Keeping employees informed and engaged during difficult times
Published Mar 07 2020 04:36 PM 20.1K Views

With COVID-19 continuing to impact people and countries around the world, teams everywhere are moving to remote work. Microsoft 365 provides an easy way to navigate these hard moments. Earlier this week, Jared Spataro posted a letter from Lily Zheng describing how Microsoft Teams can power remote working, and by making Teams available to as many people as possible, we aim to support public health and safety by keeping teams connected while they work apart.


In addition to ensuring work can continue, organizations are wrestling with how to keep people safe and informed about late-breaking news, changes to policy and guidance, and answers to common questions. Our team is receiving inquiries daily from customers looking for guidance about using Yammer and Microsoft 365 to support remote work, particularly during these challenging times.


In this article, we’ll share lessons learned from organizations that, over a decade, have used Yammer to connect and engage people across the organization.  We’ll showcase how you can empower open conversation, drive awareness and engagement, exemplify corporate values, and, in challenging times, foster empathy and support. Later, we’ll provide guidance for how to most effectively use Microsoft 365 technologies to reach your people in the apps where they work, across devices and platforms.


Connecting and communicating in communities

Targeted communications like email tend to be one-way “broadcasts”, without expectation or affordance for two-way engagement. Communications distributed to silos like distribution lists or teams have the potential to engage people within, but not across those silos.


Communities, however, connect people across organizational and geographic silos. Communities connect people, no matter what team, department, or business unit they’re in. That’s what makes communities unique—they’re about the people, first.


During difficult times, it’s critical to give people a common, open place to gather and to share experience. In a community, every member benefits from a sense of support and belonging, and the organization learns what people need. No other enterprise communication channel works as effectively as a community to provide a forum for questions to be asked, knowledge to be amplified and experience to be lived.


In a time of need, communities enable leaders to engage with employees, communicators to reach their audience, experts to share information, and people to connect with each to share experience, to brainstorm ideas, to lend a hand, and to lend an ear. In a community that brings people together to address a crisis or challenge, leaders, communicators, and members can


  • Share announcements at scale. The community provides a consolidated channel for communication. An announcement reaches members with notifications web, on mobile and in email. The community promotes quick sharing of information that can bypass corporate bottlenecks even when coming from official channels.
  • Build community, in the broadest sense of the word. When people come together to share an experience, they share empathy and build bonds that extend beyond their work groups and immediate peers.
  • Share knowledge. The community provides a one-stop-shop for people to ask questions, and get answers. Knowledge shared is searchable and discoverable, enabling others to find important information.  
  • Understand people’s needs. HR & Communications can use polls and can monitor the conversation to gain deeper insights about employees and their needs, which in turn accelerates the development and delivery of communications and solutions that address those needs.
  • Reach and engage employees on mobile devices, wherever they are. Leaders can even conduct live and on-demand events, to broadcast important messages and to answer questions of the community.
  • Empower and recognize contribution. Community members can be active participants, contributing ideas, skills, and experience to be part of the solution. Praise can be used to recognize achievements and contribution as the community works through the challenges it faces.


A playbook for communications and communities in Microsoft 365

Communities are powered by Yammer in Microsoft 365. In Yammer communities, open conversations reach across the organization and across teams, and Yammer is uniquely capable to support communities of any scale—from the smallest to the largest. And Yammer is included as part of all commercial subscriptions to Microsoft 365. It’s ready for you to use.


Microsoft 365 uniquely connects people to their communities regardless of which apps people choose to work in.  Of course, there is a hero experience for communities in Yammer on web and in the newly redesigned mobile application. But newly-released integrations now extend communities to reach users in SharePoint, in Outlook and, of course, in Teams.


There are seven steps to create and connect people to a community in Microsoft 365.


1. Create a community

Use these steps to get up and running:

  1. Create a community (formerly called a “group”) in Yammer. You can create a new community or leverage an existing community.  Consider using the All Company community, because everyone is automatically a member, which will improve the reach of important communications.
  2. Assign one or more community managers to monitor the conversation, connect questions with experts who can answer questions, and ask questions to elicit valuable conversation.
  3. Populate the community information in the right column with key resources and contacts.
    • Pro tip: Consider creating a SharePoint site to curate resources and information, and putting a link to the site in the community information.  If you create a SharePoint site, add the Yammer conversations web part to the page to show the conversation from the Yammer community.  Then, you can use the SharePoint site as the “home page” for your community.
  4. Add usage tips in the community information, including:
    • When you’re asking a question, choose Question as the post type.
    • When someone answers your question well, mark it as Best Answer. 

For more resources on creating your community, review our Community Admin Best Practices Guide.


2. Invite people to the community

Invite people to the community using existing communications channels.

Yammer communities are open by default, so people are not required to join the community in order to participate. However, joining the community facilitates discovery of conversations.  So specifically suggest that people join the community, unless you’re using the All Company community which includes all users by default.


Also encourage people to ensure that they will receive notifications for the community. This can be configured in your Account Settings. Click the gear in the upper-left corner of Yammer, then click Edit Settings, then click Notifications.


3. Communicate and share

Share documents and announcements in the community conversations.


  • Announcements: When a community manager posts an announcement, it reaches community members wherever they are, with a notification on the mobile app and in email. Use announcements thoughtfully to share important information.
  • Files: Attach a document to share it with the community. Alternately, if the document is already published elsewhere, for example on your intranet, create a sharing link to the document then paste the link into your Yammer post.
  • Polls: Use polls to pose a question for community members. Encourage people to respond with additional details in the thread to foster conversation. For a more formal survey, with a richer set of questions and answers, use Microsoft Forms and share the link to the survey in Yammer.
  • Praise: Recognize contributions and achievement with a Praise post.


Most importantly, encourage others to share. People can share ideas, questions, photos and videos. Yammer communities are inclusive—everyone has a voice. Sharing fosters engagement, empathy, and insight into the pulse of the community and its needs.


4. Engage people in Yammer on web and mobile

The Yammer app on web and mobile is a rich, stand-alone experience for the community. The mobile experience has been significantly updated over recent months, featuring a beautiful new design that will be coming soon to Yammer on the web. The mobile app enables push notifications for announcements—be sure that you have enabled notifications for the Yammer app in your iOS or Android settings.


5. Engage people in SharePoint on web and mobile

If you have created a SharePoint site to curate information, resources and community conversation, people can visit the site on web, on mobile browsers, or in the SharePoint app for iOS and Android.  You can create SharePoint news posts to share stories and announcements, and SharePoint news will generate a mobile notification through the SharePoint app.


6. Engage people through email

Yammer notifications will reach people in their inboxes.


Earlier this month, we shipped a new feature for users of Outlook on the web: notifications now render an interactive view of the conversation in the inbox, so you can like, share, and reply to Yammer conversations without leaving Outlook. If your users are already enjoying the incredible experience of Outlook on the web, this new integration will greatly facilitate driving communication and engagement.  We look forward to bringing the feature to Outlook on desktop and mobile later this year.


7. Engage people in Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is a powerful hub for teamwork, whether you’re working at the office, on the road, or from home. It enables your team to work seamlessly together, integrating chat, calling, meetings, business process, task management and file collaboration. 


Communities, on the other hand, connect with people across teams, and across the organization, to share knowledge and experience. In the past, Yammer and Teams were separate experiences, adding friction by requiring people to bounce back and forth between applications.


We’re on a journey to bring the power of communities to Microsoft Teams, just as we are doing with Outlook and SharePoint.


Today, you can add an important Yammer community to your team. Click “+” to add a tab, pick Yammer, and configure the community you want to display. For example, you can add a crisis response tab to your team, allowing you to follow and engage with conversations in the community without leaving your hub for teamwork.


Very soon, we’ll be releasing the new Yammer app for Teams, which will bring the new Yammer experience, in full fidelity, into Teams.  This will give Teams customers a more powerful hub for teamwork that integrates their investments in Yammer.  Stay tuned for more as we near the release of the Yammer app for Teams.


Real world examples and customer stories

It is worth sharing perspectives from customers who have engaged and aligned their employees during difficult times. Learn from Yammer partner Talk Social To Me how Johnson & Johnson responded to Hurricane Irma to help evacuate employees and keep everyone safe and informed. Also, learn from MVP Larry Glickman how one organization used Yammer in response to an emergency situation and how it led to community building and empathy.


Share your experience

The Microsoft Tech Community is — like Yammer — a place to share experience and knowledge with like-minded peers from across the globe.  Let us know how you are using Yammer and Microsoft 365 to connect people across your organization.

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