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    How Microsoft Teams is keeping Suffolk Construction workers connected

    For a big building agency resembling Suffolk Construction, managing communications between 2,500 office-based and on-site staff is a problem, even at the most effective of occasions. But protecting everybody related within the midst of this 12 months’s COVID-19 pandemic required the corporate’s IT crew to scramble greater than ordinary.To hold the enterprise operating — and staff protected — Suffolk leaned on its Microsoft Teams deployment. According to Doug Myers, government vp and CIO on the Boston-based firm, the collaboration platform helped Suffolk’s workers navigate the disruptive results of the pandemic.“In the middle of the early days of the pandemic, when situational awareness is a real challenge, we were able to get a Teams channel stood up very quickly where we could get information out to workers,” mentioned Myers. “We recognized early on that we had to change our standard procedures if we were going to keep our workers safe, keep them working and make sure that we could continue to do what we do safely.”One instance: the corporate created a devoted Teams channel to collate the outcomes of onsite temperature checks for staff. Seventy thermal imaging cameras had been put in and linked to the channel to document the outcomes. “You’re taking hundreds of employee temperatures daily on any given job site as they’re entering,” mentioned Myers. “That was a really great example of something we could develop quickly that was meeting the needs of people in the field.” Suffolk Construction
    Thermal imaging cameras had been related to a Teams channel to watch employee well being as workers returned to work throughout the pandemic.
    In addition, staff arriving on web site can now scan a QR code linked to a Microsoft Form that features the COVID-19 analysis questions advisable by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The solutions can then be surfaced in a Power BI dashboard for employees to view.“We want to make sure they can go to work and do [their job],” Myers said. “But the first thing we had to do was make sure that they could do so safely.”‘Knowledge work’ isn’t only for workplace workersSuffolk mission groups use Teams for quite a lot of functions, together with internet hosting conferences and presenting design and building paperwork to architects, all of which will be achieved remotely relatively than in-person in trailers. Workers additionally use Teams to speak in real-time between job websites and different workers.“It’s used by everybody: people who are functional workers, most of whom are still working remotely, are living on it. It’s how they can stay engaged with their teams. But then it’s also used by our workers in the field, for their administrative tasks and for their meetings,” mentioned Myers.Suffolk had already seen regular uptake of Teams earlier than the pandemic, however utilization soared as many staff had been required to work remotely. “We rolled it out in advance of the pandemic; it has worked greatly in our favor for having done that,” he mentioned. “We were already getting good adoption and then it just went through the roof once people saw that become such a core part of their day.”The use of Teams has been welcomed by front-line staff, mentioned Myers, who make up round 70% of the corporate’s workforce. Suffolk has mixture of Microsoft 365’s E5 and E1 licenses; it doesn’t use the F1 or F3 licenses geared toward front-line staff.  Microsoft made modifications to these licenses earlier this 12 months.“On a weekly basis, I hear from ops people saying, ‘I never believed we could have done all this remotely, I can’t believe how effective Teams is for me to help me manage what I have to do,’” mentioned Myers. “Keep in mind, ops folks are typically not the most effusive in their praise, they’re typically very direct about what’s working and what’s not. …They really did go out of their way to [say] that they were surprised by how effective we could be in this new environment, and they all fall back to Teams and the associated Power Apps that are in place.”Although Teams, which launched in 2017, is predominantly geared toward office-based staff, Microsoft has constructed out varied capabilities for front-line staff within the retail, hospitality and building industries who are sometimes missed relating to IT spending.Providing front-line staff with digital instruments has been a “growing trend” up to now two years, mentioned Angela Ashenden, principal analyst for office transformation at CCS Insight. That displays a recognition of the significance of connecting non-office-based staff to one another — and to the remainder of the enterprise.“It’s partly an operational need, with demand for the digitizing of processes that have often been very manual and paper-based,” she mentioned. “But we’re also seeing a growing interest in terms of improving employee engagement among this audience, particularly among the younger workforce.”The pandemic has only served to amplify the need “with collaboration and communication tools being thrown sharply in focus in terms of their strategic importance, and businesses increasingly wanting to have a single solution across their entire business,” mentioned Ashenden.Microsoft Teams walkie-talkieOne of the Teams options geared toward first-line staff is a digital walkie-talkie unveiled earlier this 12 months. The easy push-to-talk functionality allows encrypted conversations over Wi-Fi and mobile networks on the click on of a button.  The characteristic is at present being examined at Suffolk utilizing Samsung’s Galaxy XCover Pro smartphones, which embrace a devoted push-to-talk button designed to utilize the Teams walkie-talkie performance.The pilot mission is meant to handle quite a few communications complications for staffers. Suffolk Construction
    Suffolk is at present making an attempt Teams’ walkie-talkie performance introduced earlier this 12 months for its workforce.
    Often, staff will carry a number of gadgets for conversations on completely different radio channels, whereas communication vary is restricted. Furthermore, walkie-talkies could also be sharing radio bands with emergency providers. “The police might be on a similar band, so you’ve got the potential for overlapping conversations,” he mentioned.“The belief is that this is actually a better alternative to the radio because it’s a single device, more secure communication, not having the overlapping channels.”On a constructing web site, good communication is about extra than simply effectivity, mentioned Myers.“One of the best ways to make sure that your workers go home safely is that communication is crystal clear,” he mentioned. “If you’ve got a hazardous task, you’ve got to make sure that you lay out how you’re going to approach it. Over the course of the day, you have to make sure people are on the same page in terms of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”Support for the walkie-talkie characteristic with Apple gadgets could be welcome, too. “Obviously we’re very interested in what Microsoft might be able to do with an iOS version.”There are a number of benefits for utilizing enterprise apps like Teams for communication, significantly in comparison with client messaging purposes — particularly for safety and compliance, mentioned Ashenden. Enterprise-grade apps additionally allow companies to retain full management over person information for privateness and GDPR functions.“And while walkie-talkies have fulfilled a critical role for many years, they are a point solution, whereas team collaboration tools provide a much richer platform for sharing information, supporting and enabling business processes, and creating a community that connects the whole business together,” she mentioned.Although some companies with front-line staff fear about them spending extra time on cell phones than serving to prospects, many are “increasingly recognizing that the advantages of a more connected and engaged workforce outweigh these concerns,” mentioned Ashenden.Improving data circulate throughout the organizationGoing ahead, there are plans at Suffolk to create role-based entry for staffers utilizing Microsoft’s Active Directory.“Rather than saying, ‘Here are all of our applications available to you, pick the ones you need,’ we want to be able to give people an experience that says, ‘I know who you are, I know what your role is, so here are the applications that you have access to when you need them, and here’s the data that you need,’ so that people get a more customized experience,” Myers mentioned.“It allows us to standardize the experience for people and to have the consumer experience that they might be having on their personal phone, where the devices at Suffolk, that IT provides, can know who you are and know what you use, and make sure that we’re facilitating that for people.”Myers can also be investigating the mixing of an enhanced worker listing with the Microsoft stack to enhance data sharing. That means shifting previous the usual worker listing that features solely fundamental data resembling e mail handle, telephone quantity and out-of-date headshots as a substitute of serving to staff simply discover the individual they want. “[It could mean] you find somebody who has encountered a challenge with an underground parking garage and navigate based on their past experience and the jobs they’ve worked on, to be able to reach out across the country tap into the company’s collective wisdom,” he mentioned.  “When you’re a professional services provider like Suffolk, we are the sum of our knowledge and experience. If we can use the technology to network people together and share knowledge and experience, then you get better employee engagement across the country.”He added: “There’s structured information, there’s unstructured information, and then there’s information in people’s heads. If you can use technology to be able to get to those answers, to me that’s a huge win.”

    Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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