view of feet on diving platform over a pool
PHOTO: Angelo Pantazis

Businesses of all shapes and sizes are moving towards Office 365, primarily driven by their IT departments. The technology reasons for the shift are clear: the cloud makes many infrastructure problems go away, tools can now be accessed from anywhere, and the capabilities of the products are extraordinary.

With a whole new ocean of possibilities ahead, what’s odd is that many of these same IT departments, having completed the migration to the cloud, are now just dabbling their feet at the shore, instead of jumping straight in. And this hesitancy is imperiling the shift to the cloud, and putting the success of Office 365 into doubt.

It’s Just Another Tool to Use …

While the imperative is clear for IT departments, it’s less obvious for the actual people who use it. They already have many ways of working separately and together, including the desktop versions of Word and Excel, plus email, share drives, plus any other collaboration tools that are already in place.

What we’ve heard directly from staff in our clients is: “it’s just one more thing for me to check, and to use, on top of everything else I have to do each day.” And if their organization is just dabbling with Office 365, they’re not wrong.

Without a sufficiently high intensity of use, users aren’t in Office 365 every day (let alone every hour). This means they miss what’s happening, as well as struggle with the broader behavioral changes required.

We’ve seen first-hand when a team member sends an email to the rest of the group to say a key document has been uploaded to Teams. Ouch!

While notifications can be configured to send automatically when there’s activity, this isn’t a practical option, as before long these email updates start to be considered "corporate spam." (As a side note, Workplace by Facebook is configured to send a *lot* of these emails by default, and the results are often overwhelming and intensely frustrating for all involved.)

Related Article: Don't Know Which Microsoft Collaboration Tool to Use? You're Not Alone

Let’s Run a Pilot …

One of the root causes of these problems is the hesitant approach businesses are taking to the use and adoption of Office 365.

Once the migration has been completed, and Office 365 is enabled for all staff, we’re seeing many IT departments then slow down or step back.

Instead of making a big deal out of Office 365, they’re starting with "pilots," which only involve a few small groups, often without a clear structure or purpose. These early steps may also be called "alpha" then "beta," or "crawl, walk, run."

Whatever they’re called, these small-scale approaches aren’t enough.

They’re also rather odd, because the benefits and opportunities for the tools in Office 365 are completely clear.

Related Article: Office 365 Tools: Where to Begin

Collaboration Lessons Already Learned

Businesses have been using collaboration tools — of a variety of types — for over a decade now. What we now know is this: they really do work.

Take frontline environments, whether they be bank branches, or on-the-road salespeople. We’ve seen many clear instances where collaboration tools meet a real need for these challenged and often isolated staff. Frontline work is hard, and staff will jump onto a tool that allows them to get help from their peers, or to resolve tricky challenges.

Project-based collaboration has also been highly successful in many businesses. Even with clunky tools like SharePoint 2010 team sites, small groups have found benefits in sharing files in more effective ways, and chatting online with each other.

Cloud-based productivity tools are also a godsend for staff who frequently travel. They can access the files they need on any device, and keep in contact with their office-based co-workers.

And the list goes on, with both celebrated successes that have been extensively written about, down to small-scale but nonetheless valuable use.

The case for these tools is clear. And wasn’t this why we all wanted to move to Office 365 in the first place?

Related Article: Collaboration Matters Most for Frontline Workers

Jump Into Office 365 With Both Feet

The answer is to jump into Office 365 with both feet, fully committing to its use, rather than just dabbling at the end of the water. This doesn’t, however, mean the approach should be to get "everyone using everything."

As I’ve mentioned many times before, Office 365 remains intimidatingly complex for IT teams and end users, and the amount of change management required is huge.

Businesses should therefore take a structured approach:

  1. Make a strategic commitment to Office 365 from the outset, supported by senior leaders as well as the IT department.
  2. Communicating strongly and widely about the shift to Office 365, setting the expectation that many (beneficial) changes are coming.
  3. Allocate resources and budget to the adoption of Office 365 beyond the initial deployment and migration.
  4. Tackle the adoption in waves, with people waves targeting specific user groups, and technology waves deploying new capabilities.

Above all, make a big deal of moving to Office 365. If your CEO isn’t talking about it, you’re doing it wrong. That’s not to say that Office 365 trumps business strategy and priorities, but it has to be one of the key pillars of the business.

So fear not, while the water is still a bit chilly, jump straight in with both feet, and start swimming with confidence. A new way of working is coming, and it’s going to transform how businesses operate.