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How Teams and Office 365 connect NHS staff during the lockdown

NHS’s AGEM Commissioning Support Unit has migrated from on-premise SharePoint to Office 365 and is now using Teams

The NHS’s Arden and Greater East Midlands (AGEM) Commissioning Support Unit has deployed Microsoft Office 365, and has made use of Microsoft Teams during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The project began five years ago when AGEM  saw a need to migrate legacy SharePoint 2007 and SharePoint 2010 installations.

Initially, the IT team manually migrated from SharePoint 2007 and 2010 to Office 365, but it found this was prone to human error and was time-consuming. AGEM selected Quest to automate the migration of local legacy SharePoint farms and financial management accounts. 

“Prior to our engagement with Quest, we were stuck in manual processes and dealing with the shortfalls of the out-of‐the‐box option to perform the work,” said Chris Reynolds, head of systems and applications development services at AGEM. “This meant we were not able to granularly restore a document or library easily and with the confidence that it would be done correctly.”

AGEM worked with Quest to migrate to Office 365 successfully. The cloud implementation has proved vital for the support unit to continue to handle requests and keep collaboration going during the period of lockdown and increased pressure on the NHS. 

Commenting on how IT managed before the lockdown, Reynolds said: “Our disaster recovery was Starbucks and we used their Wi-Fi. Now everyone needs this.”

With the Office 365 deployment, documents are stored in the cloud, with in-built collaboration and sharing, said Reynolds. This means people can access the information they require for work without having to log into the corporate network.

AGEM began with the SharePoint upgrade, but has now started using Teams. Reynolds said the lockdown has been the driver to getting people to change how they work.

Recognising the need for people to see each other’s faces when they cannot physically be on location, AGEM saw an opportunity to deploy videoconferencing. While there are plenty of videoconferencing services, having looked at the governance required to deploy Office 365 – which requires data to be stored in the cloud – Teams was the logical choice for AGEM.

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Reynolds said that among the many challenges of remote working is that people do not have formal breaks, and staff may also feel isolated. “How do you make staff feel part of something?” he said.

There are efforts to build a sense of a community across the organisation to make sure people connect, said Reynolds. For instance, AGEM runs virtual pub quizzes.

But even as the lockdown relaxes, an end to coronavirus may be many months, if not years, away. And although some people are beginning to go back to offices and shops and schools are opening, many others are remaining at home, which means tools such as Teams may become the way most meetings are conducted in the future.

“Everyone talks about the new norm,” said Reynolds. “I believe we will work from home for a very long time. It makes a lot more sense, and reduces commuting.”

He believes that one of the opportunities for IT is to shift electronic communications away from email. Unlike email, Teams enables people to share screens and provides persistent chat, he said.

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