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Escape the Cubicle with Office 365

9 minute read
Bill Ryan avatar

We are no longer tethered to an office — high speed Internet and cloud capabilities took care of that. With mobile devices that can connect to the internet and the cloud, and digital workplace tools that allow collaboration from anywhere, there’s just no point in being stuck in a cubicle.

Many companies still struggle to understand what the digital workplace is and how to successfully implement it. The Digital Workplace is the junction between working from anywhere (mobile), using the cloud to access your documents, collaborating with your colleagues virtually, and applying business processes that support virtual teams.

With 55 percent of companies supporting a mobile workforce (AMI-Partners GM 2H 2013) and 43 percent of employees working in more than one location (Forrsights Applications & Collaboration Workforce Survey Q4 2013), it's clear that the mobile workforce will only continue to grow. Companies without a digital workplace strategy in place are at a significant disadvantage to those that do.

Technology and Processes Go Hand in Hand

High speed internet, mobile devices and cloud technology fuel the digital workplace, but business processes also play a part in enabling workers to engage and collaborate virtually. A certain level of digital proficiency (individual and corporate) is also required to successfully deploy a digital workplace strategy.

Microsoft Office 365 provides the tools needed to enable a digital workplace but companies need to understand how to apply the business process and use the tools correctly to make working digitally successful. This article will explore how to apply these capabilities to allow your workers to fundamentally shift the way they work to work smarter and more efficiently.

Let’s explore the components of a digital workplace (or as Microsoft calls it, "The Modern Workplace") that Office 365 provides and what that might look like in action.

Components of a Digital Workplace

All of the components of the digital workplace feed into and complement each other. Here's a breakdown of where they fit in the Office 365 ecosystem:


Mobile Devices

Understanding how to effectively use Office 365 on mobile devices is one of the cornerstones of your Digital Workplace strategy. The knowledge of what tool (Office, SharePoint, Skype, etc.) to use on what device will ensure you are maximizing your mobile work product and get the most of the productivity advances delivered by working from any location.

Think about screen size and task when deciding what device you’ll use to get your work done. Editing large documents or Excel spreadsheets on a phone isn’t a great idea as the screen size will make it difficult to see the context of a sentence or paragraph or the breadth of a complex spreadsheet — but a phone is ideal to make a small change. Using a tablet (Windows, Android, or Apple) will give you more real estate to work with but still may be difficult to use for some document editing. External keyboards for tablets can make it similar to working with a laptop (or you can use a Surface Pro and get the best of both worlds).

Choose the right tool for the job and all will be well.

Access to Files in the Cloud (One Drive for Business)

Collaboration will stall on Office 365 if your employees fail to sync their files to the cloud. Saving files on a local hard drive or a network file share won’t allow you to have multiple people accessing those files to collaborate.

Setting up your OneDrive for Business synchronization with all of the Office 2013 components will allow your users to co-edit, share, and manage the documents that are critical to your business operations. Many organizations fail to implement this step and consequently miss out on one of Office 365’s most powerful tools.

By setting up synchronization of Office 2013 documents with OneDrive for Business, your users can move from device to device while ensuring the latest version (auto-save) of the document they are editing is available. The co-editing capability is extremely powerful when you have disparately located teams working on documents together.

Collaboration (Sites)

Many organizations use SharePoint simply as a document storage and versioning tool. SharePoint Sites in Office 365 offer collaboration capabilities that go beyond document storage. Businesses are increasingly using SharePoint Sites for workflow and integration with backend systems.

Turnkey SharePoint solutions like SP Marketplace offer complete business process based components that use forms, workflow, and task based to enable SharePoint based business solutions for your organization. Extending your business processes into the cloud will help alleviate the need to have mobile users access Line of Business systems through your firewall.

Before you start exploring the ways you can use Sites beyond document storage, make sure your SharePoint environment uses a responsive template that automatically adjusts the sites to the browser on the device. Many responsive templates are available that use Bootstrap or other responsive frameworks to make this happen.

Communication Tools (Skype for Business - Video, Voice, Text)

The digital workplace would be nowhere without the ability to communicate with colleagues. Before mobile work really took hold in corporate America you would simply visit your co-worker in their cubicle or via conference call. That’s no longer the case.

Skype for Business allows users to engage with colleagues via a mobile smart phone, tablet, or laptop. The online communication platform allows for voice over IP (VOIP) calling, video conference calls, and text based chat. Skype for Business also allows for desktop sharing to allow workers to share a document or diagram with multiple people. These capabilities add a whole new dimension to collaborating with colleagues that goes beyond SharePoint and OneDrive for Business.

Business Processes

Working in the Digital Workplace is not just about tools and technology. Defining deliberate business processes and setting corporate policies to enable mobile workers will fuel the growth of your organization’s digital competency and allow your employees to work more efficiently and effectively.

Learning Opportunities

Start with business processes designed to enable advanced collaboration, document management and storage, multi-person document editing, and instant access to text, video, and voice chat capabilities. You have to have standards that all employees know and use effectively to collaborate and engage while disconnected from the office or you will experience confusion and lack of adoption.

Digital Competency

And finally, don’t forget digital competency. While often overlooked, this competence comes from deliberately training your workforce and providing/developing the tools and processes for internal support (corporate digital competency). Digital competence is your employees’ knowledge of how to use devices and processes in a mobile work setting. This includes the knowledge of what device to use when and how to access the files and people to engage with to effectively work from anywhere.

What the Digital Workplace Might Look Like in Action

How would this look in real life? Imagine the following scenario:

Jane, an IT Project Manager for a global company, has a Project Status Report she needs to prepare for the Executive Steering Committee. She connects to the team’s OneDrive Template Repository from a local coffee shop and opens a Project Status Word Template on her laptop to start the report.

Jane updates most of the information but needs Jeffery, her Project Coordinator, to validate the status she has updated. Jeffery lives in another city but supports the project remotely. She connects with him on Skype for Business and asks him for the latest burn down numbers.

He types the updates into the Skype chat window until Jane decides that he should update the document himself. She shares a link to the document saved on OneDrive for Business. She talks him through the edits in a voice over IP call through Skype for Business.

Jeffery opens the document on his laptop at the same time Jane has it open (from the same OneDrive location). She shows him where he can update the information and watches the Word document change in real time as he makes his edits. With the edits saved on One Drive, they end the call.

As Jane is driving to an offsite meeting she remembers another change that was needed. She opens the document on her iPad when she gets to the meeting location and quickly enters the change. During the meeting she recalls one last additional edit and opens the document on her Android phone. She scrolls down to the section that needs the additional information and makes the change. After saving the change, she continues with her meeting.

After her offsite meeting, Jane calls her key Stakeholder to discuss the report before sharing it with the rest of the Steering committee. She shares the OneDrive location via email with the Stakeholder and he makes a suggestion after reviewing the document.

Jane gets to the office and pulls the document up on her laptop to make the suggested change. The report is ready. Jane takes the final version from the OneDrive location and uploads it to the Project SharePoint Site where the steering committee views all project deliverables. She creates an email to the Steering Committee team, embeds the link to the document on the SharePoint Site and sends it off.

What the Future Holds

One of the key elements of a digital workplace strategy is enabling access to work related processes and documents on mobile devices. And as the scenario shows, Microsoft has made a significant commitment to enabling the Office 365 platform on mobile devices. 

Companies will continue to embrace the mobile technology that allows workers to engage from outside the office. The days of being chained to a cubicle are gone as the digital workplace continues to advance. Companies need to embrace this capability or risk being left in a non-competitive position. Armed with the digital competency to know how and with what device to collaborate, the “modern workplace” that Microsoft envisions can come to life.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License Title image by  Tanel Teemusk 

About the author

Bill Ryan

Bill Ryan is a Business Solutions Architect at Avanade, Inc. Bill is a seasoned technology professional with a passion for crafting business focused solutions with over 30 years of experience.