Posted: Tuesday, May 19, 2020
Like many companies, we found ourselves having to transition in a short space of time from a predominately office-based organisation, to a new world of remote working. For Utilize and Ignite, this meant the mobilisation of around 150 staff members.
As a Microsoft Gold Partner, we were already using Microsoft Teams to help with our business challenges in communication, collaboration, and coordination, but we wanted to explore new ways of bringing our staff together in a less formal virtual environment that reproduced the coffee machine chats we used to have in our smart new Basildon offices. From this – the idea of the virtual pub was born.
Firstly, we formed a steering group of four staff members and after a couple of meetings (on Microsoft Teams of course), the process of ‘build to completion’ only took a few hours.
The time spent on the detail made the finished article engaging and fun to use. Since launching, we are actively adding new features and encouraging staff to embrace the concept as a community project and come up with ideas of their own.
This article shows how the pub was built.
We wanted to create an environment where staff could drop into different focus areas and either chat by video or text. A new Team was created with several channels representing virtual bars. The General channel was kept for announcements and held a copy of the pub rules. After the staff had joined and congregated in the bars, we would announce a weekly virtual pub quiz.
Our steering group agreed on a name for the pub; Ye Olde Plugit Inne, and names for the various bars.
Building the foundations
We created an Org Wide Team which automatically adds in all staff members, but be aware you are limited to 5 of these per tenant. The staff tasked with running the pub were upgraded to ‘Owners’.
To keep the General channel clear and encourage staff to use the bars, we turned on moderation and only allowed Owners to post here.
Each bar was represented by a channel and then created accordingly with emojis in the channel names (Windows Key + . to bring up the emoji dashboard).
The default Wiki which is created with each channel was renamed to ‘Bar Talk’ and some suggestions for chat conversations added.
A private channel named ‘The Landlords Office’ was added and restricted to our steering group only. We nominated (persuaded) a couple of people to be Channel Champions for each bar so they could encourage conversation on the topics eluded to in the ‘Bar Talk’ Wiki but this was informal and not prescriptive. We created a corresponding ‘Channel Champions’ tag group so it was easy to @mention all the champions in a message.
One of the bars we named Bright Ideas where staff would post their ideas for new pub features that the owners would consider for future build-out.
Setting some simple governance and other options
Our goal was to make the pub as user-friendly as possible but to prevent the structure from being modified by the members.
From within ‘Manage Team’, we set the Team picture (a frothy pint of course) and in Settings, turned off some of the members’ permissions for tasks such as creating and deleting channels.
We also turned off Guest access.
This introduced a simple framework to keep the structure in place and allow flexibility.
We wanted to give staff the option to either post a text chat into a bar or have a drop in video chat. We achieved this by creating a channel meeting in each bar which in practice allowed staff to dip in, join a video chat and then if they wished, also join another in a different bar. Teams will automatically put one video call on hold when another is started.
This worked well, and we had multiple different video calls running simultaneously within the pub.
We used channel announcements throughout the week to promote the opening of the pub. These were posted into the General channel and @mentioned the Team name to gain even more attention. On the day of the official opening, we posted a number of countdown announcements.
The Analytics tab (in Manage Team) gave us some useful insights into the most popular bars. For us, – it was the Craft Ale, and All things Gin bar and the Coffee Shop that were most frequented.
Thankfully our designated, quiz master excelled at the task. Costume changes, creative use of background settings, and great chat feed banter really brought the Quiz to life.
We decided the Pub Quiz would be run as a Teams Live Event with questions displayed via a PowerPoint deck. Staff were then encouraged to post their scores in the chat feed above a certain threshold at the end.
To promote the quiz, we sent the attendee link around as an announcement in a multi-channel post regularly throughout the day prior to the event.
All simple stuff but very effective.
The pub remains open and is being used by staff throughout the week. We hold a pub quiz every Thursday. The Bright Ideas channel has yielded some great suggestions including virtual bingo which is now up and running as a separate event. The pub has now become a company asset and one we intend to nurture, even after lockdown has ended.
This has been a fun exercise for the team at Utilize, demonstrating how Microsoft Teams can be used to generate social interaction between staff as well as being a powerful business tool.
The virtual pub is just one example of the people-centric Microsoft Teams projects that we have embarked upon both internally and for our customers in recent months.
We love using Microsoft Teams and would be very happy to discuss any business challenges (including building your own virtual pub) you have with communication, collaboration, or coordination within your organisation and how Microsoft Teams and Utilize can help you. Contact: Robert.Ward@utilize.co.uk