We have seen unprecedented growth in the use of remote-working tools such as Microsoft Teams since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. Microsoft recently reported 2.7 billion Teams meetings on a single day – March 31, 2020.
Usage has grown across all sectors, including government, nonprofit and education. Government adoption is being aided by a free six-month Office 365 Trial for government agencies, called the G1 Trial. The Department of Defense (DoD) alone is rolling out about four million instances of Teams to implement its Commercial Virtual Remote (CVR) Environment. The education and nonprofit sectors will follow suit through Microsoft’s free Office 365 A1 license.
As Linda Stevens and Michael McNett have noted, the transition has not always been smooth — but it’s getting better. On April 14, Stevens, McNett and Microsoft Senior Account Executive Jim Estepp held a webinar to share best practices with organizations in the government, nonprofit and education sectors and to answer users’ questions.
“It really doesn’t matter what type of agency or organization you’re with, there’s a way you can leverage these tools to improve some of the challenges we’ve seen,” McNett said. “The first step is getting Teams deployed, but we have found that in most cases, getting the technology on people’s computers is the easiest step. Driving adoption and helping them understand how to leverage it and make it part of their lives is the bigger challenge.”
The participants discussed several scenarios they have encountered working with government clients:
- One client rolled out Exchange Online and Office 365. The client had its identities and networking in place but had not yet adopted Teams. They needed to figure out how to telework. After turning on Teams and working through governance issues, the client fully deployed their Teams Tenant in less than a week because they had already addressed some of the technical challenges.
- Another client was already using Teams but had not deployed any of the audio-conferencing capabilities, so its voice calls were happening over IP. By quickly setting them up with audio conferencing capabilities and providing phone numbers, within two days they had audio conferencing capabilities available for all of their meetings.
- One client had a unique request—they needed to get information out quickly to everybody across their government agency, and they needed it in real-time. Building a Power BI dashboard and securing the proper licensing and technology allowed them to share critical, real-time logistics data with their end-users and outside of the agency.
- Many first-time Teams users build out conversational bots to help people learn about the technology.
However, whatever the scenario, communication, education, adoption and governance are critical.
“If you think that we can just turn Teams on and people will come and use it because now they’re remote – don’t necessarily believe that,” McNett said. “You need to have an intentional approach to make sure people understand why you’re doing this. If you don’t do that, they’re probably going to go back to their old way of doing business, which probably means email, or they’ll bring in some third-party, non-approved tool that you will have no control over. That can put your organization and its information at risk.”
The Microsoft Team experts offered this advice:
- Set up several basic Teams training sessions.
- Use existing channels to manage some of your primary communications. That way, you have a “single source of truth” where people get the latest updates.
- Consider setting up two to five communications teams oriented around specific topics to collaborate and figure out the right messaging for end users.
- Enable audio conferencing, if possible, especially for users most likely to be creating meetings so that they can get dial-in numbers for people without good Wi-Fi capabilities.
- Consider your security posture. Government organizations, especially, will likely have enhanced security needs. You will need to consider security, not only within Teams but across Office 365. It may be best to hire an outside vendor for a security assessment.
McNett took a closer look at governance and Teams by discussing DoD, non-DoD, and nonprofits and educational organizations separately.
For DoD, everyone will abide by the same governance rules across the agency, and they won’t have emailing or calendaring in place. That means people using Teams in the CVR can’t schedule meetings directly from within Teams, though they can still create and communicate meeting times.
However, DoD employees will retain control over certain aspects of their Teams environment, including putting some manual processes and policies in place to support governance areas such as good team naming conventions. DoD employees can go to www.cloud.mil/CVR for more guidance.
Non-DoD government organizations can obtain their own Office 365 Tenants while retaining complete control over governance. However, organizations receiving Teams service from another agency, such as a city or county government organization, may be subject to governance policies already in place, though they may have with some control over how employees use it.
Nonprofit and the educational customers will probably own their own Office 365 Tenants, subject to Microsoft’s specific licensing for their organizations. McNett encouraged them to take advantage of the documentation Microsoft provided for organizations of various sizes and their specific needs.
Finally, for adoption, McNett advised monitoring Teams once organizations roll it out to identify pockets of growth and resistance. That information can help drive training for users with varying levels of skills and comfort with remote-working platforms.
To watch the full webinar, click here
Below are edited versions of the questions received during the webinar.
Microsoft Teams Q&A
Government and DoD
What are some of the specific state-level policies we should be thinking about?
We have researched this and find policies will vary state-to-state in terms of the types of tools you can and cannot use, so you need to look at what you state mandates.
Given that the DoD is not allowed to host external or guest accounts in their Tenants, will they be allowed to join GCC High as a guest user with their dot-mil account?
That is considered a cross-tenant capability, where you move between different Tenants’ clouds and across their clouds. Microsoft currently enables that capability through its Common Cloud B2B, and they’re working toward what they call a Sovereign Cloud B2B.
The IL5 DoD cloud has some additional controls that Microsoft is working to make available, but that work is still underway.
Can GCC High add users as guests or external in another tenant use their native Teams application to participate?
A different set of features is available for GCC High versus GCC Commercial. We have not heard any complaints about it, but we also have not yet seen any documentation on it.
Nonprofit and Education
How do educational institutions get Teams, and what are the limitations for those organizations?
You can go online to see what comes bundled with A1 licenses, but one thing you should look for is their great integration tool that feeds into Teams from your class management system. It allows you to build out different members of your teams as they grow with their different courses, and then you can even do things like post quizzes and quiz answers online. Students can guide themselves through the quiz, and then Teams grades it and provides information back to the student and the instructor.
What are some of the limitations of Teams for nonprofit organizations?
With the free version of Teams, you get the main Office 365 apps minus Microsoft Access. That would include Outlook, SharePoint, OneDrive, Exchange, Teams and a few others. However, there is a limit on the amount of storage and email you can retain, and you will have some special rules for paid versus unpaid employees.
In some cases, a company will donate a license to a nonprofit, and in those cases, the nonprofits may have more advanced licenses that are similar to E3 or E5 licenses.
For a user base that is familiar with SharePoint and using a Teams site structure, can you provide guidelines for when to suggest that a group creates a team versus using an existing team site structure? I'm worried about files and data getting duplicated or split between a Teams Channel and a SharePoint team site.
That’s a complicated question, but I can illustrate with a real-world example. I’m working with a client that has thousands of on-premise SharePoint sites that are migrated up into SharePoint Online. A subset of those thousands are very much collaboration-related, where people are modifying, discussing, and communicating about documents all the time. Those sites are perfect for putting into Teams.
The client has some sites, though, that have groups of people who work with documents that don’t require collaboration. The “benefits team” within its HR site is a good example. That team doesn’t need collaboration because their documents are permanent records that are not subject to collaboration and don’t change much, so they aren’t good candidates for Teams’ document collaboration capabilities.
The challenge is that many organizations that have been in the SharePoint world for years, going back to the mid-2000s or even into the early 2010s, remember the confusion when there was suddenly a huge explosion of sites and files and folders, and people just became confused and frustrated. One way to help reduce this frustration is to make sure that you have a good process in place to let people know when they can create a team, how to use the team, and when to delete or archive the team.
A lot of confusion also results from teams that sit out there and languish. Suddenly, you have the same problem that you used to have with SharePoint, but now it’s a problem with Teams. So, think carefully about who needs to collaborate and who doesn’t, and then put governance around that. Teams provides much better tools to manage that problem than the SharePoint of 15, 10 or even five years ago.
If groups are created online, can they be used for Teams? Are they the same groups?
The word “groups” can be used in different ways, but in terms of an Office 365 group, you can create a team based on that group and connect it to a SharePoint or Teams site. What you have done then is something we call “teamifying.”
Define public versus private. What concerns should I have?
You can create three different types of teams: public, private, and organization-wide. I’ll discuss the first two.
A public team is one that anyone can find. There is no approval behind it. You can only join a private team with approval– users have to ask to join it.
One feature that continues to roll out specifies whether your private team is discoverable or not. If it is discoverable, somebody could find it and click on the button to join it. If it’s not discoverable, people won’t even be able to look for it to be able to click on that link. They would need a special code to joint it, or the team’s owner would manually enter them.
My agency has a policy to not retain IM Skype chat history because that information should not be public record. Can you configure Teams to not retain chat data?
Yes. In fact, you could create several different policies. For example, you could create a policy that allows a certain group of people to have their chats retained for 30 days, 60 days, or whatever you need. You may have another whose chat history does not get retained. This is one of the most common questions we have during our security and compliance Customer Immersion Experiences (CIEs).
I've been part of a few calls, and none of them include audio conferencing. I tried to find pricing options to include it, but I couldn't find consistent information. Is audio conferencing a high-end option for those selecting Teams? All of my GoToMeeting, Zoom and WebEx calls include audio conferencing, but none of my Teams meetings do.
The Office 365 E1 and E3 version of Teams do not include audio conferencing and the phone system, where “phone system” is the ability to have a cloud PBX replacement for any on-premises PBX. That allows you to assign a phone number to each user involved in the conference, and you can add a dial-in number, set of dial-in numbers or toll numbers to the call.
You do have that option as part of the Office 365 E5 licensing, but it’s also available at a la carte for the Office 365 E1 and E3 licensing. In those cases, the only people who need a license are the folks who schedule the meetings and need a call-in number, not necessarily all of your internal users.
Can you elaborate on capabilities for video conferencing?
Teams’ video conferencing capability includes audio and video for one-to-one and multi-party options. Inline persistent chat, desktop sharing and whiteboarding are provided, as well as dial-in conferencing as a step up. From a meetings perspective, Microsoft recently announced that they are moving the number of active speakers shown on the screen at one time from four to nine. Teams will automatically choose the most active speakers and display them more prevalently in a meeting, and it will use artificial intelligence to crop the video to better focus on that individual.
Does Microsoft have a list of license dependencies for Teams, as in which licenses – such as Exchange – are needed to activate certain features of Teams?
From a licensing perspective, Teams is a suite feature that is only available at the suite level, rather than a feature that can be purchased a la carte. So, you do have to purchase a suite of Office 365 to take advantage of Teams for an enterprise organization (although the Teams client is a free download for anyone to use).
You can enable a handful of extra features with additional licensing, including audio conferencing and the phone system, as well as the ability to automatically expire teams after a set period. Teams data loss prevention (DLP) is also a step-up license. However, any of the security and compliance capabilities you have already put into your Tenant for file management OneDrive for business and SharePoint document Library would extend to Teams.
How can we tell how much usage we have in Teams?
At a user level, anyone on a team can view basic analytics to see how much members are using that team. You can find out how to do that very easily through Teams by clicking Help in the lower-left corner and searching for “Analytics.”
For IT managers or business leaders who want to see their return on investment, Office 365 provides some analytic reports to dig into things such as the use of your email, One Drive, SharePoint, Teams and other applications. You can also dig further down into Teams to see trends across time, and find out how many meeting minutes you have had, and how many active teams and users there are.
You can go even deeper with Power BI. It can help you figure out where you need to improve certain training or adoption areas, how to continue positive trends, and how to mitigate negative trends.
Can the Teams desktop app sync with the online app?
It’s not really syncing, because both apps access the same information from the cloud. The desktop and mobile versions are very similar. A lot of the time, I have both them open at the same time, one for myself and one for my clients’ Tenants.
Can you explain Teams versus groups? Can you have subgroup team within a group?
Groups are the underlying infrastructure that gives you access to different services, such as the group email, calendar, the group within its team, the SharePoint site itself, Planner, and a few other services. In other words, groups are the main underlying enablement feature needed to use Teams. You can’t have sub-teams, and you can’t have sub-groups. A group is an entity unto itself.
One of the most common requests is, “It sure would be nice if I could hierarchically organize my teams!”, but you can’t. Groups are just individual entities that stand among themselves, and the individuals all communicate within that one group.
How can I get a full walk-through of Teams?
Microsoft has certified Centric to do hands-on, Customer Immersion Experiences, or CIEs. We have a productivity CIE and a security CIE. The CIE is typically designed to get end-users and their organizations into Teams using a virtual environment. It’s not a demonstration or a presentation—it’s being immersed in the actual environment. Depending on your organization type, Microsoft may have some funds available for you to have a partner organization like us to come in and provide a CIE.
We also enjoy just jumping on a call for a demo. We conduct a Teams meeting in which we chat and maybe bring in an external guest and show some of the many things Teams can do.
If your government, nonprofit or educational organization wants to deploy Teams, you have several options. We recommend focusing initially on basic chats, meetings and calls so people can be ready for the more advanced capabilities.
Then, be intentional about adoption and governance. If you don’t show that you are willing to make an investment in training and communicating, resisters will revert back to their old ways of doing business or adopt unapproved tools that put your organization at risk.
In terms of governance, at least define your guidelines and periodically review your teams to make sure they are following it. If you do these three things, you will have a more successful Teams deployment and be ready for whatever comes as COVID-19 recedes.