my world of work and user experiences

June 30, 2021

If you have no governance in your Microsoft 365 environment…

Filed under: Governance — Tags: — frederique @ 23:05

If you have simply switched on Microsoft 365 without arranging for some well-considered governance, things tend to get messy. You could get a major security breach or lose important data. But even if no disaster occurs, you may still get a lot of confusion and unhappy users

Recently I talked about some things you should think about concerning the governance of Microsoft 365. That was inspired by the confusion and unhappiness I see at an organisation where they switched on Microsoft 365 and moved a lot of documents into SharePoint, to rescue them from an old file system that was falling apart.

There had not been time, money or sufficient interest from the business when IT had to take those actions. But then the users had to actually find their information in that new system, and they started to complain. Yes, the system is up and running, but to make it usable, it also needs more governance set up.

Here are 10 snags we hit when we have no proper governance.

1.We don’t know who can decide on the configuration.  

We hear many complaints that the main overview pages in SharePoint are useless. These complainers are perfectly right, because these pages have not been configured in any meaningful way. We want to address that, but we hit a snag: it is unclear who is responsible for these overview pages, so who can decide what should be on them? Just IT? Or people from the business? Some Change Advisory Board? With who in it? Same thing for other elements of the environment.

So you want to be clear on ownership: who should decide and who should you refer to when other users don’t agree.

2.People don’t know how strictly they need to conform and to what.

We have some Site Owners going wild in their sites, while others clamour for more consistency and best practices. It is not necessarily a problem if the department sites are all different and all Site Owners can do their own thing. But if that is how you want to set up (part of) your environment, that has to be clearly explained, so that people know what they can expect. And even then, you may want to put in some restrictions, so that they cannot include anything truly tricky. If you need more uniformity and consistency, what templates and settings do you want? And again: who decides on that?

So be clear about the rules: what templates should people use and what rules should they follow.

3.Important documents are not unique and clearly tagged.

We talked to some users who were getting desperate, because there seemed to be multiple copies of important documents. Which was the right one? Which was the officially published one? And where is it? Some documents are very hard to find, because they lack crucial metadata. For some documents, once they have been found, it is unclear what their status is. Is it a draft? Is it a copy for other purposes? Or is this the official version?

So you need to plan to keep the important data clean & clear. You not only need to explain to the users how important it is that they tag and store their documents properly, and how, but you also need to monitor and curate at least the set of important documentation.

4.Users cannot access information intended for them.

It turns out that important documents are locked up in a department site, while many others also need to consult those documents and are entitled to consult them. Just not permitted in SharePoint.

So you need to determine what kind of information belongs where and who should have access to it. For example, what belongs in a department site (or Team) only accessible to the members of that department, and what should be published to a more general documentation or knowledge site.

5.Users can edit information no longer intended for them.

In several sites, the right people have been given the right permissions. So far so good. But then some of these people got new roles in the organisation and others left. However, nobody changed their permissions in these sites or removed the people who should no longer be included. User management is not a one-off activity…

So you need to make sure access is managed regularly. Usually the Site Owners or Team Owners need to add and remove users to and from the right groups. For that purpose, you need an active Owner, and a deputy if the primary Owner is not available. But not too many Owners, because if everybody is responsible, nobody is responsible…

6.Self-service Team creation led to chaos.

At first, they had self-service Teams creation switched on, like everything had been switched on. That very quickly got out of hand, with all kinds of strange, overlapping and inappropriate Teams being created. So they switched that off. Now they are starting to allow the creation of Teams on request. But it is not clear yet how the Teams should relate to the existing SharePoint sites created from a specific site template.

So you need to determine who can create things like SharePoint sites and Microsoft Teams and how: via a request, based on a template, by adding a Team to a templated SharePoint site?

7.Users cannot get support.

If a user has a question or a request, what should he or she do? Call someone, enter a ticket in some system? The users grumble that they cannot not get any proper help, because the regular helpdesk does not know anything about Microsoft 365 and they do not know who else to contact. Very frustrating.

So you need to set up proper support and make sure that the people providing support are up to the task and stay up-to-speed.

8.The help materials are stranded.

We created and shared some training materials and we started to set up a Microsoft 365 Learning Pathways information portal. But then we had to stop, because it is unclear who is the owner: who decides how we should set up the portal, with information in which language about which elements of Microsoft 365 and with which custom additions about the specifics of the organisation? And who will keep it up-to-date? Could we start something like a ‘tip of the week’ or would it all die out as soon as the consultants left? Providing help materials is not a one-off activity.

So you need to plan how you will keep offering relevant and up-to-date help to your users.

9.We are getting drowned by Microsoft’s changes.

One thing we know for sure: Microsoft 365 keeps evolving, with new apps and improved features. We see that some users start experimenting with new options in ways that turn out to be unsafe. And we see other users get confused because functionality suddenly is different from last week.

So you need to plan how to go with the flow of Microsoft’s changes instead of drowning in them: monitor the changes, determine their impact on your organisation, determine if and how you want to activate and then manage them, communicate about them.  

10.People with good ideas feel like lone voices in the wilderness.

Now that people are starting to use SharePoint and Microsoft 365, some of them have interesting ideas for improvements. But how can they make themselves heard? How can these great suggestions be implemented? When we started to talk to people in the business, we not only got swamped in complaints, but also in ideas. However, I could only take note of them, because it still is unclear who can decide on the environment. This of course brings us back to point 1, that you really need to have clear ownership.

So you need clear ownership and a process for improvements. For example, people can request changes, discuss changes with key users, ask a change advisory board to decide on bigger changes, get budget and set up projects to realise big changes…

Fortunately, in this organisation the users and the business discovered that some governance had to be set up and improvements had to be made to the first set-up of Microsoft 365. Unfortunately, they discovered it by getting stuck in their daily work and then getting frustrated. But at least, they started the ball rolling…

May 31, 2021

Governance in Microsoft 365: what should we think about and why?

Filed under: Governance — Tags: — frederique @ 23:08

So you have Microsoft 365 up and running in your organisation. But have you also thought about its governance? The word Governance often conjures up visions of big, stuffy documents. But the point of governance is not to generate such documents, but to keep your environment up and running smoothly. So you need to ask yourself and answer some questions, as to how you want to do that. This is not a complete checklist, but rather a high-level sketch of the sort of things you should consider.

Your goals

You are rolling out or have rolled out Microsoft 365 for a reason. For example, you want to empower your employees, to collaborate, communicate and share knowledge effectively, efficiently and safely, offering them a smooth and convenient experience. To reach your goals, you not only need to set up your environment properly, but you also need to make sure that it keeps working properly.

So first of all, it it important to be aware of the reasons why you are using Microsoft 365. What are you trying to achieve?

Things keep changing

Things change, so need to keep up-to-speed and keep the environment up-to-date. This is the case for every system, but it is even more pressing for systems that live in the cloud, like Microsoft 365. How do you keep meeting your goals when everything keeps changing?

  • The user population changes: new colleagues arrives, others leave or get different roles.
    • How will you make sure the right people can do the right things, at all times?
    • And how do you deal with externals/guests who are not a member of your organisation?
  • The content changes: People are collaborating and communicating in the environment, that is the whole point. They keep adding, editing and deleting content.
    • How will you make sure that the users don’t get swamped in obsolete old content?
    • How do you strongly protect confidential information, while keeping keep less sensitive content easy to use?
    • And what actually is your confidential information, which “informational crown jewels” do you absolutely need to protect?
  • The application landscape changes: Microsoft adds applications to Microsoft 365 and improves existing applications. All the time.
    • How will you stay up-to-speed with what’s new & what’s hot in Microsoft 365?
    • And how do you determine which standard applications the end-users can use, now and in the near future? What should their default settings be?
    • What are your rules for custom applications?  In particular: who is allowed to create what kind of no-code/low-code solutions using Microsoft’s Power Platform?
  • Insights and needs change: When you started with Microsoft 365, you decided what goals you wanted to achieve and how you had to set up the environment to meet those goals. But once you start using the environment, you may get new insights. And even if you interpreted everything perfectly in the beginning, the actual needs may have changed. An obvious example was the massive need for online collaboration and communication that surged when the pandemic hit.
    • How do you gather feedback on how users like and use the environment, and what they are missing?
    • What’s the procedure for changing the environment? Who decides what to change? And how do you test what it will be like, before you launch it to everyone?
    • How do you make sure that the end-users know about, understand and adopt the evolving applications that are most relevant for them at this time?
    • How do you monitor what’s going on in your environment, so that you can take action when you are moving away from your goals?

These are some things you should consider. And while you are at it, write down what you decided. Not in a stuffy document, but in a Communication Site on the intranet, that users can easily check if they want to know how their environment is governed.

April 30, 2021

Teams Meetings are getting more and more user friendly

Filed under: Microsoft 365,New world of work — Tags: , — frederique @ 15:37

Nowadays, I spend a a large fraction of my week in Teams Meetings. I am meeting online with colleagues, clients and even fellow enthusiasts in non-work seminars. The meetings can be one-on-one, in small groups or in large groups. So I am happy that the tools to conduct such meetings keep improving, even though we all have to live through glitches sometimes.

Recently, Microsoft has added some options to Teams that I like: live reactions, dynamic view and PowerPoint live. Let’s take a look.

Live reactions

Especially in large meetings, with many people, live reactions are a nice way to give feedback in a compact but very visible way.

  • As an attendee, I like the way I can express my admiration, for example, without cluttering up the chat conversation.
  • And as a presenter, I like getting immediate feedback, even though I cannot keep an eye on the details of the chat. Then at least I know that my attendees haven’t all fallen asleep or left to grab some coffee.

Interestingly, the live reaction options only include positive sentiments. There is no button to shout “Boo!” Maybe Microsoft assumes that only great presenters will present in Teams, or that only charitable people attend them…

On the other hand, Microsoft used a different tool than Teams for the recent Ignite conference. There we did have a thumbs down icon for live reactions. Unfortunately, that button was placed right next to the switch for closed captioning. So in the discussion we saw a lot of questions why there were so many thumbs-down, and apologies from people who accidentally pressed that button. So maybe it is safer not to have a thumbs down option in Teams.

Dynamic view

In an online meeting, we often try to keep an eye on several things at once, including:

  • The information that is being presented. In my case, this is usually the desktop I share to show functionality, or a PowerPoint slide deck.
  • The video feed of the presenter. I am by no means a movie star, but I always switch on my webcam when I am presenting, because that makes my presentation more personal and easier to follow for the attendees.
  • Video feeds of other participants. When we attend a big meeting, we usually switch off all video feeds except the presenter’s, to avoid overloading the network and the tool. But in small-scale interactive meetings, seeing each other in the video feeds does make the discussion more lively and clear.
  • The chat, especially if it is not possible for (some of) the attendees to unmute their microphone and contribute directly. This is the case in large meetings, where this would result in a mess, but also in meetings with people that are in a very noisy room or – on the contrary – in a room where they are not allowed to make any noise speaking.

So it is important that all of the relevant elements are combined efficiently within the Teams meeting screen.

The Dynamic View that recently appeared in our tenant does just that, in a clearer and smarter way than before. For example, it displays the video feeds on the right hand side of the screen. Until you open the chat pane in that location, and then the video feeds move to the top of the screen.

The information that I want to share – the PowerPoint presentation or the demo – stays at the center of the stage. When I open the meeting up for discussion, I usually stop sharing, so that the video feeds take center stage and we can see each other more clearly during the discussion.

PowerPoint Live

In some meetings, I do most or all of my presentation with a PowerPoint slide deck. The interface for sharing a PowerPoint presentation in a Teams Meeting has been improved recently as well. It is called PowerPoint Live.

When I explicitly share a PowerPoint presentation in the Teams Meeting, the attendees see the slide I am talking about. But as the presenter, I also see my notes about that slide to the side, and thumbnails of the neighbouring slides at the bottom. And the thumbnails of the video feeds at the top. It is clear to me what is shared (namely: that slide), because it has the same red line around it as my screen has, when I share that.

One thing that does not work yet, in PowerPoint Live: animations to transition between slides and build up the elements on the slides. Sometimes the animations work, but most of the time everything gets dropped on the page all at once. When you backtrack, using the back button, the elements do disappear one by one, but I wanted them to appear one by one when I move forward. Oh well, it will be fixed soon, probably.


So the experience in our online meetings is improving all the time. Partly because we are getting better at them, but also because the tooling is getting better. We haven’t seen all of the improvements announced by Microsoft at Ignite in March yet, but we are seeing more and more of them. Hopefully more if the goodies will arrive soon, from What’s New in Microsoft Teams | Microsoft Ignite 2021.

March 31, 2021

Is it about the new tool?

Filed under: Adoption — Tags: , — frederique @ 23:42

In Microsoft 365 for example, we get new tools and new improvements regularly. Some people immediately get excited and start using them. But when we try to help innocent users to adopt the tools, we sometimes see challenges and obstacles that have nothing to do with the tool as such. So we will not overcome them by fixing the tool, and we need to stay aware of that. Here are some examples I encountered recently, when we organized a series of training sessions to introduce a new tool.

“Why didn’t we hear anything about this sooner?”

The IT department had set up SharePoint, to replace an old document management system that was falling apart. They did try to get buy-in from the main stakeholders in the business, but it was difficult to get any traction. So IT went ahead and implemented the new toolkit, before the old one died…

But most people in the organization did not know what was happening, why it was happening, what it would mean for them, how they would benefit et cetera. And when we started talking to them in the context of the training sessions that had been initiated, we got a lot of disgruntled response along the line of “why didn’t we know about this?”

So it is important to communicate early and often about developments. Not everyone will be interested, but they people who are interested will at least know about it. And then maybe you can get them onboard as key users or champions.

This is not about the tool, but about communication and engagement.

“You can’t ask us to join a training session when you haven’t finished the new environment”

The timing of when you communicate what, and when you train who, is delicate. One the one hand, you have people who want to learn soon what’s new and what’s hot. But on the other hand, you have plenty of people who do not want to be bothered by new stuff until it works perfectly and is completely finished.

The problem with waiting with your training initiatives until everything is finished, is that nowadays we have a continuously evolving environment. It is never finished. And it if you want to switch off the old system, the people have at least to be empowered to actually get their jobs done using the new system.

So it is key that you explain that they can already get serious benefits from the new system, even if it is not “finished”. And that they can really learn something useful in the training that you propose. They won’t learn everything in that session, but they will learn something worth their time.

This is not about the tool, but about encouraging people to be flexible and accept ongoing change. And about showing respect for the value of their time: don’t waste it.

“You did not involve me, so I won’t cooperate”

One of the teams was experiencing issues: they could not find files that were migrated from the old system into SharePoint. So they told IT about their problem and gave some nicely specific examples. Then IT started to investigate the problem and look for a solution: improving the search center, maybe the metadata need to be migrated in a different way. But they did not keep in touch with the team lead who provided the feedback about their progress and how to deal with the fact that some of the issues are .

As a result, when that team was scheduled to get some SharePoint training, they assumed that all of their problems would be addressed and solved in that session. Because otherwise, why invite them for training now? Unfortunately, that was not the case. The team lead did not actually say “you did not involve me, so I won’t cooperate”, but you could almost hear him think it… He wanted to cancel the training and stop everything. Fortunately, when we had a meeting with him and discussed with him what would be best for that team at this time, we determined together that it would be best to do the training session about the aspects that did already work.

So: go for the personal touch. Talk to people. Get them involved at an early stage or at least offer them the opportunity to get involved. Don’t just push a schedule at them. And don’t hide in your tech cave when you investigate someone’s issue, but keep in touch. Personal touch.

This is not about the tool, but about conversations.

“That is not applicable to us at all!”

We proposed training sessions to all teams in a certain business unit. We had created demo scenarios and exercises using examples from the main field that the business unit is working in. So we optimistically asked the team lead from the ‘minority domain’, if it would be ok to use those existing examples for their training too. The explanation would basically be the same after all. But it was absolutely out of the question to use the examples from the other domain! We saw a similar reaction from other departments: “we are different and the stuff that you did with the others does not apply to us”.

So: you do need to make communication and training as specific as you can. The people need see how it applies to their situation, or they will assume it is not applicable for them and stop paying attention. It does take more time to find examples and tips for every team, but it improves the adoption.

This is not about the tool, but about approaching people in their world. It is also about politics, and respecting the sense of ‘self’ of business units and departments that don’t want to be seen as just part of the ‘One Company’.

“Who will answer our questions after this session? I never get answers!”

People will have questions about any system, especially a new one. And they need to be able to get answers to those questions. They need to know who or how to ask their questions, and then there has to be someone who is actually willing and able to answer them. In most organization, this does not just “happen”. And unfortunately, in too many organizations I’ve seen that the follow-up after implementation of a new system is lacking.

So: make sure you have a proper support system in place. For example, key users in the business, and an accessible and competent helpdesk. Plus clear procedures and “buttons” to contact them. You really cannot skip this.

This is not about the tool, but about your support organization.

So yes, the tool should work properly of course. And preferably it should work excellently for the users. But it is not enough to offer a great tool. You really also need the rest.

February 28, 2021

Microsoft 365 Learning Pathways: some lessons learned

Filed under: Adoption,Microsoft 365 — frederique @ 23:59

Microsoft 365 offers a lot of applications that can help our users get their jobs done. But in order to take full advantage of the tooling, they need to understand what the possibilities are and how it all works. So we want to provide our users with an information portal, where they can find that out. But Microsoft 365 evolves all the time: new applications are added, existing applications are improved and expanded, new connections are added, tying these applications together. So how do we keep that information up-to-date?

We used to set up information portals and fill them with relevant content, but it is rather time-consuming to keep those up-to-date. It usually came down to one person managing the site. And when that one person leaves the company or gets another role, the information portal starts to fossilize…

Microsoft Learning Pathways helps us to outsource a lot of that work to Microsoft: they update the toolkit, and they update the information about the toolkit. See also Microsoft’s documentation Microsoft 365 learning pathways. I’m setting up Microsoft Learning Pathways for some clients, so let’s take a look at some lessons I learned when I got down it.

1.It is an information portal, rather than Learning Management System

When I started talking about Microsoft 365 Learning Pathways with HR people who are really in the learning business, they had expectations based in the name, that it would be a full Learning Management System, with courses, testing, tracking, certification and everything. It’s not.

Microsoft 365 Learning Pathways is more like an information portal, where you can find information about the applications and instructions on how to use them. Users consult the portal when they want to learn something.

So it went down a lot better when I called it an information portal. It actually is based on the Communication Site template, so it looks like the other information portals that we had in our environment.

Microsoft 365 Learning Pathways home page

Microsoft 365 Learning Pathways home page

2.The learning content is hierarchically structured with reusable assets

The content is organised in a structure that is mostly hierarchical, though the actual content can be used in different branches of that topic tree. The high-level structure is fixed, but we can add lower levels ourselves. 

The M365 Learning Pathways structure of Categories, Subcategories and Playlists

The M365 Learning Pathways structure of Categories, Subcategories and Playlists

  1. All of the information offered in Microsoft 365 Learning Pathways is organised in three main Categories for the end-usersGet started, Scenarios, ProductsPlus a category Adoption tools that is more geared towards Owners.
    We cannot add our own category.
  2. Within those Categories, we have Subcategories: the different scenarios and different products, like SharePoint.
    We can add our own Subcategories
    This hierarchy is strict: each Subcategory belongs to only one Category. 
  3. Within the Subcategories, we have Playlists. For example: Intro to SharePoint OnlineShare and sync with SharePoint. 
    We can add our own Playlists
    This hierarchy is strict: each Playlist belongs to only one Subcategory. We can create a copy of a Playlist to include it in another Subcategory though. 
  4. Within the Playlists, we have Assets. For example: What is SharePointFind and follow sites and news. The Assets contain the actual content
    We can add our own Assets.
    We can re-use an Asset in as many Playlists as we want.

The M365 Learning Pathways structure: the Playlists contain Assets.

The M365 Learning Pathways structure: the Playlists contain Assets.

3.The M365 Learning Pathways web part displays the content

What makes it the Learning Pathways instead of just a regular Communication site is the Learning Pathways web part that displays the actual learning content to the users.

As a user, you an browse the playlists: click on a playlist to open it and then browse the asset using the Next button or the pulldown menu.
Please note: we’ve experienced that not all users see that they can navigate through the playlist. So we have added a line of instruction at the top of the web part.

Browse the Assets in the Playlist using the Next button or the menu.

Browse the Assets in the Playlist using the Next button or the menu.

As the owner, you configure what you want to display on a particular page: the top level allowing the users to drill down the categories, subcategories and playlists. Or maybe a particular Playlist or even one Asset.

Configuring the M365 Learning Pathways web part to display the top level.

Configuring the M365 Learning Pathways web part to display the top level.

Configuring the M365 Learning Pathways web part to display a particular Playlist.

Configuring the M365 Learning Pathways web part to display a particular Playlist.

4.The Assets are bite-sized pieces of content stored elsewhere 

The Assets with the actual content consist of introductory videos and instruction videos of maximum a few minutes each, plus a short text version of the instructions. Some Assets are text only. By the way, the videos do not all have the same style: some have a voice-over, others do not talk but give their explanation in written text labels.  

Each Asset is a URL in the catalogue. Either in the portal, elsewhere in your Microsoft 365 environment or elsewhere on the internet. The standard content provided by Microsoft all lives on the internet, at 

5.The content gets updated quarterly by Microsoft 

Microsoft updates the content four times a year; they don’t have fixed dates. For example, they will announce a list of content updates next week during Ignite (March 4th 2021) via Driving Adoption – Microsoft Tech CommunitySo the information about new features does not become immediately available in Learning Pathways. We have to wait for the next update. 

When the content is updated, it gets streamed to our Learning Pathways automatically. Not need to pull it in, because the Microsoft’s content lives on their site. 

6.Standard Playlists don’t work for us, so we use custom Playlists 

You can use the standard Microsoft Playlists offers in the catalogue. However, we found that they did not work for us. Usually we want to add something, remove something, change the sort order, change a title. And you cannot change anything in a standard Playlist. 

So we create custom playlists, often starting from a copy of a standard Playlist. In a custom Playlist, you determine the details of the Playlist as a whole, like the title, the summary and the image. Please note: you can select the level and audience, but you cannot add any choices. That is a pity, because most audiences don’t make sense to innocent users. 

A custom Playlist, with some standard Assets and custom Assets.

A custom Playlist, with some standard Assets and custom Assets.

In the custom Playlist, you can search for and add existing Assets.  

Add existing Assets to the custom Playlist: standard Assets and custom Assets.

Add existing Assets to the custom Playlist: standard Assets and custom Assets.

Or you can add your own Assets: add a title and a URL, for example of a page created in the portal. The custom Assets are indicated with the people icon in the Playlist.

A custom Asset: a page created in the same portal.

A custom Asset: a page created in the same portal.

7.Microsoft has more Assets than you can find in the catalog 

I could not find everything I needed in the catalogue. Fortunately, Microsoft has more Assets online, so I did not have to create the content myself. 

So, yes: Microsoft 365 Learning Pathways is very helpful. But is not “automagically” providing us a learning portal that meet our needs with one push of the button. We still have to do some manual work. 

January 31, 2021

You can use breakout rooms in Teams Meetings. If you are careful

Filed under: Digital Workplace — Tags: — frederique @ 22:48

By the end of 2020, many of us were looking forward to the new option in Microsoft Teams Meetings, to split a large meeting into smaller breakout rooms. For brainstorming in small groups in online workshops, for deep-diving with subgroups, for doing joint exercises in an online training. We wanted the option and we got it! But we do need to be careful when we use breakout rooms, to avoid breaking our meeting experience. Let us take a look at the seven main steps of organising and managing a Teams Meeting with breakout rooms, and what you should be careful of.

1.Have the key organiser schedule the Teams Meeting

As always, we want to schedule all our Meeting meticulously: early to avoid calendar clashes, with a clear agenda explaining what we will do and why, invite the right people. By the way, you can invite external participants from outside your organisation to join a Teams Meeting with breakout rooms – nice! But we often determine the exact roles of the various presenters and moderators later. Not when you want to include breakout rooms!

Be careful: Only the organiser can set up and manage the breakout rooms, i.e. the person who scheduled the meeting. Being a presenter is not enough to see the breakout rooms option. So think carefully who should schedule the meeting…

I’ve had situation where a high-level manager scheduled the meeting, because that emphasised how important the meeting was. But then that high-level manager would have to create the breakout rooms and be present during the meeting, to assign participants to their rooms. Not good… So make sure that the person who will actually be in charge of the session schedules the session: the main moderator for example.

Be careful: I’m not entirely sure about breakout rooms in Channel Meetings. I like to organise meetings in a Teams Channel, to embed them within a Team that can provide more context. Especially for ongoing meetings for which we also share files and other information, and for big events that require a lot of work before and after the meeting. It looks like you can create breakout rooms in channel meetings at this time, but I have heard that there were problems with it and I haven’t tried this for real lately.

2.Create the rooms beforehand

Of course you’ll want to set up your breakout rooms beforehand, so that you don’t have to worry about that when your participants are requiring your attention after the meeting has started.

You cannot include the breakout rooms when you schedule the meeting. But you can open the Teams Meeting days before the event takes place and create the breakouts rooms early. And rename them, to make sense to your participants. These rooms and their new names stay available when you close the meeting and re-open it.

Be careful: You need to use the Teams app on your computer for this. The breakout rooms option is not available in the Teams Online version yet. Fortunately, I prefer the Windows app version of Teams anyway. But you do need to pay attention as a consultant, that you cannot run a breakout meeting for a client in a browser, while you have Teams conversations with colleagues of your own organisation in the Teams app on your computer.

Be careful: You may give the participants a pop-up to trigger them to enter the meeting early too, if you have already invited the participants. So consider setting up the breakout rooms first, and then invite the participants afterwards. And again: you can only do this, if you scheduled the Teams Meeting in the first place.

Teams-BreakoutRooms-Add and rename-ann

Open the Breakout Rooms from the main Meeting toolbar as the organiser. Add rooms and rename them via the usual ‘…’ ellipsis.

3.Assign participants

So who should participate in which breakout room? When you start setting up the breakout rooms, you can choose whether you want to assign the people automatically or manually to the rooms.

  • You can let Teams decide and assign them automatically to a random room.
  • Or assign the participants manually, to select the right mix of participants for each groups. For example, do you want to respect existing teams or mix them up and have a representative of each team in every breakout room? Mix experienced participants with newbies? Mix enthusiasts with seriously critical people? I usually like to select my groups manually. Ok, maybe that means I am a control freak… 🙂


Choose if you want to assign people automatically or manually to the breakout rooms, when you create the rooms.

Be careful: The choice between automatic or manual assignment to the rooms only appears in the beginning, when you start setting up the breakout rooms. At least, at this time there does not seem to be a way to change it. So think about it before you start creating your rooms. Made a mistake? You can delete the rooms and start again via the ‘…’ ellipsis of the breakout rooms > Recreate rooms.

Be careful: You can only assign participants who are the your Teams Meeting to a breakout room. So you cannot assign them beforehand, from the invitation. If you value the participants input, you can do it together: assign them on your shared screen  – as the organiser, because that is the only one who can assign anyone to a room. If you want to avoid that discussion, ask the organiser to assign the people to their rooms, while the presenter explains what we will do.


Assign selected participants to a selected breakout room.

4.Start the rooms

When you assign people to their breakout rooms, nothing happens yet. But as soon as you start the rooms, the participants move to their assigned room.

Open a specific breakout room or start all of your rooms.

Open a specific breakout room or start all of your rooms.

Be careful: Warn the participants before you open the breakout rooms, because less Teams-savvy users might freak out instead of break out… How do they get into the breakout room and what happens to the original meeting? Will there be a host to help them there or how can they get help? How will they get back? The default setting is that the participants are automatically moved to their rooms in 10 seconds. They get a message to that effect in the blue bar that appears at the top, but they need to understand what is happening before they get confronted by this automated move.

The participant gets a message that the breakout has started and she will be moved in 10 seconds.

The participant gets a message that the breakout has started and she will be moved in 10 seconds.

Be careful: There is a toggle settings to enable and disable the automatic transition of the participants to their breakout rooms. If it is switched off, they themselves will need to click a button to move to their room. I prefer the automatic move, especially in these early days when people are still unfamiliar with this functioanality. People may get left behind… So please check if the setting is correct, before you open the breakout rooms in an important meeting.

Change the settng to automatically move the participants to their rooms, or not.

Change the settng to automatically move the participants to their rooms, or not.

If the participants do not get moved into their rooms automatically, they need to click a button to join.

If the participants do not get moved into their rooms automatically, they need to click a button to join.

5.As the organiser, manage the breakout sessions

As the organiser, you are responsible for keeping the Teams Meeting as a whole, with its breakout rooms, on track. You may want to moderate one particular breakout room, and ask other presenters to moderate other rooms. Or you can leave the participants to it and take charge of their own breakout sessions. Because once everyone is in their breakout room, they have presenter premissions, so they can interact freely.

But from time to time, they may need your help. As the organiser, you can join any breakout room in your Meeting. Click in the ‘…’ ellipsis for that room and then select Join room.

As the organiser, you can join any of the breakout rooms.

As the organiser, you can join any of the breakout rooms.

Be careful: Make sure the participants know how to ask for your help. Asking the question in the chat of their breakout room will work nicely, but only if they remember to @-mention you, so that you are notified.

When the participants need attention in a breakout room, they can draw your attention by @-mentioning you in their chat. You will see it in your Teams.

When the participants need attention in a breakout room, they can draw your attention by @-mentioning you in their chat. You will see it in your Teams.

And as the organiser, you can post announcement to all of the breakout rooms at the same time, from the central settings of your breakout rooms panel: click the ‘…’ ellipsis and then select Make an announcement.

Be careful: You only have room for a single line of text in the announcement, so make it snappy! Don’t start explaining things in announcements, or provide detailed information. Aim for concise, practical reminders like “If you have a question, @-mention me in the chat”. Might be useful if they do know about @-mentioning but they forget to actually do it… Or: “You only have 5 minutes left!”. Because someone needs to keep an eye on the clock. Of course you should also tell everyone how much time they have before they dive into their breakout rooms, but that is just the same as in real-life breakout sessions.

Make an announcement to all breakout rooms. It will appear in their chat as an important message.

Make an announcement to all breakout rooms. It will appear in their chat as an important message.

6.Switch between the main meeting and the breakout rooms

When you enter a breakout room, you open a separate Teams Meeting, which is connected to the main Team Meeting you scheduled. When you open that breakout room meeting, you put your original main meeting On Hold. When you resume the main meeting, you put the breakout on hold for you.

When I joined the breakout called 'Test Room 1', I put the main meeting called 'Breaking out Test' on hold.

When I joined the breakout called ‘Test Room 1’, I put the main meeting called ‘Breaking out Test’ on hold.

Be careful: In the online version of Teams, the meetings are not clearly labelled. In the Teams client, your meetings are clearly labelled with the name of the original meeting. But the participants who join online need to be careful of where they are.

Be careful: Either avoid using the lobby or avoid the option to manually return to the main meeting. You can allow the participants to return from their breakout room back to the main meeting manually. This is not the default settings, but you can select it via the ‘…’ ellipsis of the breakout rooms in general > Rooms settings > Participants can return to the main meeting. But if you allow your participants to return to the main meeting from their breakout rooms, the people who had to be admitted from the lobby when you got started need to be readmitted from the lobby when they return using the Return button. And I have seen examples where the wires got crossed somehow: the external participant was stuck in the lobby and meeting pane of the organiser did not that participant in the lobby, so they had no way to let her in… Fortunately, you don’t have this problem when you don’t allow them to return manually – when you pull them back automatically when you close the breakout rooms, they don’t get stuck in the lobby.

Be careful: Avoid leaving and rejoining the meeting as the organiser. The participants may be able to continue in their breakout rooms after you have left. But when you rejoin and then close the rooms, the participants do not get back automatically. And when you try to reopen the rooms for the next round, the assignments have disappeared. At least, that’s what I experienced recently. So try to make it work by leaving the meeting with the breakouts on hold, while you join another meeting. Or even better: just stick with the meeting you organised for these breakouts and don’t try to multitask…

7.Get everyone back to the main meeting

When you want everyone to come back from their breakout rooms to the main meeting, for example because you want to get started with the next topic, you can close the breakout rooms: just click Close rooms in the breakout panel.

Close all breakout rooms with one button

Close all breakout rooms with one button

When you close the breakout rooms, the participants again get a message in the blue bar at the top: “This room will close in 10 seconds. You will be automatically moved back to the main meeting”. They also see in the chat that the organiser has removed them from the breakout meeting. And yes indeed, they do automatically get back to the main meeting, This even works for external participants joining in the online version of Teams.

The participant of the breakout room gets a message that this room with close in 10 seconds and that she will be moved back to the main meeting.

The participant of the breakout room gets a message that this room with close in 10 seconds and that she will be moved back to the main meeting.

And when you want everyone to move into their breakout rooms again for Round 2, just open the rooms again. This will transfer the participants back to their own breakout rooms, where they will find the chat that they had in the first round. It is like going back to the room where the blackboard is still filled with your scribblings…

So breakout rooms are not fully mature yet in Microsoft Teams. But we can already take advantage of the new functionality. If we are careful.
See also Microsoft’s announcement Breakout rooms generally available today in Microsoft Teams (december 2020) and instructions Use breakout rooms in Teams meetings.

December 31, 2020

Best wishes for a happy and healthy new year 2021

Filed under: Digital Workplace — frederique @ 18:25

I wish you all the very best for the new year: happiness, health, conviviality and whatever else you may need. I hope that we all will be able to travel again and meet face to face. And that we can keep the good things we learnt this year.

This year was quite strange, for me and for most of us, I think. Working from home not sporadically but systematically. Being locked down, which is similar to locked up but not quite the same fortunately. Meeting virtually instead of face-to-face.

I feel privileged, most of all because my nearest and dearest are doing fine.
And I have an apartment with sufficient space, peace & quiet and a nice view, so my home office is not bad at all. It complements my digital workspace nicely.
Also, in my consultancy job I can work remotely. Of course, it is better to discuss things face to face, for example in workshops, training sessions, and deep dive conversations. But for me, it is definitely possible to work online.

The funny thing is that when this all started, spring 2020 in my neighbourhood, I was involved in an adoption programme to help end users make the Microsoft 365 toolkit their own. These users all had Microsoft 365 at their disposal, but they were not really using the tools, like Microsoft Teams. In some of the training sessions, participants told me that they were always working together in the same office or at the same constructions site. So why was I going on about remote collaboration?

Well, that certainly changed! All of the sudden, everyone was working remotely. Or at least, everyone who was working primarily on a computer rather than actually laying the bricks at the construction site for example.

From that point onwards, the question no longer was why you would use tools like Microsoft Teams, but how to use them. If I were a cynic, I’d say a global pandemic is the best way to make people adopt the tools for working remotely…

Yes, people still prefer face to face meetings. But I hear quite often that they do see the advantages of, for example, online meetings. For a short meeting, you can save travel time by doing it online. The chat functionality and Yammer do allow you to ask a question without interrupting your colleagues quite a much as a phone call does, or you standing at their desk. When many or even some of us work from home, there are less traffic jams, and the air gets cleaner.

So it is good to know that there are online alternatives to face to face collaboration. Now we hope that we can soon get face to face alternatives to all of this online collaboration…


Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

November 30, 2020

How to organise executive meeting using Microsoft Teams

Filed under: Digital Workplace,Office365 — Tags: — frederique @ 23:09

Now that most of us are working from home and joining meetings remotely, we often discuss our best practices for online meetings. In our case that means: meetings in Microsoft Teams. A special case is the Executive Board meeting. For such meetings, the requirements more stringent than for the informal meetings that I have with my colleagues. In this article, you read how we set up those executive meetings.

Of course, the regular tips for online meetings also apply to executive meetings. So can also check out the 12 Practical tips for online meetings using Microsoft Teams and the 20 tips for presenting online.

But for the Executive Committee it is even more important that they can:

  • Join a secure meeting that others cannot access
  • Allow guests to join (part of) a meeting, without seeing the rest of information
  • Have a secure place to collect input for meetings
  • Have a secure place to store and collaborate on information
  • Quickly & easily find meeting documents for current and past meetings

The short version of what we advise is: set up a Team for the ExCo, plan the meetings in a channel of that Team, invite guests separately, ask the guests to upload their meeting documents in a separate library and enable the meeting lobby when you expect guests.

Now lets take a look in more detail….

1.Set up a Microsoft Teams environment for the ExCo

A Microsoft Teams environment is a great place to collaborate with a clearly defined team, like an Executive Committee. Only the members of that Executive Committee and the executive assistants are members of that Microsoft Teams, so only they can access the information shared within that Teams. Nobody else can see it. Actually, usually the assistants are the owners: they manage the Team.

In this Team, we include elements like: general information about the Team and instructions on the Teams meeting, an agenda topics list, a decision list, the OneNote notebook, and a Planner plan board to manage tasks.

Microsoft Team for the Executive Board, with details on how to join online meeting.

Microsoft Team for the Executive Board (a demo, Team to avoid leaking sensitive info), with details on how to join online meeting.

I know some executives are wary of a plan board in which tasks are assigned to them, but I have seen it work. The executives obviously did not have detailed tasks, because they delegate a lot, but they were responsible for high level actions. Most of them updated their tasks in the plan board before the next meeting, and the others did so after some prodding by the executive assistant.

The Planner plan board in the demo ExCo Board Tem.

The Planner plan board in the demo ExCo Board Tem.

2.Plan the meetings in a channel of the ExCo Team

Once you have set up a Team for the ExCo, you can organize the ExCo meetings in a channel of that Team. We usually create a channel called ‘ExCo Board meetings’ for that purpose. These are the advantages of setting up the meeting in a Team channel, instead of a regular meeting scheduled from Outlook.

  • Everything is in one place: before, during and after the meetings
    • All meeting files are in the same place, in the Files tab of the Team channel: this meeting as well as previous meetings.
    • The meeting chat remains available in the Team channel after the meeting.
    • The recording is available in the Team channel after the meeting.
    • You can use channel posts to have discussions or ask questions before and after the meeting.
    • Integration with Planner tasks and SharePoint lists like a decision list
    • The MS Teams meetings notes become part of the channel (in a tab). We actually don’t use the meeting notes option offered by the Teams meeting, but we use OneNote. We include that OneNote notebook in the Team channel.
  • Everything is secure: before, during and after the meetings.
    • Only Team members have access to the meeting content
    • New ExCo members have access to the meetings and all materials, as soon as you add them to the Team.
    • You have the option to invite guest participants without sharing the meeting files or chat

Note: Unfortunately, it is not possible at this time to organise a channel meeting on behalf of someone. Delegation still only works for meetings scheduled from Outlook for individual participants. That means that the Executive Assistant who schedules the meeting is the organiser. Fortunately, Microsoft will address this point, according to the User Voice item MS Teams meeting delegation. In the meantime, you may get by without delegation, because the invitations are sent in the name of the Team, not in the name of the assistant. And the assistants usually join these meetings anyway. Even if the assistant is not present, the executives all have presenter permissions, so they don’t need the organising assistant to get started with the meeting.

Schedule the meeting in Teams. Tip: first connect to the channel, before you configure the recurrence - otherwise you can no longer connect to the channel... Invite the guests separately.

Schedule the meeting in Teams. Tip: first connect to the channel, before you configure the recurrence – otherwise you can no longer connect to the channel… Invite the guests separately.

A Teams channel meeting as seen in my Outlook calendar: the invitation comes from the Team, not the organiser.

A Teams channel meeting as seen in your Outlook calendar: the invitation comes from the Team, not the organiser.

3.Invite guests separately

In the ExCo meetings I’ve seen, they often asked guests from elsewhere in the company to join part of the meeting, to present and discuss specific agenda topics. For example, somebody from HR to talk about an ambitious programme to find, hire and onboard new talent.

These guests are not part of the Executive Committee, so they are not members of the Microsoft Team for the ExCo. But you can invite them separately as individuals, in addition to the ExCo team members who are invited automatically via the connection to the Team channel.

If you invite the guest in this manner, they can join the meeting in a secure way:

  • The guests can
    • Join audio and video: hear & speak, see & show their video feed.
    • See the PowerPoint slides and desktop shared by others while they are in the meeting.
    • Present their topic: PowerPoint slides or share their desktop.
  • The guests CANNOT:
    • See the chat. So they cannot take a peak at what was discussed earlier
      (This is different from a regular Teams Meeting organised in Outlook, where they can see the entire chat).
    • Read the meeting notes.
    • Read the meeting documents, except when they are shown in the meeting at the time the guest is present.
    • View the recording afterwards, even if the find the address: they don’t have permission.

This is what a guest sees in a channel meeting, especially: no chat option.

This is what a guest sees in a channel meeting, especially: no chat option.

Please note: you can only invite guest from your organisation to a channel meeting. Not external guests from outside the organisation. In the cases that I have seen, the guests always had accounts from the organisation, because they were either regular employees or consultants provided with such accounts.

A table summarising what Team members, guests inside the organisation and guests outside the organisation can do in a Teams Meeting organised in a Teams channel or in Outlook

A table summarising what Team members, guests inside the organisation and guests outside the organisation can do in a Teams Meeting organised in a Teams channel or in Outlook. (click for the readable version). See also Roles in a Teams Meeting.

4.Ask the guests to upload their meeting documents in a separate library

The executives want to have the documents to pertaining to a meeting all in one place, so the executive assistant creates a folder for each meeting in the Files tab of the meeting channel. The ExCo Board members can simply upload their own meeting documents in that folder – it is just as easy as mailing them to the executive assistant.

The meeting documents are gathered in a folder per meeting, in the Files tab of the meeting channel.

The meeting documents are gathered in a folder per meeting, in the Files tab of the meeting channel.

However, guest invited to present a specific topic in a Board meeting do not have permission to see, let alone upload, files in that Teams library. So we set up a separate library in the Team, which we call the upload library. The assistants ask the guests to upload their file in there, with an email that offers them a direct link to that library.

Mail to a guest: please upload your meeting documents in the library - just follow the link.

Mail to a guest: please upload your meeting documents in the library – just follow the link.

We configure that library in such a way that all guests can upload their documents into the library, but they can only see their own documents. After all, other guests may be invited to different sections of the meeting, to discuss sensitive topics. So we configure the ‘Upload library’ as follows:

  • Add a separate library in the SharePoint site associated with the Team.
  • In the Library settings > Permissions for this document library, stop inheriting permissions from the site and give ‘Everyone except external users’ contribute permission on this library – ONLY this library.
  • In the Library settings > Versioning settings, switch on content approval and specify who should see draft items: Only users who can approve items (and the author of the item). Then the guests uploading their files cannot see the files uploaded by others.
  • The executive assistants set an ‘Alert Me’ on this library, so that they receive an e-mail notification when somebody uploads a file.

Then the executive assistants move the uploaded files to the meeting folder where the other document for that meeting are being gathered, so that all documents can be found in one place.

The executive assistant moves the documents uploaded by the guests to the meeting folder.

The executive assistant moves the documents uploaded by the guests to the meeting folder.

5.Enable the meeting lobby when you expect guests

The standard setting for meetings is usually that the participants can enter the meeting directly, without waiting in the lobby. The lobby is quite annoying for the regulars after all.

However, if you have invited guests, you may want them to join only for their own topic and NOT join the meeting for previous, sensitive topics. In that case, activate the lobby. The meeting organiser can do that before the meeting or during the meeting, after the regulars have already joined.

Changing the Meeting Options from inside the meeting, to activate the lobby.

Changing the Meeting Options from inside the meeting, to activate the lobby.

Please note: Only the meeting organiser can change the meeting settings to activate the lobby. So if an executive assistant has scheduled the meeting, he or she should activate the lobby.

So: in this manner you can help the executives collaborate and meeting in a safe and user-friendly way.

October 31, 2020

15 Tips for virtual classroom training with Microsoft Teams

Filed under: Digital Workplace,Office365 — Tags: — frederique @ 23:26

Now that we cannot conduct a classroom training in an actual classroom, due to the threat of COVID-19, we do our training in a virtual classroom in Microsoft Teams. Actually, this is also a valid alternative after the pandemic, because it can save a lot of travel time. But how can we ensure that the training participants learn something for real in this virtual classroom? Here are 15 tips for things you should to do before, during and after the virtual training session.

Of course there are other ways of learning in the virtual world instead of classroom training sessions, like instruction videos and self-paced e-learning modules. But in this article we focus on virtual classroom training, where a group of participants can learn together, interactively. We use classroom training particularly in scenarios where a shared experience is important. For example, in a department that starts working in a new way with Microsoft 365, where the employees not only want to learn how they should use the tools to get their jobs done but also want to discuss how to apply the tools in their team and how it will change their way of working.

A virtual classroom training session is a special case of a virtual presentation. So these 20 Tips for presenting online also apply.

Before: Set up the training and invite the participants

1.Plan the training in the right set-up

How you should set it up, depends on the type of training your envision. For example, if you aim for a large-scale presentation, you can set up a Teams Live Event, where the presenters tell their story and show their demos, while the attendees can only ask questions via the Q&A panel.

However, if you want to conduct an interactive training, set it up as a Teams Meeting with few restrictions as to who can present and use their microphones. And most of all: keep the group small. Technically speaking, you can squeeze 250 people into your virtual classroom. But if you want to allow for real interaction, keep the group to 10 – 20 participants at most.

We used to organise training sessions that would take an entire day or an entire morning. In the virtual world, we split them into sessions of at most 2 hours, because video conferencing it is more tiring. Don’t forget to plan for a short break after an hour, if not more often.

2.Set up a training environment

For your training, you need more than just a meeting room. Even when I conducted real-life classroom training, I set up a training environment in Microsoft Teams: a Training Team where we could share information before, during and after the actual training session. Not only from the trainers to the participants, but also the other way around and amongst the participants themselves.

We did a training programme for different departments, with sessions on different themes. To facilitate this, we created a Training Team for each department and in that Team set up a channel for each training on a different theme. In each channel, we had information about that training, conversations, shared files and notes.

A Training Team for a training programme on Office 365, with a channel for each training theme.

A Training Team for a training programme on Office 365, with a channel for each training theme.

3.Set up your physical and hardware environment carefully

In the real world classroom training, we had to make sure that there were enough chairs in the room and that the screen/beamer was working. In the virtual world, the set-up is like the one we need for virtual meetings. Only for a serious training, you may need to pay even more attention to your set-up than for an information get together with your colleagues. See for more details: 20 Tips for presenting online.

Use a good microphone, like a decent headset, and put your webcam at the right height and angle.

Use a good microphone, like a decent headset, and put your webcam at the right height and angle.

4.When you invite the participants, explain how it works

For any training, you’ll want to make sure you invite the participants plenty of time in advance and state what they will learn in that training. What is different in the virtual world, is that you may need to explain how the participants can actually enter the virtual classroom. Not everyone is sufficiently familiar with Microsoft Teams Meetings…

Include brief instructions in the invitation (“Click on the Join Teams Meeting”) and provide a link to a more detailed help page / user manual with full instructions including screenshots. And I offer to help anyone who cannot figure out how it works following these instructions, to schedule a practice run with them so that they can try it out before the important training session begins.

We also invite them to the Training Team, and explain that they can find all the relevant information in there. We schedule the meeting as a Teams Meeting in the appropriate channel, so that the chat of the meeting and its recording automatically become available in the Training Team afterwards.

5.Ask input beforehand

In order to finetune your training, ask your participants for input. For example, do they have experience with MS Teams Meetings? Or: which version of Windows do you have, so that you can pick the right demo laptop? For this purpose, you can use a poll in the Training Team. You easily create a poll in the Team conversation: in a new conversation, click the … ellipsis, select Forms and enter your questions and answer options.
Note: if you select the checkbox that the poll should be anonymous, it really is anonymous. In the past, the author of the poll could see the names of the voters, but that has been fixed now.

Create a poll in the conversation of the Training Team.

Create a poll in the conversation of the Training Team.


During: Deliver the training

You conduct the training inside a Microsoft Teams Meeting, instead of real world classroom.

6. Share the right content

As the trainer, you tell your story, presenting for example a PowerPoint slide deck and a demo. In the real world classroom, you had the presentation and demo on the big screen and you were standing next to it. In the virtual world, you need to determine how you want to share your content in your Teams Meeting.

You can share a specific PowerPoint presentation. The advantage for you, as the presenter, is that you see the video thumbnails of the participants when you share your presentation in this way.
Please note: by default, the participants can browse through your PowerPoint by themselves. If you want them to stay with you, click the eye icon to block them from clicking through the slides.

Sharing a specific PowerPoint presentation. Click the eye icon to stop the participants from browsing through your slides on their own.

Sharing a specific PowerPoint presentation. Click the eye icon to stop the participants from browsing through your slides on their own.

Sharing a specific PowerPoint presentation is less practical when you want to switch between the PowerPoint presentation and one or more demos. For that scenario, sharing an entire screen, and everything on it, works better. I tend to show a lot of demos in my training sessions, usually in different apps, so I share my screen: screen 2, and I keep screen 1 for my own notes and application I don’t want to show at that time. However, when I do a bit of PowerPoint and switch PowerPoint to its presentation mode on the shared screen, I no longer see the video thumbnails or the chat or anything like that. So I depend on my moderator to keep an eye on the participants.

Share an entire screen, I have two screens, and I share the second screen.

Share an entire screen, I have two screens, and I share the second screen.

7. Avoid a monologue and use your video to make your presentation more lively

In a virtual classroom, it is more difficult to keep the participants’ attention. So make sure the participants don’t fall asleep listening to you drone on. It helps if the moderator breaks up the monologue: relay questions that were asked in the chat, add remarks with an example from their experience etc.

It also helps if you leave your video feed on and the participants can see you talk. You are not a robot after all.
Please note: be careful with the spotlight functionality. If you really want to look the participants in they eye and talk to them, you can put a spotlight on yourself. But that means that your ‘talking head’ replaces the screen you are sharing in the spotlight. The participants can find the shared screen in the row of thumbnails at the bottom of the screen and click on it to get it back. But I have often heard participants get confused by this. So be careful.

Later this year Microsoft will gives us an option to transpose your video feed onto our presentation. That will make your story look more personal.

Display your video feed on top of your presentation in a Team Meeting [Microsoft screenshot]

We will be able to transpose our video feed on top of our presentation (by the end of 2020; Microsoft screenshot)

8.Facilitate the conversation

In an interactive training session, conversation is key. So if you can trust your participants to behave, do not restrict their access to their microphones. In my training sessions I could fortunately trust my participants to mute their microphone when they were not talking and to refrain from talking over each other.

Ask the participants to raise their hand when they want to talk; the moderator can give them the floor by just telling them to go ahead and unmute. Please note that either the participant or the moderator should lower the hand after the participant has started talking – I often see ‘old hands’, which are still raised to flag an earlier question.

The participants can also ask questions or make remarks in the chat. If it is a simple question, the moderator can answer in the chat. This is the best way to ask and answer practical questions that don’t concern all of the participants and would interrupt the flow of the presentation (“where can I find the slides”, “I have to leave early”, “How can I access the demo environment”). More interesting, complex questions should be asked in the main presentation via the microphone. The moderator can do that, if the participant cannot unmute for some reason.

9.Use polls and quizzes to interact with the participants

From time to time, shake things up and do something different. For example, ask the participants to vote on a poll or do a quiz. At this time, you can for example create a poll in Microsoft Forms, allow the participants to scan a QR-code or click a link to open it, and share the Forms page with the result in the session.

Allow the participants to open the poll via a link or QR-code and then vote on the poll. Show the results via your shared screen.

Allow the participants to open the poll via a link or QR-code and then vote on the poll. Show the results via your shared screen.

Later this year, we will also get poll functionality inside Teams Meetings; these seem to be the same polls we can already create in a Teams conversation. The new poll functionality will allow us to set up polls before the meeting and then launch them at the right moment inside the Teams Meeting. For such polls, the participants to not have to scan any QR-code or navigation to some other location in any way.

Set up polls inside the Teams Meeting and launch them at the right time inside the meeting (by the end of 2020)

Set up polls inside the Teams Meeting and launch them at the right time inside the meeting (by the end of 2020; Microsoft screenshot)

You can also make a more fancy poll or quiz, that give the audience more of a ‘wow’ factor. A Kahoot quiz for example is quite playful, with music, colours and pictures. Please note: Kahoot quizzes and third party poll apps do not live inside your tenant. So if security is strict in your organisation, you are not allowed to use these third party apps.

Create a Kahoot challenge, with questions and multiple choice answers. The participants who has the best answers and the quickest response wins.

Create a Kahoot challenge, with questions and multiple choice answers. The participants who has the best answers and the quickest response wins.

10. Let the participants do exercises in breakout rooms

For me, what distinguishes a training session from a presentation, is that the participants are able to try it for themselves: do exercises in a safe playground environment. I like to let my participants do these exercises in couples, two by two, so that they can explore together and learn from each other.

In the real world classroom, they would sit together at a table. In the digital world, I give them a digital room where they are in charge: they can talk, share a screen with each other, take a minute to grab a coffee. And they can ask me to join them in their digital room if they have a question, by @-mentioning me in the chat of the main meeting or in their own meeting; the @-mention is key! We did this as ‘Meet now’ meetings in the channel or in separate exercise team channel meetings in the Training Team. But soon we will get official breakout rooms functionality in Teams Meetings! It is expected by the end of 2020.

With these breakout rooms, you can assign the participants to a breakout room beforehand. When the exercise time starts, you can open the breakout rooms and move everyone into their assigned breakout room automatically. As the trainer, you can hop between these rooms and post announcements to all rooms (“We have 5 minutes left”). When the exercise time finishes, you close the breakout rooms and everybody gets moved back into the main meeting automatically.

Breakout rooms in a Teams meeting, for brainstorming in sub-groups for instance [Microsoft screenshot]

Breakout rooms in a Teams meeting, to do exercises in small groups (by the end of 2020; Microsoft screenshot)

After: Collect feedback and keep in touch

Learning should not stop after your training session…

11.Get feedback

After the training, you want to collect feedback on what went well and what needs to be improved. You can ask for quick feedback in a poll or more elaborate feedback in a survey. Microsoft Forms can facilitate both.

Offer a QR-code and link at the end of the session, so that people can give their feedback right away. But also provide it in the Training Team, for participants who have to run at the end of the session and want to consider their answer more carefully. You can include the survey in a tab in the Training Team.

A Microsoft Forms survey to collect feedback after the training, included in a tab of the Training Team.

A Microsoft Forms survey to collect feedback after the training, included in a tab of the Training Team.

12.Launch a quiz

Do you want to check if the participants learned anything in your training? You can create a quiz in Microsoft Forms. If this is an informal quiz, you can just make it available after the training in a tab of the Training Team and ask the participants to take it. For an informal quiz, it does not matter that the participant looks the answer up; what matters is that they go through the material and think about it.

Create a quiz in Microsoft Forms. You can indicate the right answer and explain what is wrong with the other answers.

Create a quiz in Microsoft Forms. You can indicate the right answer and explain what is wrong with the other answers.

If you need more of a formal exam, you have to guard against cheating. So you cannot let the participants take the quiz in their own time: they should do it during the Teams Meeting, with their camera and microphone switched on to monitor them. And in Windows 10 there is a ‘Take a test’ app that clears their clipboards and disables the participants’ access to the outside world. In MS Forms, you can sort the questions randomly and shuffle the options in the multiple choice. Fortunately, I never had to organise real exams for my trainings…

13.Share all relevant information with the participants

Make the latest version of your materials available via the Training Team in MS Teams, so that the participants can check back. Did you make a recording? That can be found in the Training Team too. A recording of the central ‘auditorium’ part of your training can be useful; the decentral exercises, not so much.

If you have an information portal with more information about the training topic, promote that everywhere: tell the participants during the training where it is and link to it from the Training Team, in a tab, in an announcement in the Posts, in the information tab…

14.Get back to ‘parked’ questions

Were there any question that you could not answer straight away during the training session? I usually ‘park’ those in the OneNote notebook associated with the Training Team. Do not forget to get back to those questions afterwards! Answer the question in the conversation of the Training Team, @-mentioning the person who asked the question.

15.Invite the participants to the knowledge sharing community

The participants may have new questions when they start working in the new way. They may find interesting new solutions. The toolkit will evolve. So it is very helpful if they keep in touch after the training, in a knowledge sharing community.

We had a community in Yammer. Everyone could join, but we specifically invited the training participants, because they were clearly part of the target audience.

So yes, you can organise and conduct virtual classroom trainings in Microsoft Teams, and you will even get more options by the end of 2020. A virtual training mirrors the real life classroom training, but you do need to prepare it specifically as a virtual training and test everything thoroughly. We don’t have to stop learning and we don’t have to stop training people just because we have to work from home…

September 30, 2020

My Top 5 from Microsoft Ignite

Filed under: Office365 — Tags: , , , , — frederique @ 23:53

Microsoft Ignite was fully digital this year and anyone could register. Nice. And fortunately I had some time to attend quite a bit of it, because there were a lot of interesting sessions. Here are my favourites. Not my favourite features or announcements, because there were too many of them, but my favourite themes addressed at Ignite. My top 5, not necessarily in order of importance.

1.Project Cortex with the new Microsoft SharePoint Syntex

At Ignite, Microsoft announced the first product of Project Cortex: SharePoint Syntex. It’s a tool to automatically “understand” content and categorize it, in order to better process, enrich and reuse it.

The example we saw in a demo was on contracts: You train a no-code AI model to identify key data in the contract documents, like the stakeholders and money involved.

Demo of SharePoint Syntex: The AI model analyses selected contracts

SharePoint Syntex: The AI model analyses selected contracts (Screenshot of the demo)

Syntex then extracts that information into metadata, which you can then use to get a better overview of your contracts, slice & dice the collection and automate where needed.

Syntex demo: Key information extracted from the contracts by the AI model is put into metadata.

Syntex: Key information extracted from the contracts by the AI model is put into metadata (Screenshot of the demo).

See also Announcing SharePoint Syntex

I can’t wait for the other elements of Project Cortex to become available as well, like knowledge management ..

2.Yammer for knowledge sharing

Talking about knowledge, the preferred about for informal knowledge sharing was and still is Yammer: it is definitely alive and improving.

In Yammer, the capabilities for questions and answers are beefed up. You can tag your post as a question, which makes it more visible and allows everyone to find it by filtering the posts. And then you can pinpoint good answers to these questions: upvote answers and tag the best answer. This helps us to distill knowledge from the informal conversations.

Microsoft screenshot: You can upvote answers to questions

You can upvote answers to questions (Microsoft screenshot)

We will get new topic functionality: the #hastag 2.0… These topics help to manage knowledge within Yammer more systematically: each topic will have a topic pages with a summary and an overview of all posts on that topic across Yammer. An improved version of what happens now when you click on a hashtag. In a Yammer community, you also see the most popular topics within that community.

And yes these topics will be connected to the Project Cortex knowledge topics: you see the Cortex topic card inside Yammer when you hover over the term. And the other way around: on the Cortex knowledge topic page, you’ll get a feed from the Yammer topic .

Combination of Microsoft screenshots: On a Yammer topic page, you can also get the topic card from Project Cortex.

On a Yammer topic page, you can also get the topic card from Project Cortex (Combination of Microsoft screenshots).

See also Microsoft’s What’s new for Yammer at Microsoft Ignite 2020.

But knowledge sharing is not the only thing that we can do in Yammer…

3.The new intranet: SharePoint + Yammer + Teams

Employee communication and engagement used to happen in a SharePoint intranet. But the “new intranet experience” takes place in an integrated conglomerate of SharePoint AND Yammer AND Teams. They’re better together!

One of the things my users ask for, is a clear homepage or ‘start page’, with an overview of what’s important and a place to start working. In SharePoint, the starting point is the ‘Home site’. People work in Teams all day can soon also take advantage of that starting point: the Home site will become available as an app in Teams. So you don’t have to leave Teams to get this start page.

The SharePoint Home Site as an app in Teams, including the new global navigation (Microsoft screenshot)

The SharePoint Home Site as an app in Teams, including the new global navigation (Microsoft screenshot)

We will also get such a starting point at the level of Teams channels: a ‘start pane’ or info pane that tells especially new team members what this channel is about: the description, active members, pinned posts.

Another big challenge is getting important news to the right people. Quite a few options were announced to help with that. In SharePoint, we will be able to boost news for a specified time or until the news has been viewed enough. And people can receive in their email a digest, generated by AI, of the news articles they have not read yet. You can share the news to a selected Yammer community, to notify more people – there is the integration again.

You can boost a SharePoint news article and share it to a Yammer community (Combination of Microsoft screenshots)

You can boost a SharePoint news article and share it to a Yammer community (Combination of Microsoft screenshots)

In Yammer, you can also draw attention to important posts, by tagging them as a featured conversion, posting them as a priority announcement and pinning them to the top of the community. Ok, of course the news publisher will have to restrain themselves and not push everything as a top priority featured boosted pinned to the top of everything. But at least we will have the options.

Priority announcements in Yammer send notifications (Microsoft screenshot)

Priority announcements in Yammer send notifications
(Microsoft screenshot)

Some more integrations: the search of Teams and Yammer will be integrated with the SharePoint search, so it will function as one “intranet” or rather: one digital workplace. And the Yammer notifications will also appear in the Teams activity feed, because more and more people will “live” in Team for most of their day.

See also Innovations for workplace communications and employee engagement in Microsoft 365.

4.Improvements in Teams Meetings?

Talking about Teams, Microsoft Teams is also our foremost app for online meetings. There are improvements in the collaborative meetings that help the participants to find what they need more easily. For example a meeting recap appears in your agenda after the meeting: the initial meeting details are hidden and links to available materials appear, such as the recording, transcript, notes, presentation, whatever there is.

Also, Microsoft will bring Teams Meetings (which are now mostly used for small-scale collaborative meetings) together with Teams Live Events (which are used for large-scale virtual broadcasting events): they will beef up Teams Meetings with capabilities that allow for such big events. Later, Live Events will probably be replaced. Not yet, but soon they will take several steps in this direction. For example, Teams Meetings will allow for webinar registration and reporting.

A new option that will be especially useful for big presentation is the custom layout: your video transposed on your presentation.

Display your video feed on top of your presentation in a Team Meeting (Microsoft screenshot)

And we will soon get breakout rooms in Teams Meetings: meetings from the main meeting, for example, for small brainstorm breakout sessions in a big conference. Everything associated to a breakout room is only for the people in that meeting room, but presenters can hop between rooms and announce to all rooms. And when the separate brainstorming breakouts are finished, the presenter closes the rooms to bring everyone back to the main meeting.

Breakout rooms in a Teams meeting, for brainstorming in sub-groups for instance (Microsoft screenshot)

Breakout rooms in a Teams meeting, for brainstorming in sub-groups for instance (Microsoft screenshot)

See also What’s New in Microsoft Teams | Microsoft Ignite 2020.

5.Focus on the well-being of ourselves and our planet?

Ok, so this last one is not a killer app for me. Quite the opposite in a sense. It was just but nice to see a big focus in Ignite on keeping us alive & well… You can’t treat people like machines; it is not just about efficiency. People also need time for recovery and help to perform their best and stimulate their ingenuity. The graph helps with data, Teams with collaboration tools.

The Insights app in Teams helps to protect our time and close our day with a virtual commute, now that we don’t have a physical commute to transition from our ‘work self’ to our ‘private self’. Microsoft now even has a partnership with a meditation company, which results in a meditation app in Teams.

Give your mind a break with a virtual commute or meditation (Demo screenshot)

Give your mind a break with a virtual commute or meditation (Demo screenshot)

See also Microsoft’s Introducing insights in Teams to power wellbeing and productivity.

In addition to that focus on our personal well-being, we saw a lot about Microsoft’s efforts to keep our planet healthy. We had already seen that Microsoft takes Important new steps on our path to be carbon negative by 2030 and Microsoft commits to achieve ‘zero waste’ goals by 2030. Now we also heard that Microsoft will replenish more water than it consumes by 2030. Good stuff!


Speaking of good stuff, you can get an overview of the announcements in the Ignite 2020 Book of News. And the recordings still are available at

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