Featured Article – Remote Working and Office 365

Remote working during the pandemic has made businesses look more closely at what IT tools are best for the job.  Here is a look at what Microsoft’s Office 365 has to offer.

Remote Working

ONS figures show that 53 per cent of those in the information and communication industries (for an example ) had the opportunity to work from home using IT and the Business Impact of Coronavirus Survey (BICS) showed that between 23 March to 5 April, 48 per cent of the workforce was working remotely from their normal place.

Platforms and Remote Working Solutions

There have been many reports in recent months about how video conferencing and collaborative working platforms such as Zoom enjoyed a boom in user numbers, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic in Europe.  For example, at the beginning of April, Zoom’s daily user numbers were reported to have jumped from 10 million to 200 million.

Microsoft Teams, which is part of Microsoft 365, also emerged as an extremely popular option and, at the end of April, reports indicated that daily user numbers had jumped 70 per cent to 75 million.

Office 365

Office 365 is a subscription SaaS from Microsoft that gives users access to the latest Office apps, can be installed on PCs, Macs, tablets, and phones, and offers 1 TB of OneDrive cloud storage as well as a variety of feature updates and upgrades.

Remote Working and Office 365

Some of the features and benefits that have made Office 365 a good option for remote working include:

– Teams.  As mentioned, Teams has been a popular aspect of Office 365 during the last few months. It offers users features like chatting within the document, video calling and instant messaging, sharing screens, and a Microsoft Whiteboard app.  Users can therefore chat, meet, call, and collaborate from anywhere, anytime. Meetings can be 1:1, or video chat chats can be with up to 250 people at once.  Teams also allows users to present live to up to 10,000 people. 

– Real-time document co-authoring (e.g. through SharePoint).  This feature allows workers to contribute to a document and always be working on the most up-to-date version. For example, when one user shares a Word document with another, they receive a link that opens the document in the recipient’s web browser.  Here, the user can see if anyone else is working on the document, and what changes they are making.

– Microsoft To Do.  This is a cloud-based task management app that is combined with Teams.  The app allows users to manage their tasks via their smartphone, tablet, and computer, thereby offering a convenient and fast way to stay organised while working remotely.

– OneNote. Microsoft’s OneNote is a cloud-based collaborative storage and sharing app where team members can share their documents and where anything written or edited offline will update when a connection is next used, thereby keeping everything current within OneNote.

– Security Features: Mobile Device Manager, Advanced Threat Protection and Multi-factor Authentication.  Remote working has meant the need for an even greater focus on security as cybercriminals have tried to take advantage of the workforce being physically divided.  The Mobile Device Manager in 365 enables the IT team to wipe data from a device if it’s been lost/stolen or infected with malware while Advanced Threat Protection provides a powerful cloud-based email filtering, and Multi-Factor Authentication provides extra layers of security to make it much more difficult for cybercriminals (e.g. fingerprint scanning and biometric data).

– Outlook + Calendar.  The Outlook Calendar allows users to click any time slot and create appointments and events, organize meetings, view group schedules, and much more. Outlook also lets users see everyone’s calendar so they can check a person’s availability before organising anything, thereby saving time and trouble.  Outlook’s widely used email management system has many great features for remote working anyway including attachments, alerts, @Mentions and more.

– Office Lens.  This is a really convenient, time-saving pdf scanner app that allows the user to scan and share documents quickly into OneNote and OneDrive.

– Planner.  This offers remote workers a way to organise teamwork and tasks and as well as being a file-sharing point, it’s also a hub for team members to create plans, organise and assign tasks to users and check updates on progress through helpful dashboards.

– Yammer. This Enterprise Social Network (ESN) that comes as part of Office 365 is a social networking tool that can connect and engage across an organisation, so users can discuss ideas, share updates, and network with others workers in the organisation globally.

Looking Forward

One key aspect of why these many tools work well is because they all integrate and are very compatible with the entire 365 environment.

The pandemic has taught many businesses that they can still work and function effectively through remote working in a way that they may not have imagined was possible before.  Microsoft’s 365 and especially Teams has proven to be very valuable to many businesses that will, no doubt, consider how they can keep using it to leverage its features to create value and a cohesive approach as we move forward into less certain future, where lockdowns could come again at any time.

Tech Tip – Save Time With Aero Shake

If you’ve got a screen full of windows open on Windows 10 and you need to unclutter your screen so you can concentrate on just the one you’re working on, the old ‘Aero Shake’ trick still works and can save time. Here is how to use it:

– Left-click on the title bar of the Window that you are working on.

– Hold down the left mouse button and shale the window from left to right.  This will minimise all the other windows.

– To restore the other windows, click and hold and shake the mouse from left to right again.

Tech Tip – 3 Ways to help speed up your Windows 10 PC

Here are 3 tips to help speed up a Windows 10 PC:

1. Change Power Settings

If you are using a power saver plan, you can change your power settings to “Higher Performance” or “Balanced” to speed things up. This can be done via the Control Panel app, then select Hardware and Sound > Power Options.

2. Halt Windows Tips and Tricks

Stopping many of the (often unhelpful) tips and tricks that are triggered by how you use the PC can speed things up.  To do this:

– Go to the Start button.

– Select Settings.

– Go to System > Notifications & actions.

– Scroll down to Notifications and uncheck the box marked “Get tips, tricks, and suggestions as you use Windows.”

3. Clean Out Your Hard Disk

Your hard disk can contain many old files that just slow things down.  The ‘Storage Sense’ tool can help you to clean out the hard disk and speed things up.

– Go to Settings > System > Storage.

– Top of the screen, move the toggle ‘On’. This will let Windows monitor for and delete old junk files.

– To customize Storage Sense, go to “Configure Storage Sense or run it now” and set your requirements on the screen that appears e.g. how often Storage Sense deletes files (daily, weekly, monthly or when storage space is low).

More Warnings Over Scams Aimed at Zoom, Teams and Meet Users

Reports indicate that hackers are still using domains related to popular remote, collaborative working platforms to target users working from home with phishing scams during the lockdown.

Domains

Almost as soon as the lockdown started, there were reports at the beginning of April by Cybersecurity company ‘Check Point’  that there had been a major increase in new domains registered that included the word ‘Zoom’ and other suspicious characteristics. It was also reported at the time that the official classroom.google.com website had been impersonated by googloclassroom.com and googieclassroom.com.

Zoom, Teams, and Meet

The most recent Check Point Research shows that scammers have widened their attack strategy by registered domains not just to pose as Zoom, but also as Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet-related URLs. 

Check Point Research reports that, in just the last 3 weeks, 2,449 Zoom-related domains have been registered, 32 of which are malicious and 320 categorised as “suspicious”

WHO Impersonated

Check Point Research also shows that scammers have been sending phishing emails posing as the World Health Organisation with malware attachments and asking for donations to the WHO where any payments made go into known, compromised bitcoin wallets.

The WHO now has a page warning about the risk of being targeted with fraudulent email and WhatsApp messages by scammers taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic and claiming to be from the WHO. The page gives advice about how to verify authenticity before responding and how to spot and prevent phishing.  See https://www.who.int/about/communications/cyber-security

Nation-State Cyber Espionage To Steal COVID-19 Research

In a more sinister turn, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has reported that UK universities and scientific institutes involved in COVID-19 research are being targeted with cyber espionage by nation state-sponsored actors e.g. Russia, Iran, and China, allegedly looking for information about studies conducted by UK organisations related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Protection

Ways that users can protect their computers/devices, networks and businesses from these types of threats, as suggested by Check Point, include being extra cautious with emails and files from unfamiliar senders, not opening attachments or clicking on links in emails (phishing scams), and by paying close attention to the spelling of domains, email addresses and spelling errors in emails/on websites.  Check Point also suggests Googling the company you are looking for to find their official website rather than just clicking on a link in an email, which could redirect to a fake (phishing) site.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Cybercriminals are quick to capitalise on situations where people have been adversely affected by unusual events and where they know people are in unfamiliar territory.  At the moment, people are also divided geographically and are trying to cope with many situations at the same time, may be a little distracted, and may be less vigilant than normal.  As long as the pandemic continues, these types of scams also look set to continue and evolve.  It is also shocking (but perhaps not surprising) to see how nation states appear to be sponsoring attacks on each other’s research institutions to get an advantage in defeating COVID-19.

The message to businesses, however, is that extra vigilance is still needed and that all employees need to be very careful, particularly in how they deal with emails from unknown sources, or from apparently known sources offering convincing reasons and incentives to click on links or download files. 

Tech Tip – Setting A Background in Microsoft Teams

If you are using Microsoft’s Teams during the lockdown and would like to set up a more professional-looking or even a fun or custom background during your video calls, here’s how:

You can choose to use one of the backgrounds that are built-in to teams or, you can set up your own custom background (putting your image in the uploads folder) in the following way:

– Open File Explorer.

– Select Click This PC >> Windows (C:).

– Open the Users folder, select your user profile and click the View tab (top of File Explorer).

– Check the Hidden items checkbox and open the AppData folder (which should have appeared when you checked the hidden items box).

– Open the Roaming folder, open the Microsoft folder, and open the Teams folder within the Microsoft folder.

– Then, open the Backgrounds folder, open the Uploads folder, and place your chosen image in the uploads folder.

– Finally, right-click on the Uploads folder and select Pin to Quick access. You can also pin the Uploads folder to Quick Access to speed things up if you want to add more images.

To set your chosen (from the built-in images) or custom image as a background:

– Within a video call, select the More actions button (the three dots).

– Select Show background effects, scroll down and select your uploaded image.

– Select Preview and then select Apply (or Apply and turn on video).

Featured Article – Microsoft Teams User Numbers Up By 12 Million In A Week

Microsoft’s collaborative working platform ‘Teams’ is reported to have seen a massive 12 million user boost in one week as a result of remote-working through the coronavirus outbreak, and through Microsoft making the platform generally available through Office 365 from March 14.

What Is Teams?

Teams, announced in November 2016 and launched by Microsoft in 2017, is a platform designed to help collaborative working and combines features such as workplace chat, meetings, notes, and attachments. Described by Microsoft as a “complete chat and online meetings solution”, it normally integrates with the company’s Office 365 subscription office productivity suite. In July 2018, Microsoft introduced a free, basic features version of Teams which did not require an Office 365 account, in order to increase user numbers and tempt users away from competitor ‘Slack’.

Microsoft Teams is also the replacement for Skype for Business Online, the support for which will end on 31 July 2021, and all-new Microsoft 365 customers have been getting Microsoft Teams by default from 1 September 2019.

March 14

Microsoft Corp. announced on March 14 that Microsoft Teams would be generally available in Office 365 for business customers in 181 markets and 19 languages.

Increased To 44 Million Users

The move to make Teams generally available to businesses with Office 365, coupled with a mass move to remote working as a result of COVID-19 has resulted in 12 million new users joining the platform in a week, bringing users up from 32 million on 11 March to 44 million users a week later.  The number is likely to have increased significantly again since 18 March.

What Does Teams Offer?

Microsoft Teams offers threaded chat capabilities which Microsoft describes as “a modern conversations experience”, and built-in Office 365 apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, SharePoint and Power BI.  Also, Teams offers users ad-hoc (and scheduled) voice and video meetings and has security and compliance capabilities built-in as it supports global standards, including SOC 1, SOC 2, EU Model Clauses, ISO27001 and HIPAA. Users are also able to benefit from the fact that workspaces can be customised for each team using tabs, connectors and bots from third-party partners and Microsoft tools e.g. Microsoft Planner and Visual Studio Team Services. Microsoft says that more than 150 integrations are available or coming soon to Teams.

New Features

Microsoft reports that it has added more than 100 new features to Teams since November 2019.  These include an enhanced meeting experience (with scheduling), mobile audio calling, video calling on Android (coming soon to iOS), and email integration.  Teams has also benefited from improvements to accessibility with support for screen readers, high contrast and keyboard-only navigation.

Walkie-Talkie Phone

In January, Microsoft announced that it was adding a “push-to-talk experience” to Teams that turns employee or company-owned smartphones and tablets into walkie-talkies.  The Walkie Talkie feature, which can be accessed in private preview in the first half of this year and will be available in the Teams mobile app, offers clear, instant and secure voice communication over the cloud. 

Competition

There are, of course, other services in competition with Microsoft Teams. Slack, for example, is a cloud-based set of proprietary team collaboration tools and services.  Slack enables users (communities, groups, or teams) to join through a URL or invitation sent by a team admin or owner.  Although Slack was intended to be an organisational communication tool, it has morphed into a community platform i.e. it is a business technology that has crossed over into personal use. 

That said, Slack reported in October last year that it had 12 million daily active users, which was a 2 million increase since January 2019. 

Slack has stickiness and strong user engagement which help to attract businesses that want to get into using workstream collaboration software but, it faces challenges such as convincing big businesses that it is not just a chat app and that it is a worthy, paid-for alternative to its more well-known competitors like Microsoft’s Teams.

Like Teams, Slack has just introduced new features and has experienced a surge of growth in just over a month. 

Another competitor to Microsoft’s Teams is Zoom, which is a platform for video and audio conferencing, chat, and webinars that is often used alongside Google’s G Suite and Slack.  It has been reported that Zoom is now top of the free downloaded apps in Apple’s app store, and Learnbonds.com reports that downloads for Zoom increased by 1,270 per cent between February 22 and March 22.

Real-Life Example – Teams

A real-life example from Microsoft of how Teams is being put to good use is by bicycle and cycling gear company Trek Bicycle.  Microsoft reports how Teams has become the project hub for the company where all staff know where to find the latest documents, notes, tasks relating to team conversations thereby making Teams a central part of the company’s “get-things-done-fast culture.”

Looking Forward

Many businesses are already using and gaining advantages from the speed and scope of communication, project context, and convenience of a cloud-based, accessible hub offered by collaborative working platforms like Teams.  The decision to make Teams generally available with Office 365 for business can only make the platform more popular and the need for companies to quickly set-up effective remote working has stimulated the market for these services and given users a crash-course in and a strong reminder of their strengths and benefits. 

The hope by Microsoft and other collaborative working platform providers is that companies will go on using the platforms long after they technically need to in order to deal with COVID19 lockdown and that they will decide to use them going forward to keep improving the flexibility and productivity of their businesses, compete with other companies that are getting the best from them, and guard against excessive damage to the business from any future lockdown situations.

Tech Tip – Deleting Your Personal Metadata From Microsoft Documents

If you really want to make sure that you fully protect your data and identity, one thing you may not know is that Microsoft Office documents store metadata which (although largely useful) could be linked back to you.  There is an easy way to stop this from happening – here’s how:

For Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint:

– Click on ‘File’ (top left).

– On the Info page, click on ‘Check for Issues’.

– Click on ‘Inspect Document’ (which opens the Inspector window).

– Make sure all the checkboxes in the Document Inspector are checked.

– Click the ‘Inspect’ button.

– A green checkmark in a circle indicates that no data of that type has been found. A red exclamation mark means it found data of this type.

– Next to that data type’s description, click the ‘Remove All’ button.

– You can also click the ‘Reinspect’ button to make sure that nothing was missed.

Tech Tip – Format Painter

If you’re preparing a Word document in Windows 10 and you like the look of the formatting in one section and you’d like a quick and easy way to apply the same formatting to other sections, try using ‘Format Painter’.

You can find Format Painter on the top left of the screen – a paintbrush symbol. To use it :

– Highlight a paragraph in your document which has the formatting you like.

– Click on the Format Painter symbol.

– Click in the document next to the section you’d like to change to that formatting (you’ll see the paintbrush symbol appear) and highlight the new section.

– The formatting you like will automatically be applied.

The Battle Between ‘Slack’ and ‘Teams’

With Microsoft’s announcement that it’s Teams product has 20 million daily active users (and growing), sending Slack’s share price downwards (Slack has 12 million users), the battle is well underway in the $3.5 billion chat-based collaborative working software market.

What Is Slack?

Slack, launched in 2013, is a cloud-based set of proprietary team collaboration tools and services. It provides mobile apps for iOS and Android, and is available for the Apple Watch, enabling users to send direct messages, see mentions, and send replies.

Slack teams enable users (communities, groups, or teams) to join through a URL or invitation sent by a team admin or owner. Slack was intended to be an organisational communication tool, but it has gradually morphed into a community platform i.e. it is a business technology that has crossed over into personal use. Slack recently introduced an “email bridge” into its platform that will allow those who only have email to communicate with Slack users.  Back in May last year, ‘Slack’ introduced a new ‘Actions’ feature that made it easier for users to create and finish tasks without leaving by having access to more 3rd party tools.

In October this Year Slack announced that it has 12 million daily active users, which is 2 million increase since January.

What Is Teams?

Teams, announced in November 2016 and launched by Microsoft in 2017, is a platform designed to help collaborative working and combines features such as workplace chat, meetings, notes, and attachments. Described by Microsoft as a “complete chat and online meetings solution”, it normally integrates with the company’s Office 365 subscription office productivity suite. In July 2018, Microsoft introduced a free, basic features version of Teams which did not require an Office 365 account, in order to increase user numbers and tempt users away from Slack.

Microsoft Teams is also the replacement for Skype for Business Online, the support for which will end on 31 July 2021, and all new Microsoft 365 customers have been getting Microsoft Teams by default from 1 September 2019.

Share Tumble For Slack

Slack’s share value fell earlier this year after it announced that its projected sales growth would be lower for the second half of the year. Slack became a publicly-traded company on the New York Stock Exchange in June, and investors have been saying that it will need to maintain an impressive growth rate to compete against competitors like Microsoft (with Teams), Alphabet (Google) and Facebook.

The recent announcement by Microsoft that Teams has 20 million daily active users compared to Slack’s 12 million and has increased daily active users by more than 50% from June caused another downward push on Slack’s share value.

Slack’s Challenge – To Get More Large Paying Customers

Slack, which enjoys popularity in the U.S corporate workplace has been trying to emphasise that it is not just a chat/messaging app, but that it can connect to companies’ other applications in a way that can streamline workflows and aid real value addition and savings.  Slack is, however, facing a challenge in convincing big businesses that it is worthy, paid-for alternative to its more well-known competitors, and according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Andrew Eisenson, less than 1% of Slack’s customer base are large customers that spend more than $100,000 a year. One of the problems that Slack has is that although large companies in the US use it and like it, they currently have a free version, so Slack will have to convince them to upgrade to the paid-for version.

Despite having lower user numbers than Teams, some tech commentators have noted that Slack has stickiness and strong user engagement which help to attract businesses that want to get into using workstream collaboration software.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Microsoft has the advantage of a very well-known and trusted brand with huge reach, Teams already integrates with Office 365’s subscription office productivity suite, and there’s now a free version that doesn’t even require an Office 365 account.  Also, Teams is set to replace Skype for Business Online next year, and Microsoft has made sure that Skype for Business Online customers know that Microsoft’s investment and interoperability will make the migration to Teams a fairly painless one.

All this means that Teams appears to be in a very good position to continue what has been a rapid growth this year, and despite Slack’s positive features, Slack will have to fight hard to get big businesses interested in order to compete.

For users, there are now several good collaborative working services to choose from, but at the present time, the facts that investors don’t know when Slack is going to be profitable, coupled with a fall in revenue have led some commentators to think that Teams is looking as though it could come out on top.

Microsoft Edge Gets Business Upgrade

Billed as “the browser and search engine for business”, Microsoft’s new Chromium-powered version of Edge (and now more serious competitor to Google’s Chrome) is set to be released in January with new business-focused capabilities.

Chromium Source

Back in December 2018, Microsoft announced that it was adopting the Chromium open source project, which is the web rendering engine that powers Google Chrome.  This forms the basis for the new, upgraded version of Edge which many see as a serious attempt by Microsoft to make it more relevant, particularly to larger business customers, and compete more seriously with Google’s Chrome.

January 2020

The new business-focused version of Edge has only been released as ‘Beta version 79’ (the final Beta before it becomes a general “Release Candidate”), with the general release of the download of the stable version for Windows and macOS scheduled for 15 January 2020.

More Productive At Work

One of the key challenges that Microsoft says it’s trying to address with the improved version of Edge is difficulty in finding and accessing corporate information that is known to exist on company intranets.  With this in mind, Microsoft says that it has added “new experiences” to Microsoft Search in Bing such as enabling users to type in the address bar to search for people on the company Intranet, using natural language, such as by their title, team name and office location.

Also, users will be able to:

  • Search for office location and find answers that show floor plans for directions.
  • Get definitions for company acronyms.
  • Use a broad set of question and answers to find internal company information.

What Else?

Other business-focused features that the new version of Edge will offer are:

  • Expansion of Microsoft Graph connectors which expands the reach of Microsoft Search for 365 customers by adding over 100 connectors including Salesforce.com, ServiceNow, and Box. This will mean that business users can find more using Microsoft Search.
  • The ability to easily access Search in Bing on a mobile phone so that workers can search for company information on the go.
  • SmartScreen and Tracking prevention to protect users from phishing schemes, malicious software and new types of malware (crypto-jacking).
  • A new InPrivate mode for Microsoft Edge and Bing (for searching and browsing) to help improve privacy and security
  • A ‘Collections’ feature for Microsoft Edge to help users to collect web content, organise research and export that content into Word and Excel for analysis and collaborative working.

Extras For IT Professionals

The new version of Edge will also include some new features for IT professionals including the expansion of the Microsoft FastTrack deployment program to deploy the new Microsoft Edge in Q1 2020, the expansion of the App Assure program to cover Microsoft Edge in Q1 2020, and a new security baseline for the new Microsoft Edge.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The migration to Chromium last year was a clear sign that Microsoft was looking to make Edge browser a much more serious competitor to Google’s Chrome.  Microsoft has identified some key challenges that businesses (with Intranets and programs like Salesforce) have with accessing important company information through a browser search.  Microsoft has, therefore, incorporated some very business-focused, productivity-boosting solutions in this version of Edge that can help office and mobile/remote workers.  Focusing on the needs of business-users could help Microsoft maintain its position at the top of the business OS market as well as giving its Edge browser a long-overdue boost.