Office 365: Transformation or Incremental Change?

Why digital transformation is actually about being more human…

For knowledge managers, IT leadership, Internal communications and other enterprise teams, Office 365 represents the opportunity for digital transformation in our organisations no matter our digital maturity. The ability to work asynchronously, to collaborate via multiple channels, to shift the focus from artefacts to conversations represents an enormous opportunity to shift the way we work.

It also doesn’t. Office 365 can represent a way of slightly improving the status quo. We can leverage the tools we want – largely the same Office tools – and ditch the ones we don’t want. We can continue to manage files in the same ways as we always have, with some quiet noise about cloud working, whatever that means.

How we roll-out Office 365 depends entirely on two things that will dictate how we use them. A clear collaborative purpose and changing our habits. Without these, we tend to struggle on as we always have.

Purpose (Why, Why, Why?)

The fundamental. Why do we want these tools? If we can’t define this, then we won’t change. Things will remain much as before, with teams using the standard suite of tools, some video-conferencing on Skype and hopefully less duplication of files. It’s not going to transform how our business works, is it?

But, if we do define the purpose, we surface all the opportunities Office 365 offers us. We have a common direction, and we give our teams permission to work differently to get there. A purpose can be directly aligned to a corporate vision, but also needs to empower us to collaborate and to chose how, where and when we work. Assumptions we need to challenge when defining such a purpose include:

  • Synchronous vs asynchronous working: Do we have to be in the same place all of the time?
  • Creating documents: Do we need artefacts? Can we transfer much of what we do into conversations on tools such as Teams and Yammer?
  • Cloud working: having easy cloud access from any device provides us with huge flexibility, if we want to allow it.
  • Flexibility: empowering teams to operate more flexibly and more rapidly (and potentially more autonomously) gives us agility. This is lost if we carry on working in silos.
  • Visibility: Having visibility to our work- files and conversations - rather than by default having these hidden - or ‘not easily found’ - as we tend to lean towards.
  • What can these things achieve? Is it innovation? Is it a less hierarchical workforce? Is it agility? This is where we can really establish the desired future working state.

It’s worth looking at standard processes and seeing how we can transform them if we challenge these assumptions. Can a workflow be made into a conversation? Do we need to be in the same place at the same time? How do we generate input across the whole organisation?

The purpose needs to be communicated thoroughly. Full engagement with the workforce, stories of how this future work will look and real examples using pilot groups.


A clear purpose will achieve little if we keep the same habits. Behaviours do need to change. We need to encourage curiosity, openness, honesty. We need to value conversations, and how we can open these up as much as possible.

To change habits in line with the purpose, it’s helpful to undertake the following:

  • Explain how and why we are using the new tools. Guidance rather than governance encourages us.
  • Showcase good examples, making the people and how they work central to this.
  • Have leadership actively ‘walking the talk’.
  • Run engagement sessions – in the analogue world or the digital one.
  • Use ‘nudge’ tactics to move people on one step at a time.
  • Running activities that introduce us to new habits – breaking typical workplace practices (for example: making videos rather than producing Word documents, replacing meetings with asynchronous chat, stopping using email for internal conversations).

Whatever we do, senior leadership needs to be involved. Explicitly giving us permission to work in new ways, posting and responding to Yammer conversations. Opening up and sharing what they are working on from a personal perspective. Working in new and less traditional ways.

Ultimately, it’s not about being more digital. It’s actually about being more human. Digital transformation is really letting us work in a way that allows us to talk more, to connect with more people and to be ourselves. The more we let the tools drive our working, the less human these interactions are – and we simply incrementally improve our digital working. If we can step away from the tool mindset and look at our purpose, and how we can leverage our workforce better, then we will be on the path to creativity and innovation

By Andrew Pope, Partner, Innovation and Collaboration Consultant at Innosis