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Webinar Transcript: How to Rapidly Enable Working from Home

Apr 17, 2020 by Finn Searchfield

This post is a brief transcript of the webinar that took place in March 2020. You can watch the on-demand recording here.

When we started to see the very quick transition that organizations were forced to go through to very quickly spin up remote work and get people working from home, at least on the IT pro side and the Microsoft MVP side, there’s a lot of conversations that got started about, “Wow, how do you do this?”.

I think some of us take for granted that, of course, you can work from home and, of course, you know Teams and Microsoft’s other tools deliver the ability to work from anywhere. that’s the propaganda Microsoft has been giving us for years and years and years, but the truth is that ability-wise it’s not really evenly distributed, not everybody has it and a lot of companies and individuals have been forced to try to grow that ability very quickly.

So, I wanted to talk a little bit about some practical things that you can do quickly to help get your organization more capable of doing remote work. I’m going to talk a little bit about business continuity and the situation that we’re all in but mostly from a technology standpoint. And then give you what I hope will be some specific actionable tips that you can use to jump-start getting Teams rolling in your organization to help people work more effectively remotely.

I know I don’t really have a whole lot to say about Covid-19 – everybody’s heard of it – you all know what it is, there’s nothing I can add to that as I’m not an epidemiologist or a doctor. But, wash your hands.

With that said, Microsoft did something they don’t normally do this past week and they released an update about usage of Teams. They normally do that as part of their financial reporting, so at the end of the fiscal quarter, they like to talk about how many more million users they’ve added for Office 365 or Teams. They mostly like to do that because they’re trying to choose their stock price if I’m honest, but they took an unusual step and announced that they had added more than 12 million new daily users.

Now, you can quibble, right, was it exactly 12 million, was it 12 million and 75, we don’t know and it doesn’t matter. It basically represented close to a 25% increase in the number of people who are using Teams every day which is remarkable, no matter how you cut it. That was all driven by the prevalence of immediate telework or work from home.

On our side, one thing that’s been interesting at Quadrotech, as many of you know, one of our lines of business is managed migration as a service so you come to us and we migrate your users, your data, your PST files, your archives to the cloud. We’ve had multiple customers come to us and say, “Holy smokes you guys, we don’t have OA, we don’t have any remote mail capability and now all of a sudden all of our employees are forced to work from home and they can’t. Can you please speed up our migration?”. It’s a little surprising, I mean it makes sense when you think about it, but we didn’t expect that.

If I were doing this in a room, number one, the Centers for Disease Control would come yell at me because I’m not social distancing. But I would ask you to raise your hand if your organization already had a pandemic response plan before this happened.

I’m lucky in that one of the people on my team, Mike Weaver – who owns our Office 365 tenant to tenant product – used to be one of the people on the pandemic response committee at a very large US insurance company. So, he was able to give me some insight into the mechanics of how these processes work, but most small and medium-sized organizations have never had to plan for anything like this because it wasn’t the thing that we worried about happening.

Welcome to 2020.

business continuity plans in light of COVID-19.


So the response after all this Covid stuff started happening has really been mixed, there have been some industries or companies that already had a large percentage of people who could and did work remotely. That’s one thing that’s interesting to think about, you have to think about the combination of, “is a particular job role capable of being done remotely?” and then, “are the people who do it willing and able to do it remotely?”.

For example, I’m based in Huntsville, Alabama where the Marshall Space Flight Center and the US Army’s aviation and missile research and development centers are, and there’s a lot of stuff that those actual rocket scientists do that you can’t do at home. Right? It’s just not possible without equipment and facilities, security that you know individual people in their homes and apartments don’t have. But for the most part, most of the world is still centered around the notion that work is a place you go to every day to do whatever it is you do.

There are cultural reasons behind that, there are business and operational reasons, there are investment reasons. None of that matters, right? What it’s important to understand is that even in companies that support remote work, not every role inside the company is automatically able to switch right away.

So, I don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good. I’d rather focus on the things that you can do quickly to enable the people who want to work remotely and whose job functions can be done remotely. If you manufacture airplanes or you run chemical plants or you operate a hospital, you know it’s very little that I can do to help you understand how to enable those functions. But for the information workers and the people who are involved in the back end of the business, there’s a lot we can do to help.

Looking at he response in light of COVID-19


So why am I talking about this? Well over the last 22 years (and this is easy to track because I started working full-time remotely from home right before my second son was born and he turns 22 in April), so out of that time for a little more than 16 years I’ve been working full time from home, in a home office. No other employees, nobody but me, the cat and my kids. I’ve been working with Microsoft’s collaboration and communication tools back since Exchange instant messaging was actually a server role. Only people who are really old will probably remember this, but I’ve been doing this which has been my life for a long while, so I like to think that I have some knowledge about it.

More immediately, if you look at the people that I routinely interact with and work with every single day as part of my core team, the people who work for me, the people I work for, the people on other teams who are my closest peers, they’re literally all over the place: UK, from Bulgaria to California, and so working remotely across time zones and being able to collaborate and get stuff done is really important to me because I couldn’t work without it.

Finally, Quadrotech’s Nova platform, which is the product that I own and drive, we’ve put a lot of effort and a lot of focus into this to help provide functionality and help companies understand what they’re getting for their license value. Whether they’re spending wisely, whether people are using the tools that are in front of them, so even before all this started we’d spent a fair amount of time analyzing why don’t people work remotely more, what are the things that hold them back?

And so I hope the combination of these three things will let me give you some insight that will help what I want to do in this webcast and I promise I’m about to get to the good stuff. I want to help you understand how to deploy teams broadly and quickly to better support remote working.

International credentials on Microsoft Teams.


One thing that’s important, I’m not here to try to give you tips that are focused on end-users. By that I mean, there are plenty of sites out there, Tony Redmond wrote a very good article last week, and I did a great community call last week about things end-users need to know. Like, you should turn on background blur to reduce distractions for other people when you use video, and don’t pressure people to turn on their video because not everybody wants to get dressed up nicely and fix their hair, makeup and shave their face and so on.

I’m going to try to abstain from those tips and focus more on things for the system administrator, the IT architect, the technical people who have to do the plumbing and labor work to get this set up so those end-users can work. So when you walk out of here I want to help you have a better understanding of where your organization is right now, versus where you need to be to fully support remote work.

Goals for this Microsoft Teams webinar


OK, I want to start with some good news, if you’re here that means almost certainly you already have Office 365. And if you do, you already have a really good basket of tools to enable remote work. You truly can do 100% of most information work tasks remotely using just what’s in the E3 or E5 subscription.

Can you do more stuff or have a broader range of scenarios that you can work in if you buy some extra licenses? Sure, but when you think about the core workloads that are part of an E3, E5 or their government or academic equivalents you get email with mobile access, you get meetings, chat and whiteboarding, application sharing, you get file sharing and co-editing which is incredibly powerful if you haven’t tried it. End-user tip: you’re really missing out – it is so flexible and powerful. And then a bunch of other stuff, planning task management, video sharing through Stream, captioning, shared presentations, and so on.

What I would say in summary is that if you already had a plan and you’ve already gotten people enabled for remote work, great, that’s really good to know, but the old aphorism about the best time to plant a tree definitely applies even if you haven’t done it before now. The second-best time to do it is right now, so I’m encouraging you to think about it positively instead of focusing on all the things that maybe didn’t get done.

Now with that out of the way, I want to turn to some practical tips that I hope will be helpful to you.

Kicking off the MS Teams webinar


The first is: decide what good looks like. One of the things that Nova does as a platform is help people understand where users are adopting workloads in the organization so we often get customers who come to us and say, “Hey! I need to know how many people are using Teams or how many people are using OneDrive and then I need to increase that percentage because Microsoft’s making me, or because I want to increase my license value.”

So, part of that conversation is always understanding what does good look like? A favorite phrase of my boss, you can start this process just with pencil and paper and say, “OK, what does a good remote working outcome look like for your particular business?”

I can’t give you a one-size-fits-all template because when I look at the list of registrants from this event, I’ve got people in the technology industry, software manufacturing, retail, financial services, pharmaceutical, life sciences, government, and what works for one organization or one category of organizations might be completely different from somebody else.

So, for you and your business, whatever it is you do, what does good look like? Maybe it’s just everybody does what they normally do but they do it from a desk at home. OK, or maybe there are some other changes that have to happen, maybe you have to transition into.

A great example, Delta Airlines have been trying to deal with the huge surge of flight cancelations, of flight changes, they took a hangar in the Atlanta Airport and filled it up with cubicles. Now as you know, not such a great idea in retrospect, as we know more about social distancing. They filled it up with additional reservation agents, they were able to surge capacity very quickly, then they move to a model where all their reservation agents are now able to work from home. So you need to think about for your business from an IT perspective, what can you do to support changing the way that the business works in order to make it more effective?

Teams IM and meetings

Then next think about how you can get the most possible value in the shortest possible amount of time. For most of us, that means driving Teams instant messaging and meetings. Why do I say that? Well, I would assume everybody’s already got email deployed if you’re on Office 365. Maybe not 90%, maybe 88% of these organizations I deal with start with email In the cloud. OK, there are some folks at Microsoft to tease we talk about email as being the gateway drug to Office 365, but it is, so I’m going to assume that everybody already has email all up and going.

You’re looking for, what can I do? What’s the one or two things that I can do to help people work remotely? The answer is: get Teams going for IM and in meetings. Enterprise voice Teams rooms and there’s all kinds of great stuff that Teams can do that you can save for later, right now what you want is, you want somebody in one department who’s working at their home office in Huntsville to be able to talk to a counterpart in another department who’s working from their home office in Houston.

That’s what this is about, and Teams instant messaging and meetings are the quickest way to that value. The things that you want to do are listed in the queue from a business perspective, you want to enable people to talk to each other, keep work moving, remove the penalty of saying, “Oh well, you’re working from home in a different time zone or a different environment where you have immediate access to all the people you need.”

You can’t do away with that penalty completely, remember that map I showed up my team, there’s always going to be a time difference between me and Vasil Michev on my team, he’s in Bulgaria, I’m not, we’re not over the same time zone, but smart use of Teams means that we can minimize the penalties.

We’re both online, we can get together quickly and knock out what we need to do, give people flexibility so they can work from where they need to, whether that’s an isolated cabin in the woods, secure underground bunker, their apartment, house, etc., right and then finally provide enough flexibility so that as the situation evolves you’re able to flex along with it.

What does good look like for Microsoft Teams


Next, set up your Network for success. This probably should have been two or three slides because there’s a lot here. So the first thing Microsoft has been talking about for a couple of months now is about the optimal way to arrange network traffic on your network to support Office 365.

Now, this is going to vary by organization. If you use a VPN, what you don’t want is you don’t want traffic that’s going through the service to flow from the end-user endpoint into your network and then onward to Office 365. All that’s going to do is force a bunch of traffic onto your network that you don’t want. Instead, what you want to do is you want to enable and deploy split VPN tunneling, so the traffic for your organizational network goes to the organizational network through the VPN and traffic for Office 365, which goes to a well-defined set of endpoints that Microsoft has published won’t.

Now, the thing about that is there are a lot of other benefits to doing that split tunneling, and if you set it up right you also keep people’s Netflix traffic and everything else you don’t want on your corporate network, but that may be going on at, you know people’s home computers off your network.

To reveal the next four tips on how to enable working from home, please click here to access the recording.