Digital Workplace Overview in Microsoft 365

The digital workplace is the term often used to describe the virtual equivalent of the desk we are sitting at and the office building we go to every day. Different people use different means to get a job done – task and time management is a great example; Some enjoy using post-its, others simply write a list on a piece of paper, the third might use an app to maintain the overview. The important thing is that we get the job done.

Just like we have different ways of working in the physical workplace, we also have different ways of working in the digital workplace. While this is not an issue on an individual level, it becomes more difficult when working together. It is not just a matter of understanding how fellow colleagues work and communicate, but rather having an overview of what’s new and what’s important.

This article serves the purpose of casting light on these challenges, which arise in a growing and volatile digital workplace, as well as an approach to solve them.

The digital workplace – From the helicopter

While the challenges mentioned above can partially be solved with technical approaches, it is important to first take a view from the helicopter. More concrete, we need to understand how employees in an organization work. The larger the organization is, the more challenging it gets.

In this case, an important tool is analytics. While you might not have all the data available, most larger application providers offer usage analytics to some extent. In the Microsoft 365 administration, you can currently get usage reports for the following applications:

  • Exchange (Outlook)
  • SharePoint
  • Teams
  • Office 365 (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.)
  • OneDrive
  • Yammer
  • Forms
  • (Skype for Business)

You can find these reports by navigating to the “Tenant Administration” via the app launcher à “Reports” à “Usage”:

Another way to understand employees’ ways of working is by talking to them. This can be in 1-on-1 interviews or larger user groups. While this approach is more time consuming, it has the advantage of not only answering the question, “Which applications?”, but also “Why?” and “How?”.

The digital workplace in an overview

After analyzing your digital workplace, it is important to bring the data together. Which applications are key? Are there any overlaps (applications with similar feature sets)?

When we look at Microsoft 365, such an isolated overview could be visualized like in the following illustration:

In the overview above, we have divided applications into five main categories, which are illustrated with five tracks:

  • Collaboration
  • Documents
  • Tasks
  • Information
  • Apps and tools

The applications are placed in one to three categories, depending on which use cases they serve. The user adoption of each application is rated from 0-100%, meaning that that most important applications are placed on the left, while the ones with less activity are placed further to the right.

Feature overlaps

This overview will look different from company to company and requires an analysis of the usage of each application. On the one hand, this gives good insights into which parts of the digital workplace are the most crowdy, on the other hand it is a nice way to discover feature overlaps.

While these overlaps might not be causing issues on a personal level, they can lead to employees losing the big picture. Taking the task lane as an example from the illustration above; employees create their own personal tasks in Outlook/To Do, some teams work with a Planner board in projects, other teams work with classic SharePoint sites where they have create a task list.

It is easy to understand why some employees can be overwhelmed with scenarios like this. While one solution to the challenge would be to dictate, which applications should be used for what within an organization, another would be to give employees maximum flexibility and help those in need by aggregating and ordering content for them.

Content aggregation with Zignals

When content is created and governed in different tools, we risk building up content silos. The key here is to give users an easy way to keep an overview of what’s important to them.

Most applications in Microsoft 365 are integrated into the Microsoft Graph which allows for building custom solutions that aggregate content. However, conceptualizing and developing such solutions can be a time-consuming process. Zignals poses as the shortcut for giving employees the overview they need of their digital workplace – imagine getting all meetings, tasks, documents, apps and teams served on a silver platter when you come to work in the morning!