excel at all.

  • Business Outcomes Achiever. My views on this are no secret, I’ve written countless posts with the tag. It is the most powerful of the activities in my view. If you can show how you are driving the company forward and to success, you will be successful. But it’s not easy.
  • Innovator. How are you thinking differently, doing things differently? This requires equal parts creativity and execution capability. Do it right and you will be rewarded handsomely because competition is so high and change so fast.
  • Productivity Pro. Because being able to withstand the pressures of distraction and so many things to do and focusing on the things that matter, matter. Not hard work but the right work.
  • Technophile. If you don’t master technology, it will master you. And get it to work for you, that’s why it is positioned as high impact and low effort. As every company becomes a software company and automation takes off, this becomes key.
  • Sense Maker. Navigating the onslaught of information, challenges and opportunities out there and making sense of it so you and your company ultimately make the right decisions.
  • Collaborator. As we work more from home and use tools to connect this becomes ever more important but it has always been. Because you go further together than alone.
  • Authentically Nice. Because you don’t have to be an arsehole to win. But it does have to be genuine.
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Microsoft Teams and CRM for Sales Productivity

Bringing CRM tools into Microsoft Teams makes sellers more collaborative with the intention of making them more productive, ultimately to drive top line growth. Microsoft where I work (disclosure) positions this as collaborative Apps that keep you in the flow of work. I’ve already written about the work I am doing with customers on this here, including other technologies: Microsoft 365 customer questions – Sales Productivity. In this post I wanted to zoom in a little with a demo video I created around some new Salesforce and Microsoft Teams integrations just out and some of what others are doing.

Salesforce and Microsoft Teams

This demo goes through the standard Salesforce and Teams integrations to date but recently the functionality has been extended for Teams Meetings and so this video covers that in a little detail.

Q!kom has extended the standard integration further, powered by Microsoft Graph API. This video explains how and shows the possibilities of extension and customisation.

Microsoft Teams integration with SAP Sales and Service Core

SAP Sales is not necessarily one of the powerhouse CRM platforms out there, but they are showing innovation by focusing on this integration with Microsoft Teams

With monthly active users in the hundreds of millions, Microsoft Teams cannot be ignored.

As a core platform where work happens, integrating your solution with Teams is a great way to enhance its use.

Dynamics 365, Context IQ, Loop and Teams

You would expect Microsoft with its own CRM platform Dynamics 365, to be driving this integration too.

In this video (time stamped to start at the right time) you see it being incorporated into Microsoft Teams but also other technologies like Outlook alongside Loop and Context IQ (new AI based technologies being developed and released at present). The video is from recent announcements at Ignite – a Microsoft conference.

On the integration of D365 with Microsoft Teams Meetings, I don’t have a video to show but this is all being worked on – see documentations here: Drive seller productivity with a seamless experience between Dynamics 365 and Microsoft Teams meetings.

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As we come out of the pandemic – what to take and what to leave

I say we are coming out of the pandemic because all the signs point in that direction. At least where I live in the UK where all restrictions have been lifted and the talk is of learning to live with COVID-19. Whether it is based in fact and is a permanent state, that remains to be seen. I at least am ready to move on and will behave as if its over (I’m done and this is my call to arms). So this is what I’m leaving behind and taking forward.

Leaving behind

Meetings = Productivity.

This has always been a problem but in the pandemic it’s been exacerbated. That people think they need to add more meetings to overcome lack of proximity is fundamentally flawed thinking.

If anything, less meetings should be added or considered. I’m waging war on irrelevant, unplanned, disorganised meetings that serve no purpose or suck the life out of already challenging days.

Flattened experiences.

I mean by this how everything seems to have become homogenised, samey, devoid of any diversity. The days blur, the meetings are lifeless, the innovation stifled.

The problem is the effort people put in, or rather don’t. I’m guilty as hell – not getting properly dressed or sub par ablutions for the day.

More than just the physical preparations though, its about the mental preparations. Having good sleep, meditating, good exercise.

Doing this leads to better energy. Better energy leads to a better and more positive presence.

Taking forward

Writing and working asynchronously.

I’ve written about this before: Writing skills for remote asynchronous work and how you can master them.

I believe writing as part of asynchronous work are going to become key skills for work of the future and many are lacking in these basic capabilities.

I’ve been working this way (asynchronously) and writing for a long time but always believe I can get better. I’m going to be focusing on this a lot going forward.

OuterVentures.

By this I mean adventures in the grand outdoors. I’ve done so much more of this since the beginning of the lock downs and it’s made all the difference for coping.

I’m not just talking about sports like running or hiking which I always did a lot of and increased through the pandemic.

I mean being out and present in some amazing natural settings. I certainly have many on my door step or not far away with a bit of effort. Things like forest bathing or beach walking – give me more.

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Microsoft 365 customer questions – Service BOTs in Teams

I work in the business of dealing with customer questions on Microsoft 365 all the time (disclosure), either directly or indirectly. This is part of a series of posts where I share them if they can be of help to others. Where I can of course and naturally, not just the questions but the answers too. All questions and answers strive to respect both sides sensitivities (parts will have been redacted and/or anonymised) and the main topic is covered in each post title.

Question:

Can you help us to overcome a challenge our users face in how they currently access IT and HR related information, FAQ’s and create support tickets covering issues in both areas or departments?

Answer:

For the answer it is probably best to just share the two slides I used to capture the issue and challenge (in the first) and then position a solution or set of potential solutions (in the second). Below the slides, links to main solution options.

  1. ServiceNow: For how to integrate ServiceNow into Teams, start here. Universal request shows how you can incorporate cross department ticket transfers.
  2. Moveworks: More on the solution here, demo here.
  3. FAQ+: All info here, get it on GitHub here.

The customer has not yet fully decided in which direction to go and as that happens I will bring the input in here, where permissible. In the meantime, hopefully the above helps to frame things and aids decision making.

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The employee customer experience connection – 6 reasons to focus

With a world that is so binary I’m not surprised there isn’t more attention on this topic. People are either in the one camp, or the other, mostly. There are some, and I consider myself one, that straddle both sides. Here is why I think this is going to become increasingly important and a key differentiator for businesses if focused on properly.

First a little elaboration on my interest and role. I am watching a trend that eventually will become a report on the subject – more on that and other writing here: Employee Customer Experience Connection.

As for my role, I work as a customer success professional in the employee experience industry. Okay, the industry has only just recently identified itself thus and only in part, but effectively that is what its about.

At Microsoft where I work (disclosure), a massive part of its business, the Microsoft 365 part, is about employee or personal productivity. Formally, it’s a “productivity cloud that delivers innovative and intelligent experiences, rich organizational insights, and a trusted platform to help people and organizations get more done”.

The employee experience part that I am now heavily involved in has just recently been emphasised through a product called Microsoft Viva.

But my point is, the majority of my work has been (in the last decade or more) with people in companies concerned with helping their employees get more done for the success of the organisation. This ultimately comes through being successful with customers.

Why the employee customer experience connection matters

  1. Co-dependency. You can spend all the time in the world creating the best employee experience but if you don’t know if or how it impacts on the customer experience and outcomes, you are missing the bottom line. Customers are where the rubber hits the road and revenue and profits are earned – without this being optimised, you wont have employees for long. The rub is, it’s through employees you achieve this 🤔
  2. Data insights gold. There are tons of insights to be had on either side of the equation but if you don’t map it at the intersection, and there should be no reason why you cant, it’s wasted. At this intersection, you find the holy grail. If employee experience is the input side, the customer experience is the output side and how to optimise this, the ideal.
  3. Culture matters. What you do inside is reflected outside and the way you treat people is a linear relationship with the way employees treat customers. Company culture creation is at the forefront of that. Culture efforts are normally focused internally because it is within your control to a greater degree. Company culture impacts on and influences the culture that customer feel and lives too, so best you get it right.
  4. Proximity matters. A great example of this is the retail industry which I recently wrote about: 3 reasons retailers are leading at the intersection of employee and customer experience. Retail stores that give an employee a good experience have low turnover, and, in addition, they have a much better experience. And the firms that focus on this show higher profitability and growth. It doesn’t mean this proximity cannot be achieved in the digital realm, it’s just that in this context and for this industry, the physical experience has greater impact.
  5. Employees as customers and vice versa. You have to keep in mind that outside of your company, your employees and customers operate in both realms and get to experience good or bad encounters as a result of them. If an employee has a great experience as a customer with another company and comes back to yours to realise it’s terrible in comparison, they may not stay around for too long.
  6. Common purpose. Customers and employees alike have aspirations they strive to achieve, aligned with a sense of purpose. This cannot really be separated or compartmentalised. So you need to think about the vision of your company and what you are setting out to achieve and how you are bringing value to the world in the context of both groups alike.
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Management under pressure – time for a rethink

You don’t need to go too far these days to find evidence that management is under pressure. Mostly it’s getting a bad rap from some ill equipped or egotistical CEO. Look no further than Better.com CEO Vishal Garg who has now taken indefinite leave of absence for the way he treated 900 employees whom he laid off.

Recent history is littered with examples like this, many of them coming from Silicon Valley. And as this article published in TechCrunch just yesterday points out, The truth about management in Silicon Valley: It doesn’t exist.

Anyone at the hands of a bad manager will testify that this is a scourge of epic proportion. That employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers has become a truism in modern times.

But that’s not the kind of pressure I’m talking about.

Managers not needed

I read an article recently that reminded me of a recent stream of thinking that has been popular – that managers are not needed.

Or at least not in any traditional form. Take the case of Holacracy that has become somewhat of a movement in recent years – more on the principles here: Holacracy – Wikipedia.

The article I’m referring to is rooted on the very practical case of a successful company: Can Firms Succeed Without Managers? The Case Of Haier.

I’ve noted Haier’s successes before and included then in my trend report on companies thinking innovatively and behaving like startups: Startup Innovation.

The article by well known management thinker and strategist Steve Denning, explains how Haier is “abolishing almost all of its 12,000 managerial positions and reorganizing some 70,000 staff into some 4,000 micro-enterprises”. 

What he focuses on though is how this works for them, notably that “Haier has been consistently ranked as the number one brand globally in major appliances since 2009″. And that “in 2021, Haier Smart Home ranked #405 on Fortune’s Global 500 list with a revenue of some $28 billion”. 

Management needs to innovate

Another angle is from another well known management thinker and strategist, Gary Hamel, who has long pushed the view that if managers are still needed, at the very least they need to up their innovation ante.

The chart below shows how management thinking has gone through an S curve from the time that management first became a practice in any kind of formal or theoretical form.

Since then there have been many innovations but these have now plateaued and in the last few decades, have really not amounted to much.

Click to Enlarge

For me its either do (innovate) or die (get rid of the practice as we know it and move to something more akin to what Haier is doing). Either option works (you could even argue they are essentially the same) but the point is change is desperately needed.

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Features that delight – reminders in context – Microsoft Teams

One of the big bets on Microsoft Teams that the CEO himself has articulated (see this post) is that it becomes a “platform as significant as the internet browser, or a computer operating system”. One key outcome of this is that if Teams does become as pervasive as this suggests and the tool where all work is done as Microsoft positions it (disclosure), then it also aids in reducing context switching.

Context switching in relation to the use of Apps is when you use multiple Apps and have to jump between them and in the process you lose context and productivity. With Teams as a platform where you can incorporate multiple Apps into it and moreover collaborate around the Apps, there is less need to switch. As Microsoft positions it: Stay in the flow of work with new collaborative apps for Microsoft Teams.

All of which is to say this theory does hold water for me in the form of a reminder App I use in Teams where I spend most of my working day. There are several Apps for this in the Teams store and I tested them all, this one is the simplest I found: Reminders for Microsoft Teams (teamsreminder.app). Here’s how it works in Teams chat.

Super simple and the only improvement I would have liked would be not to have to use the inverted commas, just natural language like some of the others. But this is minor and the added possibilities more than make up for that. Those stem from the ability to use the App in Team Channels and to involve others, as in the example below.

There are more functions, check them out on the site, e.g. reminding yourself to follow up on a message or thread. I love the simplicity of the pricing too and the low cost. These kinds of things make all the difference.

Most of all, it works seamlessly alongside all of the conversations and collaboration I conduct on Teams and really embeds itself into my flow of work.

The concept refers to far bigger and more complex Apps but it’s with these that you often find the most value.

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Microsoft 365 customer questions – Future of Work Vision and Strategy

I work in the business of dealing with customer questions on Microsoft 365 all the time (disclosure), either directly or indirectly. This is part of a series of posts where I share them if they can be of help to others. Where I can of course and naturally, not just the questions but the answers too. All questions and answers strive to respect both sides sensitivities (parts will have been redacted and/or anonymised) and the main topic is covered in each post title.

Question:

We need to work on a Future of Work (FoW) Vision and Strategy, can you share a good framework for arriving at one and managing its implementation as well as Microsoft’s own Vision and Strategy for FoW?

Answer:

Now I cannot share what was provided for the second part of the question, but I can for the first. For the second part though, you can get a very good view from all of the public material on the subject:

As for the first part of the question, here are two slides then a bit of elaboration.

This doesn’t need to much explanation although there is a fair bit of it accompanying the Vision and Strategy Framework which I can’t share.

Also, the Vision and Strategy Framework goes beyond just FoW considerations (the point bottom left of the slide) but it will do just fine to help formulate the thinking in this regard. This framework is actually used for digital transformation which anyway is central to FoW.

But it’s the Readiness Dashboard that really covers the specific aspects of a FoW Vision and Strategy. Now I’m not suggesting the elements covered are complete and fully comprehensive. FoW covers a huge area of work. These will probably do to get you started but the point is you can add to them, change them, remove them, etc. The point is to make them relevant to your organisation.

The point is these are both simple, iterative and accountable ways to arrive at a high level vision and strategy and a way to track progress as a you execute.

Obviously there is a lot of detail missing from this but hopefully this helps.

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Microsoft 365 customer questions – Sales Productivity

I work in the business of dealing with customers questions on Microsoft 365 all the time (disclosure), either directly or indirectly. This is part of a series of posts where I share them if they can be of help to others. Where I can of course and naturally, not just the questions but the answers too. All questions and answers strive to respect both sides sensitivities (parts will have been redacted and/or anonymised) and the main topic is covered in each post title.

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Productivity is not about place and balanced views are required

If the outdated and ironic view in the DanelDoodle above does not seem familiar to you, then you have probably been living under a rock, in your living room perhaps. Or under your desk in the office 😬

It’s no secret many leaders equate being in the office with being productive. This Harvard Business Review article which includes survey data on a related subject, nails it. But you will find many more with a simple search.

I struggle to believe that it is anything other than ironic, maybe even moronic, to think that the only time you can be productive is when you are in the same place and physically together with others.

That does not mean to say I don’t believe in the benefits of physical proximity to others. I’ve been writing about the middle way of hybrid work models repeatedly under the productivity tag.

And that is the point, to be balanced in your views – not blinded by the dogmatism of decades old management thinking. New tools and ways of working which favour virtual, asynchronous collaboration do work.

It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee ☕

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How to run a Hackathon for Microsoft Teams and Power Platform

I’ve decided, while I work in the business of dealing with customers questions on Microsoft 365 all the time (disclosure), either directly or indirectly, I might as well share them if they can be of help to others. Where I can of course and naturally, not just the questions but the answers too. All questions and answers respect both sides sensitivities. This is where I started the activity and this post uses a slightly different format but is essentially the same approach.

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Hyperconnected business and driving the next level of productivity with collaborative apps

This title is not really mine and comes from some of the headline announcements at Microsoft Ignite which took place this week. I have an interest since I work there (disclosure) and write about these things, collaboration especially. In this post I want to unpack one of the themes and product announcements. The theme is captured by the title, the product is Microsoft Loop.

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