Microsoft is rolling out an application that will directly connect employees with company announcements and feature updates they need—all through the new Microsoft Teams app.
Called Company Communicator, the new app enables leaders and communications specialists to send messages directly to multiple teams, employees, or any subset of an internal audience, over chat or in a Teams channel.
“We know a lot of our teams are moving their communication and collaboration out of email and into Microsoft Teams,” says Diana McCarty, a principal content publisher manager in Microsoft Digital, the organization that powers, protects, and transforms Microsoft. “There also haven’t been any major changes in direct internal communication capabilities in decades, and we had an opportunity to meet employees where they are.”
This decision was supported by survey data from Microsoft employees, who rely on Microsoft Teams as a hub for all their teamwork and communication needs like video meetings, chat, phone calls, and critical business applications. Additionally, 77 percent of survey participants said they wanted to receive communications over Microsoft Teams chat, which kickstarted the implementation of Company Communicator.
As communicators at Microsoft, we’re always looking for new ways to reach our audiences … Company Communicator is the perfect tool to send messages straight to the place where employees are already working.
– Sarah Lundy, content publisher at Microsoft
For their part, internal communicators at Microsoft have long wanted the ability to reach employees in Microsoft Teams, but that mass communications capability hasn’t been available. Company Communicator enables content publishers like Sarah Lundy to do just that.
“As communicators, we’re always looking for new ways to reach our audiences,” says Lundy, who often communicates with employees about updates and features in Microsoft Teams. “Microsoft is a huge company, and we’re always sending messages about actions required and technology changes. Company Communicator is the perfect tool to send these messages straight to the place where employees are already working.”
This mission to modernize direct company communication fits nicely in Pouneh Kaufman’s, a principal PM manager leading Microsoft Digital’s internal deployment of Teams across Microsoft, wheelhouse, and she believes that building a new communications strategy is essential for driving modern work at Microsoft.
“People think of our organization as the internal IT shop, but we’re changing that by building solutions that become part of customer-focused products,” Kaufman says. “We feel like this an opportunity to influence the market and get people excited about innovation with the new Microsoft Teams app.”
Microsoft Teams as a hub for communication
Company Communicator was originally built on a template created by the Microsoft Teams product group. Now, the Productivity Studio team under Kaufman is building on this template to create a tool that changes the way the company approaches mass communications by managers and leaders.
“The Microsoft Teams product group had created the solution template and asked us to deploy it,” Kaufman says. “Before we could deploy it, we needed to ensure that it can be used by multiple communication teams simultaneously using a single set of Azure resources, and it could be integrated with other apps and services. In addition to making these changes, we had the opportunity to test out Company Communicator with end users and iterate on that feedback.”
Based on the template from the product group, Kaufman and her Productivity Studio team are creating a new and improved version of Company Communicator that will soon be made available to internal communications teams at Microsoft.
“Diana’s team represented our initial user base, and they validated that the solution met their business requirements,” says Mykhailo Sydorchuk, a senior program manager on Kaufman’s team. “Then, the engineers in Productivity Studio, a joint venture with Avanade that falls under Kaufman’s purview, oversaw the technical implementation and ensured that the solution was tested with end users.”
To build out the latest version of Company Communicator, Sydorchuk connected with communications managers in McCarty’s organization to understand their key business requirements. Pilot user Lundy provided feedback throughout the design and implementation of the tool.
“It’s exciting to land a new way of communicating with employees and provide input in the design process,” Lundy says. “We’ve gotten to see key features come to life, and we get to hear from employees about their preferences so we can deliver on them.”
As early adopters, Lundy and her peers provided crucial feedback on the tool before it becomes available to other teams (and later, external customers) in the next few months. For example, they expressed the importance of importing a custom list of recipients so they can send out more targeted messages.
Based on their feedback, Sydorchuk added the functionality for leaders and communications managers to upload a custom list of recipients, view message previews, and add images, graphics, and links to ensure that recipients are getting the information they need in one place.
“We can quickly send out messages and include marketing images or graphics so they’re visually appealing,” Lundy says. “It’s easy for emails to get lost in our inboxes but with the chat feature, it’s all in the same conversation and employees can refer back to past messages.”
McCarty also notes that security and accessibility were prerequisites for building out this experience.
“When you send messages directly to someone, you want to make people feel like you respect them and see them as they are,” McCarty says. “Prioritizing accessibility and security ensures that we’re offering the best positive experience for employees, and we wouldn’t introduce a new communications channel if it didn’t meet Microsoft’s high standards on these fronts.”
Improving the experience from the inside out using feedback
Based on initial surveys with employees, the team knew that employees relied on Microsoft Teams for collaboration but they wanted to validate these findings in research.
“We wanted to be early adopters before Company Communicator was available to other teams or customers,” McCarty says. “That’s why we prioritized research before we went into production.”
To refine the experience to support company communication using Microsoft Teams, McCarty’s team tested using the app to communicate with employees from around the world who enrolled in the Microsoft Elite program, the company’s community-based program for encouraging employees to try out and provide crucial feedback on new and upcoming Microsoft technology. The employees in the Elite program who tested receiving communications via the tool represented a range of tenures, ages, and areas of focus, and that diversity of feedback only made the end result better.
Pilot users of Company Communicatorwere ecstatic to be able to see this messaging fit seamlessly into their daily workflow of using Microsoft Teams without having to check their email to catch up on things. Running this pilot gave us a new perspective on where and how our employees like to receive communications.
– Kayla Brooks, program manager at Microsoft
Lundy and her team provided messaging that could be used in the Elite pilot for a range of communications scenarios from feature updates to survey completion requests and technology best practices.
“Our team asked, ‘what kind of messaging could we send that would be relevant and newsworthy to a diverse audience?’” Lundy says. “In the process, the team of content publishers and communicators learned how to use the tool and provided our own feedback.”
Over 600 employees joined the Elite program for Company Communicator and provided feedback on their experience as communications recipients over the course of two weeks. The initial results were promising. Ninety-seven percent of pilot users said they wanted to receive communications in Microsoft Teams, and they appreciated the brevity and efficiency of the messages in Teams.
“Pilot users were ecstatic to be able to see this messaging fit seamlessly into their daily workflow of using Microsoft Teams without having to check their email to catch up on things,” says Kayla Brooks, a program manager on Kaufman’s team who oversaw data collection and analysis on the Elite pilot. “Running this pilot gave us a new perspective on where and how our employees like to receive communications.”
Additionally, the bot used in the pilot was able to send messages to all 600 recipients in under one minute which was a huge win from a delivery standpoint.
“It’s been validating to see that employees are embracing the pilot and saying, ‘yes, I want this,’” Sydorchuk says.
We have our own ideas of the best ways of communicating, which is why we need to start by listening to our users to understand what they need. This ensures that our tools will empower our employees and fit into their current workflows.
– Pouneh Kaufman, a principal PM manager at Microsoft
The team also identified an area of growth, which was to enable employees to control the frequency and type of messages they received over Microsoft Teams chat. Now that they’ve gotten feedback, the team is iterating on Company Communicator with the goal of piloting the solution with internal Microsoft teams. This approach aligns with one of Kaufman’s core pieces of feedback for others who are deploying Company Communicator: Test out your experience to validate your approach or change course, get feedback, and iterate.
“We have our own ideas of the best ways of communicating, which is why we need to start by listening to our users to understand what they need,” Kaufman says. “This ensures that our tools will empower our employees and fit into their current workflows.”
McCarty also encourages anyone who wants to move their broader communications to a new form factor to gauge their audience’s appetite for change. From there, you can start a phased approach to transition your users to the new experience and ramp up over time.
“Like with any kind of tech deployment, make sure that you’re communicating with users about why you’re making these changes and how it benefits them,” McCarty says. “Use surveys to see how the feature or messaging is landing and make adjustments. If people are open to a new experience, you can do some pre-messaging to let them know that they’ll be receiving messages in a Microsoft Teams chat and share the benefits.”
The journey to modernize company communication using Microsoft Teams has been a long time coming and, best of all, it’s happening from the inside out. For Kaufman, it’s been exciting to see how many Microsoft leaders and external companies are excited to use Company Communicator when it’s available to everyone.
“Although Microsoft Digital focuses on employees, our work directly shapes the products and services used by external partners and companies,” Kaufman says. “We know we’re just getting started.”