my world of work and user experiences

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 #hashtag 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

May 31, 2018

Yammer does not work – Are you sure you should blame the tool?

Filed under: Adoption,Office365 — Tags: , — frederique @ 23:52

Yammer has been around for a decade already, as an enterprise social networking service. It has been incorporated in the Office 365 toolkit. And it can be very effective. However, now I am hearing from my client that Yammer does not work for them and they want some other tool. Is Yammer really that bad, or is there I some other reason why they say Yammer does not meet their needs?

Currently I am working for a construction company. They want a platform to communicate about safety and to interact with the employees about that topic. This is a construction company, so safety is a big issue. For all of the employees.

How about Microsoft Teams?

They asked me for a demo of Microsoft Teams, because they thought that this would be a great tool to use for their safety communication and interaction. Microsoft Teams is newer, and that it why they think it is hotter I fear….

Don’t get me wrong, I Microsoft Teams is great. But not for this purpose.

  • The maximum number of members in a Team is 2.500 which is not nearly enough.
  • A Team does not have visitors, but only members and owners. That is great for conversations, but these members can also edit other information in the Team. And the client wants to offer “official” information as well. SharePoint is better for that purpose, though you can of course connect a SharePoint site to a Team.
  • A Team does look quite complex and ‘geeky’ with all those channels and tabs and everything. You don’t have a simple starting point like a homepage. A Communication site does that better.
  • Teams is for teams, that is why it is called Teams… As Microsoft puts it: Teams are for the inner loop, the inner circle with whom you are collaborating closely.

How about Yammer?

A Communication site is great for the “official stuff”: well thought-out pages about the topic, guidelines and instructions, overviews of contacts, events etc. But for interaction with the people, Yammer is more suited. We can bring the two together, by adding a Yammer app (web part, app part, whatever you call it) to the homepage of the site.

However, when I mentioned Yammer, they all pulled faces and grumbled that they had tried Yammer and that it did not work for them at all. Hmmmm…

I admit, Yammer is definitely not perfect:

  • The search is terrible… I find it difficult to find what I am looking for via the search box in Yammer.
  • The Yammer app (web part, app part, whatever you call it) you can add to a homepage of your Communication site is very, very basic: pictures are not displayed, you only see the last comment.
  • Links to SharePoint pages are not displayed nearly as nicely as links to internet pages.

But I like Yammer and use it a lot in our company:

  • An informal forum to ask questions, share lessons learned and post new tidbits
  • Clear structure via groups and threads, with an overview on the ‘start page’ and per group a view of the new conversations so that you know when you are up-to-date.
  • Rich conversations using tags (to help you find them and collect the conversations on a topic), mentions (to engage specific colleagues), attached images as slide shows, links to for example Stream videos and websites with a visual preview…

Why is Yammer working for us and maybe not for my client?

  • Many of my colleagues (including me…) often are working elsewhere. We only meet online.
    If everyone is in the same office most of the time, they can easy discuss questions and ideas in the coffee corner. Then they don’t really need Yammer, so they won’t use Yammer as much. So if the same organisation starts using Yammer to share with people who are not in the same office, it may be used more.
  • I use Yammer, instead of another tool, because that is where the action is: questions posed in Yammer are answered, ideas get commented upon, tidbits get liked etc.
    If Yammer is not being used in a community, it is not worth going there and posting something. But if nobody posts anything or nobody reacts, nobody will start use it. In our organisation the vicious circle was broken early, because we are an IT company with people who like this stuff, and because it meets our needs.
  • We know where to find Yammer. In the early days, we had a Yammer feed web part right in the middle of the homepage of our intranet (now Yammer is more prominent than that homepage…).
    In my client’s organisation, I Yammer is hardly connected to anything else. There is a link to Yammer on the homepage, but that is a static link buried among other links.
  • In our organisation, Yammer is the dominant tool for spreading news: management posts updates, HR uses Yammer to tell us about people who join or leave us, sales tells about new clients…
    In my client’s organisation, I get a lot of this information via email. The disadvantage of email for such communication, is that it does not allow you to start a conversation: ask questions, say hello / goodbye to the new / old colleagues, give kudos for achievements.
  • We grumbled a bit about unpractical features in Yammer but we could get passed them and now we can take advantage of the continuous improvements, like the ability to edit a post (not all that recent, but a huge relief when that became possible,,,) .
    I wonder if my client had their experience with Yammer a long time ago; they may not have noticed that some of their obstables have been removed.

So to adopt and take advantage of Yammer:

  • Determine to what problem it is the solution: conversations about special topics between people who are not sharing the same office.
  • Actively seed and drive the conversation when that does happen organically: have editors / moderators post tips and news, answers questions or redirect them to someone who can (using the mention-option). Make sure these posts are interesting to the users: relevant, useable and/or great fun 🙂
  • Make sure it is easy to find Yammer: embed Yammer feeds in SharePoint sites, invite colleagues to join groups that are of special interest to them.
  • In help & training, tell users about Yammer and how it can be useful, show it to them in a moderated Yammer group sharing Office 365 expertise for instance. Share success stories (for example gathered as #YamWins)
  • Introduce Yammer to anyone who does organisation-wide or department-wide communication. If they welcome response, explain that Yammer is a better medium than email.
  • Check what are the blocking issues for this organisation and try again when they have been solved in the Office 365 evolution.

If a tool in the toolkit is not used, the question always is: is the tool inadequate or are there another reasons why the users did not adopt it? Like they don’t know about the tool or they don’t understand how to use the tool effectively. If the problem lies in the adoption, there is no guarantee that replacing the tool will be helpful at all. Then there will just be another tool that users don’t know about and don’t understand…




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