As working from home has become the new everyday norm, with more employers embracing the remote-work model as a new and likely permanent fixture of the employment world, there is a similar change in the ways workers collaborate in the era of COVID-19.
Microsoft Teams has surged to the forefront of collaboration tools throughout the pandemic. Its power as the new conference room is evident in its adoption: up almost 900 percent in use in its first three years, to a quarter-billion monthly active users as of July 2021.
But the rampant adoption of Teams has led to a follow-on challenge plaguing many organizations: Microsoft Teams sprawl.
Teams sprawl (also known more generally as IT sprawl) is the uncontrolled overflow of unused, outdated, or duplicated content within a Teams environment. It’s often the result of the absence of governance in an organization on how workers should use collaboration tools. And with IT professionals also working remotely, it can get even more vexing to govern Teams use among virtual employees. The issue of Teams sprawl has become a growing headache for anyone managing digital environments, highlighting the inherent challenges when employees can’t interact in person.
Sprawl can be a serious impediment to productivity for enterprise organizations with complex internal structures and thousands of employees spread across different time zones. It can lead to confusion among end users, ultimately creating “content chaos,” a hair-on-fire environment in which no one knows where to find the most current documents, and employees resort to the insecure practice of saving files on their drives. When it’s unmanaged, Teams sprawl amplifies miscommunication among employees and increases data security risks, since sprawl can mean the wrong people have access to sensitive data.
Teams sprawl can worsen during a merger or acquisition, where organizations need to merge data under one umbrella. A lack of data consolidation and control during M&A data migrations can make a complicated process even more so. Experts forecast that M&A activity will return to pre-COVID-19 levels in the next year. Businesses in such critical situations need to ensure their digital environments allow optimal data migration.
For businesses seeking to handle data sprawl, the good news amid all this potential disaster is that IT leaders can take proactive steps to keep it from happening in the first place. Outlined below are three ways IT leaders can curb Teams sprawl and streamline data exchange among their remote employees:
- Select internal stakeholders to own and manage sprawl. First, a larger plan for managing data is necessary, and internal stakeholders can help make sure users stick to this plan. IT teams should create an internal group in charge of managing data sprawl and streamlining Teams use. This group will own the crafting, implementation, and updating of policies and best practices for using Teams. Companies can assign each Teams channel a moderator to manage it, ensuring people use it effectively, and assigning authority for deleting outdated or unnecessary content.
- Let IT comprehensively monitor Teams activity. A business should empower its IT team members to manage the Teams environment by giving them panoramic visibility into user activity. This will give them better insight into how people use Teams. IT should have regular deep-dive capability into Teams usage trends, informing best practices. Assigning channel creation to IT, for example, can help reduce the inefficiency of single-use channels. Consider creating a policy that requires users to submit a formal request to IT before starting a new channel. Creating a more structured process around new Teams channels helps establish a data record, reducing duplication and unnecessary data instances.
- Streamline the complexities of a Teams migration. Most IT professionals will agree that migrating instances of Teams is incredibly complex. To help streamline that, IT teams should establish a comprehensive migration plan when merging data between two or more Teams environments. Audit your Teams environment and understand what data will and won’t migrate. Analyze data in both the source and the destination; this will help you address any team- and channel-naming conflicts. If there are username changes, review user permissions and make sure you’re managing permissions appropriately. Finally, always include a test or proof of concept phase prior to the migration to ensure the user experience is positive.
For many companies and employees, remote work is on the digital landscape for good. And with that, IT professionals need to adjust accordingly as that landscape evolves. IT teams need to ensure effective management and governance of communication platforms like Teams for optimized collaboration and engagement. With employees located seemingly everywhere, access to data is critical. Careful planning and data governance of Teams will help organizations work efficiently, avoiding the nightmare of content chaos.
By James Corbishley
James Corbishley is senior technology strategist for BitTitan, where he works with product, sales and development teams for MigrationWiz, the company’s leading SaaS solution for cloud migration. A veteran of the IT services industry, James specializes in enterprise software and systems, Microsoft messaging and collaboration solutions, enterprise architecture, and cloud adoption.