Monthly Archives: June 2020

Why Microsoft Teams Is The Best Tool For You

Lockdown restrictions are easing, and different sectors of the economy are set to reopen over the coming weeks.

However, many businesses are reluctant to go back to “normal”, as various research shows that the majority of workers are anxious at the thought of returning to their previous working hours and office environments.

What’s more, there is concern that doing so will have a negative impact on their mental health and productivity and as a result many business leaders have announced that their teams will continue to work from home for the time being.

While working remotely for the foreseeable future will allay some very important public health concerns, there are downsides which have to be carefully addressed. Using the right technology and tools to facilitate remote working and collaboration between individuals and teams in a business, or with clients and suppliers can make all the difference when it comes to whether you make a success of this “new normal” or not.

One tool I would highly recommend for collaboration is Microsoft Teams. The service was launched in 2017 and has grown in popularity in the last three years. Since the start of the pandemic in particular, the count of daily active users has hit a record 75 million.

If you don’t use Microsoft Teams already, here are some of the reasons why I think it is the best tool for you to use when working remotely with your clients, partners and suppliers, and also internally within your business:

Online Meetings

With Microsoft Teams, you have the ability to host and attend webinars and online meetings.

You can have a one-to-one meeting with someone else, or a video conference with as many as 10,000 people!*

They could be your colleagues, or people from other businesses and organisations.

Regardless of the number of participants you’ll get to see and hear everyone clearly, and also have the option to record it so anyone who misses it can watch the replay.

*Depending on your price plan.

Chat

(Source: Brooke Cagel at Unsplash)

While we never appreciated the significance of water cooler conversations, the lack of them since the start of the pandemic is having a detrimental effect on morale and driving an increase in isolation, as well as affecting how bonds are developed and trust is built among colleagues.

While there is no direct replacement for that kind of physical and social interaction, I’d argue that the chat function within Microsoft Teams is as close as you can get to that informal manner of communication.

The chat function works for those times when you need to send a quick message, and do not require the audit trail that email provides. You can ask your colleagues about their weekends, a quick question about a piece of work, or when they are available to talk, for example. All without leaving the tool.

Call

You can make audio calls from within the tool, either by clicking on a saved contact or typing in a phone number.

So if you decide not to use or enable video, you can speak to your teams using the call function.

Collaboration

Collaborate on projects and joint pieces of work. Multiple people can work on documents, without worrying about version control or corruption.

Privacy & Security

As the use of the internet and collaboration tools has risen during the pandemic, it is no surprise that cybersecurity issues have risen as well. For example, the video communication and chat tool Zoom has had a number of well-publicised incidents highlighting its vulnerabilities. While the company quickly sought to address these and continues to do so, in many ways the damage had already been done as many organisations warned their teams off using the tool, and declared Microsoft Teams to be their preferred tool instead.

For Teams, Microsoft recommends a number of best practices to ensure that you are able to work efficiently and safely. These include:

Using two-factor authentication; giving your team members the correct level of access they need to complete their tasks and no more; and conducting careful assessments of what features are required (and enabled) for people outside your organisation.

Their Customer Base

Microsoft Teams is used by organisations as diverse as Accenture, the Metropolitan Police, schools, universities, hospital networks and the NFL.

But it isn’t just for large organisations. Smaller businesses – even if you only have one employee – can also make the most of the functionality. You wouldn’t be the only one: thousands of small businesses have recently migrated to the tool, and Microsoft has practical guidance to support small businesses that are having to adapt to working remotely.

New To Teams?

(Source: getstencil)

If you’re new to Microsoft Teams and need to get your head around it quickly, I’m running a workshop on Friday 10 July which will help you hit the ground running. I’ll give you an overview of the tool and how it works, explain how to set it up, manage communication and collaborate with your clients and teams.

It’s on sale now, so secure your place today. Click here to book.

How To Support Black Professionals

Mural of George Floyd (Source: knowtechie.com)

The days since George Floyd’s murder on 25th May by a policeman in the United States have gone by in a flash.

His senseless killing captured on video exposed the reality of racial injustice to a global audience, and has forced us all as individuals, communities and countries to examine our bias and confront our complacency.

People were shocked and appalled. But organisations and some public figures were tentative in their initial reactions.

That soon changed and slowly businesses started to declare their abhorrence of racism and support for Black employees, customers and the community as a whole.

From multinationals like Apple, Nike, adidas, Visa and MasterCard, to organisations in the arts like the Barbican and Shakespeare’s Globe, and fashion publications like Vogue and Vanity Fair, businesses of all sizes and in various sectors have spoken out.

The overwhelming show of support culminated in #BlackoutTuesday on 2nd June, where people refrained from posting anything other than a black square on their social media accounts.

As a Black woman while I think it has taken far too long for racism and racial injustice to capture the attention of the general public, the universal condemnation of Mr. Floyd’s murder and subsequent declarations of allyship are heartening.

However, it’s important that the support was not just a performance that occurred on social media.

It’s crucial that tackling racism does not fall off the agenda once the news cycle moves on, and that all the declarations of allyship and support actually translate from the intangible into catalysts for real, practical change.

So, if your organisation really wants to ally with Black people, here is some food for thought.

Economic Power

(Source: getstencil)

The importance of money and economic power cannot be overemphasised. In the here and now, an income helps pay for life’s necessities. In the medium to long-term it allows us to make choices, many of which can have lifelong implications.

Internships & Recruitment

As income and subsequently economic power stem from jobs and careers, the first step is to examine your hiring practices and how opportunities are afforded to people. Is this done equitably?

For example, internships often appear to be the preserve of the privileged. And they are – because they are mainly unpaid.

Question: Who can afford to take up an unpaid summer internship at a law firm?

Answer: Young people whose parents are well off. Who, in reality, don’t need the leg-up that an internship provides anyway.

Another example: What happens when your recruiting partners and HR department come across a name they are culturally unfamiliar with? Is that CV automatically discarded? Are you more likely to invite a “Sarah” or “Andrew” in for an interview, and not bother with an “Adanna” or a “Kweku”?

Do you only hire people from your alma mater or certain schools?

Also, how do people hear about vacancies? Where are they advertised? Is information about vacancies made available to a wide-ranging audience, or does it stay privy to subscribers to the Financial Times and The Economist only?

Not that there is anything wrong with these publications, but advertising in them alone facilitates and entrenches the exclusion of certain demographics.

Then take a look at your teams. How are they constituted; what is the make up?

As you seek to support Black professionals it is important to make sure they are in the room and feel confident that they can speak, and have their voices heard when they do.

Career Progression

And once they are in your organisation there must be a progression route that is clear and transparent, not one that is opaque and dependent on whether they go for drinks after work. Review the career paths in your organisation, which open the doors to economic power.

Suppliers & Vendors

Another useful exercise is to review who you give your business to. Which suppliers and vendors do you work with? Whose products do you sell and showcase to your audience?

Create A Culture and Environment that Is Safe, Nurturing and Enabling

The culture in an organisation is often taken for granted.

We assume it just happens, but in truth it is a function of what is we create or allow.

From the perspective of a Black professional in the United Kingdom, my experience has been that racism is never overt. However, it can be subtle, insidious, carefully planned and executed, to debilitating effect.

It is not uncommon for people who do not “fit in” to be managed out of organisations. While nothing is ever explicitly expressed, things can be made so unbearable for the individual that they resign out of frustration or are asked to leave after a campaign that portrays them as incompetent.

At first glance, this scenario may seem like an exaggeration. But it is more common than you realise, and often thrives in toxic environments created or allowed by Senior Management.

Bringing Black professionals through the doors of your organisation is not the end of your obligations. The work to ensure a positive and enabling culture and working environment is continuous and must be prioritised at the highest levels.

Provide a Platform

(Source: getstencil)

Every organisation has a platform and uses it every time it organises or participates in industry conferences, events, and panel discussions.

It is worth considering the following: Who do you invite onstage to speak at your events? Who participates in the panel discussions you organise? If you have a podcast, what is the demographic of the guests you choose to interview and showcase? And, which members of your team do you send to represent your organisation at conferences?

Another thing that is common is that once a Black man or woman is located, he or she can often become the “go-to” expert from a diverse background who is always given a platform. It makes life easier, but having one person who is always invited does not do much for diversity.

Apart from the fact that it prevents others having access to opportunities, it is important to remember that there is not one homogenous Black view of the world. We vote Labour and Conservative, voted both to leave and remain in the European Union, are vegan and meat eaters, are students, employees, business owners, currently unemployed, homeowners, tenants and everything in between. There are a myriad of perspectives and opinions which you cannot access if you only give a platform to one “go-to” person.

So, challenge your events and production teams, your researchers to look further afield. Insist that they provide you with a different list of names the next time you want an expert, speaker, panellist, or podcast guest.

Leadership & Decision Making

(Source: getstencil)

It is one thing to have Black men and women in your organisation and have their voices in the room.

It is also imperative that some of those voices are empowered and have the ability to influence and effect change from positions of seniority, so they have the authority and freedom to propose and chart a different course in the organisation if need be.

This is because it is easy to overrule junior members of staff, even middle management. Their input and views can easily be discounted.

But making sure Black men and women have the ability to influence, shape and make key decisions makes it hard to ignore their input and perspectives. Tackling that power dynamic and ensuring there is a better balance means usual viewpoints can be challenged by someone who is less concerned about the consequences of speaking up or having a different view.

Look at your Senior Management or Leadership teams. Who is in them, and what can you do to address any imbalance that exists?

Are you actively working to develop and coach the next generation of Black men and women to step into positions of leadership?

I cannot pretend that these alone will resolve all race-related issues in businesses and organisations, but if acted upon they are practical steps in the right direction which will go a long way to making a significant difference.

It is important that this moment in time acts as a trigger for real and lasting change, and does not end up just being a hashtag. But that will not happen on its own; action is required now.

So, I challenge you not just to say that Black lives matter.

Go further and put your money where your mouth is. Because your actions going forward – as a leader, as a business or organisation – will speak much louder than your words.

Coronavirus Pandemic: Business Winners & Losers

There are always winners and losers.

With redundancies and bankruptcies announced by companies that are household names every day, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s all doom and gloom out there.

But as sure as there are businesses which have been hit hard by the pandemic, others have found a niche, quickly adapted their business models, taken advantage of the opportunities, met customer demand, and thrived.

Some businesses and sectors are busier than ever right now, and I’m excited and fascinated by their success. Here are a few of the success stories.

Some of the Winners

Board Games & Jigsaw Puzzle manufacturers

(Source: getstencil)

Maybe unforeseen, but as families spent more time together, they entertained themselves with games and puzzles which resulted in sales of the likes of Monopoly, Cluedo and Scrabble rising by 240% in the first week of lockdown.

Collaboration Tools

Tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom have risen in popularity.

As people around the world were forced to work and socialise remotely, their need for technology to help them do so increased exponentially. My mother is in her seventies, and even she has now downloaded one of these apps onto her phone!

And she’s not the only one: apparently Zoom has been downloaded over 2 million times and its founder’s net worth has risen by $4bn since March. Microsoft Teams also saw usage grow to 44 million daily active users in the first week of March, so up by 12 million in just a week.

Food Subscription Boxes

The likes of HelloFresh and Mindful Chef have experienced rapid growth as the restrictions stopped us eating out, and forced us to stay in and spend more time in the kitchen.

Demand grew for fresh, healthy ingredients and customers were attracted by organic items suited to a range of diets and tastes. They have seen sales soar by as much as 300% since the outbreak.

Groceries

(Source: getstencil)

One of the first places society was seriously impacted was with availability of food and the ease with which we could buy it.

Supermarkets like Tesco and Sainsbury’s couldn’t get rid of their stock fast enough! They adapted by hiring as many as 40,000 staff and implementing social distancing measures as they saw sales increase by 30%.

Items ranging from canned foods and alcohol to flour and yeast flew off the shelves.

Home Improvement Stores

As we stayed at home, we suddenly noticed all those jobs that needed doing! After an initial drop in sales, people flocked back as soon as shops like B&Q started to reopen in accordance with social distancing guidelines.

Loo Roll manufacturers

(Source: getstencil)

Who would have foreseen this basic household item being stockpiled?

No one, and companies like Who Gives A Crap saw their sales multiply by as much as a factor of 12 in one day.

Payment & Money Transfer Apps

The use of apps such as TransferWise, Paypal, Cash App, Venmo & Xoom have risen by 11% since the beginning of March. And it makes sense: as well as doing all our shopping online, it quickly became apparent that cash is neither suitable nor hygienic at the current time.

Fitness Trainers

(Source: getstencil)

Exercise became a release, an outlet, and a way of keeping children occupied, and the industry adapted to the new normal accordingly by moving its business model online.

Joe Wicks quickly grabbed the nation’s attention. As did gyms, online yoga studios, fitness instructors and others in the sector.

Some of the Losers

Cinemas & Theatres

(Source: getstencil)

As cinemas and theatres became no-go areas, many streamed shows and performances to stay in touch with their audiences. However, in terms of revenue it’s not the same as people attending in person.

Manufacturing

Manufacturing activities ground to a halt, not just because of the restrictions but also because of supply chains that were severely disrupted.

Restaurants

(Source: getstencil)

Hospitality ground to a halt. However many quickly became delivery-only, which has hopefully helped.

Retail

High streets were already in dire straits, and the pandemic has only compounded issues.

Many moved operations online, but the lockdown has still had a devastating effect on the likes of Cath Kidston, Cafe Rouge and Bella Italia.

Travel & Tourism

(Source: getstencil)

Airlines, hotels, agents, tour operators – anyone connected to travel and tourism has seen their revenue dry up. Big hitters like Virgin Atlantic and British Airways are feeling the pain.

As restrictions start to ease this month, the hope is that this kicks off the recovery process.