Author: Sarah Haase

Corporate collaboration evangelist & librarian | Microsoft MVP | Office 365/SharePoint Enthusiast

How do you track your work tasks?

Episode 47 of the Microsoft 365 Voice is all about task management!

Mike, Antonio, and I share details on how we track our personal and professional tasks. Key highlights include:

  • Yes, we still love Outlook tasks. All of us use Outlook tasks for managing individual work deliverables. I love seeing my tasks alongside my Outlook calendar. It helps me plan my day and my week.
  • Dates are critical (for some of us). All three of us handle task prioritization and due dates differently. I manage tasks daily, Mike manages his week-to-week, and Antonio has a custom approach. Listen in for ideas on how you can track your daily, weekly, and global tasks.
  • Task categorization (or task ordering) is vital. Some of us use color coding/categorization of our Outlook tasks, while others order tasks by priority.
  • Planner is key for projects. We all have experience using Planner for tracking projects, customer deliverables, etc. Planner is a great way to “live out loud” with shared tasks that others can see.
  • Task organization is related to email organization. I move emails out of Inbox constantly. Simply put, I want to be as close to Inbox zero every day as I can. This same methodology ties into my daily management of Outlook tasks. Mike and Antonio have a different way of managing their email Inbox and their tasks. There is no one-size-fits-most strategy.

Enjoy the episode!

Have a Microsoft 365 question? Submit it online! Your question may be featured in a future podcast episode.

Should you use a default label with Microsoft Information Protection (MIP)?

We took another deep-dive into MIP on Episode 46 of the Microsoft 365 Voice. This episode focuses on the importance of defining your label strategy, including the use of a default label. Here are a few of the topics Antonio, Mike, and I covered in the episode:

  • Plan your Compliance strategy up-front. Determine who needs to be involved in your Compliance strategy and carefully consider what labels you will use. Changing your sensitivity labels mid-stream can have dire effects on both your users and the veracity of your information protection program. Taking extra time to plan your strategy up-front will serve you best in the long run.
  • If you’re requiring sensitivity labels, you should set a default label. If you don’t, your users will hit a speedbump each time they try to save a file or send an email. Having a default label applied automatically will fulfill the requirement for a label, streamlining the employee technology experience. And as Antonio mentions in the episode, companies that have rolled out required labels without a default label have run into mechanical issues with file syncing, etc.
  • Can you have more than one default label in a single tenant? As Antonio explains, you can set up a default label for each of your sensitivity label policies. Depending on your information protection needs, you may want (or need) several policies. You can set up different policies for different users in your organization (giving users in Group A a different default label than users in Group B, for example). You cannot set up different policies based on type of content (e.g. emails vs. files).
  • Setting up different default labels for different departments can be a slippery slope. Too many exceptions and differences in the rules can fracture your users’ understanding of how MIP works. And as employees change roles or department reorgs occur, you’ll be in a never-ending swirl of moving users between policies and re-educating users on what their default label is.
  • Consider label exceptions carefully. To be effective, your information protection strategy needs to reach all your users. Granting exceptions that exclude some users in your organization from having to apply labels can erode your security posture and effectiveness.

Have a Microsoft 365 question? Submit it online! Your question may be featured in a future podcast episode.

A Compliance conversation with Joanne Klein

We’re thrilled to have our friend and fellow MVP Joanne Klein join us on Episode 45 of the Microsoft 365 Voice podcast. Joanne specializes in Compliance and Microsoft Information Protection (MIP) and has great guidance to offer organizations as they traverse the Compliance space. Here are a few of the topics covered in this episode:

  • There are always new things to learn. Joanne shared a bit about her background in the Compliance space and gave us some insights into the learning she’s doing as part of her new role as a Global Black Belt for Microsoft.
  • Think “big picture” first. Joanne recommends organizations start their Compliance journey with broad discussions on goals and key drivers. Laying a foundation that outlines organizational risk tolerance and data security needs will help you make detailed Compliance decisions (e.g. retention schedules, automatic archiving) down the road.
  • End-users are key to your success. New automation capabilities can help auto-tag documents and apply retention labels, but technology alone can’t close all your Compliance and security gaps. To ensure your content is labeled and secured appropriately, you need your end-users to play an active role. Ensuring they know how to label content (and how to choose the correct label) is a key part of your Compliance success story.
  • “Perfect is the enemy of good.” Content tagging isn’t an exact science. There is no perfect strategy (or ideal set of labels) that will ensure all your content is tagged appropriately. Even if you use auto-classification, there is still a margin of error for content to be mislabeled. Set realistic expectations on what you can achieve with appropriate controls, automation, and end-user education.
  • Identify who your decision-makers are. Build a RACI model to define who is responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed about your Compliance decisions. Do you have a Compliance Manager? Is the Compliance team driving decisions? What role does your security team have?

We hope you enjoy the conversation.

Have a Microsoft 365 question? Submit it online! Your question may be featured in a future podcast episode.

Why I still love my digital daily huddle

We’re a year into COVID, and many of us are still working from home every day. Life as we know it has changed, and we’re not sure when we’ll get back to a “new normal.” Like many of you, I’ve spent the last year adapting to virtual happy hours, book clubs, holiday gatherings, etc. One of my favorite virtual events has been the digital daily huddle.

When quarantine started in March 2020, I launched a digital daily huddle to connect with co-workers. The huddles were quick 30-minute video meetings held early each morning. Attendance at the huddles was optional, and work topics were rarely discussed. We used our huddle time to connect and talk about life, coffee, the latest news & world events, etc.

We held huddles daily for several weeks and then shifted to meeting twice per week. It’s been nearly a year since we held our first digital huddle, and the meetings are still going strong. People attend when they can and skip when they’re busy or not in the mood to chat. There’s no pressure to dress up or look good on video, and no need to be positive and upbeat. We’re real and unvarnished. We laugh. We connect.

There are still no agendas for our huddles, and we rarely discuss work topics. But the huddles remain an essential part of my week. There are so many drawbacks to life in 2020 and 2021, but the digital huddle is a habit worth keeping.

A SharePoint Syntex & Microsoft Viva conversation with Chris McNulty

We’re excited to have Chris McNulty, Director of Product Marketing at Microsoft, join us on the Microsoft 365 Voice to discuss Project Cortex, SharePoint Syntex, and the newly-announced Microsoft Viva! There’s a lot to share in this space, especially since Microsoft’s unveiling of Microsoft Viva on February 4, 2021.

Our conversation with Chris spanned a wide range of topics, including:

Advantages of using SharePoint Syntex with an E5 license. SharePoint Syntex is licensed per-user-per-month as an add-on product. Chris helped us understand the key advantage of using SharePoint Syntex with E5 for automated classification and labeling.

Understanding how SharePoint Syntex document understanding models work – and how the models can be optimized for content variations. Chris explained how predictable patterns in your data makes it easier for SharePoint Syntex to label content and extract key pieces of metadata.

A view into how Microsoft chose the names Project Cortex, SharePoint Syntex, and Microsoft Viva. Chris even gives a hint about the future of the Project Cortex name…

What are “explanations” in SharePoint Syntex? Explanations are the “hints” you build into your document understanding model. The explanations teach your model how to identify patterns in your data. Chris provides helpful tips for teaching your users how to think about and use explanations in their models.

Introducing Microsoft Viva! Microsoft Viva is a new employee experience platform that brings together communications, knowledge, learning, resources, and insights. Viva can help organizations foster a culture that empowers and brings people and teams together and helps everyone be their best. Microsoft Viva integrates with Microsoft Teams, bringing four new focus areas:

  • Viva Topics – A new Project Cortex product that automatically organizes content and expertise, enabling people to find the information they need when they need it.
  • Viva Connections – A modern engagement experience designed bring people together and help them find their (digital) way.
  • Viva Learning – Engages employees in formal and informal learning opportunities that drive growth.
  • Viva Insights – Leverages analytics to provide insights and recommendations for personal well-being and employee productivity.

Chris does a great job explaining why Microsoft is passionate about employee well-being and how Microsoft Viva can help.

To learn more about Microsoft Viva, download the e-book or watch the digital launch event.

SharePoint Online branding: A Microsoft 365 Voice discussion

Episode 43 of the Microsoft 365 Voice podcast features a modern branding discussion with SharePoint developer and Microsoft MVP Thomas Daly. Topics covered during this session include:

  • Navigation is still key. Branding capabilities in SharePoint have evolved significantly in recent years, but navigation is still a critical design component. Effective use of SharePoint hub sites, an organizational Home site, and the soon-to-be-released Global Navigation component in the SharePoint App Bar will ensure your users can effectively find what they need.
  • Stay within your “zones.” Thomas recommends keeping custom development inside the existing boxes (or zones) of your SharePoint Online site pages. Reaching outside these standard zones and manipulating modern pages can cause major difficulties (particularly as Microsoft releases cloud changes). And remember – any custom development you inject is yours to support.
  • Think about the page scrolling impact of a customized SharePoint header and footer. The more you put into your custom header and footer, the more “squeezed” your SharePoint page becomes. Before you develop elaborate headers and footers, consider how the changes will impact your users. You don’t want to require extensive scrolling for them to see the main content on each of your SharePoint pages.
  • Create a SharePoint theme for your site (and don’t alter the default SharePoint themes). You can generate a new theme on your SharePoint site. Thomas recommends focusing the theme on one of your company’s key colors. SharePoint page elements and web parts tie into the SharePoint theme, but it is difficult to have multiple custom colors featured equally.
  • Don’t try and upload your own custom company font. This may seem like an elegant marketing choice, but trying to override the default Microsoft SharePoint fonts can cause significant page rendering issues. If you absolutely need to customize fonts, focus on web part titles and not the body font for your SharePoint pages.
  • Be consistent. Thomas recommends using site templates and site scripts to drive consistency. You can also use SharePoint hub sites to push a consistent branded look and feel experience to associated sites.
  • Check out the SharePoint Lookbook for site design ideas. See stunning visuals of example SharePoint sites and add the example sites to your tenant!

A huge thank you to Thomas Daly for joining us! Hope you enjoy the episode.

Have a Microsoft 365 question? Submit it online! Your question may be featured in a future podcast episode.

Pro work tip for 2021: Build a color-coded work calendar

If you’re living with a default blue and white Outlook calendar, you’re missing out. Not sure what I mean? Take a look at this out-of-the-box calendar:

It’s a veritable wasteland of sameness. Every meeting looks identical. There’s no way to get a sense of what’s coming up each day; it’s just an overwhelming blob of blue.

Now let’s take a look at the same calendar with color-coded categories for meetings and work time:

The color coding helps me see what kind of day (and week) I’m going to have. Each meeting and event has an associated category with an assigned color. Events shaded in yellow are training seminars. Items showing up in red are leadership meetings. Project meetings are orange and design reviews are aqua.

The colors help me pace myself through the day. I know an afternoon of “red” meetings is going to require more focus and diligence. And I know days with more aqua meetings are my favorite (design review meetings are creative and fun).

I also use colors to help schedule upcoming meetings. I know, for example, that I can’t go directly from a leadership meeting to teaching a training class. I simply won’t have enough time to prepare and transition. Color coding makes this planning work easy – I know never to schedule a “yellow” training event immediately after a “red” leadership meeting.

Outlook supports color-coding by allowing me to set up categories for my meetings and events. I can use the Categorize dropdown to select an existing category or create a new one. Adding a color to each category ensures my meetings and appointments are shaded consistently.

I have 7 basic categories in my calendar (each with a different color):

  • Design reviews (aqua)
  • Leadership meetings (red)
  • Project work (orange)
  • Team meetings (green)
  • Training classes (yellow)
  • Heads-down work time (grey)
  • Out of the office / personal time (purple)

These 7 categories help me differentiate between my meetings without creating too much overhead. (It only takes a couple of clicks to categorize new meetings so they appear in living color.) My meeting color palette may be too much for some (or not enough differentiation for others). It’s your calendar, so adapt the coloring and categories to suit your needs. And make sure the colors you use reflect your personal preferences. If there’s a meeting or event you look forward to, give it one of your favorite colors. Seeing the color on your calendar will be a great pick-me-up.

I recommend starting small and adding color categories to a few of your recurring meetings. This will give you an opportunity to see how you like the results before you re-categorize all your meetings for 2021.

Our favorite Microsoft 365 moments in 2020

It’s time for the M365 Voice end-of-year episode! Mike Maadarani, Antonio Maio, and I have recorded and released 31 episodes since April 2020! In each episode, we pick a listener question at random and spend 20-30 minutes answering it. We’ve also hosted special guests Mark Kashman, DC Padur, Laurie Pottmeyer, Heather Newman, and Bill Baer. Our shows have focused on topics across the Microsoft 365 ecosystem, from Microsoft Information Protection to Project Cortex, SharePoint Syntex, Microsoft Teams, Yammer, Stream, Microsoft Search, SharePoint home sites & hubs, mobility, user adoption, security, and compliance. Click here to check out our full list of episodes.

In our final podcast episode of the year, we highlighted our favorite Microsoft 365 things from 2020. Tune in to hear about our favorite features, roadmap updates, product releases, virtual conferences, community moments, and much more. Here’s a sneak peak at a few of our favorite things:

  • Ability to attend new virtual events like SPS Omaha and M365 Saskatchewan
  • Seeing how quickly Microsoft went to a full remote workforce during COVID
  • Launch of new collaboration features (e.g. integration of Yammer communities in Microsoft Teams, launch of products like Microsoft Lists, etc.)
  • Capabilities like Project Nucleus, which provide the ability to work with your data offline (this is particularly important in geographic areas with unreliable internet coverage)
  • Security updates to M365 (e.g. ability to assign Microsoft Information Protection sensitivity labels to Teams, SharePoint sites, and M365 groups)

We’ll be back in 2021 with more episodes. If you’d like to have your Microsoft 365 question featured on an upcoming episode, submit it online.

Goodbye 2020

What a year it’s been. I’m on month 10 of staying at home, working from home, and seeing the world (and friends and family) through a video screen. I’ve lost family to COVID, but am grateful for all those that have recovered and are still with us. And because gratitude carries us farther than sorrow, I’m focusing this “year in review” post on the things I’m most grateful for in 2020.

Technology

Companies like Microsoft have gifted us with the ability to stay connected digitally when we can’t be together physically. Seeing friends’ smiling faces on Teams meetings and over FaceTime is priceless. And Microsoft 365 has enabled me to work from home while keeping my family safe. I’ve seen firsthand the sacrifices Microsoft employees have made to increase bandwidth, roll out new features, and support the growth in our community this year. A huge THANK YOU for all you’ve done – you are my heroes!

Microsoft 365 Community

The Microsoft 365 community rocks – especially during a global pandemic. Friends and colleagues around the globe seamlessly transitioned from organizing in-person events to virtual events this year. This is a huge accomplishment, particularly for groups like Microsoft 365 Saturday Saskatchewan whose very first event was held virtually this year. Kudos to Joanne Klein, David Drever, Daniel Glenn, Antonio Maio, Mike Maadarani, Haniel Croitoru, Habib Mankal, Michelle Gilbert, Ryan Schouten, Joel Oleson, Ajay Iyer, and many others that gave of their time and talent to bring us all together. #communityrocks

I attended 20 events in 2020 (1 in-person & 19 virtually). I also had the opportunity to deliver 12 sessions at various conferences and user groups. The push to virtual enabled me to meet so many more people from across the globe at these events…and I was able to do it all in my fuzzy slippers!

Nature

What a gift it’s been living in Minnesota these last 10 months. We had a beautiful Spring, Summer, and Fall, and I had the gift of time to hike, sit by the fire, watch the leaves turn, and enjoy the outdoors. Lesson re-learned in 2020: time spent outside makes me happy.

Family (those we’re born with and those we choose)

Relationships are everything, and I feel blessed to have amazing friends and family. I missed seeing many of you in-person this year, but am looking forward to a time when we can travel again. Until then, take care and know you’re missed!

The Microsoft 365 Voice Podcast

Right after our COVID lockdown started, Mike Maadarani and Antonio Maio invited me to join their M365 Voice podcast. In each episode, we pick a listener question at random and spend 20-30 minutes answering it. I love coming up with quick, off-the-cuff answers to Microsoft 365 questions. We’ve also had a variety of special guests on the podcast, including Mark Kashman, DC Padur, Laurie Pottmeyer, Heather Newman, and Bill Baer. Since I joined the show in March, we’ve recorded and released 31 episodes on topics across the M365 ecosystem (Microsoft Information Protection, Project Cortex & SharePoint Syntex, Microsoft Teams, Yammer, Stream, Microsoft Search, SharePoint home sites & hubs, mobility, user adoption, security & compliance, etc.). Check out our full list of episodes and submit your questions for future episodes!

Guest blogging for Humans of IT

In December, I was asked to write a guest blog post for Microsoft’s Humans of IT community. Microsoft asked me to share a growth story on the “people side” of IT. As a librarian that grew into a technology leader, I’m passionate about learning from and supporting others. I’m an advocate and an ally, and I believe diverse ideas and perspectives bring out the best in all of us. In my Humans of IT blog post – Becoming a Strong Female Technology Leader, I shared my experiences moving from the business to IT and how I struggled to build confidence as a new technology leader. The post also includes practical ideas on how to manage personal brand, build strong relationships, and evaluate good (and poor) feedback.  

REgarding 365

REgarding 365 is a community of bloggers, authors, community members, and speakers from the Microsoft 365 space. We share content in a variety of formats – blog posts, videos, podcasts, interviews, etc. I love the opportunity to connect with our RE365 contributors and core team members throughout the year, and to record special events like our Microsoft Ignite analysis on employee engagement, Microsoft Ignite analysis on Knowledge Management, and our COVID work-from-home virtual hackathon. This year we even held a Microsoft Ignite virtual watch party – loved it!

Blogging

I’ve published 43 blog posts in 2020 – a nice increase over 2019. I love sharing new ideas with all of you – please keep reading!

Top blog posts of 2020 (based on user views):

My favorite posts of 2020:

I hope we’ll all be able to see each other again in person in 2021. Until then, I wish you all a safe and healthy holiday season.

Humans of IT blog post: Becoming a Strong Female Technology Leader

This week I published my first guest blog on Microsoft’s Humans of IT community! Microsoft asked me to share a growth story on the “people side” of IT. As a librarian that grew into a technology leader, I’m passionate about learning from and supporting others. I’m an advocate and an ally, and I believe diverse ideas and perspectives can bring out the best in all of us.

I share my experiences moving from the business to IT, how I struggled to build confidence as a new technology leader, and key lessons learned. I also share practical ideas for managing your personal brand, building strong relationships, and evaluating good (and poor) feedback. I hope you’ll join me on the journey and read the Humans of IT blog post – Becoming a Strong Female Technology Leader.

Microsoft Ignite 2019 – Women in Technology leadership roundtable

The Humans of IT community engages and empowers technologists to discover their tech superpowers through mentoring, shared stories of struggle and growth, and testimonials on how technology is positively impacting the world around us. If you’re not already a member of the community, I encourage you to learn more.