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

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.

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

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 two 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.

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?

Does Exchange Online in Microsoft 365 support journaling? The short answer: Partially.

You can indeed enable journaling in Microsoft 365 to capture that “golden copy” of particular users’ mail flow from Exchange Online mailboxes. However, the catch is that you cannot use Exchange Online mailboxes as the target for your journaling.

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

As for your legacy journal archives, residing in a third-party archive solution or on-premises Exchange Server, some organisations opt for migration of their journal archives into Exchange Online. The approach involves the use of migration software, such as TransVault, to “explode” the journal out to a mailbox per user in Exchange Online. On the surface, the approach seems to be ideal because you have Content Search, Core eDiscovery, and Advanced eDiscovery features in Microsoft 365.

There are some workarounds available for organisations that need to continue journaling their mail and want to achieve this in-place with Microsoft 365. However, these options are a hack as far as journaling goes because the mail flow is not technically journaled as an air-gapped golden copy. One option is the use of Preservation Locks for organisations that want to centralise on in-place Microsoft 365 for compliance and eDiscovery for SEC/FINRA/CFTC-compliant immutable WORM storage. The approach requires you to apply a retention period to your data, which may not be ideal for organisations whose journaling activity is motivated by a litigation strategy only. For legally-motived journaling requirements, Litigation Hold might suffice as a journaling replacement.

Cloud-based journaling alongside software-defined storage and cloud backup

Organisations may find that Microsoft 365 is not an ideal home for legacy and go-forward journaling because in-place features and hacks can impose downstream search and discovery complications. You should test any in-place strategy to ensure it aligns with your legal and compliance requirements and that the hold and collection workflows deliver the results you expect.

Cloud-based journaling, such as provided by HubStor, 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. TransVault has a direct integration with HubStor to intelligently migrate your legacy journal. And HubStor provides fully-managed, Azure-based SMTP journaling to reliably accept your journal feed from Microsoft 365 into an archive with discovery features for cases, searches, holds, and exports. While the use of a third-party archive will mean two places to search, there are numerous advantages, such as:

  1. Proper journal report handling for BCC search – The in-place methods of Microsoft 365 means that BCC’s only exist in the sender’s mailbox, which could be easily excluded from an eDiscovery search. However, if you create a journal rule in Microsoft 365, then the SMTP journaling feature will deliver a proper journal report, which exposes the full recipients list. HubStor will index this so that you can search sender and recipients, including BCC recipients, and even filter on whether or not messages have BCCs.
  2. Data sovereignty controls – Legal and compliance requirements can come with data sovereignty needs. HubStor’s single-tenant SaaS model gives you the convenient of a software service with the enterprise-grade flexibility and security to have a dedicated configuration that runs in an Azure region of your choice. HubStor can guarantee all aspects of its journaling solution to respect data sovereignty requirements, including the receipt, delivery, capture, ingestion, storage, and indexing of the data.
  3. Data management platform for your other backup and archive needs – The best way to make use of HubStor is to take advantage of the economies of scale provided by the platform and its subscription model. If you use HubStor for journaling and eDiscovery for messages only, it is generally price competitive above 750 users, and it is more price competitive the larger your organisation. However, even for smaller organisations, the platform includes features like software-defined storage to help you protect and manage file systems cloud tiering and NAS backup. HubStor’s recently launched Backup-as-a-Service (BaaS) for virtual machine environments such as VMware vSphere, Microsoft Hyper-V, and Systems Centre, which can simplify your data protection architecture and provide reliable cloud-based recovery and disaster preparedness at significantly less cost than incumbent backup products. Finally, you can satisfy requirements to protect your data in SaaS apps (Microsoft 365, Box, and Slack) and PaaS storage (AWS S3, Azure Blob, and Azure Files). Because of HubStor’s usage-based pricing model, adding any of these additional workloads to your single-tenant instance is only an incremental uptick in cost, giving you a unified SaaS solution for all things backup and archive while enabling you to reduce costs by eliminating legacy products and multiple vendors.

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.

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.

By using workspace more intensively and wisely we can reduce our use of buildings and thus our impact on the environment…

Sir Gus O’Donnell, former cabinet secretary and head of the Home Civil Service

Making the necessary changes that enable workforces to adapt to a shrinking office space – especially where that means adopting ‘non-territorial working’ – requires a multi-discipline strategy involving people, design and technology.

For example:

  • The personal benefits of working from home or having a shorter commute should be made clear as part of a hot-desking initiative – it has to be a two-way contract.
  • Office interiors should be designed to be more vibrant and flexible, with a variety of difference workspaces, storage options and fun areas for socialising – there should be compelling reasons to come into the office for team building.
  • Technology to help remove the stress of booking and finding free workspaces should be adopted.  The needs of other stakeholders such as the facilities management team also need to be addressed by whatever you choose.

If you use Office 365, the great news is that you already have the ideal platform on which to build and streamline resource booking and management.

The room booking benefits that Office 365 offers include:

1. A familiar Outlook & (increasingly familiar) Teams UI –These are the default collaboration and scheduling applications that are already embedded in users’ working practices.

2. Sophisticated calendaring – With Office 365 you have:

  • Support for shared calendars across co-workers
  • The ability to delegate calendar management to team members
  • Support for shared calendars across Outlook & Teams

4. Robust, centralised security –Your existing platform uses Windows auth and AD access rights/privileges to govern access and enable SSO.  This can be used to govern who can book what resource.

3. Advanced scheduling – Powerful tools like the Resource Booking and Scheduling Assistants and Cortana make it easy to find the right time for a group of people and coordinate schedules across multiple time zones.

5. Business continuity – Using regular Outlook calendar and other Microsoft-standard infrastructure means failover and protection against obsolescence is built-in.

6. A reasonably* robust room and resource booking model –You’re probably already using Microsoft’s native resource mailbox capability for booking rooms…

It therefore makes 100% sense that any solution you choose to streamline resource booking and management uses this functionality and doesn’t try to replicate it with a separately managed, secured and disjointed platform.

Available on-premises or in Microsoft Azure, our resource essentials solutions have been developed from the ground up to run in your Microsoft environment and leverage your existing investment in terms of user skills and infrastructure.

This means that issues like user learning curve, security, calendar privacy, delegate access, cross-time zone timings, integration with Microsoft conferencing, duplicate meetings, etc, are all non-issues.

Building directly onto your Office 365 platform we deliver:

  • Smart room and desk booking screens and devices for outside meeting rooms, receptions, lobbies, etc
  • Support for RFID badges and tags for on-screen authentication
  • The ability to book virtually any additional resources such as catering, special requests such as vegan & allergens, equipment, seating layouts
  • Facilities management dashboards for managing catering requests, rearranging meetings
  • Ability to strip meeting subjects out to avoid sensitive information being displayed on booking screens.
  • Management reporting including utilisation reports
  • *Fixing the shortcomings of native resource mailboxes, such as smarter handling of recurring meeting requests, a dashboard for FM/admin staff to manage and view all bookings, visitors, and much, much more.

 

See our room & desk booking solution in action

Discover how we can help you manage your meeting rooms & desk bookings in order to utilise your estates more effectively.

With the GDPR and other industry-specific regulations in full force, it’s not a good idea to take it on faith that your employees are up to date on their compliance responsibilities.

For a lot of organisations, it’s mandatory for employees to be regularly retrained on organisational codes of conduct and industry regulations or compliances. That can be a time-intensive and costly exercise using traditional training methods, and a monotonous chore for employees.

Thankfully, the increasing availability and adoption of Learning Management Systems (LMS) for corporate and compliance training, has made these issues far easier to overcome. We’re particular fans of Microsoft’s LMS365 for corporate and compliance training, let’s take a look at some general LMS benefits and why you should be using LMS365 for compliance training but first let’s outline what we will be covering in this article:

What is a Learning Management System?

A learning management system (LMS) is essentially a software application or platform that enables the creation, administration, delivery and tracking of eLearning or online training programs. Depending on which LMS you’re using, these programs can have varying degrees of integration into your existing environment. They can be completely standalone experiences or seamless components of daily workflows.

We are fond of Microsoft’s LMS365, find out more about our learning management software for the modern workplace.

Major benefits for corporate training

There are several benefits of LMSs over more traditional learning environments. One of the most obvious is that they are unaffected by time zones or geography and can accommodate a variety of learning styles and schedules.

Even more important for corporate applications, however, is the ability to deliver enterprise-wide training in an easy-to-manage, easy-to-track, and centrally managed way.

Targeted and scheduled training modules with completion reminders and comprehension tracking make it simple to monitor user progress and address any shortfalls quickly. Course content delivery that leverages gamification also encourages learner participation, and tight integration into existing work environments (available on platforms like LMS365) minimises “barriers to entry”.

It’s also very useful to be able to deliver training programmatically, making it possible to streamline and automate processes like onboarding new staff.

Find out more about how our LMS can benefit your compliance and procedure training needs.

What makes LMSs a great fit for compliance training, specifically?

When your company’s reputation and well-being is on the line, you don’t want to take chances on employees forgetting or neglecting their compliance training. However, ensuring everyone (organisation-wide) is up to date on their responsibilities isn’t easy – even if it is essential to prevent potentially expensive litigation. Learn more aboutdelivering collaborative learning.

Using an LMS helps overcome these challenges in a variety of ways:

Quick, easy course creation and roll-out

Most LMSs have intuitive course creation interfaces that make it easy to create – and adapt – courses as your corporate needs change. This is very useful in the compliance space, which is constantly evolving.

For example, Microsoft recently extended sensitivity labelling functionality to Office applications on Windows. Labelling can be a potent tool in an organisation’s compliance toolbox, but requires a fair amount of understanding and labelling expertise from users. Since labelling policies vary dramatically from business to business, standardised training is of little use. Using an LMS would make it relatively easy to build a custom course around your corporate labelling policies and help you make the most of this powerful, built-in functionality.

Flexible and Fun Course Content Delivery

Let’s face it, reading corporate policies and legalese isn’t anyone’s idea of fun. LMSs can help you deliver learning content through a variety of media and interactive learning activities. Implemented well, these can entice and incentivise employee engagement, making the whole experience more enjoyable for everyone involved.

Most LMSs also offer mobile device compatible training for participation on-the-go. The flexibility to engage whenever and wherever they learn best can have very positive effects on employee information retention and long-term outcomes.

Pro tip: Remote employees and mobile device use can increase a company’s risk of data breaches – make sure you secure these channels and provide adequate training on out-of-office safety protocol.

Automated Reminders and Notifications

With the help of an LMS, you can ensure compliance training is completed on time, every time, with convenient, customisable and trackable automated reminders and notifications.

Even better, some LMSs (like LMS365) let you tie training modules to activities that form part of a normal workday. For example, context-sensitive mini-modules or procedural reminders can be triggered when a user navigates to a specific SharePoint page. This is a great way to relate training to real-world applications and develop the right habits to ensure ongoing compliance.

Comprehensive Assessments and Reporting

LMS assessment and reporting capabilities tend to be extensive, including live tracking of engagement and completion, as well as automatic grading of performance.

Depending on your chosen system, your LMS may also be able to leverage advanced analytics to highlight specific trends and statistics from course modules. These can be integrated into business intelligence platforms to draw some very useful insights, including:

  • Learner engagement, timelines and completion levels
  • Performance on an individual and/or group level
  • Potential knowledge gaps that need further reinforcement or clarification
  • Areas in which course material could be adapted to better serve its purpose

Having access to this kind of comprehension-level reporting is particularly valuable in the compliance space. A lack of understanding can seriously hinder the adoption of new behaviours – a frequent requirement as legislation continues to evolve.

Auditable reports also help organisations prove due diligence in their compliance training remit, further minimising the risk of falling foul of legislation.

Easy Certification Management

For industries or organisations with mandatory certification requirements, keeping track of who has successfully completed what can be an ongoing headache. With the help of a good LMS, however, you can automate most of the certification management and retraining processes, including:

  • Tracking course completion and understanding
  • Enforcing regular retesting
  • Automatically updating procedural content to reflect latest corporate protocol

In which compliance areas can LMSs be of help?

LMSs are extraordinary tools for almost any type of education or training. When it comes to compliance, their application is particularly useful for organisations in financial services, law, healthcare etc. which have very specific compliance regulations. However, an LMS can be useful to virtually any organisation for training in the following areas.

The GDPR and other data protection legislation

Using an LMS to train employees on their role in safeguarding data makes it far easier to accommodate the evolving nature of this space. Periodic training updates can be actioned for a relatively low financial and time investment, and regular reminders can be triggered to reinforce good habits (such as securing company mobile phones and laptops).

LMSs also make it possible to track employee training and measure understanding to make sure users (both remote and in-office) are genuinely equipped to handle all relevant data-related situations. This reduces the risk of employee data breaches, for which employers may be held vicariously responsible (as in the case of UK supermarket company Morrisons). In these cases, an LMS’s comprehensive training records could also be of use in proving due diligence to strengthen an employer’s legal defence.

Pro tip: Your LMS also needs to be GDPR compliant, so make sure you’re using a reputable platform that conforms to international data privacy standards.

Health and safety

Mandatory health and safety training often comes at a high cost, and isn’t always as effective at minimising incidents as organisations may like. LMSs can offer a more effective way of driving the necessary knowledge home through engaging and flexible learning environments that encourage and incentivise learner participation.

They’re also able to track engagement and assess understanding to give employees the strongest possible foundation on which to build long-term behavioural change.

Information governance

The need to correctly label data items according to their sensitivity and data retention requirements is something that end users are becoming increasingly involved in.  Its processes tend to be a lot more nuanced (and frequently affected by technology advancements and updates) than other areas. This makes the flexibility of an LMS extremely valuable, particularly when using a platform that ties into your existing infrastructure and can trigger updates and policy reminders based on user activity.

Codes of conduct

Data breaches aren’t the only areas employees can be held vicariously liable for their employees’ conduct. Discrimination, bullying and harassment in the workplace can all have serious repercussions for employers as well. By providing training on appropriate workplace behaviour, anti-discrimination and equal opportunities policies, employers can demonstrate an active commitment to a non-toxic work environment and reduce their likelihood of liability.

An LMS can not only make this training easier to implement, update and monitor organisation-wide, it can also deliver content in a compelling manner that supports genuine understanding and drives real change.

Why introduce an LMS which uses existing technology to manage training

One of the biggest reasons we love LMS365 (apart from its great functionality) is because it integrates so seamlessly with the Office 365 environment.

Users don’t need to sign into a different learning platform to access their training or reminders. Instead, access management is aligned with their active directory entry. That means learning plans, courses, personal progress reports, certificates and more are all automatically accessible through completely familiar Office 365 channels.

That familiarity can make a big difference to user engagement and adoption.

Pro tip: LMS365 can also tap into Office 365’s productivity and social apps to add an element of friendly competition – or teamwork – to the training environment.

Choosing an LMS that integrates with your environment is about more than just learners’ user experience, however. It also makes the creation and administration of courses far easier. With LMS365 you can build, deploy, track and schedule everything relating to your training programme using Office, Outlook and SharePoint. No need for third-party web services or ongoing maintenance fees, and no integration costs.

Have you used (or considered) an LMS for compliance training? Leave a comment below and let us know the pros and cons that affected your experience or decision.

Learning management 365 solution

Manage compliance and all other training activities effectively with LMS365

Prior to Microsoft 365, enterprises were fully responsible for providing their own business continuity and data protection.

A multi-pronged, belt and braces approach for backup, that included the following elements, was typical:

  • Multiple backup copies written to physical storage disks or tapes
  • Use of secure offsite locations
  • Full & incremental backups
  • A regular cycle
  • Recovery testing

Along with the requisite backup hardware, procedures and people, most enterprises invested in third-party backup and recovery solutions to meet their Microsoft Office-specific needs, with value-add functionality that included:

  • Granularity down to individual message restores
  • Fast, touch-of-a-button restores

With the shift to Microsoft 365, the expectation is that failover, backup and recovery is ‘baked in’.

According to Essential’s CTO, Dave Kellett, however, “Organisations used to the sophistication on offer with third-party backup and restore solutions will be somewhat disappointed by what’s on offer from Microsoft.”

So let’s dig a bit deeper into what protection you are actually getting for your subscription fee.

1. It’s more about prevention & resiliency – not backup per se

There’s a raft of security services and ‘fail-safes’ on offer in the Microsoft 365 ecosystem to protect your data from malicious corruption and malicious (or inadvertent) deletion in the first place.

There’s also infrastructure services to protect the integrity of your data.

But nowhere does it say in Microsoft’s service descriptions: “We provide a guaranteed backup and recovery service”.

In fact, with respect to Exchange Online, Microsoft specifically states, “Although lagged database copies are used in Exchange Online, it is important to understand that they are not a guaranteed point-in-time backup.”

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/compliance/assurance/assurance-exchange-data-resiliency

So what should you know about Microsoft’s backup and recovery capability?

2. Restores by Microsoft are slow

As a base level of protection, Microsoft runs an automatic backup of your all your primary Office 365 apps (Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, OneDrive for Business, etc) every 12 hours, and keeps those backups for a period of 14 days.

In the event that all your in-place preventative measures fail, you can restore from backup by logging a call with the help desk, but this is a notoriously slow and inelegant process.

It could take up to 4 days for your system to be fully up and running again and this timescale may be unacceptable for your organisation.

Also, there’s a lack of granularity.  For example, with a SharePoint restore you can only restore at site collection level (unlike specialist backup solutions that go down to document level restores). This means there is a chance any work done by users since the last backup will be over-written, and this could include work carried out in the last 11 hours and 59 minutes.

To put it simply, Microsoft’s current backup system is ‘there’, but it arguably lacks the sophistication and service levels that you may be used to if you’ve previously experienced 3rd-party specialist solutions for on-premises environments.

3. Restores can be labour-intensive for you

We often hear tales from IT teams of spending hours helping staff recover from inadvertent data loss.  For example, constantly having to restore individual items to users OneDrive by using Microsoft’s eDiscovery tools to recover items from places like second-stage recycle bins and retention folders.

As well as proving to be a huge time sink, this also presents privacy issues as it requires giving the person doing the recovery access to the information those items contain.

Having a recovery capability that minimises intervention and indeed, enables a self-service approach to recovery where required, might prove valuable to your company.

4. There’s no guarantee

Another key aspect of the Microsoft backup service is that there are no guarantees around protection of your data. 

It’s worth reviewing your Microsoft Services Agreement and reading ‘the small print’ – specifically 6b.

Although this paragraph relates to service continuity, the recommendation from Microsoft to ultimately ‘be responsible for your own data’ is clear…..