Animal charity brings those chats round the water cooler back to life with Microsoft Teams

SUMMARY:

World Animal Protection staff around the globe can now work as one team.

The impact of plastic pollution was brought starkly to the public’s attention last year by the BBC’s Blue Planet II. Alongside the soothing tones of Sir David Attenborough, the series highlighted just how dire the situation is for wildlife trying to survive in our polluted waters, whether a hawksbill turtle caught up in a plastic sack or a grieving mother pilot whale carrying her dead newborn calf.

As a charity that has been working to protect animals across the globe for more than 60 years, World Animal Protection was ready to capitalise on the ensuing wave of public interest in protecting our oceans. In June, the charity launched a ghost gear quest for mobile game Home Street, basically an updated SimCity where players can build their dream home and neighbourhood with virtual money.

The gaming app partnership gives World Animal Protection the ability to connect with millions of players, who can be educated about the dangers of plastic fishing waste, how it impacts tens of thousands of whales, dolphins and other sea dwellers every year, and what individuals around the world can do about it – all from their smartphone screen while joining a virtual quest to clean up and recycle abandoned fishing nets and plastic debris from beaches.

But while the charity has been quick to find opportunities to use technology to expand its external reach and impact in the age of social and mobile, its internal IT infrastructure wasn’t as suited to the modern era. As an organisation operating out of every continent with offices in 14 different countries and bases in many more, and with a remit to respond to disasters and cases of animal cruelty or suffering across the globe, staff were increasingly having to work from remote locations and needed technology to support this.

In 2013, World Animal Protection invested in Microsoft Office 365 to support its staff working wherever they happened to be, whether in an office or out in the field, and whatever time zone they were in. Phil Maynard, World Animal Protection’s Global Digital Workplace Lead, explained:

“As an organisation we were transitioning from the WSPA across to our new name World Animal Protection, so there was a bit of a rebranding. The timing was very good to move to software-as-a-service, and move our global email platforms and collaboration platforms. We’ve been on Office 365 since 2013, but like with all these very large platforms, we are continuing to learn what that means to us and are continuing to try and unlock the benefits, so it’s an ongoing journey.”

While Office 365 was being used to good effect for remote working to answer emails or access the intranet, and the charity was beginning to make use of Skype for Business, collaboration and team-working was rather lacking. SharePoint wasn’t quite the right fit for what the organisation needed, to help coordinate its global campaign actions so everyone was up to date with the latest information and letting people work together on projects more effectively.

World Animal Protection initially started using Office 365 Groups for collaboration, so rather than having disparate SharePoint and email groups, its staff could work together more seamlessly. And this was the context within which the organisation started using Microsoft Teams in 2017.

“What we were increasingly finding was although Office 365 Groups in their original state made a real big difference in people finding the information and could collaborate a bit easier, you were still jumping around a little bit and the conversations were still very much email conversations that are not necessarily conducive to building team cohesion.”

As well as this mix of SharePoint, email and Office 365 Groups, the charity discovered that a couple of teams were beginning to experiment with Slack. So when Microsoft Teams launched, Maynard recognised a potentially useful tool to support those teams wanting a more chat-based work style to connect and communicate.

“We were delighted to find that when we started using the application, not only did it enable the chat-based communications to be there, it enabled us to consume the other information within Office 365 Groups much more intuitively.

“Some of my greatest advocates of Teams internally are probably those that would call themselves technophobes. They’ve always been a little bit apprehensive about technology, and now they’re finding they’re using tools that fit the way they’d naturally like to work. The tools are now beginning to support the work much more intuitively rather than people having to learn to use the tools.”

A snowball effect

World Animal Protection’s 400-plus staff are all now using Office 365 to varying degrees, for email, the intranet, and Skype for Business for online calls and global town hall meetings. The charity plans to officially roll out Microsoft Teams across the organisation within the next six to 12 months, and will promote it to staff as the new Skype for Business.

“Because we’re still using both at the moment, we’ve taken a decision that we will roll out Teams where there was a need for it. Initially that has been primarily with the programmatic teams, where they are dispersed globally and working on projects with a number of different streams. Teams was a great tool for those areas.

“We very much did it on a need basis. We worked with the needs within those teams to figure out how were they going to benefit and then we rolled it out to that team, not just as a technology, but as a way of rethinking how they were connecting with each other. We’re very much trying to evoke that all of these changes have a component of technology, people and process, it’s not just about the technology.”

Maynard said there has been a snowball effect with Teams uptake, due to others in the organisation coming across it when working with those project teams. Hence, 75 percent of all global staff are now already using Microsoft Teams in some form; within the teams where it has been officially deployed, 95 percent of members are active users.

“This is from a point of view where we haven’t formally rolled it out across the organisation yet. We have just rolled it out to the teams who have approached us and who wanted to work in this way. But because the tool has been so intuitive and so useful, the take up and the demand has been greater than any technology I can remember using over the last 15 to 20 years.

“I think that’s because people don’t want to spend a lot of time grappling with the technology, they want to get on with the work. There are still quite a number of staff who are grappling with the tool, but probably that’s more grappling with the shift to a different way of working rather than the technology.”

World Animal Protection takes great care, according to Maynard, to knit together the people and process aspect with any new technology rollouts, to try and understand how technology can support people rather than drive a particular behaviour.

“For some people, Teams isn’t the best way of communicating and they would actually prefer to go back to email, and that is absolutely fine because it’s got to be led by the needs of the team and not by the organisation. We’re trying very hard not to enforce technology, but at the same time trying to encourage the organisation to think about how technology can help them.”

Expansion

Following the success of the early adoption of Teams, World Animal Protection is now looking at expanding its current Office 365 Enterprise level 3 licence to cover two additional areas: upgrading its telephony systems for seamless unified communications; and making more use of the reporting and KPI technology in Power BI.

While the use of Teams isn’t expected to offer the charity any specific cost savings, the move to Office 365 and being able to connect without having to meet physically has delivered cost benefits over the last few years through reduced travel requirements. But Maynard believes the real benefits are in allowing people who are remote from one another to connect in a way they were not able to before, bringing those private conversations that would have taken place in an office kitchen or corridor into an open, online space and moving to a more open way of working.

“We’re just beginning to see more informal communication happen and therefore the wider benefits of that.”

Another core benefit is the speed in which events and information can be communicated and acted on. Maynard cited the example of an incident that occurred on Twitter in one of the charity’s locations, where the local team had posted the details in a Teams space to enquire how to respond to it.

“This had happened outside of the UK working hours, but because of the different time zones, because of the chat-based conversations, a conversation had actually happened overnight and then people based in the UK had come in seeing the conversation and could participate in that in a way that would never have happened with email. Very quickly they were able to consolidate their ideas and respond to it. Previously that would probably have been an email conversation where not everybody necessarily would have been copied in at the right time.

“Teams is able to create. Our challenge is how do we adjust that culture and our way of working to be able to make the most of those tools.”

“It’s getting back to things we took for granted when we all sat within the same physical space and were able to have those conversations over the desk. That’s the type of space a tool like Teams is able to create. Our challenge is how do we adjust that culture and our way of working to be able to make the most of those tools.”

Most importantly, the technology is actually making a difference where it really counts – improving the welfare of the animals the charity is working to protect.

Its Change for Chickens campaign was the first to use Microsoft Teams to deliver the message in multiple markets around the world. As a result, more than 500,000 people from 10 countries signed a petition calling on KFC to use more humane practices in its chicken farms, and the fast-food chain has already started talking to the charity about making improvements. A small step in the ongoing animal welfare battle, but an important one facilitated by a shift in working patterns and a technology rollout designed with the user in mind.

Image credit - Image via World Animal Protection

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