With the COVID-19 epidemic, businesses everywhere are rushing to meet the demand for remote work solutions and enable “business as usual” as much, and as quickly, as possible. While many have practiced and planned for business continuity and disaster recovery (BC/DR) scenarios, no one could have ever imagined the current challenges we’re all facing. For some organizations that have already begun their Modern Workplace journey, the change may not be drastic. But many others are scouring Google for technology, solutions, and integrators to support the transition to a productive remote workforce. As we band together to fight COVID-19, keep our people productive and employed, and do what we can for the economy, we wanted to share our knowledge and experience on how organizations can successfully navigate this new landscape. Many of you are searching for technology answers to enable remote work. We hope these tips help guide you.

Deploy Microsoft Teams

Our number one recommendation is to deploy and enable Microsoft Teams. Your employees are most likely accustomed to working in an office together, meeting in conference rooms, walking over to someone’s cube or office for a quick question. With the rapid transition to remote collaboration, a platform must be provided for them to engage and collaborate more intuitively than email communication. Teams will provide your organization with instant messaging, group or team-based chats, a platform for organization-wide updates or announcements, and audio/video conferencing (PC-based included in trials).

While you may not have the time for proper end-user training to ensure that all employees can fully leverage the platform and all of its enhancements, the basic requirements required to enable a remote workforce are intuitive enough that users can onboard quickly. Additionally, Microsoft provides some resources that can be integrated into channels that allow users to train as they go with the product.

Keep in mind, while it is possible to set up your trial tenant and go live, there are some baseline governance options you’ll want to consider, especially with the default option that all users can create new groups and quickly clutter your address list. AIS has even developed a Teams Rapid Adoption engagement so that we can help organizations quickly deploy Teams but also ensure it meets standard governance and compliance requirements before going live.

Addressing Identity Later

A quick note about a rapid deployment: if you don’t have time or your organization isn’t ready to get Azure AD Connect deployed for single sign-on (SSO) functionality prior to deployment, that’s OK! The solution can be deployed later and made to link up to existing Azure AD user accounts and override their Azure AD password with their on-premises Active Directory identities and authentication. There are ways to plan to move from a cloud-only identity to a “hybrid” identity using directory synchronization. In this scenario by verifying proper Active Directory attributes such as UPNs and SMTP addresses, you can ensure that when you do enable synchronization all of your AD objects correspond to Office 365 objects and they “match” to merge the identities. In some cases for Exchange, you might need to rely on an additional method to merge mailboxes using scripting beyond identity matching.

Leverage Existing Office 365 Deployments: SharePoint, OneDrive, & Azure AD

Many organizations have already taken their first steps into the Office 365 ecosystem, most commonly through a mailbox migration to Exchange Online or SharePoint for file storage, and have organically begun using Teams. What we find a lot of the time is that many organizations do not utilize the full range of tools and services available to them. For instance, your organization may have multiple applications configured for Azure AD SSO. Some of these applications may only be accessible inside of your LAN, and with everyone now working remotely you may be seeing some strain on your VPN appliances and datacenter bandwidth. Those applications you have configured for internal use could potentially leverage a solution like Azure AD Conditional Access to temporarily allow external connections to access them but require MFA or you could require that to access an application the user must be on a corporate device.

Sticking with application access, for organizations that have Azure AD premium, the Azure AD Application Proxy provides a solution to make applications that are hosted internally accessible outside of your data center without opening any firewall ports. The product simply needs port 443 out and acts as a reverse proxy of sorts so that your users can access any internally hosted applications through the same Azure AD SSO experience as SaaS applications.

File servers may be another reason for users to be required to remote in. Perhaps your organization was considering a migration of content to SharePoint Online or OneDrive for Business and now is the time to accelerate those plans or explore solution providers who have offerings to assist organizations to rapidly adopt or migrate to either platform.

Zero-Touch Deployment with Intune & AutoPilot

With so many employees working from home consistently, device management and deployment are quickly going to become a major consideration. Administrators need to continue to ensure that corporate devices are securely configured, compliant with your policies and have all the applications end-users need to continue to function. Microsoft Intune can help by setting your compliance and configuration policies from a cloud-based endpoint management solution to handle your workstation and mobile devices. Applications can be quickly packaged and deployed to your end-users across your devices.

Perhaps your organization didn’t finish your desktop to laptop rollout before the outbreak, or your users require a new device due to an accidental spill, or maybe your organization is still hiring and onboarding. Getting new devices into an end user’s hands has typically involved some touch from your IT department before they can be provided to an end-user. Applying a corporate image, joining to the domain, installing baseline apps; these are all things Intune can take care of for you with a zero-touch approach. With AutoPilot, it’s possible to have devices shipped right from your vendors to an end user’s home and once the device is powered on and connected to the internet for the first time, Intune takes over and applies your policies and applications.

To read more on Microsoft Teams Adoption, please reference this blog post.

Additional Remote Resources from Microsoft:

Hit the ground running through a guided workshop with Office 365 governance specialists. We'll work with your team to enable the appropriate governance solutions.

Overnight the world’s workforce has moved into the home office. As a result, online meetings are now the only way we meet. For many organizations, this sudden change has dramatically impacted how their business operates. Staff members were accustomed to collaborating in person. Now they feel disconnected.  Sales people who relied on face-to-face interaction to close the deal are suddenly isolated.  Visual cues, facial expressions and the non-verbal communication we took for granted is gone. Right now, across the globe, millions of professionals are facing these new communication anxieties.

Microsoft Teams has many features that will help overcome these challenges.  Team chats, channels and document collaboration can empower your online meetings.  These ten tips will help you ensure that all participants are comfortable with the technology so they can focus on the important part of the meeting – the people and content.

#1 – Set Expectations in the Meeting Invite

The meeting invite is a great opportunity to let people know what to expect by stating the purpose and agenda items. This will make the meeting meaningful and keep everyone on track. Will documents or other visuals be shared? Does your organization endorse the use of web cameras? Will notes or a recording be available for people to refer to after the meeting? Keep the message short but if there is anything you need to point out to ensure people can participate fully, the invite is a good opportunity to do that.

If you’re expecting newcomers, you might include a little extra guidance about accessing the meeting or where questions can be addressed. Although most people will not need this, including it sets a welcoming tone. For example:

New to using Microsoft Teams?

For the best experience:

  1. Click Join Microsoft Teams Meeting
  2. You may be prompted to choose how you want to connect – browser or desktop app
  3. Select audio option – computer or phone

If you need to join with only audio, you can use the phone number provided, or select another number through Local numbers.

If you’re dialing in, you can press *1 during the meeting to hear menu options.

If you need any help, click on Learn more about Teams or contact me at first.last@email.com

#2 – Review Meeting Controls with Newcomers

If you plan to have people join who are completely new to Teams, take a minute or two to review the meeting controls so people can participate comfortably. If you’re going to invite people to turn on their webcams, this is a great opportunity to illustrate the Start with a Blurred background option (see Tip #5).

Microsoft Teams App Bar Explained

  1. Meeting duration
  2. Webcam on or off
  3. Mute or unmute yourself
  4. Screen sharing
  5. More options
  6. Conversations
  7. Participant list
  8. Leave meeting

#3 – Mute is Everyone’s Friend

In meetings with more than 5 people, anyone who joins after the meeting has started will join as muted to reduce noise. If you notice disruptive noise from others, you can mute that person or mute all, easily from the participant list.

Mute People in Microsoft Teams or Mute All

If someone has been muted, they’ll get a notification letting them know. They can unmute themselves using their meeting controls when they need to speak. For those joining by calling in, *6 mute/unmutes.

#4 –Joining from Multiple Devices? Avoid Echoing.

Sometimes, people will join the meeting with their computer and then dial into the meeting with their phone for audio. To avoid an echo, just make sure your computer speaker is muted. There is an option to do this on the join screen prior to entering the meeting. If you forget, just turn off your computer sound. 

Mute or Blur Your Background in Microsoft Teams App

#5 – “Mute” Any Distracting Backgrounds

If you need to share your webcam but the background could be distracting, you can take advantage of the select Start video with blur in More Options. This blurs the background behind the person for the duration of the camera share.

#6 – Pick What to Share

Don’t want everyone to read your email when you share your desktop? You have multiple choices to share:

  • Your entire desktop or screen
  • A window or application
  • PowerPoint
  • Whiteboard

With application sharing, participants will only see the application or window that you choose to share. They will not see any other application or notifications you might receive.

#7 – Let a Coworker Control Your Screen

A coworker can request control when you are sharing your desktop so that he or she can control the screen and cursor. If you choose to share an application, like PowerPoint, rather than your desktop, control would be limited to the shared application. For security reasons, external participants cannot request control when you are sharing your desktop.

#8 – Take Notes in the Meeting

With Microsoft Teams, taking and sharing meetings notes is easy. Notes can be accessed from More Options and are available before, during, and after the meeting.

Taking Notes in a Microsoft Teams Meeting

#9 – Two ways to collaborate on documents

You can work on files together through a screen share, where one person types and the others talk. Or, you can upload the document to the meeting chat and allow multiple people to work on the document in real-time.

#10 – Take Advantage of the Resources Available

Here are some good articles from the Microsoft Blog on Remote Work and Teams Meetings:

Thanks to authors Tacy Holliday, Chris Miller, and Guy Schmidt for their contributions to this blog.

ACA Compliance Group needed help streamlining the communications landscape and its fast-growing workforce to collaborate more effectively. AIS recommended starting small with Microsoft Teams adoption and utilizing Microsoft Planner to gain advocates, realize quick wins, and gather insights to guide the larger rollout.

Starting Their Cloud Transformation Journey

The cloud brings many advantages to both companies and their employees, including unlimited access and seamless collaboration. However, to unleash the full power of cloud-based collaboration, a company must select the right collaboration technology that fits their business needs and ensures employees adopt the technology and changes in practices and processes. This ultimately benefits the business through increased productivity and satisfaction.

In early 2019, an international compliance firm with around 800 employees contacted AIS to help migrate multiple email accounts into a single Office 365 (O365) Exchange account. They invited AIS to continue their cloud journey and help them:

  • Understand their existing business processes and pain points across multiple time zones, countries, departments, and teams.
  • Provide their employees with a secure, reliable, and integrated solution to effective communication and collaboration.
  • Increase employee productivity by improving file and knowledge sharing and problem-solving.
  • Reduce cost from licensing fees for products duplicating features already available through the company’s enterprise O365 license.

Kicking Off a Customer Immersion Experience

First, AIS provided a Microsoft Customer Immersion Experience (CIE) demonstration, which served as the foundational step to introduce all O365 tools. After receiving stakeholder feedback, needs, and concerns, we collaboratively determined the best order for rolling out the O365 applications. The client selected to move forward with Microsoft Teams adoption as the first step to implementing collaboration software in the organization.

Pilots for Microsoft Teams Adoption

Next, we conducted a pilot with two departments to quickly bring benefits to the organization without a large cost investment and to gather insights that would inform the overall Teams adoption plan and strategy for the entire organization. We confirmed with pilot study employees that they saw and welcomed the benefits that Microsoft Teams provides, including:

  • Reduced internal emails.
  • Seamless communication and collaboration among (remote) teams/departments.
  • Increased productivity, efficiency, and transparency.
  • Centralized and accessible location for files, documents, and resources in Teams.

The pilot study also found that adopting Microsoft Teams in the organization would require a paradigm shift. Many employees were used to email communication, including sending attachments back and forth that was hard to track. In addition, while some departments had sophisticated collaboration tools, a common collaboration tool across the company did not exist. For web conferencing, for example, different departments preferred different tools, such as GoToMeeting and WebEx, and most of them incurred subscription fees. Employees had to install multiple tools on their computers to collaborate across departmental boundaries.


Embracing Benefits of Microsoft Teams with Organizational Change Management (OCM)

To help employees understand the benefits of Teams, embrace the new tool, and willingly navigate the associated changes. For the organization-wide deployment and Microsoft Teams adoption, we formed a project team with different roles, including: a Project Manager, Change Manager, UX researcher, Business Analyst, and Cloud Engineer. Organizational Change Management (OCM), User Experience (UX), and business analysis were as critical as technical aspects of the cloud implementation.

Building on each other’s expertise, the project team worked collaboratively and closely with technical and business leaders at the company to:

  • Guide communication efforts to drive awareness of the project and support it.
  • Identify levers that would drive or hinder adoption and plan ways to promote or mitigate.
  • Equip department leaders with champions and facilitate end-user Teams adoption best practices.
  • Guide end users on how to thrive using Teams through best practices and relevant business processes.
  • Provide data analytics and insights to support target adoption rates and customize training.
  • Use an agile approach to resolve both technical issues and people’s pain points, including using Teams for private chats, channel messages, and meetings.
  • Develop a governance plan that addressed technical and business evolution, accounting for the employee experience.

Cutting Costs & Boosting Collaboration

At the end of the 16-week engagement, AIS helped the client achieve its goals of enhanced collaboration, cost savings, and 90% Teams use with positive employee feedback. The company was well-positioned to achieve 100% by the agreed-upon target date.

Our OCM approach significantly contributed to our project success, which is grounded in the Prosci ADKAR® framework, a leading framework for change management based on 20 years of research. As Prosci described on their website, “ADKAR is an acronym that represents the five tangible and concrete outcomes that people need to achieve for lasting change”:

  • Awareness of the need for change
  • Desire to support the change
  • Knowledge of how to change
  • Ability to demonstrate skills and behaviors
  • Reinforcement to make the change stick

The OCM designed was to provide busy executives, leaders, and end-users with key support and insights for action to achieve each outcome necessary for Teams adoption efficiently and effectively.

If you would like to participate in a CIE demonstration or learn more about adopting cloud-based collaboration tools and practices in your company, we are here to help!


With the recent release of Microsoft Teams, you may be wondering what the differences between Teams and Office 365 Groups are. At AIS, we’re always on the forefront of the latest Office 365 services, and given our long-time partnership with Microsoft, we’ve actually been using both Microsoft Teams and Office 365 Groups for while now. We’ve gotten a solid sense of what both services are good at and what they’re…not so good at. At least not yet. Read More…