How can Microsoft Teams provide the collaborative conditions to plan and execute disaster preparedness? This session explored how teamwork can be focused and enhanced in high pressure situations such as coordination of disaster recovery.
Disaster planning requires a team of people to get together who can visualize the many possibilities that occur during a disaster. The team needs comprise of people across the different services, who between them, have knowledge of all services, infrastructure and activities. They will need to envision ideas and in their planning, create processes that can be refined though feedback and preparedness exercises.
A Microsoft Team is used for the members to collaborate on procedures and policies, bringing through from ideation, to actionable steps.
The second scenario is enacting the procedures in a disaster simulation. A Microsoft Team has been formed to capture the conversations and activities during the exercise. As you can imagine in a disaster, it may be that team members are unable to perform their role. They themselves may be victims of the disaster. Or the team may need to grow to cope with a higher than anticipated demand for coordination and action. You can quick add members to a Microsoft Team, from your desktop and even from a mobile in the field, to scale the members who will assist with the disaster effort. It’s incredibly important to have everyone working and communicating together and be able to quickly adapt as needs are identified and changed.
One of the greatest needs during a disaster is that everyone on the recovery team has the ability to maintain a high level of situational awareness. They each have a role to play and focus on. But knowing what is happening across the team can inform better decisions for resource assignment. In a disaster, this in turn can save more lives and ensure more injured are cared for. A combination of events can create unexpected outcomes.
Microsoft Teams provides focus for a team. It can be organised to reflect different roles and responsibilties, while also providing visibility across different activities and workstreams. Imagine a situation where Emergency Response Units have been deployed to a city block to carefully and quickly find people trapped in and under damaged buildings. During the course of a few hours, it was discovered that an event was on that day that meant most people in the city block were actually two blocks away, attending a large event. The Response Units need to be shifted two blocks over and their tools and resources moved too.
The information was discovered through a conversation from a frontline support worker talking with a local who was rescued, who provided more unexpected information. The frontline support worker for the Disaster Recovery Team can share that conversation quickly with the appropriate group within the team, to adapt and make the necessary changes.
The Microsoft Team used for Disaster Recovery can be structured using channels. Channels provide a place for a group of people in the team to focus their conversations, documentation, activities and information streams. Channels are also open within the team to any other team member. This means a team member can visit any channel in the team and engage in conversations. For example, a channel for Fire and Police could mention someone from Recovery Coordination in conversation. They will receive a notification of the message and be able to read previous replies and surrounding conversations. This enables people to quickly get up to speed with the situation, because all conversations and activities are focused using channels.
A channel can be used to focus high priority announcements and responses. Team members can subscribe to the channel and receive those notifications, reading important messages that give the whole team a high level of situational awareness. To make the message highly visible, mark with high importance, use a subject and at-mention the ‘High Priority’ channel.
Documents can be uploaded to the Files tab. But what really gives the document context is the conversation. When you attach a document to a conversation, the conversation stays with the document. When conversations and documents are together, important and timely content is easy to find. If a document is crucial to team operations and everyone needs to see it, it can be pinned as a tab in the channel. A spreadsheet may have been the document used to list the people that were assisted in an emergency. Pinning the spreadsheet makes it very easy to find and update.
Running the disaster response exercise
Practicing the procedures in a simulated emergency will allow the team to refine the processes and envision other scenarios and needs that may not have been conceived yet.
Focus high priority conversations in a channel
Our demo persona Alan start’s the disaster response exercise in the Microsoft Team set up to practice the exercise, by posting a new message in the High Priority channel, advising of a disaster.
He at-mentions the entire channel. Everyone can read it and reply or like to signal they have read it.
But also, Alan at-mentions other specific channels within the Microsoft Team, to start the procedures of specific roles and groups within the team. He has shared the live location of the emergency. Sharing links to other resources or sources will provide further information.
Assign tasks and goals within the channel
Alan visits each channel in the team to list the bullet points that are indicators of success. It’s important to have clearly listed goals, shared between team members. When it all feels chaotic, referring back to the indicators enables every team member who reads them, to get their focus back.
Alan pins a spreadsheet to each channel with a graphic, to show at a glance the status the team is maintaining with their goals.
This becomes a useful tool for discussing the assessment after the simulation exercise. The information can be displayed within a PowerPoint which makes it easily consumed and pinned to the channel.
Start a meeting in a channel. Keep conversation and documents together with the meeting
Within the channel, meetings can be started easily, to bring team members together. The meetings turn video on by default, so members can reduce the miscommunications during the exercise and during a real disaster event. Video can provide visual queues in the communication. It can be used to show the situation from a mobile camera, flipping it around to use the front camera. Any chat conversation in the thread stays with the meeting. Any documents attached to the conversation stay with the meeting. Coming soon to Government Microsoft 365, meeting recordings will be attached to the conversation thread.
By keeping the conversation responses, assets and decisions together, team members can quickly catch up or remind themselves of the outcomes, again lowering miscommunication in a time of crisis.
Idea: How might Artificial Intelligence help make quick decisions during a disaster?
To assist teams to pick up the main points quickly, cognitive services could be used to suggest question and answer pairing, decisions made or tasks assigned. When time means saving lives, anything that highlight information for quick decisions and action will be incredibly beneficial.
Questions from the audience
Q. Someone had recently joined a company, and as part of their induction, was sent a lot of SharePoint links to resources to review. There wasn’t a lot of context to the content.
Will Microsoft Teams replace SharePoint?
A. No. SharePoint is in the background to facilitate sharing and collaborating on files. When we on-board, we need context to the resources and typically comes from conversation about and around the resource. This has traditionally been from email attachments. But they are difficult to retrieve and send new members.
When a team member, existing or new, wants to add more to the conversation, it is difficult to find and certainly not visible to inspire more creative thought.
A list of highlighted conversations with most recent responses would help the team continue to refine a process or and idea through further discussion, that is easy to find. Consider using a web page in the SharePoint site of the Microsoft Team. Pin the page as a tab, with links to the conversations in the different categories. It would be useful to see a web part in the form of a card to highlight a conversation and the latest couple of responses.
Q. Can you invite people from outside your org, to the meeting?
A. Yes. They won’t get access to the rest of the content in the team. But you can add them as a guest.
Recording will come. We just have to wait till Stream has been approved for use in Government Microsoft 365 tenants. It wont bring in old meeting recordings.
Conversations are journaled over to Exchange. So you can trace and retain it.
Q. How do I access the Files from the mobile app?
A. Use OneDrive app and mobile Office apps for a richer files experience on the mobile.
Q. Will Teams support current working styles in OneNote?
A. Government 365 tenants don’t yet have OneNote tabs, because a component of the service sits outside the government perimeter. But this will be alleviated.
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