Microsoft 365: The key to communication

How communication is rapidly evolving:

We have seen an explosion in the ways we communicate, and, in the ways, we use these forms of communication. The last few years have seen people that would have rather picked up their land line, now reaching for their laptop or tablet to make a video call. 

Our original and oldest form of distant communication, the letter, has been branded snail mail and the volume of snail mail has steadily decreased to the point that the humble letter box is on the verge of redundancy.  

We have transitioned from the art of formal letter writing, taught with passion by our English teachers, to communicating in text or even emojis. We are evolving not just our means of communication but also the way we use these tools.  

What does this mean for Business?

In Business, while an initial introduction is more commonly made in person or by voice, further contact takes the form of electronic mail. Leading to a bombardment of the recipient’s inbox and the frustration of unread emails at the end of the working day. It is true to say that if our humble letter box had to deal with our daily volume of mail, it would have long since collapsed to the ground. 

How do we deal with all our email? 

The first thing is to ask ourselves is “Should this communication take the form of an email?”. If you yourself are not part of the solution you are part of the problem. Solve as much of the problem at the source not at the destination.  

If your email is urgent, short, or to a large audience question the medium you are using. Would communication be better served by picking up the phone, chatting in teams, or holding a team’s meeting/presentation. 

When should I use email?

We all unconsciously know that email is great when we need a record of a communication, date or action. For example, if I was to respond to a work order or quote, I would reply via email and simultaneously schedule a task. If I was going to tell a colleague a joke or organize a get together, I would do that in person via voice or message via teams. 

A matter of Etiquette:

Remember to use email to “create a record or reminder”. There are certain things that you can do to ensure your message is heard. Be concise, proofread in the voice of the receipt so you more accurately convey the tone you intended. Use a grammar checker as well as a spell checker.

If you are asking a question, use a question mark? If you require a response, say so.

Ensure you have a email signature on new emails and a shorter signature on forwards and replies.

If your email recipients need to contact you outside email, how hard are you making it for them? I would personally question the practice of having your email address in your email signature. Use a relevant subject line. “Meeting request” vs “26th May at 4pm re Communication is Key!” make your email easy to search for! 

To CC or not to CC that is the question?

Using the carbon copy (CC) field is the most abused part of the email. It is NOT to shame the recipient into action it’s to record other parties to the action when they do not directly have to participate in the email.  I encourage this behavior by doing the following. 

Sorting your inbox:

Which brings me to organizing my inbox. How can I work more efficiently, giving emails the priority, they deserve?  

I take an email which has me cced as not requiring my immediate attention, I have created a rule within Outlook to move these to another folder called CCED emails. I can make this rule as simple or as complex. If the cced email has a mention of me in it, or is mark high importance, I can ignore my move rule. I do the same for group, broadcast or send to all emails.  

When it comes to the external mail, I have rules that sort emails by sender and or subject line. For example, an email from an IT alliance member with the subject containing “communication is key” goes to “webinar blogs” folder in the sub folder “ITA”. 

How you build your rules is up to you and it does take some initial work and experimentation, but the gains will be worth it. 

Case Study:

A great example is a company in New Zealand that uses some of the AI engine’s ability to determine a customer’s tone in an email to prioritize unhappy customers allowing them to be more responsive when required. It can also be implemented to send an automatic response such as “we are sorry to hear about your recent experience with Contoso and would like to speak with you to resolve this issue at your earliest convenience. Please press here to schedule a call with our team.  

Can I have emails go to a team? 

Of course. If you have all the sales team respond to emails sent to enquiries@contoso.co.nz then you can have a shared mailbox. Members that are granted access to the shared mailbox can be setup to send as enquiries@contoso.co.nz or as themselves salesguy@contoso.co.nz , however a shared mailbox does require its own license.

What about a public folder?

A public folder is designed for shared access across the whole organization, it can be enabled with a mail address so that when added to the address field can be forward to a folder for centralized record keeping but it does not allow controlled access, hence public. 

Email Security  

As with phones and postal services there will be abuse. The more a communication tool is used the more likely some people will see an opportunity to scam others. 

As “email is a record” as postulated earlier, do you retain and control access to these records. Do your emails contain personally identifiable information or other forms of sensitive information? How can you ensure emails are not sent to the wrong person? 

Digital communications are more secure than physical forms of communication as technology “can” ensure trust and authentication at every step of the path between sender and recipient. I stress the word “can” in the previous sentence!  

Encrypted Email

I am sure that you may be surprised to learn that you can encrypt your email so only the intended recipient can read it. Even more surprising you can encrypt the email so it can not be forwarded. printed or copied.  You can even stop sensitive information being sent outside of the organisation automatically. Technology is available to digitally sign all email from your business to stop imposters posing as your business via email. Technology can check links and attachments in emails for malicious behaviour. 

What Next? 

Casting the human eye over an email, no matter how much training they received, will never match the ability of the technology to weigh the huge amount of data necessary to make a good decision.  

Technology can make our digital communication more secure, as with all communication it is up to us to evolve to use our tools to their full potential. Talk, email, send a letter (!), or message the team at @Computer  to discuss how to take your next step. 

How Microsoft 365 Exchange has revolutionized and simplified communications for Kapiti Kitchen company. 

Meet Orchard Joinery 

Meet Orchard Joinery. A family-owned business from the Kapiti Coast. Orchard Joinery have crafted bespoke kitchens, bathrooms, windows, doors, stairs and furniture for over 20 years! Whilst they really know their stuff, they were struggling with their customer communications, much of which is by email these days. 

Inefficient Email 

All the company emails had been set up to come into one email address, leading to missed communication and some unhappy potential customers. The office manager had to check through emails every day to make sure that all communications had been addressed. What a headache! 

Aiming for Change 

Orchard joinery contacted an ITA member for a free consultation. Together we worked out a solution using 365’s business grade email facility – Exchange Online.

Ideally, they were after a way to split and redirect emails to the correct staff to ensure efficient and correct action and response.  

They did this by outlining a list of new addresses that were needed. Next, we set up Microsoft 365, new email addresses, and when they were all ready, they switched emails across to the new system.

They then onboarded staff onsite, so they felt supported and knew what to do from day one.

The email system now has custom access settings, and the Manager can see everything if they need to. 

The End Result 

The end result was a much clearer process for customers and staff alike. Orchard Joinery now has an easy-to-use mail system with access across all accounts. There is clear allocation of emails and tasks and there is one incredibly happy office manager who no longer has to sift through screeds of emails to find the correct recipient! 

“Very happy with the result, and with the changeover process. Our IT company made this easy and was on call to help with any adjustments promptly. Particularly impressed with the ability of the staff to translate difficult IT related information into easy-to-understand applications.” – David, Orchard Joinery 

This is just a simple case study involving email, but there is so much more that can be done to improve your internal and external communication and efficiency.   

If you are ready to empower your business with Microsoft Products like these, you can join us at our upcoming FREE event through the EMPOWER series. Click here to register. 

If you need a hand with streamlining your emails reach out to us here.

What is Microsoft Planner and how can it help your business?

What is Microsoft Planner and how can it help your business?

Many businesses in Northland use Microsoft Planner. Planner is a tool within the Office 365 suite. Planner is an easy way to organize teamwork with intuitive, collaborative, and visual task management. Planner is simple, easy to use for new users, and included in the licensing for Office 365 users. 

Advantages of Planner:

Planner improves teamwork by organizing an Office 365 group or team’s tasks, files, and conversations.

Planner helps to organize your tasks by adding one or more Planner tabs to a team channel. You can then work on your plan from within Teams, remove or delete your plan, and get notified in Teams when a task is assigned to you in Planner.

All tasks are easily accessible in one place: Plans comprise content-rich tasks that contain expected details, such as due dates, and extra elements like color-coded labels and files.

Automatic chart report: Planner automatically visualizes task status into pie and bar charts for you with no setup required.

Work where you want: Use Planner wherever you’re working. At your desk? Open Planner from tasks.office.com. On the go? Update tasks from your mobile device. In Microsoft Teams? Select the Tasks app powered by Planner and Microsoft To Do.

Connect across Microsoft 365: Planner is part of Microsoft 365, so it’s highly secure like your other Microsoft 365 apps. Microsoft 365 also connects Planner with Microsoft To Do, SharePoint, Power Automate, and other apps for efficient task management.

Manage all your tasks in Microsoft Teams: Planner and Microsoft Teams work well together. The Tasks app in Microsoft Teams combines all your team tasks from Planner and individual tasks from Microsoft To Do with advanced collaboration tools.

How to add planner:

  • In your team channel, select Add a tab +.
  • In the Add a tab dialog box, choose Tasks by Planner and To Do.
  • Create a new task list to make a new Planner plan and add it as a tab to this channel.
  • Use an existing task list to choose an existing Planner plan to add to a tab in this channel.
  • Choose whether to post to the channel about the tab, and then select Save.
  • The tab will be added alongside your other team channel tabs, and you’ll be able to start adding tasks to your board.

Six Tips to use planner well

Use the buckets:

Microsoft Planner lets you create buckets for various tasks. Within each bucket, you can create specific assignments.

The calendar feature:

The calendar is very important for keeping everyone on task. Items in the calendar can be assigned both due dates and a specific task owner. This helps individuals know who is responsible for what and also whether or not they are on schedule.

Checklist:

You can create a checklist to keep on top of tasks. This checklist can be a list of necessary actions for this project. As the assigned user works their way through the project, they can check off individual items on the list. This creates an effortlessly easy visual to be able to track progress.  

Categorise tasks easily

You can create easy visual categories for tasks by color-coded labels and priority. For example, you might split things up into “low-priority,” “medium-priority,” and “high-priority” based on deadlines. This is visually easy for your team to follow as they can see what is coming up on their calendar and what is a priority.

Easily integrates with 365

With Microsoft Planner, you can integrate easily with 365. This means that you can take advantage of Office 365’s own calendar and reminder features. This helps keep your employees focused and on track every time they open up their e-mail.

Connects to the Cloud

Members of the team can upload various files as attachments to different projects and cards.  Once the file is attached to Office 365 Planner, everyone has access to it via the cloud. You no longer have to worry about vital information being unavailable to the rest of the group.

In Conclusion:

Planner is a wonderfully simple, yet effective way to manage projects across a team and to improve communication and efficiencies.

For further information, please feel free to reach out to us here to discuss how planner can be used by your team.

Empowering your business with Teams

Meet Northland Kindergarten Association:

The Northland Kindergarten Association or NKA, has 25 kindergartens between Kaitaia in the Far North, to Ruawai in the heart of Kaipara.

NKA were concerned about their IT setup, so they approached an IT Alliance member with the below key issues:

  • They were running out of space on their server.
  • Their system was out of date.
  • They weren’t working in the cloud which meant poor communication and knowledge sharing.
  • Each of their 25 kindergartens couldn’t connect and learn from each other.

They asked an IT Alliance member to do a risk analysis of their organization and to help them brainstorm a solution.

What was discovered:

  • Together they discovered that they had a disjointed network with outdated hardware and software.
  • Each kindergarten was getting a mixed level of service and support from a variety of IT support services.
  • To make matters worse each kindergarten team shared one email address and could not access each other’s files.
  • They had limited ability to communicate well which means work kept getting reinvented and upskilling was difficult too.
  • Their cybersecurity was not where it needed to be either.

They needed a solution that made their systems more secure, connected their team and helped bring their collective knowledge into one place. 

Empowering Kindergartens with 365 Teams:  

The IT Alliance member suggested to NKA that they could use Microsoft 365 Teams to empower their kindergartens using the following steps:

  1. They developed a rollout process of new hardware.
  2. Everyone got a new email address and were set up on Microsoft 365 Teams.
  3. They provided training with one-on-one support during the implementation.

Although they had only intended to create a safer network and shared resources, NKA was able to use Microsoft 365 Teams for so much more! 

How it helped them:

They moved all their documents into the cloud using a feature of Microsoft 365 called SharePoint. It helped them organize their document management so that they could share and manage content across the entire network of kindergartens. This saved them time, improved consistency and made their documents more secure.  

They also improved training, communication and connectivity within their team. They had a whopping 120+ attendees at their annual conference. Due to Covid, they had to host the event online.  Microsoft 365 Teams came in very useful. Again, training was provided, and they had two run throughs so that they could help anyone with login, microphone and camera issues. Their event went on for 5-6 hours and went off without a hitch!   

The Education Review Office, and five other national guests were able to present vital information easily. They broke out into subgroups for discussions using the meeting room function. Their CEO even pre-recorded his video message.

One of the risks of always being online is that they were worried that they might miss a quality engagement. Luckily 365 Teams gave them the ability to engage. They were able to raise a hand, ask questions in the chat and follow along from home. Overall, it was much less expense than an in-person event!  

The end result:

Overall, implementing Microsoft 365 Teams into NKA empowered their association with better cybersecurity, improved communications, empowered resource sharing that saved time and decreased event costs whilst maintaining event engagement. Not bad for one system in one place!

 “We were grateful to have streamlined our processes and we now have one point of contact for all our sites. We enjoy having a consistent service throughout our organization. It means that the team understands what we need, and we know we are providing top notch service to our kindergartens.”

Lloyd Gurr Head of Projects, Northland Kindergarten Association.  

If you would like to learn more about how 365 Teams could support your business join us for a FREE webinar through the EMPOWER Series. Click here to register.

AVOID DOCUMENT DISASTER: Empowering your Business

The POWER Trifector Solution for Document Automation

The environment in which we operate has significantly changed. Businesses in Northland have been driven to embrace remote working.  

Every good business is constantly on the hunt for new ways to improve their efficiency, keep their costs down, and increase productivity and profit and decrease risk.

What if we told you that you might be sitting on a goldmine of opportunity?

Having Microsoft 365 is bit like owning a spaceship. You know what it’s used for, but how to use it? Let’s unpack it a bit further.

Most Common Problems

The most common problems we hear of through our IT Alliance network around the country are:

  • Putting your documents into the cloud, document management and approvals
  • Empowering your business while working remotely
  • Managing emails and automating them
  • Keeping your company cyber safe

Would it surprise you to know that 50% of IT Alliance clients underutilize their Microsoft 365 Teams account? So why pay for something, and not use it all? You can join in our Empower Series here to hear more, but for now let’s start with document management and approvals.

Making the most of Your Microsoft 365

Sharepoint and Power Automate are both free with your business Subscription. Did you know you could use them in these ways?

Microsoft SharePoint – SharePoint (their free document management system) can seem overly complicated because it can offer so much. But it doesn’t need to be so scary.

You can start small and use more functionality as needed or as you grow.

Basically, it’s a platform that offers content management and collaboration.

It helps with reducing duplicate files, gives you remote access (needed more than ever!) and allows you to work on the same document at the same time.

Find out more about SharePoint here: https://ita.co.nz/sharepoint-shakedown

Microsoft Power Automate is another free app that allows you to automate workflows across applications. You can use it to connect email and instant message alerts, synchronize files between applications, copy files from one service to another, collect data from one app and store it in another, and much more.

Templates are available to get you started. Efficiency is key for sustained success across businesses and Power Automate assists this by simplifying workflows with the automation of repetitive tasks.

Power Apps – is a low-code application development platform that integrates with Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365, Azure and more.

With Power Apps, web and mobile applications can be built without writing code. Instead, you can use pre-built templates and components with drag-and-drop simplicity.

Power Apps has been described as a bit like a meal delivery kit. The ingredients are pre-measured and chopped. The instructions are ready to go. All you have to do is prep and cook.

Because Power Apps has advanced logic and rules built-in, development time is cut by 70%. In some cases, it takes just a few hours to build an app. Or you can customize one of the pre-built templates in just minutes. Plus, Power apps connects to hundreds of business systems and databases. Here are some impressive statistics to show how Power apps is super useful.

  • 188% ROI over three years3
  • 74% reduction in app development costs4
  • 2 hours of line-of-business employee productivity improvement per week5

Real Business, Real Change

Quality Food Services is the largest exporter of butter pastry in NZ.  Up until a few years ago they were struggling with their documents and approvals as they were complicated and manual.

They used SharePoint to create an online document management system that had version control, search features and navigation that made finding documents and using them easier. 

You could track your changes so that everyone was always up to speed on any project.

Power Automate helped QFS to automate their business processes and approvals using tailored notifications and automated data entry, saving plenty of time and increasing the accuracy of the approval process.

Power apps helped to collect information and display where everything was in the process so that the project could be managed much more easily.

All of this saved them time, money and decreased their risk significantly.

Where to from here?

If you have a process that you are helps make your document management process a little less of a headache, speak to us here. You are welcome to register to attend our next Empower Session here.

Document Management – How to Save Time, Decrease Risk and use what you already have!

Meet Quality Food Southland

Meet Quality Food Southland or QFS for short. What started as a humble bakery and Café in the 1900’s by Annie C Miller, grew into New Zealand’s leading manufacturer in butter-based bakery products and sauces. They are the largest exporter of butter pastry in NZ. Up until a few years ago they were struggling with their systems and processes.

Document Management and Approvals headache!

Their document management and approval systems were completely manual. This meant a LOT of paperwork, and complex filing systems as each product version had to be kept on hand. There could be many iterations which make things complicated.  Their approval process was also a headache. QFS had eight different approval processes. At each stage, approval had to be signed off by three different signatories. As you can imagine there was a lot of paper, storage and wasted time, not to mention the risk of making a mistake, was really high.

Aiming for Change

Ideally, the team at QFS were keen to make a few improvements. Document storage and security were key. They wanted to get rid of the complex document folder structure while managing and keeping all their file changes. They wanted to replace the manual time-consuming approval process for an online version, complete with change notifications, tracked changes and approval process stage indicators.  Essentially, they wanted to have the process more manageable, consistent and streamlined.

Empowering QFS with Microsoft

After consulting with an IT Alliance Member, the QFS team decided that the best course of action was to have these seasoned professionals cook up a nicely balanced solution using some Microsoft products called SharePoint, Power Automate, and power apps. These were all available through having Microsoft 365.

SharePoint helped create an online document management system that had version control, search features and navigation that made finding documents and using them easier. It even had a check in and out function. You could track your changes so that everyone was always up to speed on any project.

Power Automate helped QFS to automate their business processes and approvals using tailored notifications and automated data entry, saving plenty of time and increasing the accuracy of the approval process.

Power apps helped to collect information and display where everything was in the process so that the project could be managed much more easily.

The End Result

QFS ended up with a very slick looking web-based system thanks to Microsoft 365 and its added products. The best part is that it is all in one place. The new system stores all documents, manages document check-in/out, maintains all version history and records document changes.

 It allows users to check-out a document, make the required changes then completes the document approval process from start to finish. It includes notifications to stakeholders, updates progress and document control lists throughout the process. On approval, it creates a pdf version and stores it in a duplicate SharePoint suite used by “view only” staff.  The result helps their business run more efficiently, with less risk. Sounds too good to be true, right?

If you are ready to empower your business with Microsoft Products like these, you can reach out to us here. If you would like to learn more, join us at this free event by registering here.

Microsoft Teams vs Zoom

Which one is the best for you?

Meeting anyone? Remember the good ole days when we all used to cram in to a conference room, pass around the muffins, slurp on our takeaway lattes, and talk over the top of each other?

Nowadays, with the new remote way of working, video calls ARE the new “business meeting” and often the new “phone call”.

Top perks of video Technology:

  • Streamlined communications.
  • Video ensures people are more engaged.
  • Faster responses and improved team communication.
  • Ability to connect from remote workspaces.
  • Ability to host large global meetings.
  • Improve collaboration and productivity.
  • Recording of meetings for those unable to attend.
  • Great platform for online events to be conducted.
  • Plus, you can see other peoples body language on a meeting (no more secret eye rolling at the boss Susan!)

What is Microsoft Teams?

Microsoft Teams is a communication platform included in Microsoft 365. Though Teams offers video conferencing capabilities, that’s far from its only use. The platform also includes chat and voice calling functionality and enables teams to share and edit files in real time via a shared virtual workspace. Teams is highly integrated with other products in the Microsoft suite, including Word, PowerPoint and Excel, making it a true collaboration platform.

What is Zoom?

Zoom is a communications platform that encompasses audio and video conferencing, chat functionality, video webinars and more. Zoom offers an entire marketplace of application integrations, including MailChimp, Zendesk, Marketo and even Microsoft Teams for additional extensibility. Though Zoom has been around since 2011, it’s seen stunning growth in 2020, increasing from 10 million daily meeting participants in December 2019 to over 300 million daily meeting participants in April 2020.

Consider your audience?

The first step is to consider who and what you are using video calling for. If the main focus is meetings amongst colleagues at an organisation that already uses Microsoft products—especially Office365—then the obvious choice for video calls is Microsoft Teams. Even if you do use Teams at work, you still might want to use Zoom for meetings with people external to your organisation as Zoom is still more well-known than Teams.

The nuts and the bolts:

But how easy are each to use? Both Teams and Zoom give users the option to join via the browser rather than downloading. This means that you can just send them an invitation, they click on the invitation, and the application will open up automatically. Easy!

User Interface 

New users may find Teams more complicated to use than Zoom since it is part of Microsoft’s much larger universe of productivity, collaboration, and communication tools. There is an initial learning curve because of the many ways Teams integrates with other Office apps. That said, the integrations are intuitive, and their usefulness outweighs the required learning. The Zoom video conference controls are similarly simple and user-friendly.

Microsoft Teams and Zoom share many of the same features. Both providers offer:

  • Screen and app sharing
  • Whiteboards
  • Chat functions
  • Voice calling
  • Customized backgrounds
  • Breakout rooms
  • Meeting recordings

*Teams has recently increased to 300 people

Pricing:

Both Teams and Zoom have free and paid versions. Microsoft offers a number of different pricing tiers for Teams, some of which come with varying degrees of access to other Office365 apps

The main differences between free and paid versions are meeting duration limits, participant capacity, file storage and the Microsoft apps you gain access to with each plan

Free plans:

  • Zoom gives its free users just 40 minutes for group meetings but up to 30 hours for one-to-one sessions.
  • Microsoft teams: Microsoft Team users on the free plan are limited to 60-minute meetings.

Paid plans:

Zoom’s paid plans:

  • Meetings can last up to 30 hours
  • Capacity of 1,000 max participants

Microsoft Teams:

  • Caps meeting duration at 24 hours.
  • 300 max meeting participant allowance.

File storage varies by provider plan; Zoom’s top plan offers unlimited file storage, while Microsoft Team caps storage at 1 TB per organisation and 10 GB per license.

So who is the winner on the day?

As you can see, Microsoft Teams and Zoom are both highly intuitive, very comparable platforms, which can be useful in different situations.

Teams also offers so many other benefits beyond just video conferencing including

  • Teams and Channels 
  • File storage within SharePoint Integration 
  • Audio Conferencing 
  • Security and Privacy 

Every business has its own particular requirements, and we are highly trained at matching your business with the best platforms and technology just for you. Reach out to us here, and we will help you out.