For years, maybe decades, to come, we will be analyzing, examining, and dissecting the impact of COVID-19. There are sure to be many opinions and viewpoints; one thing that all the pundits will agree upon, however, is that 2020 was a time of true disruption in so many ways. It interrupted our personal and family lives and it certainly disrupted our work lives, likely changing forever the manner in which we collaborate, communicate, and connect.
The Collaboration Evolution
Collaboration had already started becoming the mantra in many organizations even before COVID struck, as evidenced by everything from “open concept” floor plans to team-building events to the disturbing proliferation of “shadow IT” apps that allow sharing outside of the corporate firewall. Email illustrates how “collaboration” was already disrupting how we work. Originally, email was a mechanism for transmitting messages electronically and instantaneously. It was also a much-improved method for sending presentations, contracts, and spreadsheets, as well as scanned documents. (Goodbye fax machines!) Email evolved into the de facto collaboration tool, albeit not a great one, as workers used it to collaborate on these documents and on conversations regarding business events and decisions.
The email-centric method of collaboration has been far from perfect, however. Email was never meant to be a collaboration system, let alone a business record repository. Email is “sequential collaboration,” resulting in significant duplication and confusion over the “single source of truth.” Many emails may go back and forth among those working together on a presentation, but the same number of emails are likely exchanged trying to determine who has the latest version. Collaboration by email also has caused significant headaches for corporate legal and information governance departments as they struggle with the astronomical growth of email and related archives, all discoverable, resulting in increased e-Discovery risk and cost to the organization.
M365 Teams: The Great Disruptor
Enter Microsoft 365 (M365). Although many organizations were already making the transition to M365 before COVID forced the work-from-home environment, there was a mad dash to M365, and specifically Teams, once everyone moved from company offices to living rooms. Often, IT was simply given the mandate to get Teams rolled out as soon as possible, since it would allow staff to immediately start collaborating from anywhere.
With Teams, individuals can coauthor and share files such as Office 365 apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, SharePoint, etc.) in “real time.” Teams also incorporates chat (replacing Skype) and online meetings, allowing the hosting of audio, video and web conferences. In fact, organizations that have optimally deployed Teams are reported to have experienced a decrease in the use of traditional email by 40%. (Goodbye email!)
Teams is particularly disruptive because it serves as a “one-stop-shop,” not only allowing collaborators to retain all related information and documents in one place, but also allowing ongoing conversation, discussion, and immediate collaboration, truly disrupting our current way of working. That’s a big change from switching from one app to another and the need to remember where documents or email are, whether in Outlook email, on shared drives, or in SharePoint or other repositories.
For many employees, Teams was, and still is, uncomfortable. Moving away from the 20-year habit of living in email to living in Teams has been challenging. However, with adequate training and reinforcement, Teams is a game-changer. The increase in productivity and reduction of stress and frustration cannot be measured. As we said back in the ‘80s when email came into its own, “how did we ever manage without this?”
The Information Governance Imperative
But there is a caveat to all this welcome disruption. With Teams there is the potential to create information governance nightmares more serious than those that already exist. Today’s electronic communications are much more complex than the simple world of email and IM of yesterday; there are many more ways to communicate and many locations where those communications are stored.
Because of the potential information governance problems, an understanding of the M365 ecosystem is critical. Knowing what type of content is created, where it can be stored, and what mechanisms are available to control and govern it is more important than ever. With Teams, content can go everywhere: SharePoint, One Drive for Business, hidden folders in team member mailboxes, Group mailboxes, and Azure by default. And that does not take into account the connectors with external applications. Without an M365 governance operating model that clearly defines the use cases and operating rules for the M365 environment, the information governance challenges will be at least as messy as those that many organizations currently face with shared drives and email.
An M365 planning and deployment team, comprised of IT, Legal, Records and Information Management, Privacy and Information Security, is critical to ensure the enhanced governance, security, and compliance features of M365 are designed into its implementation, and are used in a manner not only to support the collaboration needs of the organization, but also to manage and control information in accordance with the organization’s governance goals and objectives.
Yes, it takes time and resources to do it right, but the results are, well, positively disruptive. And, as a practical matter, we likely have no choice as we continue to move into the yet unchartered territory of evolving, hybrid ways of working, even post-COVID.