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How to stop the Microsoft Teams sprawl

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By Matt Weston, Lead Evangelist at Powell Software UK & Ireland, 

At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in April 2020, the demand for video conferencing software grew exponentially in an attempt to keep ‘business as usual’. Microsoft Teams saw its daily usage jump from 32 million active users to 44 million in just seven days, and this is predicted to rise to 75 million at least by April 2021.

Recent reports show remote working is ‘here to stay’, with 99 percent of respondents wanting to work from home at least some of the time. But while businesses reap the rewards of increased productivity and performance as we work remotely, some employees are struggling with this new way of working.

22% of employees say they struggle to unplug after finishing work, and a further 19% reported loneliness as the biggest concern when working remotely. As the office is redesigned into a more hybrid workplace with a blend between home and office working – it is crucial employees have access to the tools and technology available to converse efficiently and work wherever, and whenever.

The radical transformation of the workplace, born out of the Covid-19 pandemic, will require businesses to swiftly migrate to the cloud and to use collaborative platforms like Microsoft Teams in order to stay well connected in the ever-evolving virtual world.

The benefits of working with tools like Teams is well documented; video conferencing, file sharing, Team channels, app integration and an upcoming important focus on employee wellbeing. But as employees become immersed in this new virtual working world with the freedom to use applications as they wish, users can become overzealous creating multiple and often unnecessary channels and files without foreplaning. The result – businesses fighting against the unproductive effects of ‘Teams sprawl’.

Duplication of files and scattered Team channels create chaos and confusion, not to mention increased storage take-up and decreased usage over time. Though productivity is up when working remotely, the sprawl impacts performance by slowing down business processes with employees reverting to using old and unsecure methods of communication and file sharing – emails.

Security – the big risk

The risk of a security and data breach is immediately heightened through the creation of multiple files and channels. As each Team channel is created, so is an Office 365 Group with a SharePoint for each user. Even when a Team is deleted, the information remains unmonitored within the system – including sensitive documents like contracts or confidential data. If guests from clients or customers are added to these Team channels, this poses further obvious security risks.

Team sprawl happens when there is no official cloud governance in place and some businesses have lost millions in grants or funding due to data breaches which could have been easily mitigated with the right planning and guidance in place. Without best practice guidance and good governance, employees will struggle to locate and share documents within secure collaborative platforms. They end up reverting to file sharing through email, where there is no oversight or extra layer of security, and the reputational damage from a cybersecurity attack in this instance would be almost irreversible.

No governance causes sprawl

Many businesses made an accelerated move to Microsoft Teams due to the pandemic. Now there is a retrospective need to put in place a well-practiced policy that is constantly improved as the software is updated.

To simplify the governance of Team channels, the key is to keep it simple and keep it clean in order to ‘contain the sprawl’. This may require users to tick boxes, sign documents or the general maintenance of saved and shared files.

Ultimately, there should be clear and concise guidance in place for all users within the business – and a mutual understanding of the importance of a happy medium between employee-autonomy and some control.

What can we do?

Ensure that there is an up-to-date training programme in place for those using this technology and software for the first time. Knowing your employees understand how to use the programmes in line with your company policy will only aid productivity, and support workers as we shift to a more hybrid way of working. It’s also important to have the guidance in place as the software naturally evolves as we continue to utilise it day-to-day. Microsoft has already announced updates following the sharp rise in usage of Teams, including different grid views for meetings and updated features for its mobile platform. Having both an initial and adaptive training programme will help put the governance in place to prevent sprawl.

Ideally, plan ahead as much as possible before implementing Teams. Make sure the creation of teams and channels are limited to nominated people who have been supported by training and standard operating procedures.

Finally, consider an archive strategy including regularly reviewing Teams to ensure the channels and content are still relevant. Removing users from these teams or channels following the end of contracts, projects or NDAs will also provide that extra level of security to these documents contained within chat features and on SharePoint. If channels are outdated or no longer used, then don’t be afraid to archive or even delete these so your business continues to benefit from the accessibility that Teams can offer when used effectively.

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