Before the first UK lockdown in March 2020, Rider Levett Bucknall (RLB) had been looking at digitally transforming its business to support an ambitious growth strategy.
The team had already planned and prepared a business case for full digitalisation of internal systems for its 800 UK employees, based across different regions, services and sectors.
When the pandemic hit, the programme had to be accelerated. We adapted processes so that we could continue to serve our clients while minimising the health and financial risks to our teams. The consultancy took a two-phase approach:
introducing collaboration and communication using tools such as Microsoft Teams and a new intranet called RLB Connect
transition to using Microsoft Office for document management, and the release of a new tool for customer relationship management, project management and finance.
The main aim of this phase was to bring in digital tools that could help the RLB team communicate and collaborate both with colleagues and with clients and other stakeholders, while switching predominantly to remote working.
Microsoft Office 365 was chosen because of its versatility, flexibility and integration with Microsoft Dynamics, another tool the consultancy was planning to implement.
With the sudden increase in the number of people working from home, RLB IT support needed to assess the immediate need for Teams. The aim was to transfer all employees to the platform as soon as possible, to allow those working remotely to chat and meet virtually.
By 19 March, the IT team had deployed Teams and Microsoft Stream video-sharing to all RLB laptops and phones. Teams Chat was also introduced so users could communicate easily with their peers, and individual or group chats could be created to share information and collaborate.
An internal communications campaign explained the change from systems such as Skype for Business and Outlook, and detailed the new ways of working. With Microsoft Teams being similar in functionality to these previously used systems, RLB employees responded well to the changeover, and there was little need to train them. Teams was also compatible with other Microsoft Office products that RLB was already using, so the integration was smooth.
RLB chief executive and global board director Andrew Reynolds was keen to have an internal communication platform that he could use to broadcast to employees, check their well-being and share company updates. Teams allowed him to do this, as well as encouraging employees to use the platform as well.
The system also provided an online collaborative platform for us to work with our colleagues in Manchester, Belfast and Cardiff as well as Europe, Asia Pacific and the Americas.
The main challenge in this phase was managing the expectations of those using the system. As it was so popular, many employees asked for their own Teams sites and channels. They also wanted to know whether they could collaborate externally with customers or request other Teams functions that RLB was yet to roll out.
These requests were submitted to the IT support desk, and each one was looked at to assess the need. Most employees wanted to use Teams for project-related documents; however, this is part of the second phase of the programme, which will roll out in the first half of 2022.
RLB chose to extend Teams' capabilities by using it as a document management tool. It would act as the front end for SharePoint, where users can easily store, organise and access documents.
However, migrating thousands of documents to the new platform would likely take a great deal of time and effort. We recognised early on that this would need to be a second phase of the shift to digital. It was also essential to train all employees fully to ensure a smooth transition.
A training needs analysis was completed to determine what new skills employees required to complete their job effectively. The process identified knowledge gaps and scoped out the most suitable training for each role.
The first stage was to work out which roles in the business required training. This exercise identified three user groups:
RLB employees: everyone in the business who would be using Teams to store and access operational and project-related documents
Team owners: the Microsoft Teams site administrators, who have higher security permissions and are responsible for site governance, adding and removing members and creating channels
IT support: those responsible for troubleshooting and creating Teams sites.
The next step was to complete a training options analysis and establish the best way to train each group. The pros and cons of each method – such as documentation only, e-learning and face-to-face online training sessions led by instructors – were assessed. The following methods were then chosen for each of the three user groups.
RLB employees: due to the large numbers of users requiring training in a short period, it was decided that e-learning would be the best approach. This enabled employees to complete the course in their own time and repeat it should they need to.
Team owners: We decided that elevated Teams users would need more detailed training. Therefore, a short face-to-face session online would be used to upskill such administrators.
IT support: The IT support team were well versed in Microsoft Teams, but they also attended the same training as RLB employees so they could understand the actions that employees would be completing every day.
Once these needs were determined, training material was developed. Due to the phased roll-out, it was decided that e-learning would be offered at basic, intermediate and advanced levels. It would all be supported by short, instructional training documents that were available to all users.
RLB is halfway through rolling out Teams for internal document management, and has launched its first course on the basics for its employees. Intermediate and advanced levels of e-learning will follow later this year.
Team owners attended a one-hour online course where they were trained on their particular responsibilities. A follow-up session was held with these users once their Teams sites were available to help acquaint them with these, add users and ask questions.
So far, Teams has been rolled out to all RLB employees, but some teams use it more than others. The sales and marketing team was one of the first to make the platform its sole document management tool. The overall project team was able to use them as a pilot, to understand some of the challenges that RLB could face as the roll-out continues. These may include the following.
Sharing documents with colleagues outside your team
Teams does not allow you to share a link to a document with people external to that Teams site, showing those who try to do so an error message. However, sharing directly from the document itself enables access for anyone. This was communicated to the wider organisation in a group chat.
Renamed channels in a team do not change in SharePoint
A team site can be split into different channels for collaboration and file storage. These can be renamed easily in Teams, but that change is not reflected in SharePoint. This can cause confusion.
Sharing best practice
Flexibility in Teams is key, with many RLB employees needing an agile system for their different roles and requirements. However, with this flexibility comes the ability to move, edit and delete files – which can be positive and negative. So RLB needed to ensure that training covered best practice, informing everyone of the need for transparency and collaboration.
Overall, RLB has seen some significant benefits from upskilling on the Microsoft suite. The reception within the business has been incredibly positive, with employees saying the new tools are easy to use, flexible enough to help them with home or on-site working, and that they allow effective collaboration with colleagues.
IT support is receiving requests for new Teams sites almost daily, which shows the enthusiasm for change and employees engaged with new ways of working. Integrating with Outlook also meant that many already knew how to set up meetings, and it felt intuitive to replicate these processes in Teams.
When lockdown started, RLB was lead technical adviser on a school project in the Midlands. The invitation to tender involved a design competition between two framework contractors, and there were a series of engagement meetings with stakeholders.
The first of these was held in the traditional format: before the pandemic, such meetings would be large in scale, with multiple parties attending to discuss the detail of the project as well as foster relationships.
The challenge was to change the process so it would work in a digital rather than physical environment. RLB needed to ensure that there was a suitable digital platform that would not only support all parties but also be able to run lengthy presentations and interactive sessions.
It was critical to ensure the technology was compatible and robust enough for everyone for the lifetime of the project, from the local authority and the Department for Education (DfE) to the academy trust involved and all potential consultants. Microsoft Teams was chosen as it allows client engagement by video, as well as a framework for larger formal meetings to ensure they were as efficient as those conducted in person.
It was a credit to everyone involved that the whole team was able to move as quickly as they did, and everyone adapted to this new way of working. They learned to ensure that everyone got their say and there was proper engagement. With multiple parties involved, these meetings are critical in establishing collaboration for the entire project life cycle.
As the local authority's first electronic client engagement meeting, this secured two strong bids from the contractors, saving time for all involved and reducing the carbon footprint of the tender process. It also avoided any project delays due to COVID-19. The success of the project means it could become the template for future client engagements.
Related competencies include: Business planning, Data management