blog.frederique.harmsze.nl my world of work and user experiences

July 31, 2021

What about the firstline workers?

Filed under: Digital Workplace,Microsoft 365 — Tags: , — frederique @ 22:40

These days, we are all doing our best to provide employees with a great digital workplace, so that they can work from anywhere. This has been particularly important during the pandemic, when many of us worked from home. But of course this is only true for the knowledge workers or office employees. Firstline workers or frontline workers do real life jobs, which they cannot do from home. And they hardly get any attention when it comes to the digital transformation.

What do we mean by firstline workers

I am not trying to give a watertight definition of firstline workers, or frontline workers as they are also called. But basically, they are the people who in many organizations do the real work, in the real world. As opposed to the people who work on a computer all day.

Microsoft says: “Frontline workers are employees whose primary function is to work directly with customers or the general public providing services, support, and selling products, or employees directly involved in the manufacturing and distribution of products or services.”

So firstline workers are, for example:

  • In retail, the cashiers and people on the shop floor, whose job it is to help the customers.
  • In hospitals, the nurses who spend most of their days taking care of patients.
  • In a construction company, the carpenters and other people who actually construct the houses.
  • In maintenance organizations, the mechanics who go out and fix machines.

As opposed to the people who mostly work on a computer:

  • Staff in HR, Finance and of course IT who support the business
  • People like managers, project leaders, planners, calculators, coordinators who need to make sure that they firstline workers can do their job helping customers or patients in the real world, or building and maintaining real world things.

Ok, of course in other organizations – like the consultancy company where I work – just about everybody is an office worker. We all work on a computer most of the day. Many of us work with our clients a lot, but as far as I am concerned that does not make use firstline workers. Why do I say that? Because it would confuse the issue.

Why am I talking about the firstline workers now

In domains like retail, manufacturing and construction, about 70-80% of the employees are ‘real life’ firstline workers. And about 70-90% of the digital transformation efforts focus on the few office workers. The firstline workers are left out.

Of course, if your main tool is for instance a hammer, rather than a computer, a digital transformation would impact you less. But if you are passed over entirely, you will miss out. For example:

  • You may miss essential communication and be left out of the loop when the office workers are engaged.
  • You may not get staff support quickly and easily.
  • You may not have the right and up-to-date information at your fingertips, which you need to do your job.

Some lessons I learned

While I was working for a construction and maintenance company, I mostly worked for and interacted with office workers. Of course. But I did talk to some firstline workers and office workers who were the first line behind the firstline workers. So here the firstline workers are not the ones who are in direct contact with the customer, but the people who build the product. Their primary tool is, for example, a hammer. Not a computer, although some had an account and a computer or smartphone.

Here are some things I learned. Of course these also apply to office workers, and there are some very computer savvy hobbyist firstline workers. But nevertheless, you need to introduce new digital offerings even more carefully to your firstline workers.

  • Think carefully what the different groups of firstline workers need
    For example, the carpenters working at the construction site for a new building will get their news in the shed from the bulletin board pinned to the wall and from their foreman, so they may not want a digital news channel. But maintenance engineers who drive all over the country by themselves need to get their news in another way. Some carpenters like to consult the plans on an iPad, because then they can zoom in. But they find it easier to compare plans on paper, because that does not work on the small tablet screen.
    So find out what the firstline workers need and how digital tools could help. If an app can help them, develop it. If the old-school paper & word of mouth solution works best, fine.
  • Don’t offer digital stuff as an added burden. Make it useful for them
    I talked to a carpenter who had a laptop just for his timesheets. He did not want to fill in his timesheets anyway – nobody likes that – and now he got this annoying laptop to make it even worse than it was when he did it on paper. A maintenance engineer was grumbling that he got a new app to administer the work he did for each client. The administration was getting more extensive and complicated and he just wanted to fix the machines he was assigned. Then what’s in it for them?
    So if you give firstline workers digital tools, make sure you are not burdening them with additional administration and complications just to make the lives of others easier. Something needs to be in it for them too.
  • Do not assume that they will understand the digital stuff you offer.
    In that organization, IT decided everybody had to install Office Pro Plus on their computers themselves and activate Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), based on a few instructions. This caused problems for many office workers, but the firstline workers I talked to were completely at a loss. One guy was a great carpenter, but he got stuck when he had to set up MFA and I tried to help him out. First of all, I called him back in the evening, when he could use the computer his wife has for Facetiming with the grandchildren, so that he could see the screen with the settings properly. And then it turned out he did not know his Office 365 password. Oops…
    So if the firstline workers have to do something digital, make sure they get adequate help, as in: help that really helps them and not a document with some complicated instructions.
  • Make the digital stuff as easy as possible
    The firstline workers are outside in the rain at a construction site, in the bowels of some big machine covered in grease, on the shop floor with their hands full. And they want to get on with building the house, fixing the machine or stacking the shelves. Not necessarily optimal circumstances to fiddle with digital tools.  
    So don’t make them install things that can be installed automatically, make apps super user-friendly and optimize them for the devices and network conditions they have at their disposal.

I am glad that we start looking at and talking about the needs of the firstline workers. I am very much a knowledge worker myself – don’t give me a hammer, as I will probably hit my thumb. But talking to firstline workers who got mangled under IT’s rollout of Office 365 made it clear to me that we can’t just ignore their needs. Microsoft has also made this step: see Microsoft 365 for frontline workers. Now let’s see what we can do to make their jobs easier, safer and more pleasant.

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.

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 https://support.office.com 

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. 

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