10 easy tips for making the most of Office 365 in your organization

Too often the switch to Office 365 is seen as a project with a start and end date. When user training is over, the training materials gather dust and people continue to work they way they always have. The thing that most companies miss is that Office 365 adoption is a continuous process. One of the simplest reasons for this is that Microsoft is continuously updating Office 365 with new apps and features. More fundamentally, Office 365 as a toolset has the potential to significantly change how staff work together.

It’s increasingly clear that “sticking with what you know” no longer works, and certainly not for Office 365 implementations. To achieve Office 365’s promises—improving collaboration, fostering innovation, and increasing efficiency—business leaders need to start thinking and acting like futurists.

So what do you need to think about when it comes to ensuring the success of your organization's adoption of Office 365? We offer some tips below to answer this question that are broken down by which side of the fence you're on: before the implementation or after.

Here's an overview of what the entire user adoption roll-out program looks like (when done properly):

Office 365 User Adoption Program Timeline

Office 365 User Adoption Program Timeline

What to do before you deploy Office 365

1. Expand your thinking beyond "user training" to "user adoption"

As of this writing, there are currently 28 applications in the Office 365 suite. That's a lot of applications. Back in the day, when you updated your basic user applications like Microsoft Office Suite, you were updating Outlook, Excel, PowerPoint, Word, and possibly OneNote and Access. If your organization updated SharePoint or Lync, these changes would affect staff as well. Changes to the user interface meant that staff needed to get brought up-to-speed on how the new applications worked. The adoption of these updated tools often didn't do much to affect how staff performed their day-to-day tasks.

With Office 365, it's really a new ballgame. Because there are so many applications that are meant to work together within a single user interface, the opportunity to change how staff work --both independently and as teams--is huge.

This is why application-level, session-based training programs are no longer sufficient to make the best use of Microsoft products. Instead, an organization must establish a continuous user adoption program that is initiated at the start of a migration project and continues into perpetuity. At a high level, a user adoption program incorporates a high degree of communication and stakeholder engagement across the organization, ongoing on-demand user training, along with the application of process mapping methodologies.

2. Make sure everyone understands why you're adopting Office 365

From the CEO down to the front line worker--everyone needs to buy into value of the adoption process. This starts with having an actively engaged executive sponsor, be it a CEO or business unit leader--this is one of the top drivers of project success. An executive sponsor is able to engender support from top-level management and their participation is essential in driving employees’ adoption of new technology.

For staff,  an awareness campaign can really help them understand how Office 365 can help them work better. Some campaign ideas include:

  • Send "tips and tricks" emails to introduce new concepts and reinforce skills development
  • Periodically host engagement events like town hall meetings or lunch & learns
  • Set challenges for people and run competitions to celebrate the best ways they’ve used Office 365 to do work differently

3. Recruit and nurture Office 365 champions

It is important to take advantage of the influence co-workers can have on each other by implementing an Office 365 Champions Program. Champions are not only passionate about how they can use Office 365, but are also excited to evangelize and help their peers to learn more about Office 365. Identify staff who are knowledgeable, committed to furthering their expertise and are willing to provide peer coaching and assistance.

There are a number of considerations that you’ll need to take into account to ensure success when establishing a Champions program. Champions will need to be formally trained, encouraged and empowered to teach, and they also need a clear plan upon which to execute.

Learn how to build a champion program.

4. Have younger staff lead by example

Depending on the size of your organization, having a full-blown Champion program might not be feasible. As an alternative, consider approaching younger staff, such as millennials, and have them set the example of how to apply new tools in new ways. As "digital natives", they are very comfortable with using technology and learning how to make the most of new applications.

5. Map current business processes to Office 365

On the surface, Office 365 applications look like a bunch of disparate lonely islands:

office 365 home screen_applications_tiles.PNG

The truth of the matter is that there is a lot of underlying complexity in how these apps work together and how you can automate workflows between them. So you can see how, by taking a simplistic approach to user adoption, one might simply provide an introduction to the applications to staff and be done with things. However, the best way for each individual user and leader to truly appreciate the value of the toolset is to start by first understanding the processes they follow to complete work today, then mapping these processes inside of Office 365.

Office 365 can’t be all things to everyone. Focus on the quick wins or the simpler processes first. Get those right and you will be on your way to getting staff buy-in. You could approach this by conducting surveys or focus group sessions with specific user groups or teams. This will help everyone get a picture of what Office 365 can bring to supporting or improving current processes.

6. Have teams conduct their own "on-the-job" training

Once processes have been mapped in Office 365, training becomes specific to team members and the jobs they need to accomplish--rather than simply how to write a new email or send a calendar invitation. The involvement of Champions is critical to this process--they are the ones who can immediately address concerns, issues, and opportunities for improvement.

7. Set up channels for feedback during the deployment

Get real-time feedback from staff and Champions and adjust your adoption plan based on this feedback. Try creating a Yammer group for your program participants, that way others in the program will be able to see any feedback that is posted and feel encouraged to add on any of their own thoughts

Be available to receive feedback by staying on Skype for Business during business office hours to answer any questions and share tips.

After the Deployment: The Continuous Adoption Approach

It's probably not a surprise that post-deployment, most organizations see low utilization rates of many Office 365 apps. While Mail and OneDrive tend to be used highly, apps like Yammer, SharePoint and Skype for Business tend to have lower rates. This probably has a lot to do with the reality that most organizations treat an Office 365 deployment the same way they would have treated traditional Office Suite licensing, which, as you are now well aware, is ineffective in this situation.

If you're looking to get the most value out of an investment in Office 365, it is critical to maintain your focus on user adoption after the deployment. This is why we recommend taking a "Continuous User Adoption" approach. Staff engagement can easily dwindle if communication from Champions and leadership falls away. Moreover, Office 365 will be continuously updated by Microsoft over time. Without a plan, you might find drop-off resulting form user confusion and frustration. To give you some help, Microsoft has created Activity Reports that allow you to track potential drop-off and then proactively address it with your staff.

8. Check in with staff regularly post-implementation

Understanding how staff are using Office 365 is an extremely important aspect of a Continuous User Adoption program. You can view the Activity Reports dashboard in the Office 365 Admin Center to get an overview. Monitor usage of the various apps and services to see what staff are using and use this information to shape your informal check-ins. Ask why they’re not making use of any particular apps or services that aren’t seeing take-up as high as others. As a side note, you can also use Activity Reports to identify staff whose licenses you can downsize or upsize depending on their usage.

9. Have a plan for handling major releases and updates

In addition to providing new features, software updates can also deliver changed functionality to existing tools. Without help, employees can experience disruption and frustration with their everyday tasks. This is why it's important to follow the Office 365 Roadmap and subscribe to Microsoft's weekly Office 365 update emails to stay ahead of the curve for new releases. This will put you in the driver's seat so that you can decide when to deploy new features and apps and allow Champions to try them out to see how they could be used by their teams.

10. Provide on-demand micro-training

As new features and apps arise, ensure you are providing staff with up-to-date micro-training videos to help them stay current. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel here, either. Not only does Microsoft offer tonnes of easy-to-consume "how-to" videos in their Productivity Library, you can find third-party training companies that specialize inOffice 365 training videos delivered as-a-service. (We particularly like the service that our friends at KnowledgeWave provide).

The key takeaways from this article are to make sure your organization is regularly having conversations about Office 365--both before and after the implementation, and that you focus on the processes that Office 365 can support for each team. Providing staff with the means to help themselves in an ongoing manner is the best way to gain their buy-in, de-centralize and personalize the overall adoption experience.