Success stories

3 easy ways to improve your flexible working strategy in 2021

2020 marked a rapid shift for organisations as they were forced to undergo complex digital transformations in a matter of weeks and months. For many companies, that meant getting workers up and running remotely in the quickest way possible – with short-term fixes rather than long-term strategies.

As we enter a new year, it’s becoming clear that make-shift remote set-ups need to be replaced with more permanent and definite options. Organisations are looking to regain lost productivity, and that means building a long-term remote and flexible working strategy that aligns with their business values. For many, developing a strong strategy means investment in two key areas: cloud infrastructure and security. More importantly, though, businesses should be focusing on 3 key actions:

Flexible working strategy: key actions

1. Cultivate company culture

All strategic decisions should be made with employee happiness in mind. Creating an environment in which workers feel valued and content is key to long-term effectiveness and success. Using Microsoft Teams integrations or more bespoke AI solutions, enterprises can keep track of employee engagement and ask for feedback when problems are noted.

They can also dive into Azure Application Insights or Microsoft 365 usage analytics to determine whether employees are overworking. This analytics-based approach should be combined with empathetic and open-minded action to ensure employees feel supported, rather than spied on.

2. Accelerate with automation

Repetitive administrative tasks are dull in any workplace, but they can create more conflict when employees are working from home without a support network. Fortunately, in many cases, these tasks can be fully or partially automated.

Microsoft Power Automate is one solution that can be used to automate processes and tasks. A business can design a process from start to finish using intuitive flow diagrams and deep integrations. With if-this-then-that thinking, they’re able to receive notifications, sync files and collect data when a certain action occurs. A library of templates lets an employee easily and automatically save Outlook email attachments to OneDrive or post in Teams when a new Planner task is created.

3. Create virtual collaboration opportunities

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, organisations should enable their employees to collaborate and communicate seamlessly regardless of location. Whether they’re in the office or at home, provisions should be made so that inclusivity is felt by all employees.

Microsoft Teams is has taken the remote working world by storm, with daily active users jumping from 20 million in November 2019 to 115 million in October 2020. For the first time, many companies are realising its power to unlock company-wide collaboration using a single, communicative hub.

In addition to Teams’ popularity, the features of Microsoft 365 as a whole offer huge value for flexible working. Users worldwide are clocking up to 30 billion minutes using the software in a single day. A SharePoint deployment is one area where companies can really provide value to their employees, enabling real-time collaboration, sharing, and editing across all documents in the Office suite.

Covid-19 regulations have helped businesses realise that flexible working can provide value even in industries where it has previously been thought impossible. To truly capitalise on the productivity improvements flexible working offers, however, you need more than just a remote desktop; companies should be focusing on developing a strong company culture and leveraging automation wherever possible. It’s also imperative that employees are offered the right virtual collaboration methods to enable them to connect quickly and easily; as they would in the office.

Infographic: 3 easy ways to improve your flexible working strategy

Here’s a visual summary of the key actions that will support your organisation’s flexible working strategy:

Click here for a PDF of this infographic >

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Pros and cons of the hybrid working model

Since Covid-19 first shook the world early last year, businesses have been trying to successfully adapt to flexible working methods. Remote working is not a new concept, but adoption has increased exponentially due to the social distancing requirements.

Thanks to technologies like Windows Virtual Desktop and Microsoft Teams, remote working has been fairly painless for many employees; some businesses have even thrived in a new flexible working environment. That said, there are many companies who rely on their office set-ups and the prospect of returning to them was snatched away multiple times towards the back end of 2020.

Due to the ongoing effects of the pandemic, and even despite the mass rollout of vaccines, it’s clear that remote working has earned a permanent spot amongst modern working methods. Once businesses are able to return to their office spaces again, the working world will move into a hybrid era, combining office and remote working to create a flexible hybrid model that will be welcomed by many.

In order to succeed with hybrid working, it’s important to know the clear benefits as well as consider the downsides:

Pros of hybrid working

1. A more efficient working environment

Millions of businesses across the world have been enjoying the benefits that more flexible working can bring. A 2020 Finder study showed that two thirds of businesses surveyed were seeing increased productivity from remote workers over office workers. Increased productivity, stemming from less distractions, is a key benefit of enabling employees so inclined to work remotely.

Being able to give employees and teams a choice of working method allows them to pick the location that they work best in and ultimately focus better.

2. Improvements to work life balance

A hybrid working model gives the whole company flexibility to be where they need, when they need to be there. Employees who can walk their dogs on their lunchbreaks whilst working from home or get an extra hour in bed on the days they don’t have to commute, will be happier and more motivated.

3. Reduced costs without affecting growth

Gone are the days of specific office desks for every employee. Hot-desking in a smaller office or coworking in shared spaces can reduce the cost and responsibility of a large physical workspace, while still enabling teams to collaborate in person and on-site customer meetings to take place. With a hybrid working style, businesses can rethink their existing office set-ups and reduce building, utilities and staff costs without disrupting working patterns or revenue.

Cons of hybrid working

Hybrid working doesn’t work for every business. For some sectors, such as hospitality, location is integral to staff being able to do their jobs. However, for businesses that could combine home and office working, downsides might include:

1. Less urgency with critical changes and announcements

Things can change quickly for businesses within certain industries; the stock market fluctuates rapidly and new software and technologies are developed overnight. With a hybrid working model, it’s rare that the majority of employees will be in the same place at the same time, which makes urgent changes or announcements hard to communicate with impact and severity.

If you’re using Teams, you can get the workforce together quickly by hosting a live event and gathering those in the office together, with remote workers dialling in. Not yet using Teams? Talk to us about the collaboration benefits.

2. A divided and isolated workforce

It’s likely that workforces might be divided in preference when given the choice to work at home vs work in the office. While these preferences can work harmoniously together, a divide might begin to develop if there’s no clear strategy in place. Remote workers could get a sense of isolation or a feeling of being left out, and productivity might begin to diminish. Working from home, when part of a structured plan that leverages the right remote working tools, can offer a focused environment and leave workers feeling far from isolated.

3. Too much work, not enough culture

Just as hybrid working might lead to a divided workforce, the model could also dilute your company culture. Without the unity of all being in one place, employees can lose touch with the ethics and values that underpin a brand, and lose sight of what makes a healthy working culture.

With the right technologies and commitment, it’s possible to avoid many of these cons. Still, it does mean investing time in promoting best practice, the right technology and may require a cultural change to ensure. Are you ready for a hybrid model? Does it sound like the right long-term direction for your business?

We can offer advice to help you maximise on the hybrid working opportunity and support aligning your IT and technology strategy with new ways of working. If you would like to explore this in more detail, please get in touch.

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Small business IT priorities 2021

Small businesses are poised to enter a new year that, for the first time, is focusing on creating fewer in-person connections with customers, rather than more. The rapid digitalisation of the past year has created an environment where SMBs must adapt to remain competitive.

The priorities of small businesses are shifting as a result, towards the creation of secure remote work environments and the necessary adoption of cloud technology. As part of this digital transformation, small businesses must consider several more priorities as they move into a new year.

1. Low-cost artificial intelligence (AI) technology

After the sudden technology adjustments forced upon companies in 2020, many small businesses will need to make up for lost productivity. With additional resources unlikely to materialise, low-cost AI will become even more of a requirement.

A solution like Microsoft Azure offers affordable computer vision, face recognition, and conversational AI services – many of which are built-in to the business offerings. As the digital era progresses, SMBs should start to take greater advantage of these AI opportunities in order to remain resilient; subsidising customer support departments with chatbots, for example.

Another business area AI can have the biggest impact on is logistics. Small retailers could utilise the technology to gain AI-driven insights from their data. Warehouses could predict stock shortages and delivery drivers could benefit from AI-driven knowledge regarding delivery routes.

2. Increased use of data virtualisation technology

Businesses will also look to regain efficiency via data-driven insights. Tools like Microsoft Power BI can make data more useful and actionable. Simple dashboards of customer and sales data enable analyses which ultimately help SMBs focus on the aspects that will have the most impact.

3. Mainstream adoption of cloud collaboration and calling solutions

Microsoft Teams usage increased by 70% to 75 million active users in April, mainly due to the mass shift to home working. Even as workers return to the office, however, that usage has remained steady. As of October 2020, its daily active users had reached 115 million.

Much of this continued growth may be attributed to a shift in mindset, predominantly by smaller businesses. As IT managers realise the efficiency of cloud-based communication and collaboration tools, they become open to investing in those solutions long-term. In addition to efficiency, cloud solutions like Microsoft Teams and Teams Calling solutions, offer flexibility in both in costs and global calling requirements – perfect for SMBs who want to start small and scale.

4. Streamlining the remote onboarding process

Even with the roll out of COVID-19 vaccines underway, SMBs will continue to work remotely until government guidance suggests otherwise. Though organisations have been onboarding remotely for many years, the coronavirus pandemic has increased the volume of workers than need to be brought online in a short period.

As a result, it’s now time for SMBs to prioritise the creation of a remote onboarding strategy that’s efficient, engaging and focused around the benefits that cloud technology can offer.

5. Support remote workers with the right cloud IT support

Cloud productivity apps like Office 365 and Teams come with excellent Level 0 IT support. Knowledge banks and chatbots provide self-service cloud IT support so that users can troubleshoot common problems and access ‘how to’ style content.

However, remote workers also need human IT support in the form of a 1st and 2nd line service desk to keep productivity levels high. Responsive cloud IT support can also boost user adoption of new technologies and new ways of working, ensuring you get good ROI from digital transformation.

Remote workers often feel isolated so it’s really important to have open lines of communication between them and your service desk. As well as ensuring they can contact IT support using their preferred channels (email, phone, support portal etc.), consider introducing engagement feedback tools too. Personalised surveys can help you better understand what support users need to improve the remote working experience.

If you would like to discuss any of the subjects or technology covered in this post, please get in touch. Our Digital Productivity team and Microsoft experts are happy to share their knowledge and experience. Likewise, our Operations team are available to share best practice for supporting your remote workers and providing effective cloud IT support.

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The biggest IT trends in 2020

Despite its significant challenges, 2020 has been a monumental year for IT and technology in businesses across many industries. Out of necessity, the world has undergone rapid adoption of remote working solutions, but we’ve also seen technology utilised in more innovative, niche ways. Here are some of the biggest IT trends we’ve seen in 2020.

Self-service, AI and machine automation

In the hospitality and retail industries, self-service has been on the rise. Customers are encouraged to user self-scanners and check-in without human interaction, while employees shift to more warehouse-focused roles to keep up with demand for online services and click & collect. Meanwhile, other industries are trending towards full automation. In some hotels, staff have been replaced by room service robots, while factory and online customer service workers have been substituted for machines and AI bots. Though these highly impactful changes were in progress prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, the pandemic has spurred rapid acceleration.

As the pandemic has progressed, businesses have also turned to offering virtual experiences in order to continue operations. Concerts, tradeshows and sporting events continue to be hosted and streamed successfully online. Estate agents are providing fully virtual viewings.

Digital transformation and Covid-19

There has also been a huge and natural adoption of cloud computing tools across businesses of all shapes and sizes. As a software provider, Microsoft leaned into this new market and has achieved staggering success, with its Teams platform reaching 4.1 billion meeting minutes in a single day. Globally, 85% of companies have accelerated their use of collaboration technology this year, with 35% claiming digitisation of their supply chain.

Get in touch if you would like to discuss how to further accelerate your organisation’s digital transformation >

This rapid evolution of technology has undoubtedly saved companies and lives, but challenges have been met along the way. Companies have been forced to adapt their security and IT practices quickly which, for large enterprises, has led to many complications and disasters. A Nintendo breach earlier this year saw 300,000 user accounts compromised. Twitter’s spearphishing attack saw cyber attackers posting as some of the most influential people in the world. EasyJet reported the breach of 9 million data records, including 2,200 credit card entries. Marriott saw 5.2 million hotel guests impacted after the hack of two employee accounts.

Cyber security training and awareness

These breaches have resulted in a tough year for consumer trust, but the world has learned some important lessons about security. As we move into 2021, businesses will be more aware of cyber security than ever, regardless of their industry, size or operating model.

Crucially, organisations should be aware that end-user training on cloud technology and security is vital to keep businesses protected. It is definitely harder to educate employees as we all work from home, but organisations should rise to that challenge and embrace the remote working era. Many industries have thrived working remotely despite thinking it impossible before, and many benefits have been realised.

The modern workplace

AI and automation, too, have accelerated in popularity and adoption. The widespread use of robotic and machine learning technology has enabled rapid advancements and significant cost savings. Adoption and benefits will continue long after the pandemic subsides, so businesses, employees, and governments should embrace and adapt to these modern working conditions and methods.

Finally, and perhaps most crucially, organisations should use Covid-19 as a reminder that disasters do happen and should be planned for. Regardless of size, businesses should have specific procedures in place to weather unexpected circumstances.

Keeping up with the latest technological trends is an important part of this. Companies who test and implement modern solutions on a regular basis will naturally run into fewer risks when forced to roll them out on a mass scale. Being proactive with technology almost always leads to benefits in the long term.

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Remote education – balancing productivity and security

Students across the world have been met with a very atypical environment this educational year. They’re trading desks in classrooms for virtual learning spaces, and teachers have so far been faced with many challenges associated with this kind of learning.

Whilst nothing will replace in-person teaching, education has been trending towards remote learning for some time due to the benefits it can offer to some. Modern tools have allowed students to study in their own homes without long commute times and have helped schools to cut down on costs.

One of the major shakeups to the education industry in the past five years has been the entry of Microsoft. No longer content to offer its generic Microsoft 365 services, the IT giant now offers solutions specifically tailored to students and teachers. None of these tools so far have made more waves than Microsoft Teams — a collaboration hub for communication and file sharing that is perfectly suited to remote learning.

Unrivalled benefits for remote learning

With Microsoft Teams, students can discuss and collaborate with their peers in a unified manner regardless of the device they are using. Real-time, collaborative document editing allows multiple students to work on the same file at once and teachers to be able to check and edit work without physical exchange of workbooks. In-built voice, video, and chat enables effective communication between students and teachers and gives students the chance to stay social with their peers. Another invaluable integration comes in the form of Whiteboard, which brings a classroom-like mind mapping experience.

Solutions like Teams also helps students to understand and be heard; an important benefit when learning remotely. When a teacher is presenting, they can raise their hand to call attention, while an integrated immersive reader helps those with eyesight and focus issues stay invested in text chat. Once a class is over, teachers can utilise Teams to set and track assignments. As a partial replacement for on-site intuition, they can also check the insights dashboard, which gives detailed student engagement data.

Cost reduction and digital transformation

Remote education can also significantly reduce costs and suit budget-restricted institutions and students. Both pupils and schools can benefit from lowered textbook, transportation, and rental costs. E-signature tools like DocuSign can also save money, reducing the amount of physical paperwork whilst speeding up the process of signing and reviewing documents.

Schools that don’t want to go fully digital can adopt a hybrid model; students can be physically on campus part-time and still benefit from tools like Teams and OneDrive to sync documents and feedback to their home PC. This is proving invaluable for students that need to self-isolate because of potential contact with Covid-19 cases.

Crucially, DocuSign and Microsoft Office for Education provide these features without compromising security. It’s no secret that educational organisations are a target for cyber-criminals. A late 2019 government report found that 41% of primary schools and 76% of secondary schools had identified a breach in the past 12 months. For further and higher education, that figure is 80%.

Clearly, educational institutions are an enticing target for criminals. They hold large amounts of profitable data and often aren’t as security aware as commercial businesses. As a result, it’s vital that organisations take advantage of the latest tools to protect students, data and research.

Microsoft’s Azure Active Directory Connect lets institutions with flexible education methods extend their on-premises identity to secure cloud access at home. It’s Information Protection and Cloud App Security solutions protect student data regardless of location, while the Mobility and Security features provide threat analysis tools to automatically spot attacks via behavioural analytics.

That said, government research shows that most breaches in education come not through viruses or malware but from phishing emails. To battle phishing attacks, a solution like Mimecast Email Security can be implemented. Stopping the majority of phishing and spam emails before they reach the inbox reduces the impact of poor cyber-education.

Ransomware also poses a big threat to the education industry. Though successful attacks are lower than other methods, they’re incredibly damaging when they succeed, often wiping out masses of valuable data. Educational institutions should ensure their security solution includes regular backups of on-premises, cloud, and mobile data, mitigating the risk of long downtime and devastating losses.

Fortinet and Azure integration

Many educational institutions use Fortinet solutions on-premise, but did you know that Fortinet delivers an Enterprise-class solution for Microsoft Azure users to protect application workloads beyond standard Azure security services? Integrated cyber security solutions provide protection whether virtual, in the cloud or on-premises.

As a Fortinet Expert Partner and Microsoft Gold Partner, Cloud Business has helped many schools and HE institutions migrate to the Microsoft cloud while protecting their networks, assets and people from cyber attack.

The world has changed a lot over the past year, but so has the way educational institutions utilise technology. Remote working tools are making learning more accessible and inexpensive than ever, while adoption of recent security innovations helps students and teachers stay secure even when remote. If you’d like to chat about building a remote learning model that’s truly secure, we can help.

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A guide to surviving full-time remote working

As the country continues to work remotely, we’ve heard a lot about the benefits – no commute, a more comfortable environment, and pets for company. For many, however, the transition to home working has been difficult and daunting. When you’re not used to working outside of the office, it can be hard to motivate yourself or keep connected with team members. Many also suffer from loneliness, used to sharing coffee breaks with their co-workers.

Thankfully, modern tools like Microsoft Teams can make remote work much more manageable. Though it works excellently as a workplace chat app, it also has features in place to help you stay organised, share work, and keep on top of your schedule.

Short of time? Download our Quick Start Guide to Microsoft Teams here >

Here are a few ways you can take full advantage of Teams:

Stay in touch on the go

Though your commute might just be a few steps when working from home, there may be times when you have to run to the post office or otherwise be away from the desk. The Teams mobile app lets you chat with colleagues, engage in video or audio meetings, or edit documents from any location.

This a blessing for those wanting to work from a tablet on the sofa, but it can also raise challenges when it comes to work-life balance. Though you can stay tuned in at any time of the day, it’s often a good idea to take a step back on your breaks and after work hours. For this purpose, Teams has ‘away’ and ‘unavailable’ statuses, and you can set quiet hours.

As mentioned, one of the biggest challenges of the lockdowns and the remote working is the feeling of isolation that accompanies. Though nothing will fully replace the office environment, Teams can get you closer with the ability to reach out for one-on-one text chats or calls.

Early research suggests that the pandemic has increased mental distress in employees. Checking in one on one with your colleagues through Teams can give you a safe space to vent or chat personally and ultimately lead to a happier virtual workforce.

Stay organised in your channels

When there’s a lot going on at home, and no co-workers sitting beside you to remind you about particular tasks, it can be difficult to stay organised. Teams provides tools to separate employees into various channels for different departments and functions. Hide teams or channels you aren’t actively participating in to reduce clutter and focus on your role.

Within your channels, you can notify team members of upcoming tasks, while also maintaining an overview of your files. It’s worth agreeing on a universal file-naming scheme and folder structure to aid in this. Companies can additionally make use of third-party integrations like Todoist, which work seamlessly with Teams, so users can add messages or files directly to their lists.

Share and co-edit your work

When it comes to collaboration, Microsoft Teams has tools to emulate the office experience. Full integration with Office 365 allows you to share documents in chat to get real-time edits and proofreading. Open your conversation panel while in edit view to discuss changes as they’re made and ask for clarification where needed.

Whether it’s PowerPoint, Excel, or Word, you’ll see colleagues as coloured flags while they make live edits. Teams also automatically creates a version history in the background so you can roll back over accidental changes as well as see how a piece of work has evolved.

Make your meetings more productive

Digital meetings are new ground for many, but with the right software they can quickly become even more effective than physical ones.

Before a meeting starts, share an agenda. Prepare context from previous meetings that have been housed in Teams and share documents ahead of time. Reach out to team members to ensure they can make it and make use of the recording feature for those who can’t.

While discussing, write in the chat if you have questions or want to speak, so attendees can grab attention without interrupting the flow. Make it clear that you expect the same kind of etiquette as in-person meetings while remembering to offer short breaks to reset attention spans.

Lighten up your workday

It can be easy to get caught up in productivity optimisations when remote working. Often, however, the best thing you can do for efficiency is to reduce stress and create a light-hearted environment.

Use GIFs, likes, and custom backgrounds to keep the conversation fun. Run live events to replace work outings. Set up polls in meetings to create a sense of interactivity. You may not be able to crack jokes in-person, but you can still foster a sense of community in your online workplace.

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A business telephony upgrade could be the answer to a sustainable future

If working from home is likely to continue into 2021, is it time to upgrade your business telephony system?

According to the latest UK government report, 46.6% of those in employment worked from home in April. In the short term, working remotely is keeping employees safe amid the coronavirus pandemic, but there’s growing evidence to suggest that companies will benefit from remote working after the Covid risk has subsided.

Though lockdowns have been a challenge for some, research suggests that the average worker saves £44.78 per week by working from home, while two-thirds believe they’re more productive. In Northern Ireland, a recent survey revealed that over 40% of employers expect to be using a hybrid work model in six months.

Most importantly, employees seem to support a more flexible model. A survey from HubbleHQ in June found that 61% of workers have changed their view on remote working since the pandemic, with 86% wanting to work at least one day a week from home in the future.

An evolving workforce requires evolving technology

With this heavy trend towards flexible working, unified communications are being recognised as the way forward. The sudden switch to home working back in March caused many businesses to realise gaps in their efficiency as they suddenly require an abundance of video call, file-sharing, and collaboration tools.

Business telephony systems that support remote working is an area that many organisations have not yet addressed. Fortunately, technology companies have developed integrations that let employees communicate and collaborate effectively from any location within the familiar interface of Microsoft Teams. Rather than fracturing the workforce into different solutions, it lets organisations better unlock the benefits of Microsoft 365. Tight integration with Teams allows for inbound and outbound external calls without added complexity. Whether the receiver is in the UK or abroad and is a Teams contact or not, users benefit from direct dialling, internationally.

Still, while these are major benefits, perhaps more vital is the sustainability cloud telephony solutions can provide. As the second wave of Covid-19 rises and concerns of a third, fourth and so on are persistent, strong remote working tools can provide resilience today and in the future.

Given the country’s situation right now, the short-term benefits of a good cloud telephony system are obvious. Employees can make and take calls from their home in a way that’s integrated with existing software. However, there are also benefits in the long-term; businesses don’t have to rely on unreliable hardware and its upkeep cost, nor do they need an office space from which employees can use physical desk phones. Furthermore, while traditional telephony has remained static for many years, cloud-based solutions tend to evolve with the times.

This means that businesses can adapt more easily to changes in the economy, workplace culture, and future health crises. With features like call recording, for example, legal and financial departments can continue their work remotely while still meeting MiFID II compliance standards. Organisations can capture and record all communications Microsoft Teams with no need for additional, time consuming, third-party software.

At the same time, businesses can reduce call costs, optimise bandwidth, and scale infinitely while keeping their existing numbers. Thanks to hybrid platforms, you can migrate smoothly from your existing phone system but also integrate it where it makes sense.

The bottom line

The Covid-19 pandemic has placed great stress on businesses, but it also represents an opportunity to innovate and modernise. By taking advantage of feature-rich unified communications solutions, companies can increase their chances of weathering any storm even as competitors are blown away.

Though the times we’re in are challenging, we’re here to guide you through. Our specialists will help you upgrade your telephony in the most cost-effective way without a loss to quality. Contact us today for a consultation.

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Back to work, planning a return to the office for IT teams

As we discussed in a recent blog post on how to keep remote employees connected and collaborating successfully, not all organisations can or want to return to the office as lockdown measures are eased. But for those that do, there are things the IT team should consider to enable a successful transition.

Key technology considerations for transitioning out of lockdown

The first, and in our view the most important, consideration is flexibility. This means having flexible and agile technology solutions that allow your organisation and people to rapidly adapt to change and work productively and securely from anywhere.

With the ever-present threat of further lockdowns, whether regional or national, returning to the office should involve learning from the experience of the last 6 months. Dust off those disaster recovery and business continuity plans and ensure your technology is aligned with strategies to protect the business from unplanned and unexpected events.

Flexible and scalable technology solutions are the key to increasing organisational agility, allowing you to scale up or down your IT requirements to meet demand and respond rapidly if it’s necessary to go back to remote working. These solutions will also help you transition smoothly into the office environment should you need a hybrid model where employees work flexibly, combining some days in the office and others from home.

Technologies for the modern workplace: remote, office and hybrid environments

Top of our list of technologies that provide the flexibility and agility desired, and deliver value for money, is the Microsoft 365 stack.

Many of the applications in this suite of tools have been pivotal in an organisation’s ability to transition to wide-spread remote working. As employees start to return to the office environment they continue to be an enabler for collaboration and communication; and drive efficiencies, cost savings and agility.

Microsoft Teams and Business Voice

In fact many tools, which may not have been fully adopted by employees until lockdown, have now become their preferred apps and have driven digital transformation in many organisations. Microsoft Teams, in particular, has become the gateway to the entire 365 stack with many people accessing and integrating other apps like Planner, Yammer, Forms etc. into their Teams interface.

We’ve also seen lots of companies roll out Microsoft 365 Business Voice using Teams, to provide a cloud telephony system for remote workers. As businesses return to the office, we’re working with a number of customers on replacing their on-premise phone systems with Business Voice to provide a unified communications environment. This solution provides flexibility, resilience and often cost savings. It travels with your users rather than tethering them to the office environment, increasing mobility and supporting business as usual in the event of further disruption to our working lives.

SharePoint and corporate intranets

Files and folders created in Teams are stored in SharePoint so this technology has been ensuring people can access up-to-date information and collaborate on content throughout lockdown. Many companies also have corporate intranets that are built on SharePoint and these have been important for uniting a distributed workforce.

With some employees returning to the office, some remaining at home, and others splitting their working week between both locations, SharePoint and corporate intranets help ensure continuity between different working environments.

Device management to boost mobility

One of the biggest challenges (out of many) that IT teams faced back in March when the UK went into lockdown, was ensuring users had secure devices to access company systems and data from. Desktop PCs went home in taxis with some employees, demand for corporate laptops soared and many organisations deployed additional security solutions to help protect the business and employees using BYODs.

The practicalities of operating with employees on premise and WFH has resulted in a need for more mobile solutions that give businesses and their employees the flexibility to work anywhere.

Technologies like Microsoft Intune, for managing and protecting devices (corporate and BYOD), applications and data, and Enterprise Mobility + Security (EMS) – a Microsoft Identity and Access Management solution for mobile devices – have been vital for providing businesses and employees with secure protection to get on with work.

Desktop management is another area that has either been an enabler or barrier to mobility for many organisations. Desktop and app virtualisation has been a key part of simplifying management and supporting remote working, and offers many advantages for IT teams transitioning to both on premise and remote working environments.

Over the last few months we’ve been involved in many Windows 10 migration projects to provide users with a remote desktop and access to Microsoft 365, as well as deploying Windows Virtual Desktop to provide IT teams with unified management in the Azure portal.

Licensing optimisation

Agility in the current climate is also enabled by proactively managing your cloud subscriptions. In many cases licenses can be scaled up or down to ensure you’re only paying for what you need. For example, some of our customers have been able to reduce costs for furloughed workers. It’s possible to remove a user from Microsoft 365, retain their data and bring it back to life once they return to work.

Unfortunately if you’re an Enterprise Agreement customer, licensing directly from Microsoft, you will have pre-paid for the year. So scaling up or down your user subscriptions is not possible until your next agreement renewal. But if your licensing is purchased through the Microsoft Cloud Solutions Provider program (CSP) you have more flexibility. Via CSPs like Cloud Business, it’s possible to adjust the quantity of licenses, or downgrade them, on a daily basis.

This flexibility offers organisations agility and resilience as they transition back into the workplace in very uncertain times. If you haven’t already optimised licensing for your current requirements, we would recommend you speak to your CSP about your options. Microsoft 365 customers can also book a discovery workshop with our Digital Productivity team for further support aligning technology and licensing to the modern workplace in the ‘new normal’ office environment. Book a discovery call here >

remote working connected collaboration

Keeping remote employees connected and collaborating successfully

Whether your organisation is considering giving employees the flexibility to work remotely even when social distancing restrictions no longer apply, or if you’re currently unable to offer a Covid safe workplace, there are ways to boost productivity and collaboration remotely.

Here we share how to leverage technology for short term and long term successful remote working.

Develop a strategic plan

Does your organisation have a long term strategic of how technology can support your business goals and ambitions? If not, you may find that some of the decisions made about the technology needed to facilitate remote working during lockdown, are not aligned with the direction the business is taking.

We recommend taking stock and exploring what systems and applications you have or need that support business goals and the modern workplace. Then develop a strategic plan that factors in the technology needed to support remote working, hybrid working practices, and provides your organisation the agility needed to respond to unexpected change.

XaaS, everything as a service

In many cases the businesses that successfully transitioned to remote working and business as usual back in March, had already embraced SaaS, PaaS and IaaS models. This gave them the flexibility to scale up, or down, the services they required such as providing more users with access to collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams.

The benefits of the ‘as a service’ model are well known. A shift from capital to operational expenditure (capex to opex) often leads to lower total cost of ownership. Organisations get access to up-to-date technology, with fast implementation times and maintained by service providers that can leverage the economies of scale. Pay-as-you-go provides scalability to meet business requirements and react quickly to change. And they free up your IT team so they have more time and resources to focus on other projects and priorities.

Central digital hub

One of the problems we’ve seen companies struggle with over the last few months is how to keep employees connected with a distributed workforce. This is not just about ensuring employees can communicate and access information, but also have a sense of belonging that is easier to achieve in a physical office environment.

Companies that do this successfully often have a history of remote working and therefore have the tools and well-established processes to promote unity across the workforce. If your organisation has had remote working thrust upon it because of current events, you may not have had time to develop and optimise the infrastructure needed. In fact, it probably hasn’t been a priority with everything else the IT team has had to deal with.

As a result you may now find that different teams have adopted their own tools and processes to keep connected. Perhaps the Marketing department is on Slack, while Sales has discovered Yammer and Finance are relying on a weekly Zoom session.

While there is no right or wrong, and a combination of different tools for different types of communication can work successfully, a central place for all your people to connect and access company information is vital.

A modern corporate intranet creates a central digital workplace to engage employees, promote collaboration and unite a remote workforce. Intranet solutions powered by SharePoint can also help you maximise your investment in Microsoft 365. Content can be aggregated from SharePoint sites so that employees have a single view of the information they need. It can also be used to signpost employees to other collaboration tools, such as Yammer communities for different interest groups or integrate with Microsoft Teams.

24/7 IT support

Proactive and reactive IT support is more important than ever. Remote workers can only get the most out of the technology provided if they have back up should something go wrong or they get stuck. Over the last few months we’ve seen the following trends develop:

Increased demand for IT support: initially we experienced a dramatic spike in demand for support as users unfamiliar with some of the remote working tools they were given, needed more help. This has now levelled off but we’re still seeing higher ticket volumes than this time last year.

Out-of-hours IT support: with many employees continuing to juggle work and family commitments, the IT Service Desk is often required into the evening to support employees working outside of normal business hours.

Self-service support: tech-savvy employees know that if they experience a problem they can often find a solution on the internet. This has increased demand for self-service IT support solutions like ChatBots, and Knowledge Banks. Community forums are also on the increase, perhaps to replace that knowledgable colleague who employees might have previously called on when in an office environment.

If you need guidance to help you navigate the next few months, or to support long term digital transformation ambitions, do get in touch. You can book a free discovery call with one of our digital productivity consultants or speak to any of our subject matter experts about leveraging your technology.

microsoft teams versus zoom

Microsoft Teams versus Zoom, and the winner is…

Ever since the world went into lockdown, businesses, employees and students stuck at home have been relying on internet-based video calling platforms.

Does the term ”Teams” ring any bells? Microsoft has taken full advantage of the home working phase when it first surfaced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and, now more than ever, businesses are realising the benefits of Microsoft Teams for remote working and collaboration in general.

In case you didn’t know already, Teams has amassed over 75 million users; more than doubling their client size since 2019. Since the turn of the year, Microsoft has implemented crucial updates to their collaborative portfolio to keep them one step ahead of the likes of Zoom and Slack.

Download our Quick Start Guide to Teams and share with your team >>

If you haven’t discovered Teams yet, there have been some important updates coming up that make it very appealing for organisations and businesses alike; like being able to have 250 participants in a single call, and view up to 49 participants video feeds on screen at any one time. The 7-by-7 layout for having up to 49 participant’s webcams on one screen is set to be trialled throughout June/July, with an autumn roll-out looking likely.

Teams or Zoom, what’s best of organisations and SMBs?

It seems as though more organisations are hitting a bit of a brick wall with Zoom, mainly due to the lack of integration with other key aspects of work. Microsoft Teams allows direct integration with the Microsoft 365 suite, and most recently, expanded the number of users in one organisation to 10,000.

With the 10,000-user capacity and the 49-user video view, it’s easy to see why Teams is also an essential tool for schools and larger organisations. Being able to give students and employees a way to access meetings and files remotely, in-line with their emails, is vital.

Microsoft Teams appears to have hit the nail on the head with their offering. The M365 suite and Teams in a single package is a deal you’ll struggle to find anywhere else. Perhaps Slack could have a good go, but it doesn’t have the levels of flexibility and integration that can work with all sizes of organisations.

Compare this to Teams, and you’ll see that most schools and businesses already use the Outlook email client, and a good majority probably utilise the M365 suite for their paid plans. Simply having the ability to integrate file sharing, video calling and instant messaging with the 365 suite makes Teams the real winner of the remote collaboration era.

Teams Live Events

If you want to host webinars, town hall meetings or larger events, Teams has a solution. Live Events on Teams allows your organisation to broadcast content to up to 10,000 attendees. You can broadcast video or content from your desktop such as presentations, invite up to 10 presenters and switch between different content.

There is also a Q&A function for audience engagement. We have successfully used Teams Live Events to host webinars and broadcast content to people outside our organisation.

Teams Business Voice

For a fully unified collaborative platform, Teams Business Voice provides a cloud-based telephony solution. To learn more about this option, read our recent blog post here >

The paid version of Teams is surprisingly affordable and is a great option for any school, organisation or SMB that want a unified solution while managing remote working (and remote lessons) either in the short or long term.

Are you interested Microsoft Teams? Talk to us today to understand how Teams can work for your organisation and start reaping the benefits!

quick start guide to Microsoft teams

cloud telephony, Microsoft Teams

Supercharge remote working & save money with a cloud telephony system

Covid-19 and remote working has highlighted a key issue with traditional PBX telephone systems, they prevent rather than enable businesses agility. 

In recent weeks, employees have had to find workarounds that allow them to communicate with customers, suppliers and colleagues, such as using their personal mobile or requesting that communications are limited to email. Phone systems that are designed around closed networks and fixed locations, cannot deliver the agility and mobility needed now – and arguably will be needed for the foreseeable future. 

Cloud telephony resolves these issues and delivers more 

The cloud brings opportunities that enable businesses to communicate 21st century styleIn recent years we’ve seen interest in cloud telephony solutions increasing, but in recent weeks this interest has increased dramatically!  

Just as Covid-19 and widespread remote working has accelerated the adoption of digital collaboration tools like Office 365 and Microsoft Teams, suddenly customers are experiencing real-life use cases for cloud phone systems. 

As many businesses make decisions to take a remote-first approach to the modern workplace, cloud telephony is an important enabler during this pandemic:- and to drive future agility and mobility. 

Book a discovery workshop with Cloud Business to explore Microsoft Teams Business Voice > 

Cloud telephony for a post-Covid world 

Many businesses are moving their entire telephone systems to the cloud, doing away with the on-site infrastructure that a traditional phone system requires, and of course the associated expense of the initial setup, ongoing maintenance and potential upgrades. In addition, as hardware becomes out of date, it becomes increasingly expensive to maintain. 

However, there are voice cloud solutions that will integrate with existing on-premises systems – and so even businesses wanting to continue using an existing PBX system, handsets and phone system features can do so seamlessly 

Cloud voice solutions are available in various plans, creating flexibility to allow any business to take advantage of the benefits offeredSolutions can come complete with calling minutes included, or as a withoutcalling option, enabling businesses to source a telephony carrier of their choice – or use an existing PBX system 

Cloud voice solutions support a wide variety of devices. For those businesses wanting to continue with the classic desktop handset, no problem. But it’s worth noting that headsets are becoming increasingly popular, particularly in busy open-plan offices and in busy homes where employees are working alongside the rest of their family. Businesses can choose devices to suit their needs, and mix and match for individual employee preference.  

Another major benefit of moving telephony to the cloud is the ability to integrate with regularly used office toolsInstant messaging is a growing business phenomenon and bringing together chat, file sharing, and calling into one platform gives workforces the ultimate unified solutionhelping to enhance productivity. 

Over the last few months, we’ve supported a number of customers deploy Micrsoft Teams Business Voice, combining all the benefits of file sharing, instant messaging, video and audio conferencing with a unified cloud telephony solution. 

If you’re using Teams and would like to explore this option, we host regular discovery workshops to help you see whether it’s a good fit for your organisation, answer your questions and discuss different options. Click on the link below if you’d like to book one of these events. 

microsoft teams

Your modern workplace and the benefits of a cloud-based phone system

The last few months has seen many businesses have to find creative ways to manage day-to-day activities like their telephony systems.

Businesses with on-premise phone systems have found home working particularly challenging. Many sales teams have been using personal mobiles (and minutes) as work phone replacements; many receptionists have tried and failed to transfer calls remotely; and most employees have resorted to asking customers to email them instead.

At the same time, other companies may have been congratulating themselves for migrating their telephony systems to cloud-based phone solutions. A number of our customers have made this transition, either using direct routing or by going all in with a 100% cloud deployment. For these businesses a cloud-based phone solution has delivered significant benefits – especially with a remote workforce – which include cost savings and simplify technology.

As Microsoft Gold Partners our focus has been on deploying Microsoft 365 Business Voice for customers who want a cloud-based phone system specifically designed for SMBs. This solution has the added benefit of integrating into Microsoft Teams; creating an all-in-one communication solution delivered entirely through Microsoft’s reliable and trusted cloud.

For those companies who’ve deployed Microsoft 365 Business Voice it has proven to be a simple and cost-effective solution that’s supported their businesses through the pandemic, and will continue to support a digital, potentially remote-first, workplace into the future.

Book a Teams Business Voice workshop here >

If you’re new to Business Voice, here’s a snapshot of the key benefits for SMBs:

Working remotely with Business Voice

Businesses already set-up for cloud-based telephony have transitioned to remote working fairly smoothly. Their business phoneline operates as normal, existing phone numbers remain the same and employees make and answer calls from anywhere, on any device.

The integration with Teams means that calling, meetings, chat and files are all housed together in a single application, and Business Voice also includes audio conferencing so customers, vendors or suppliers can join a meeting using a dial-in number. Headsets, desk phones and other devices can be added to enable a more seamless set-up.

Reducing costs

In an ROI-driven world, reducing costs spent on technology is a priority. Using a cloud-based phone system like Business Voice can eliminate PBX maintenance costs, reduce support hours and eradicate upgrade fees. A recent Forrester study highlighted that 3 SMBs using Business Voice had saved over 30% in costs associated with PBXs.

Streamlining technology

Simplifying technology makes it easier for employees to use and easier for IT support to manage. Employees can enjoy a consistent Teams experience across all devices without needing to switch between software or systems. Business Voice integrated into Microsoft 365 offers a centralised set-up and management system housed within the wider M365 admin portal. As a complete cloud-based phone system delivered through Microsoft, Business Voice is secure and scalable to suit your business.

If you’re looking to improve your business’s remote working policy with a cloud-based phone system, or would like to save money and simplify your technology, Business Voice could be just what you need.

To explore this in more detail we host regular Microsoft Teams 365 Business Voice workshops (currently online) to explore this solution in depth. If you would like to join our next workshop please register your interest via the link below, or get in touch directly if you would like a trial, bespoke workshop or to discuss this solution in more detail.

Call 08456 808538 or email hello@cloudbusiness.com

Microsoft teams business voice workshop

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