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Microsoft 365 customer questions – Teams top tips

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.

The question (that I am answering in this post) is actually part of a broader set of questions which I will be answering in a virtual session with over 100 executives and users that a customer of mine is hosting and has asked me to speak at. It is a deceptively tricky question because there are so many options. Here is the question below and future posts will cover the other questions.

Q: Your top 5 tips for using or what you like most in Teams?

First there are two questions in one really. But that’s okay I guess, because we often end up using most what we like best. I have focused on what I use frequently but also what I think adds value. The context for the session in which I will answer this question is that Teams has a vast number of functions and sometimes it is difficult to discern best use or most valid amongst the many options. So here is my take and then I have included a bonus tip.

Pinned Chats

Chats can get overwhelming, more so than Teams, which are subject to their own sprawl.

Chats is where most of the action happens. They effectively take over from where Skype for Business left off and it’s now the DeFacto, instant messaging function of Teams.

They are super easy to set up, be it with individuals or groups, but they are not so easy to find once you have amassed a large list and want to come back to them.

One trick is to use the new search function (see start of video). Another is to pin and unpin chats frequently depending on urgency. I have chats pinned at the top of my list, where I am working on something currently and/or urgently.

The way to pin chats is found at left – hover over the chat title until the three dots appear and, in the pop up, you’ll see the option.

Meeting Polls

You would once have to create Polls through Microsoft Forms.

That was not such a straightforward exercise.

It’s much simpler now as a new Polls App has been added to the App Store.

You can add Polls before a meeting starts and you can add more than one. This way you are ready to launch the Polls at the appropriate time throughout the meeting.

You can also add them on the fly, especially the instant polls.

They are a good way to drive participant engagement.

And of course, to get critical collective feedback.

More here on how to use it.

Prioritise Teams

As mentioned, Teams also have a tendency to sprawl, either because you have been added to too many or you have created too many.

My view is to be ruthless in your participation. If you are invited to a Team, think carefully about staying in it.

If a Teams usefulness has ended or if the purpose for which a Team was created is no longer valid or you can no longer serve it, leave it.

Before creating a Team, think carefully about it and whether it’s really necessary. Oftentimes a chat will do, even a group chat which has the ability to add many numbers of participants, has a files section, Apps can be added to it, etc.

If you are a member of many Teams, order the most important at the top and rank them by priority. You can also pin channels so the ones that are most active can be pinned to the top, above the list of Teams.

Notifications

For starters, you should manage notifications globally from Teams Settings. In the top right of the screenshot you can see where to access those – clue, it’s the three dots next to your profile pic.

There you can set general notifications or customise them.

You can get specific on active channels in Teams. If you have a lot of active Teams on the go at a time and they are all important, then you want to get notifications.

You want to make sure you don’t miss important collaboration.

You can add email notification for some of the most important activity.

For Teams notifications, you can access them from global settings, or you can drill down for Team Channel notifications- see screenshot.

Teams Apps

Apps in Teams provide the ability to quickly, and in most cases, easily bring much needed functionality from outside Apps into Teams, e.g. 3rd party, Microsoft, custom Apps, etc.

This means end users can remain in their flow of work, i.e. they can work on the App without leaving Teams – this reduces context switching.

This also brings a conversational layer to the Apps around which users can collaborate, e.g. viewing a PowerBI dashboard and discussing the data in it with colleagues.

Apps need to be enabled for end users. This can be done from the Teams admin centre portal – more on that here.

One of the things that can be enabled is to pin Apps to the sidebar for all users, for quick access. Users can also do this for themselves.

With all these Apps though, my view is to start with what you are trying to do, then seek an App that can help you do it. Not the other way around.

Bonus tip – Bring email to Teams

Click to enlarge

First, let me address why you would want to bring emails into Teams. Well, simply put, it’s because Teams is the better tool for collaboration and when you need to deep dive on a topic with a team, Teams is where to do it. It’s also great to create a backchannel for discussion or triage with a separate set of participants before coming back to the email participants with a response – this way you avoid the email trees which have been prevalent since forever.

From the screenshots above (where I have redacted some details) you can see the view on the left is from an email where you can access the Share to Teams Add In (this view is from Outlook Web App – it might be slightly different in the Outlook client). On the right is what pops up so you can select who to share it to. It automatically suggests recipients of the email but then if you go into the Share To field, you get suggestions from recent Teams chats or you can search and find the right chat (group or individual).

Considering Teams chat use has overtaken email use for commercial users (for more read the Microsoft FY23 First Quarter Earnings Conference Call transcript) this function makes perfect sense. As stated by Satya Nadella (Microsoft CEO): “an average commercial user spends more time in Teams chat than they do in e-mail, and the number of users who use four or more features within Teams increased over 20 percent year over year”.

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Microsoft 365 customer questions – Viva Amplify boosting internal comms

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.

I have written about Microsoft Viva before, in relation to an employee experience trend report I am working on as well as in answer to other customer questions on the multiple Viva modules being rolled out. As that roll out continues, I continue to address the new opportunities and questions that arise. Past posts below for your interest, before I get to Viva Amplify, a new module just announced (scroll through for the full list).

Why Internal Comms is ripe for disruption

I have also written about internal comms before: Internal Communications is more important than ever but missing a trick. In that post I talked about a new Microsoft Teams App called Company Communicator that could be used by internal comms teams and I covered some of the benefits of that over traditional means. Well you can think of Viva Amplify as a form of Company Communicator but on steroids, reaching more channels, with built in analytics (which was missing from Company Communicator), etc. Ultimately Viva Amplify will boost the function of internal comms even further and take it to the next level. I’m super excited by the possibilities.

What is Viva Amplify?

With new communication capabilities in Microsoft Viva, you can create messages to drive business outcomes as well as plan, create, manage and publish all your workplace communications from one place.

Reach all your employees on any device, wherever they work (i.e. the tool they are working in at the moment), whether you’re planning a large campaign or sending out weekly updates.

Jumpstart your process using Viva’s writing guidance, which makes it easier to create messages that resonate with your audience and in the right channel. Save time rewriting the same message for a different channel or audience in just a few clicks.

Viva Amplify gives you a single place to share drafts and track approvals, and it also helps you visualize and optimize your messages by previewing your final output for each channel.

In addition to messages, you can also define campaign objectives to help you set clear messaging goals within multiple channels, whether that’s Outlook, SharePoint, Teams, Yammer and more. All this before you hit send.

Then use Viva’s Campaign hub to understand and track the impact your messages will make. Know what’s working and how to improve your messages for next time you have a story to tell.

Here is a short gif to give you a flavour of how this will work (note that this may change in the final version when it launches some time early in calendar year 2023).

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Microsoft Viva keeps growing – roundup of latest announcements

I have some new announcements to share on this subject, or should I say Microsoft has (disclosure) and the full details are captured in this blog post: Empower and energize employees with Microsoft Viva | Microsoft 365 Blog. In this post I just wanted to capture a few things I think are particularly noteworthy, especially the completely new announcements.

Viva Pulse

The Viva Pulse announcement includes the opportunity to join our Viva Pulse Customer Advisory Board Program – you can read about it in the post and sign up here: Viva Pulse Customer Advisory Board Program Sign Up. There is a lot of interest in this area form HR departments and if you are in one and interested, it would be wise to jump in there before it becomes oversubscribed. Also check out the People in Microsoft Viva announcement and more on that here – also of interest to HR types: People in Microsoft Viva – Putting people at the center of the employee experience. – Microsoft Tech Community.

Note this is not the same as what Glint will do when it is integrated into Viva (see announcement) but not entirely unrelated. The one will be for managers (Pulse) the other (Glint) for HR leaders.

Viva Amplify

This is an entirely new module announced covering employee comms (hence the yellow background). I’ve covered the use of a Teams App Template called Company Communicator before, see posts below (), which attempted to address this need, amongst others. See Viva Amplify as the successor to Company Communicator, on steroids 💪This is a hugely exciting module and I think internal comms teams everywhere will be champing at the bit to get their hands on it – you can apply to be in the Viva Amplify preview program so get signing up.

How to run a Hackathon for Microsoft Teams and Power Platform

Internal Communications is more important than ever but missing a trick

Considering Microsoft Teams as a Platform – get started with App templates

Viva Sales

I have also spoken about this module before (see post below ) and this announcement just gives more info on features and confirms that it will be GA (Generally Available) October 3rd. As part of this announcement comes the point that it is not going to be free for Salesforce customers, only D365 customers. More on the announcement here: Reimagine selling with Viva Sales – Microsoft Dynamics 365 Blog

Microsoft Viva goes vertical – sales productivity module announced

Viva Connections

To streamline the Viva experience and help employees start their day on track, the new Viva Connections home experience will bring all the Microsoft Viva apps and services into one place.

For those that want a single entry point for Viva modules and/or an Employee Hub (a concept many customers are keen to achieve), I think this is a really good development.

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Content automation and Microsoft’s new OneNote Dictation tool

Creating content is really hard. I’ve been blogging now for the last 15 years and I can tell you, any way I can find to make it better, faster and more efficient, I will do it. So in this post I’m going to share why it’s important and what I’m doing in this area. This post was mostly dictated with some manual intervention from me. And I start the automating in this post with the new Table of Contents block announced recently which lists the main points I’m covering.

Importance of content

First a small note on content creation and why it’s so important? This deserves an entire post but let me just say that content is important if you want to create attention and be found, and fresh content is the most important in this regard. So regularly creating new content is something to strive for and that is the hard part. That’s all I’ll say on this for now.

Automation

I’ve written several posts around automation and I’m using several tools to automate the way that I blog. Here’s a post written with the help of Writesonic, an AI tool that takes suggested prompts from you and generates content. You can tweak that content and I had to do about 40% of that in the post. I thought it was pretty good. But the percentage of input that I had to provide was not ideal, I felt. I also felt it took away too much input from me, at the same time. I guess this balance is just something I would need to get used to.

Another way that I’ve tried to automate things is by curating content and sharing it with readers. I’m using Microsoft Power Automate to bring content in from the web through an RSS feed and automate blog post creation. This is working really well and here is where I explained the process.

Hacks and shortcuts

There are other ways to make content creation easier that I’ve discovered. One way is through automating processes within the tool that you use. I use WordPress for example and for my featured images in every post, I use a plugin to create default featured images, based on tags I assign to a post. With WordPress I also use the copy post or page function if I’ve got a really good format that I want to reuse for a new post. It words kind of like a template. The other thing I do with WordPress is create reusable blocks of content which I use frequently in posts. Finally, with Jetpack Social, I automate the sharing of posts to social media. All these activities shave many minutes on my publishing process and it all adds up.

Speech to text

Now onto the main point of this post, which is the use of Microsoft’s OneNote dictation tool, it’s just been announced. As I mentioned at the beginning, this post was mostly dictated by me, although there has been some manual intervention. I have to say I’m really impressed with the speed and the accuracy of the translation. One thing I would suggest is to take out the auto punctuation (do that in settings), because this adds full stops in when you’re pausing, and it’s probably a little too much and fast. Otherwise, I’m really impressed and this post has taken a very short period of time to create and check. I’d say that I dictated about 85% of this post and the rest was manual intervention.

If you consider it and use it in the same context (to create written content) then read my conclusion for some pointers.

Conclusion

I’m going to use this function more for future posts. One thing I have to say, I did use some bulleted points to guide my dictation and I would suggest you do the same. It’s important to have an outline for your posts and not just “shoot from the hip”. So in other words, some upfront preparation. Having said that, it’s also very useful to have your raw thoughts captured and then be able to improve and enhance them manually.

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How Microsoft Viva can drive Performance – Correlating and Tracking Business Outcomes

I’m doing a lot of Microsoft Viva work with customers (disclosure) as well as working on a trend report on a related subject, so I am constantly thinking about where this work leads to. The obvious question is what kind of business outcome you are trying to achieve and how do you measure it. This post is to share some initial thinking. Anyone who reads this and is involved in similar work, I’d love your input so I can advance this very quick attempt (hence thought rocket).

So first let me elaborate on the format briefly. It’s just a simple table. I felt it was a nice way to achieve what I wanted. Aside from the structure you can create, it kind of helps to list things out. I wanted to have almost a catalogue that I could capture existing work with but also help stimulate future work (or at least thinking around it). The table below is a combination of those things. Considering there are so many modules in Viva, the structure was helpful to work around them too.

Click to enlarge

I don’t think the structure and the breakdowns need much more elaboration – they are fairly self-evident. What is much more important is what goes inside them and the references and descriptions I use.

I’ve had to make this generic and I’ve not added specific targets but the clues to what those would be is in the KPI/Outcome column.

As mentioned, some of these are based on real work and some just ideas. As mentioned, would love any input – just add a comment if you have any. This is still very much a work in progress and any work I do or input I receive I’ll progress this perspective further with.

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Microsoft 365 customer questions – Teams chat pop out for improved collaboration

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.

Q – How can I chat and collaborate on a file at the same time

I was having a chat with a customer on Microsoft Teams and we were discussing the content of a PowerPoint file. The file was open for both of us in the desktop version of the PowerPoint App. I was referencing the content and the customer started complaining that every time I did that, she would have to switch out of chat and go the PowerPoint App to view the content referenced. Then come back to the chat to carry on the discussion. This context switching was fraying her nerves and is a classic example of bad collaboration productivity when a perfectly good solution will do, which is what she asked for 👇

A – Teams chat pop out

First just to say that if you want to work on an App like PowerPoint and chat alongside it at the same time, you can do that perfectly well when you are viewing the App in Teams – see screenshot below. Here you can see I have opened a Word file from the chat where I shared it. When you open the file from the chat, the conversation is not automatically displayed alongside the file, but you just have to click the Conversation icon to do that (see yellow circle). This functionality also works in a Channel conversation by the way.

Chat alongside App in Teams desktop – click to enlarge

This first option definitely does the job but sometimes you want to go beyond the App within Teams for richer functionality and use the desktop version of the App. Or collaborate alongside Apps not integrated into Teams like the Office Apps are. Thats when you use the Chat pop out function. Here are instructions for how to pop out a chat. Below is a screenshot of what it looks like. You can resize both windows to suit side by side work and chat better this way if you wish.

Chat alongside App outside Teams desktop – click to enlarge

And finally, here is an example of the popped-out chat alongside a browser window, just to show you how it’s possible to chat in this way alongside any other application.

Chat alongside non-Teams embedded App – click to enlarge
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Microsoft Viva goes vertical – sales productivity module announced

I have been writing a lot on Microsoft Viva lately since I work with customers on it (disclosure) and since it is an employee experience platform (EXP), I am working on a new trend report that is related: Employee Customer Experience Connection. More specifically, I have been saying in relation to my work and the trend report, that sales is a sweet spot for an EXP. Some of my recent posts on this below.

Microsoft Teams and CRM for Sales Productivity

Microsoft 365 customer questions – Sales Productivity

What do I mean by vertical?

Just last week I announce two other modules that had recently been launched: Employee Experience platform offering grows with new Microsoft Viva modules. These modules along with all the original four are modules that can touch all parts of the organisation – hence horizontal. They are not specific to any one department, in other words vertical. In the case of Viva Sales, the focus is squarely on the sales department and function and on supporting revenue growth.

Here is an official post from Microsoft on the latest addition: Introducing Viva Sales, a modern way of selling that brings together any CRM, Microsoft 365 and Teams – The Official Microsoft Blog

And a video with some good demos:

Why sales is the sweet spot for the employee customer connection?

  1. Sales is the front line. It is where the interaction between employees and customers is most tangible and critical and where great experiences matter. To improve the customer experience, you should start with the employee experience. It doesn’t matter if most of your sales are online now, and customers don’t need to interact much during the actual selling process. At some point, customers will interact with your company, post purchase or in the lead up to it, direct or indirect. Everyone is always selling, whether it is in their title or not and every interaction with your company is a reflection of an experience with it and influences sales. The retail industry is where employee customer interaction is keenest and most critical as I wrote about here: 3 reasons retailers are leading at the intersection of employee and customer experience.
  2. Sales and growing revenue is number one. It is always a high priority for companies – maybe the highest, especially in tough times. So getting sales performance right is a top priority. Understanding it is a first step. Viva Insights is a great module for this specifically as I recounted in both of the articles I referenced earlier; through the work I am doing with customers. Second and ongoing is to conduct thoughtful experiments that will improve sales performance and productivity and measuring that impact of those through Viva Insights. Viva Sales will make the delivery of improved sales performance and productivity easier in Teams, through the flow of work. This point is stressed in an interview with Microsoft’s Chief Commercial Officer: Judson Althoff discusses the companies’ newest expansion, Viva Sales (cnbc.com)
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Features that Delight – Outlook Calendar Board

The new Calendar Board view is only available in Outlook Web App at the moment but coming to the client soon. It is a delightful tool that still lets you work in calendar view but add a whole host of Applets and integrations alongside it in a zoomable canvas – very productive indeed.

There is more on this feature on the Microsoft Support site here.

I really like this view and since I do everything Outlook related in the browser, I’ve been using this for about 6 months now, which is when it first started making an appearance.

While you can bring in a Calendar or task (To Do) view into your email flow, I prefer to separate it out. Calendar work requires focus in my view. And the ability to add to other Applets and functions with their own capability that support the work you are busy with and is scheduled in your calendar, just makes this focus super effective.

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Employee Experience platform offering grows with new Microsoft Viva modules

I’m writing this post because I am working on a new trend report covering the subject: Employee Customer Experience Connection. So I have an interest in new developments in related fields and I also want to use these posts as a way to collate all these new developments so I can add them to the trend report as I go. I also am working with and advising customers in this space through my role at Microsoft (disclosure).

Viva Goals

So the first new concrete addition to the Microsoft Viva platform is Viva Goals, which was announced publicly a few weeks back. But this has been in the pipeline ever since and as a result of the Ally acquisition last year.

At left is the video heralding the announcement and it has a demo to show what it’s all about.

In a nutshell, Viva Goals incorporates OKR functionality into the platform. OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results.

This is an extremely important addition that makes concrete sense for a company that wants to manage business outcomes more holistically. OKR’s is a way to set and track company goals and trickle them down into smaller outcomes (key results) and throughout the organisation to those responsible for achieving them.

I have been using Ally in its existing form only as a way to test the functionality. I’m really impressed with how simple it is made and they also provide good, templated solutions to help create your own.

I think when it comes to good use of an OKR tool, the devil is in the details and it is how you word the OKR’s and how you tangibly create goals that are achievable and realistic that matters. This is as much art as science but the good thing is you can track effectiveness and get better over time.

Glint

It’s no secret that Glint, a similar Microsoft acquisition through LinkedIn, and Viva play nice together and there is much value to be gained in its eventual and complete integration.

In this video from a year ago you see how Glint can integrate especially well with Viva Insights.

Glint is more than just a survey tool but essentially it is used to manage qualitative feedback from employees. Marrying the outcomes from this to more quantitative measures like you would get from Viva Insights makes the combination super powerful.

It is going to be excellent to see how this area of the employee experience evolves as it is a key addition to the Viva platform.

What’s next

Obviously, I cannot say all that I know, suffice it to say that key business scenarios are going to play a leading role.

Imagine aligning Insights to specific functions like sales as I have already described here based on recent work I did and am still doing: Microsoft 365 customer questions – Sales Productivity.

The scenarios described in the post above are pretty clear I hope but you should understand they are cobbled together solutions at the moment. Far better will be when they are integrated fully into the Viva suite.

I’ll say no more than that for now, indeed I can’t. But watch this space 👀

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Features that delight – mostly – chat to self

No I’m not going mad. As the old adage says, the first sign of madness is talking to yourself. Thankfully, there is this BBC Science Focus magazine’s perfunctory dismissal of that and anyway, that’s not my point. I’m referring to text based chat, be it on mobile or PC and regardless of App, which is booming for both consumers and in the workplace.

I tried ages ago to find out if I could have a conversation with myself on WhatsApp. Turns out you can but it’s a right royal pain to activate. Also, its not persistent between devices, i.e. when I message myself on the phone, I expect to see that same message on my desktop App. That doesn’t work. See below how with the same profile, different messages between PC and iPhone based messages are shown.

Click to enlarge

I tried it on Facebook Messenger and it works – but this is an App I rarely use so no good for me. I need it where I conduct the majority of my personal conversations which is in WhatsApp.

One thing I got excited about concerning my workplace chatting which is predominantly in Microsoft Teams, is that the function is coming to Teams: Announcement by Microsoft Product Manager on LinkedIn. But it is not persistent on mobile yet 😢

I could look at a dedicated App but I don’t want another App like the interesting looking Talk to Myself App. I want to do it all in the Apps I already use heavily for personal or work purposes.

I guess all this begs the question why I want to even do this?

Main purpose and why

  1. Quick sharing between devices. Yes I could use something like Collections in Edge for links, but that doesn’t work for files so easily – they are getting a new Drop function I need to check out. For files I could use OneDrive and for notes I could use OneNote. This leads me to a second point.
  2. Because I spend so much time in chat, I don’t want to have to leave chat to open another App. Less context switching, which places a burden on ease of use, would be a boon.
  3. Journaling has many known benefits (just do a search for any number of good articles on this) but doing it in chat would be sooooo beneficial for reasons already mentioned. Check out the Talk to Myself App mentioned above on how journaling could work in a chat App. Love the tagging function especially for simple categorisation.
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Creativity Boosters to get you in the Flow – 4 of 4 – Nature

We all know Creativity at work is important. It is a leading driver of innovation and it boosts productivity. And when you are in the right flow, you are more creative and productive. Other than having a formulaic approach to better flow (Formula pins down what gets people in the “Flow”) we all want to know what leads to better creativity and some of the other outcomes it contributes to. I know what works for me and instinctively and from experience, you might know about these too. In this four part series I want to share what works for me – this post covers nature and the creativity boosters tag captures all the posts.

Creativity

First a little more about creativity and why it is so important at work. Each post from the series will elaborate on one aspect of this and then go onto the specific creativity booster that supports it.

Did you know creativity is a relatively recent phenomenon? It does seem counterintuitive since humans have been creative from the get-go, one would think. It is what set us apart from other species. But according to this article (which also has other excellent info on creativity) and Google’s Ngram tool, it wasn’t really part of the popular lexicon until midway through the last century: What is creativity? The ultimate guide to understanding today’s most important ability.

And it has come a long way since then.

One could say its meaning needs reassessing.

A recent study by Microsoft and Steelcase came up with some new themes which I have captured below – study article here: The Creative Shift: How Place + Technology + People Can Help Solve 21st Century Problems.

Click to enlarge

Nature

Whether you are for mountains, forest or water (classic icebreaker question) getting out into nature will do the trick for your creativity.

study published in 2012 was one of the first to address the effect of time spent in nature on higher-level tasks of the creative intellect, such as problem-solving. 

In 2013, research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that walking in a city park or any green space for as little as 25 minutes is enough to give your brain a rest and boost cognitive functioning.

I am very lucky to have gorgeous countryside on my doorstep and frequently try to take breaks in my day and especially when I am in the middle of a work challenge that requires creative thinking – which is pretty much always. It helps I need to walk some of my furry keeps 🐶🐶.

When I can I go on longer excursions – here is a video below from a morning hike (18 miles) I went on with a friend. I challenge you to immerse yourself in the audio (turn up the sound for the bird song) and visual and remain unmoved – imagine immersing yourself for longer than the 15 second video snippet allows.

To really make a difference to my creative output I go on longer excursions, or OuterVentures as I like to call them. Mostly these are on vacations where I try to make access to nature at least partly possible or through longer hikes with friends. I’m about to go on one such hike through Scotland on the West Higland Way: West Highland Way – Scotland’s Best Loved Long Distance Walking Route. I’ll do a write up on my return but I know I am going to come back fired up with creative juices as is always the case.

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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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Microsoft 365 customer questions – Power Platform and Teams Hackathon tips

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.

This was not so much a question as a request to present to all the hackers participating in the company hackathon in a launch event. I put a few slides together, here they are in a pdf below. Below that, a few notes of elaboration on the slides that I think need it. This follows earlier advice I shared with the same customer on how to organise the hackathon, captured in this story: How to run a Hackathon for Microsoft Teams and Power Platform. And it also builds on this earlier thought rocket: Hackathons the MVP and lean startup.

Slide 3

I wanted to instil some lean startup, entrepreneurial thinking into the hackers minds. This is also a setup for some of the later slides. The main point being that you have to have an idea of what you want to build in the way of problem/s to solve or opportunity/ies to leverage and that by definition (being future focused), you are not going to be certain that you can achieve it. I wanted to juxtapose this with the need to start building and iterating fast and testing your work as you go and that this has to mapped against your vision and course correction will be required all along the way. Course correction will require either that you refine your vision or your solution.

Slide 5

The clear point here is that you should try and build complete solutions (as far as possible) at every stage of your build. It follows naturally from the previous slide too. I also made the point that they should not be myopic in their thinking and focus too much on the technology or “product”. For instance, building a wheel which on its own, is not really usable. Rather they should think about solving a transport problem and in the image example, a skateboard could be a great first version, perfectly usable in its own right. Hopefully you get the point.

Slide 7

While the hackers were mostly focused on building apps, automations, reports and the like with the Power Platform, I did want to bring Microsoft Teams into the picture as the platform through which they should consider publishing their work. I made two points really. One is that they could develop their solutions either in the respective standalone environment in Power Platform but they could also create solutions directly from within the Teams environment – more on that here: Create low-code custom apps for Microsoft Teams – Teams | Microsoft Docs. More importantly, that they should think about bringing their solutions into Teams to become collaborative apps – a concept explained really well here: Stay in the flow of work with new collaborative apps for Microsoft Teams – Microsoft 365 Blog.

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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.