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We’re allowed back in the office…for now.  But here’s how to remain flexible and responsive when it comes to social distancing.

See how easy it is to provide Covid-secure desk booking for your workforce by using a pre-specified safe-distance that can be automatically applied to your floor plan based on the current social distancing guidelines.

In this short video you will see our auto-zoning capability in action, including:

  • How it works from the ‘end user perspective’, and
  • How it’s configured ‘behind the scenes’

See our room & desk booking solution in action!

Request a personalised full product demo

Scanning a QR code from your mobile device has become a familiar way to get contactless and convenient access to restaurant menus, registering your visit to a venue using the NHS COVID-19 App, ordering a meal in a restaurant and more.

Now you can harness the power of QR codes to book the office workspaces and other resources available to your workforce.

Using strategically placed QR codes on simple and low cost printed signs, labels on individual desks or on display screens located in corridors or foyers, you can enable contactless selection and booking of a range of resources with pre-applied criteria to make life as easy as possible:

  • Show all currently available hot desks in this area
  • List the video conferencing rooms available RIGHT NOW for at least an hour
  • Display available pool cars today
  • Pinpoint all accessible desks in this office on a map

These are just a few examples of the different resources and attributes you can give your workforce instant access to.

You can also use QR codes to:

  • Enable authenticated checking into a pre-booked workspace
  • Display information about current and upcoming bookings for a room of workspace
  • Avoid displaying booking information ‘in the clear’ on digital screens

OK, so there’s some behind the scenes magic involved.

You will need a resource booking system that supports this functionality, and that is where we can help with our enterprise booking systems.

Already using Microsoft resource mailboxes to book meeting rooms or workspaces via Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft 365?

Great.  You can now seamlessly extend this functionality and use QR signs to book the same Microsoft 365 resources from mobile devices on arrival to the office.

You can also use display screens outside meeting rooms, desk status devices and fully interactive maps to provide the ultimate flexibility for your new workspace management strategy.

Get in touch to find out more.

Modern workspace booking systems

Read more about our services to help your enterprise book, provision & manage its workplace for social distancing, shrinking office space & beyond.

Have you started getting excited about the coming holiday festivities?

Pre-COVID-19 in the Essential office we loved the festive season.

December 1st would be marked by putting up our funky corporate Christmas tree (black with blue lights) and each department would put up their own trimmings (naff tinsel and USB light strings).

Over the following weeks an array of edible goodies would pop up in strategic places; countless boxes of chocolates, Lidl stollen cakes, panettone, those little cheesy balls that come in canisters….

This year (like the last one) will of course be different.

Although I personally won’t miss the countless trips to the front door to intercept Amazon deliveries, and our waistlines will no doubt benefit, we will all miss the buzz and the opportunity to socialise in person over a mince pie or three.

So, this year we are attempting something new.

On the count-down to Christmas we will be using our SharePoint intranet to host a ‘virtual advent calendar’ and get everyone involved in a range of virtual festive activities.

This will start off on day 1 with a questionnaire in Microsoft Forms to make sure everyone’s involved and all the different ways we have of celebrating the holidays are represented.

Suggestions to get everyone’s festive thought juices going are:​

  • Polls: Best ever Holidays Movie/song
  • Debates: Sprouts: devil’s food or (pre)fab?
  • Christmas quiz (we’ll probably host this in Teams using breakout rooms to work in groups)
  • Fundraiser: Suggestions for this year’s Essential charity & pledges
  • Raffle: An opportunity to unload last year’s unwanted Xmas gifts to the highest bidder
  • Big & exciting project updates
  • Worst Xmas sweater day (schedule a get together on Teams)

Apart from helping ‘create the holiday buzz’, this exercise is useful for any enterprise that is looking towards its company intranet to support a remote and hybrid workforce.  Why?

It’s a great way to make your intranet a daily habit

As we wrote in our recent eBook, It doesn’t matter how well designed your SharePoint intranet is, if there’s never anything new for employees to engage with, they won’t come back.

This means it will fail as a way to provide much-needed information, corporate values, connections, training and context – especially to new hires.

Essential is just like any other company in that setting up an advent calendar on SharePoint will help us form the intranet habit – both for our workforce and, importantly, for the people that maintain it.

It’s also going to help the new recruits that have joined since March 2020 feel part of a bigger picture, familiarise them with our corporate personality, and encourage them to engage and participate in other programmes on offer.

It’s an opportunity to support your workforce

It may be too late to launch a full on advent calendar for your company, but there’s still time to ‘trim up’ your intranet with some holiday-themed graphics and content.

Also don’t forget that, as well as being fun, the holidays can be a stressful time and put pressure on us all.

Having an engaging and topical theme that captures folk’ attention is a great platform to ‘spotlight’ relevant learning and development content.  For example, resources that are relevant to mental and physical health and wellbeing issues.

Often such content is available, but can get ‘buried’ in a learning management system (LMS).

In short, getting departmental managers and the Learning and Development and HR departments to think about how they can make their training content topical and dynamic will help keep employees ‘coming back for more’, well into the New Year.

Digital Workplace Essentials

If you use Microsoft 365 and want to find out more about delivering learning ‘in the flow of work’, or modernising your SharePoint intranet, get in touch.

In the early days of corporate email communications, messaging was not viewed as a formal business record despite emails being more verbose compared to the average email in 2020.

Policies about the use and retention of messages generally did not exist because of the relaxed view of email in the workplace. If there was a corporate policy about email, it was usually to impose small quotas on mailboxes, erroneously believing that this would control storage growth and would mean that messages were deleted after a certain period.

All of this changed when email messages played significant roles in high-profile litigations, with the smoking gun being an email that was thought to have been deleted.

The corporate world soon realised that what they did not know could hurt them, and governments moved to pass legislation imposing regulatory compliance requirements for specific industries to keep records.

Journaling provides a “golden copy”

There are three reasons that you need journaling:

  1. Your organisation falls under legislation or one of the regulatory regimes that mandate it, and/or
  2. Your legal department says so
  3. You’re not sure Microsoft 365 will fully meet your email retention needs

It is common for legal teams to require email journaling because it offers them the option of conducting early data assessments in the event of claims. Legal teams can make an informed decision about whether to fight or settle the matter when they have a reliable, golden copy to explore early in the process.

Many legal teams find the cost of journaling and early data assessment to be far less than deciding to fight and later losing based on surprise email evidence.

Does Microsoft 365 solve my journaling needs?

The short answer: Partially.

Although you can configure journaling to take place in your Microsoft 365 messaging backbone, you cannot use Exchange Online mailboxes to provide the storage for your email journals.

You have to store your journals elsewhere.

As found in Microsoft’s documentation:

You can’t designate an Exchange Online mailbox as a journaling mailbox. You can deliver journal reports to an on-premises archiving system or a third-party archiving service. If you’re running an Exchange hybrid deployment with your mailboxes split between on-premises servers and Exchange Online, you can designate an on-premises mailbox as the journaling mailbox for your Exchange Online and on-premises mailboxes.”

Microsoft 365 journaling hacks

Arguably, by setting the right retention policies in Microsoft 365 you can recreate the ‘effect’ of having a journal – including capturing those emails that were ‘BCC’d’.  You can read more about the importance of capturing BCC’d emails (and how to do this in Microsoft 365) here.

It’s also possible to migrate your historic journals into Exchange Online.  This might involve migrating a journal from Exchange on-premises, a third-party archive such as Enterprise Vault, or a hosted journaling service such as Mimecast.

Whilst this is technically possible – for example, by taking an extremely large journal and chopping it up into smaller chunks that will fit into a series of Microsoft 365 shared mailboxes with appropriate use of retention policies –  this approach is a hack.

For example, it can create search and discovery complications downstream as, in order to be complete, all relevant shared folders would need to be included in any future eDiscovery exercise, alongside regular mailboxes.

You should test any retention and eDiscovery strategy to ensure it aligns with your legal and compliance requirements and that the hold, collection and eDiscovery workflows deliver the results you expect.

Journaling Microsoft 365 in the Cloud

Cloud-based journaling can work alongside Microsoft 365 to solve both the retention of legacy journal archives and the go-forward journaling for an ‘air-gapped’ golden copy.

Much like insurance – you never know when your organisation will need to pull data from old emails.  If you don’t have a journaling system in place you run the risk of lacking the information needed which can ultimately cost much more than implementing a proper journaling solution in the first place. That’s why preparing in advance is key to preventing unnecessary problems in the future.

If you haven’t started looking into email journaling, now is as good a time as any to start.

Migrating Email Journals

Find out about the range of journal options available to you.

The ability to automatically update Active Directory from its HR systems proved vital for this mining company in terms of improving its customer services

Whenever staff transferred roles, or went onto different support shifts, reflecting this change into the company’s messaging, email and ‘phone systems was dependent on manual updates.  Unsurprisingly, these updates lagged behind.

UnitySync was used to immediately publish any updates made into the company’s HR system into all key directory systems, including Active Directory.

The company now has both accurate staff information and staff roster information across all its directories.

So, for example, when a staff member changes role or location, this change is reflected on the same day in AD, and an email response can be made accordingly to customers emailing in.

Likewise, when someone goes off shift, their cross shift contact is automatically added to their alternate contact details.  E.g. “Brett Carson is off shift until the end of month; please contact Ben Green.”

According to Andrew Dugdell, Business Systems Manager at Kumtor Gold Company (KGC):

“There is now a greater confidence across the business that the information people now see in their iPhones and email is accurate, and manual data entry has all but been eliminated.”

Easy Directory Synchronisation Tool

Discover how you can synchronise Active Directory with HR databases and other data sources.

Are you planning a hybrid workspace that can withstand another set of COVID-19 restrictions?

Most of us can go back into the office now, but from speaking with lots of facilities managers recently, we know that being flexible, and able to respond to any Government guidance changes with ease, is essential.

With this in mind, here’s 5 top tips when it comes to labelling your desks and workspaces.

1. Walk the floor to ensure a logical numbering sequence

It’s tempting to use CAD diagrams as a reference when numbering workspaces, however in our experience these can quickly become out-of-date.  Desks can get informally ‘nudged’ around and added or removed over the years.

You may also find there’s glass partitions or dividers that give extra protection that are not obvious in a CAD diagram.

There could also be some ‘desire paths’ (as opposed to the originally intended walkways around the office).  These will need to be taken into consideration (or blocked off) to avoid traffic passing too close to desk occupants.

If possible, the best starting point is to physically walk the floor and number each desk as you encounter them.  This is the best way to ensure your staff can easily find the particular desk they’ve booked with minimal hunting around (see our next point).

2. Treat your workspaces like hotel rooms.

Emulating the convention that’s used to signpost hotel rooms will help your staff rapidly locate their workspace with the minimum of effort (and minimal criss-crossing the floor).

So:

  • As with hotel rooms, use the first number to indicate the floor, and the next digits to signify the workspace number.  This will help you avoid mix-ups where there are multiple desks numbered ’15’ on each of several floors.
    3 digits will give you up to 99 numbers to ‘play with’ per floor. If you have more than 99 desks on a floor, you will need to use 4 digits in total.
  • Numbers should be allocated logically and consistently within a ‘desk block’, to minimise the amount of walking around to find a desk.
  • Likewise, consider numbering your desks in a clockwise direction as you walk around the office floor, starting from the main entrance (e.g., the main lifts).  This means you can say: “Desks 1-50 are on the left, and 51-100 on the right-hand side of the floor” which will help maintain social distancing as your workforce tracks down their booked workspaces.
  • You may consider adding signage in strategic places (e.g. other entry points to the floor) to signpost desk ranges – exactly in the way hotel room ranges are indicated when you come out of the lift at a hotel.
  • If you have a large office floor and have introduced the concept of zones or neighbourhoods to help staff members find where they need to be, make sure these conventions are physically signed across your workspace (and not just used on your workspace booking system).
Tips for numbering your desks for a Covid-secure booking system
Best way to number your hot desks

The above example shows the right way and the wrong way to number your desks.

Our tip is to imagine you are walking along the floor using the main thoroughfares and following a logical flow.   How would you feel if desk 19 was on the other side of the floor from desk 16?  Confused, we think.

Finally, even if you just have one floor of desks, it’s useful to include a ‘0’ on your desk numbering, so count 001-099, not 1, 2, 3 up to 99, as some desk booking systems sort alphanumerically.

3. Number all potential desks (not just the safely spaced ones)

We have seen (and thankfully, averted) more than one project where the intention was to only allocate a consecutive number just to the ‘safely distanced’ desks.

For example:

The key downside to this approach is that social distancing requirements may change.

Even after we are now out of this lockdown, Sir Patrick Vallance indicated that additional measures may need to be re-introduced when we move into next Winter.   This could mean the wearing of masks, but also the increasing of social distancing measures in the office.

Also, if you use a workspace booking system you will have to change up your desk numbering accordingly.

By allocating a consecutive number to each potentially available desk on the outset, you won’t need to make any physical changes to your desk numbers at a later date.

Instead, you’ll just have to amend what’s bookable in your workspace management system.

By numbering each desk, you can also take advantage of auto-zoning technology.  To see this in action, check out this video.

As you’ll see in the video, when a user selects their preferred desk, adjacent desks are automatically ‘blocked out’ according to specified rules that can be applied across the board and updated as needed.

4. Prepare for something different altogether

With the home working genie fully out of the bottle, our physical office spaces will probably never be the same again.

Research carried out by Cisco indicates that 77% of larger organisations will adopt a more flexible working policy post pandemic.   It’s not surprising, therefore, to learn that 53% of organisations predicted a reduction in their future office space footprint.

Whilst turning half of your office space into a fully stocked bar (like high-end tonic maker Fever Tree) might not be an option, shrinking or re-organising your office space to reflect your predicted future utilisation, should be on the agenda now.

If there’s any silver lining to this situation, it’s that pre-pandemic, introducing a desk sharing scheme (often referred to as hot desking) tended to be an emotionally charged affair.  In short, staff were happy to be able to work from home but were not at all happy about losing their desk.

The Coronavirus has forced the situation, with workforce safety trumping desk ownership politics.

Given that ‘return to work round two’ could be a while off yet, enterprises like Fever Tree are taking action and re-mapping their office now.

Whilst a bar might be a popular attraction for your workforce, rearranging your office space to accommodate your future needs might be more realistic.

Figuring out what workspaces will be required going forward may need some analysis:

  • How many days in the week will staff typically want to visit the office?
  • Will staff want to come in for focus time? In which case, you may need to more quiet areas.
  • Is the main driver to meet with co-workers? If this is the case, you’ll need more smaller, collaborative areas?

It’s probably going to be a mix of both types, but the reality is, you may never return to a 1:1 ratio of desks to staff.

5. Physically label your workspaces!

This is the final piece of the jigsaw and avoids much confusion.

You’d be surprised at the number of clients we encounter that allocate numbers to desks and workspaces on their floor plans and resource lists, but omit to physically label up the actual workspaces themselves.

Labelling can be as simple as printing a number on a sticker and fixing it to the desk or screen.

Also, if your workspace booking system uses a check-in option that involves scanning a QR code, you can combine the number and the code on the same label.

We’ve recently encountered this rather neat solution which uses engraved disks.  You can simply send across a spreadsheet of workspace IDs and QR codes and the engraving company will do the rest.

Other clients have used simple labels.   You can read more about these options in this article.

Of course, you can always use more sophisticated options that include red/green status lights and RFID check in capability.

The key aim is to ensure your workforce know they have safely arrived at the correct workspace and that you as a company are able to register that fact and provide the necessary COVID-19 safety and capacity and workspace planning services ‘behind the scenes’.

Covid-secure workspace management

Read more about services to help your enterprise book, provision & manage your workplace for social distancing & beyond.

Why your organisation needs a great intranet: #2 Better Communication

One of the most important factors in communicating with a hybrid team is ensuring that information is communicated with everyone, wherever and whenever they are working.

Digital Workplaces for employees to create content, share knowledge, mind map, chat with colleagues and store or retrieve information quickly is key for any organisation looking to enable smarter working and create a digital culture.

Communications channels that work best are the ones that are two way. Not only should news, executive blogs and webinars feature in any solid communications plan but idea management and employee feedback to your executive team is equally important.

This short video features SharePoint intranet guru Sam Dolan and Clare Knight of Essential.

See our intranet solution in action!

Request a personalised full product demo

Why your organisation needs a great intranet: #1 Flexibility

A mighty intranet as a gateway to your Digital Workplace, boosts flexibility for your employee’s day to day tasks as well as the environment in which they are working.

It allows employees to connect anywhere, anytime on any device.

Importantly, it delivers the flexibility that’s conducive to achieving home/work life balance especially in today’s society where both worlds can be intertwined.

This short video features SharePoint intranet guru Sam Dolan and Clare Knight of Essential.

See our intranet solution in action!

Request a personalised full product demo

As COVID-19-related restrictions are slowly easing around the world, many businesses are preparing to return to the workplace.

However, the (as yet) unknown effects of emerging from lockdown and the ongoing threat of new variants conspire to make employees nervous about increasing their potential exposure by coming back into the office.

For those employees willing and able to consider returning to the workplace, businesses have a legal and ethical duty to create the safest possible work environment.

So how do you create a workplace that not only supports social distancing and keeps people healthy, but also reassures them that they’ll be safe when they come into the office?

This is where a workspace management solution can help.

Ensure socially distanced workspaces

Preventing staff from sitting cheek by jowl or clustering in meeting rooms is a challenge of slightly larger proportions, particularly if you’re dealing with limited floorspace.

Modern, configurable resource booking solutions can be very helpful in maximising the safe use of the facilities that you have, by:

  • Enabling employees to easily pre-book a workspace securely from any device or browser
  • Ensuring desks are never booked side-by-side unless there is sufficient spacing
  • Limiting meeting room occupancy
  • Repurposing meeting rooms as extra workspaces if necessary
  • Flagging desks with specific attributes like standing desks, accessible desks, multiple screens, multiple docking stations etc.

Pro tip: As you plan your seating assignment, having a future-proof numbering scheme is vital.

See also how technology can help with ensuring socially distanced steps in this video.

Throttle arrival and departure times

One of the easiest ways to do this is to stagger arrival, departure and break times.

This minimises the number of employees sharing lifts, stairwells and exits, and prevents overcrowding in ‘pause spaces’, and kitchens.

Depending on the size of your business, you may need to embrace shift work to achieve this.

Certainly, a booking solution can help switch up the time slots that can be booked to help avoid pinch points.

Apply strategic seating policies

Above and beyond safe distancing, it’s also a good idea to apply a few strategic seating policies via your resource booking solution.

For example:

  • Preventing critical employees from sitting in the same area together.  In the event of an outbreak, this will help an entire team needing to be quarantined at the same time.
  • Avoiding staff members booking the same workspace all the time.  As well as being a measure to prevent staff members from hogging resources, many organisations are seeing ‘hot desking’ as a way to improve cross-departmental collaboration and relationships (this will be the subject of another blog article).
  • Limiting the length of time a ‘scarce’ workspace can be used to give everyone a ‘fair share’.  A good example of this is a meeting room that has high-end VC equipment or other expensive resources.

Know who’s been in the office

Pre-booking workspaces, and then, on arrival, enforcing an authenticated (yet contactless) check-in to that workspace, is a great way of capturing accurate information on who’s been in the office.

See also section on visitors below.

Manage between-use cleaning

Sanitising workstations between users is vital to prevent the potential spread of infection. If you have cleaning staff on hand, consider using your resource booking tool to prevent successive bookings of the same desk, or enforce a short window between users to allow time for a deep clean.

If you don’t have a permanent cleaning team, a resource booking system can still help by reminding users to sanitise their workspace when they sign out of their desk for the day.

Track and trace potential infections

In the event that someone falls ill, your resource booking tool can be invaluable in tracking and tracing any potential infection chains with a complete record of every desk, meeting room and parking space that employee has used in recent days.

It’ll also be able to tell you who else used the same facilities or was seated near enough to potentially be at risk.

Enable booking of parking spaces

With infection rates still relatively high and new variants a constant risk, it’s likely that people will be wary of using public transport for the foreseeable future.

Just like with desks and meeting rooms, an automated resource-booking system can be invaluable in making the most of the parking space you have by:

  • Enabling ‘hot parking’ – assigning bays dynamically on a daily/weekly pre-booking basis
  • Staggering parking bays assigned to employees starting or leaving work at the same time
  • Returning bays to the parking pool if employees:
    • have not signed into their desk for the day (off sick or working remotely)
    • leave work early
    • are on leave
  • Keeping security informed of who is where, and when (including visitors)
  • Giving staff members that are worried about travelling by public transport peace of mind that they will have a safe place to park on arrival.

Keep visitors safe

Employees aren’t the only people you need to keep safe on your premises.

Visitor’s movements also need to be managed for social distancing reasons.

Consider using your resource booking tool to assign passes to restrict visitor numbers, pre-book meeting rooms and make appropriate parking available to ensure safe and easy entry and exit from your premises.

It’s also possible to make provision of visitor’s details a pre-requisite of organising an ‘external meeting’ to feed into your track and trace measures.

Educating visitors on safety protocol before arrival is also important – more on that in a bit.

We also like to recommend that our customers incorporate the presence of hand sanitisers and any traffic flow as part of their interactive workspace booking floor plans.  This will help reinforce the safety measures you have put in place and put minds at ease.

Prepare visitors prior to arrival

Visitors will also need to understand and abide by your health and safety rules while on your premises.  Again, you could use something like Microsoft Forms to achieve this, and:

  • Convey visitor procedures
  • Securely capture any pertinent personal details (subject to your pre-existing governance protocol)
  • Record consent to limit liability

Pro tip: Industries with more complex visitor protocol may prefer using LMS365 for its comprehensive training capabilities.

Conclusion

Returning to the workplace is going to be a challenging adjustment for many.  With the right tools and planning, however, we can ease that adjustment significantly, protect our most valuable assets (our people), and minimise the anxiety of returning employees.

You can reduce the costs and overheads of introducing COVID-19 safe provisions.

Perhaps even more importantly, we can begin the transformation to a new and better ‘normal’ that embraces the flexibility of the workplace of the future.

Covid-safe workspace booking

Read more about using resource booking and learning management tools to support a secure return to the office.

Essential has worked on some of the largest Public Folder migration projects in the world.  Here’s a few tips from our gurus:

A few years back you didn’t have an option to migrate your legacy public folders to Office 365 – in fact public folders on-premises were to be end-of-lifed.  SharePoint was initially tabled as an alternative, but this didn’t ‘wash’ with a lot of Microsoft customers because it didn’t offer the same functionality and was over-complicated.

Microsoft quickly changed its position (no doubt following uproar from lots of disgruntled customers) and now you can take advantage of modern public folders – a service that seems to be hanging together reasonably well and growing bigger in capacity all the time.  It’s now 100TB in total – it started out at 2.5 TB and then 50TB so it’s always worth checking here Exchange Online limits – Service Descriptions | Microsoft Docs!

As you might imagine, there are some caveats, clean-ups and other considerations that come into play if you want to make the move.

But first off, it’s worth getting a bit of background on the modern public folder construct:

The Modern Public Folder service is very different from the Public Folder database architecture you’ll already be familiar with.  It basically uses regular mailboxes that are automatically linked together and load-balanced (for Office 365) as your Public Folders grow in size.  Being regular mailboxes they also benefit from being part of data availability groups (DAGs) instead of having to undergo painful public folder replication.

Here’s how the modern public folder to Office 365 architecture works:

  • You kick off with a single, Primary Public Folder (PF) mailbox (which can grow up to 100GB in size)
  • Office 365 detects when a PF mailbox is approaching the 100GB limit and uses an auto-split feature that creates a linked Secondary PF ‘overspill’ mailbox.
  • As the next mailbox fills up, another PF mailbox is added and content is automatically re-balanced across all the mailboxes.
  • This expansion continues until you hit an overall limit (at the time of the last update to this article it is 1,000 public folder mailboxes and 100TB in a single Microsoft 365 tenancy).
    See this page for the latest info: https://technet.microsoft.com/library/exchange-online-limits(EXCHG.150).aspx
  • A PF hierarchy is maintained alongside the PF contents in the Primary mailbox.
  • This hierarchy is updated to reflect the new location of items as new PF mailboxes are added and as content gets ‘re-balanced’ across the available mailboxes.
  • Read-only copies of the PF hierarchy are also stored in each of the Secondary PF mailboxes and these are kept in sync with the Primary using Incremental Change Synchronisation (ICS).

The key thing to note that is that as far as users are concerned, although the Public Folder to Office 365 mail comprise multiple, ‘lashed together’ mailboxes, they can be viewed and navigated as a single, logical entity.

This is a really great PowerPoint by MVP Peter Schmidt that describes the whole thing in more detail:

https://www.slideshare.net/petsch/modern-public-folders

See also this Microsoft document for details: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/exchange/collaboration/public-folders/limits?view=exchserver-2019

Planning Your Migration

Can you migrate?

If you’ve already upgraded to Modern Public Folders on-premises (i.e. you’re using Exchange 2013 or above), Microsoft Office 365 does not currently offer a ‘native’ migration solution.

At the time of writing you will need to look to a third-party migration solution to help out.  If you don’t want to go down that route, the other option is to keep your PFs on-premises and access them from the cloud until Microsoft delivers a solution.

If you are using ‘old school’ PFs (aka legacy PFs) hosted on Exchange 2010 SP3 RU8 or later or Exchange 2007 SP3 RU15, Microsoft has a migration solution using batch migration scripts as described in this article:

https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dn874017(v=exchg.150).aspx.

You’ll need to run around 11 separate scripts in total (including a final synchronisation and switch – yes – it’s using MRS) which means it can be quite complicated to use.

Using a third-party tools can simplify the process. The tool from Binary Tree (now Quest) is interesting as it performs a two-way PF synchronisation between Exchange on-premises and Office 365.  This has the benefit that all users are able to continue to access up-to-date PF content regardless of where they are in the migration process – on-premises or in the Cloud.  You can also elect when you migrate yours PFs, as otherwise you would typically wait until you have migrated all your mailboxes into the Cloud.

There’s another neat tool that we offer that you might want to check out too.

If you’ve been archiving public folders in the past, for example, using Enterprise Vault, we can help you migrate archived public folders, and indeed regular PFs, to Office 365.

At a push you can also use PST files as a mechanism for uploading on-premises PFs into Office 365, but you need to know what you’re doing when it comes to splitting your PFs into ‘mailbox chunks’ (see below).

Do an Inventory and Have a Clean Up

Some of our customers store vital customer records in PFs.  They also have a lot of rubbish in them and migration is a great opportunity to do a sort out.

Start by doing an inventory of your PFs at a ‘high-level’, and get statistics such as size, item count, owners, permissions and last accessed dates.

In order to make solid and defensible decisions around whether content can be deleted prior to migration you’ll need to do a LOT of deeper digging, however gathering initial meta-data can give you some excellent pointers.  For example:

  • Removing empty and duplicate folders can be a quick fix.
  • Orphaned folders with an old last accessed date are a very obvious candidates for a clean up.
  • Knowing the owner of a PF (assuming it’s not ‘Administrator’) can help signpost who you need to contact in order to see if content can be disposed of.

As ever with records disposition decisions, seek to get the relevant data custodians to call the shots – don’t go it alone!

Bear in mind that a potential downside to deleting or excluding older/stale contents from your migration is that you could create an eDiscovery headache later. For example, an HR dispute may refer back to employment terms and conditions, pension fund arrangements, etc, that were published decades ago.

Analyse Your PFs for Potential Glitches

Given the inherent differences between the architecture of old PFs and Modern PFs, you’ll need to spend some time eliminating things that will upset the migration process. For example:

  • Check for stale permissions
  • Check there are no orphaned PF mail objects or duplicate PF objects in Active Directory
  • Check PF names – syntax errors in your legacy PF naming convention can cause problems. For example:
    • If the name of a PF contains a backslash () it will end up in the parent PF when migration occurs.
    • Trailing whitespaces within Mail enabled PFs and commas in the Alias field will also create synchronisation problems.
  • Check all mail enabled folders to see that they have the right proxy address.
  • If you have any forms, these need to be exported and re-imported into Office 365
  • If users have PF ‘favourites’, they will need to document these before you cut over, as they will disappear

Chunk Up Your Legacy Folders to Slot Nicely into the New Separate Mailboxes Model

As we said earlier in this article, Office 365 performs an auto-split and load-balancing function as PFs approach 100GB in size, but this process can take up to two weeks to complete.  This is not usually a problem when you are populating a PF during ‘normal use’, but when you’re in a midst of a wholesale migration, you’ll be chucking data into Office 365 PFs at a rate of knots, and Office 365 can’t recalibrate itself fast enough.

Common to all migration approaches, therefore, is the need to take the Office 365 PF size restriction of 100GB per mailbox into consideration and effectively run scripts to ‘chunk up’ your PFs into separate PFs that are less than 100GB in size before you start your move.  We suggest you check that your ‘chunks’ are split according to logical subfolders.

Don’t overlook that fact that some of the items in PFs may be archived, as this will not only impact how you do your migration, it will also impact your sizing analysis (as shortcuts to archived items can be a fraction of the actual item size).   Check the message class to do this – e.g. IPM.NOTE.EnterpriseVault.Shortcut

There are many other considerations to take on board to ensure the best outcome post-move, such ensuring optimum retrieval times by putting PFs in a geographic location that’s near to users that will be accessing it.  Ensuring the number of people accessing PFs is kept below 2,000 per mailbox is also recommended.

Post-move you’ll need to do lots of checking and you might also need to re-mail-enable mail-enabled PFs post migration as this attribute might not get migrated.

You can find other considerations here:  https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dn957481(v=exchg.160).aspx

Essential can help you with reviewing your public folders migration to Office 365, and can provide insights that include:

  • Storage Trending
  • Public Folders by Access Time (Tree View + List View)
  • Public Folders by Size (Tree View + List View)
  • Top 10 largest folders
  • Empty PFs
  • Top 25 Public Folder owners
  • Public Folders by Last Post

Let us migrate your Public Folders to Microsoft 365 (or elsewhere!)

We can simplify your Public Folder & Public Folder Archive migrations – or help you migrate to alternative platforms like Azure  Get in touch to discuss your options.

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