Helping you adopt & adapt the Microsoft Modern Workplace & Azure Cloud for your business

The ‘need for speed’ has always been essential in today’s highly competitive world, and the pandemic has called for even greater pace and agility on the part of businesses as they fight to adapt – and hopefully thrive – in these challenging times.

Just before Christmas a leading UK estate agent went live with its Microsoft Teams-based learning management system (LMS 365) from Essential.

Keeping its staff up-to-date on safety guidance and other changes in the housing market was vital, and speed was ‘of the essence’.

Up & running in 4 weeks (*or less) with LMS 365

For this particular customer it took just over 4 week to progress from ‘solution selection’ to rolling out their first training courses to their 1,800+ workforce with our learning management software.

A big contributor to their rapid deployment was the fact that the LMS we work with is specifically developed to run in the Microsoft Teams (pr SharePoint)| environment.  This significantly accelerates the job of setting up learners and managing content and access, with services that include:

  • Learner enrolment to courses according to existing AD groups
  • Access management & content protection according to already defined security policies
  • Support for SharePoint hub sites enabling connection of related content & common search, navigation & branding
  • Super-easy set-up of existing training content, including SCORM

The ‘not so good’ news …

The bad news (for us, at least) is that this particular customer intends to switch to a different LMS that is part of a much bigger all-encompassing ERP solution at a later date.

They confessed to this on the outset.  Their explanation was that the timelines involved rolling out their originally planned ERP system were much longer than the HR & Learning team wanted to wait….and they needed to get going with training asap.

This is the beauty of on-demand, software as a service and pay-as-you-go licensing.

The other factor that made this ‘throw away’ strategy possible was that the investment on the part of their workforce in getting to grips with LMS365 would be minimal.  This is down to the fact that LMS365 presents itself as a seamless extension to an existing Teams and SharePoint environment.

I guess their rationale is that a pain-free adoption will make moving to a new LMS in the future less of an ordeal for end users.  Easy come, easy go, if you will.

Our LMS team secretly thinks that they’ll get on with it so well, they’ll want to stick with it in the long run….we’ll watch with interest.

Related subjects:

To find out more about the benefits of delivering your learning management system in Teams & SharePoint, get in touch>.

* We are working on another project right now for a recruitment agency that will roll out within 2 weeks of purchase.  Other recent projects have run at 18, 22, 30 an 35 days from purchase to implementation. Projects typically commence within a week, installation within 2 weeks and training within week 3.

Are you, like many organisations, looking at how you can replace your previously ‘in person’ training with an on-line service?

The technology we have available in platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams video conferencing makes the delivery of content relatively easy.

And, let’s face it, video conferencing removes many of the costs and logistical headaches normally associated with getting a bunch of delegates together:  There’s no hotels and travel to book, no catering, no social outings or icebreakers to orchestrate…

Recently I helped a law firm convert some ‘in-person’ course work into an ‘eLearning format’ hosted on Microsoft Teams, but I came a bit unstuck at the part where course delegates needed to split into smaller groups to work through an example case.  Whilst it is possible to ‘fudge it’ using Teams channels, it isn’t ideal and takes a lot of preparation as you will see in this Microsoft article.

Microsoft Teams Breakout Rooms to the rescue!

Now rolled out, this Teams feature is designed to support exactly the scenario where you need to split out and reconvene a training session (and many other scenarios, such as team building and brainstorming) using virtual breakout rooms.

Once the breakout rooms are started, the organiser (or tutor) can virtually leap from room to room to check in on progress and provide assistance (delegates have the ability to get their ‘tutors’ attention via private chat or specifically requesting them to join).  Up to 50 virtual rooms can be created – which sounds exhausting.

At the end of the allotted time (you can set a countdown timer and send a ‘5 minutes left’ message), the organiser can also close the virtual rooms and ‘pull’ everyone back into the main room.

There’s a good ‘blow by blow’ description of how to use breakout rooms here, but before you get going, here’s just a few tips to bear in mind based on my work with breakout rooms so far:

A few top tips

1. Have an idea ‘up front’ who you want to be in each team

In the first release* you can’t pre-configure your breakout rooms and who’s going to go in them.  You can only do this once you’ve started your first meeting. 

So the first bit of advice here is that if you want to be in control of who goes into what team (for example, you want to ‘mix up abilities’), have a rough plan as to how you’re going to split folk out in advance.  

For example, if you have clear-cut learning ‘tracks’ (a great example is where you might want to deep dive into ‘sales’ or ‘technical’ content in a conference), it’s a good idea to have all the relevant names grouped accordingly, ready to refer to.

Otherwise your delegates are going to be sitting, watching you peer at your screen and scratching your head for a long time whilst you pick and choose your breakout team members.

By all means, if you don’t care who’s in what team, you can automatically assign delegates – you just need to specify how many rooms you want.

By default, your rooms are numbered 1,2,3 etc but it’s a good idea to assigned names that are descriptive or ‘fun’, and as in ‘real life’, getting delegates to choose their ‘group name can be part of an icebreaker session.

2. Get any documents for your teams ready in advance

Each virtual room can be used to share files, whiteboards, etc. and the individuals involved can connect and follow-up after the meetings, and access all the resources worked on.  This includes the ability for the groups to present the outcomes of their breakout sessions to the rest of the team, when everyone is reconvened.

Again – to avoid waiting around, have your individual ‘handout’ documents in a folder on your desktop or in OneDrive ready before the meeting commences.  Once the rooms are assigned will need to add your documents into the individual breakout room chats (after which the participants in that ‘room’ will be able to work collaboratively with the file(s) in question).

Note that you won’t be able to upload the same file for use in different breakout rooms (Teams will tell you that the file is already in use).  You’ll have to create separate copies.

Also you can’t drag and drop a folder of files – you’ll need to move individual files.

3. Practice in advance

It might seem easy when you read the instructions, but as with Teams Live Events, you’ll need at least a few dummy runs with ‘tame’ colleagues to become proficient.  Note that you’ll need a minimum of 5 participants on a call (otherwise the breakout rooms feature won’t be available to you).

Also setting expectations to delegates on the call is important, otherwise the experience ‘on the receiving end’ can be confusing.  To help with this, it’s a good idea to have someone in each breakout room that knows what’s going on and can advise the rest of the team accordingly.

Will features like this in Teams ever get to replace classroom training?

In short, no.  But until the time we can get back to classroom-based scenarios, we need to make it work for us.  Also I predict we will see a lot more blended or ‘hybrid’ training, which combines distance course work with in-person sessions.

The good news is that there’s lots more features to come in Teams that can be used to transform how training can be delivered to your workforce.

Along with the other recently-introduced Teams features such as the ability to view meeting participants in a shared background (as though they’re in the same room), live transcriptions (including who said what) and better powers for the meeting organiser and presenters when it comes to muting delegates, Microsoft is working hard to make your virtual workforce feel better-connected and better-supported.

For more details on breakout rooms, this video is a great resource.  Fast forward to minute 13:30 for information on future enhancements when it comes to managing breakout room members and inviting the different presenters that might be involved in delivering content for each ‘room’ or ‘track’.

If you are planning to deliver remote training to your workforce and would like to find out how we can help ‘boost’ the capability of Teams, with services that include converting and migrating legacy training content, tracking how well-engaged delegates are with the content you deliver (e.g. compliance training and automated on-boarding for new starts) and providing a great Netflix style learning content experience that leverages Teams collaboration, get in touch.

*You can track enhancements to the breakout rooms feature here.

Motivate, re-train, track progress:

Discover how your enterprise can build on native SharePoint & Teams collaboration capability to create a learning academy for your remote workforce

The mute story so far

As a Teams meeting participant, the mute button has proved to be a pretty useful feature during lockdown to mask out the various screaming baby/dog barking at the Amazon delivery guy/cheese-and-Marmite-toastie-munching interruptions.

And, it’s comforting to know, that if you have gone ‘on mute’ but later need to chip in with your two-penneth’s, there’s an AI feature that automatically detects that we’re talking mainly to the dog to remind us to unmute.

If you’re using Microsoft Teams as a training platform, however, the power of the mute button for role of the teacher has been sadly lacking.

So, for example, did you know that anyone can mute anyone else in a regular Teams call?    If there’s more than 3 meeting on a call, you’ll see a ‘Mute All’ button.  You can also mute individual participants ‘at will’.

As you might imagine, many a student has played this prank on their lecturer or fellow students in a Teams-based lesson, if only to alleviate the boredom of lock-down.

Additionally, even though the meeting organiser can mute all when they start the meeting to as to avoid late-comers disturbing a meeting in full flow, participants have always had the option of unmuting themselves whenever they wanted to.

Coming soon to a Microsoft Tenant near you

Initially rolled out to the Edu sector, and being generally rolled out through September/October 2020, there is a new ‘Hard Audio Mute’ feature that will give you the ultimate power to get folk to shut up.

This is how to set it up.

  1. You start by creating your Teams meeting and inviting the attendees:

Teams Mute Button

2. Next, you Edit your Teams meeting, where you get to see your original meeting details along with a new ‘Meeting Options’ link:

Teams Mute Button

3. The meeting options now include an option called ‘Allow attendees to unmute’:

Teams Mute Button

4. The other thing you’ll need to consider is who, besides yourself, needs to be able to present on the call (as presenters, by definition, need to be able to speak!).  In our example here, it’s just me:

Teams Mute Button

5. Attendees joining this meeting will now not be able to unmute themselves – like poor Charles here!

Teams Mute Button

6. His unmute option will be greyed out, and he will need to ‘raise his hand’ when he wants to speak (I love the power).Only myself as the meeting organiser (or a meeting presenter if I had specified any) can enable him to talk to the rest of the team.  To do this, I will need to raise Charlie’s status to ‘presenter’.Once I’ve made a presenter, he’ll be able to unmute himself and start shouting at me:

Make presenter in Microsoft Teams Mute Button

7. Once I’ve let him have his say, I can set him back to an attendee to make him permanently muted again:

Make attendee in Microsoft Teams Mute Button

So there you have it!  The Teams platform is being enhanced all the time and the fact that it is widely used in the education sector is a huge influence when it comes to enhancing it for the purpose of collaborative training.  Watch this space for more functionality.

The Teams platform

Read more about making the most of Teams for your learning management & training

To be honest, in light of the current home-working situation we thought that managing the booking of meeting rooms and hot desks would be the last thing on the agenda.

It turns out that some customers are now using our resource management solution to optimise their usage of video conferencing services.

If you weren’t already using Microsoft Teams before COVID-19 took hold, and are now relying on services like WebEx, GoToMeeting and Zoom, you may well have purchased a ‘limited host’ licence subscription. That is, where you pay so much per ‘meeting host’ per month.

With everyone now scrambling to use this resource to communicate with co-workers and clients, it’s easy to run out of host licences quickly, but buying a host licence for everyone in your organisation might not be viable.

Our customer Tindall Riley, the management company behind 5 insurance businesses, is now using Resource Central to optimise its ‘pool’ of available Zoom host licences by making them a bookable resource. This means their workforce can pre-book a Zoom host licence as and when they need it.

 

Optimising Use of Limited Video Conferencing Licences

If you’d like to find out more on how to use this service in Resource Central, get in touch.