Scott Richards

Scott Richards joined designDATA in July 2017 as the Director of Training and Employee Engagement. In this role, he plans and executes weekly webinars for clients and delivers onsite training (currently virtual). Scott is designDATA's communications and productivity expert, making him uniquely positioned to offer strategies and tools which he has developed both prior to and because of the emerging reality of remote workplaces. Scott focuses on providing “communication excellence” and works hard to incorporate this into the training programs he develops for not only the designDATA team but also for their clients.

How to Address the Feared Proximity Bias When Returning to the Office

How to Address the Feared Proximity Bias When Returning to the Office

As the world adapts to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic, organizations face many challenges in implementing strategies for returning to the office.

An issue that many workers face is proximity bias. Proximity bias is the assumption that people are more productive in an office environment – they work better when they are in close physical proximity to others with their managers in sight. Since the start of the pandemic, it has been proven that this is not always true, and many organizations have been able to function optimally in a remote setting.

Organizations need to have clear strategies in place for how they move forward. One of the considerations will be whether they implement a total return to the office vs. an entirely remote workforce or some hybrid combination of the two. It will be a delicate balancing act of weighing official regulations with organizational capabilities while ensuring employees’ safety and mental well-being.

Here are three ways to combat proximity bias when returning to the office:

Create equal opportunities for all employees

Before the pandemic, remote work was seen as a privilege rather than a necessity. Many organizations have since realized that employees can be just as productive outside the office as they are in it. Despite this, remote workers likely still face unconscious biases regarding their career progression in the post-pandemic working environment. In-person workers may still be at an advantage just by the mere fact that they are more visible to management. 

Employees need the training and tools to succeed, whether they are working in the office or at home, and to feel supported. As such, expectations should be managed and set structures in place that clearly define these. Business leaders must implement policies and procedures that support both in-office and remote workers equally. The emphasis should be on a people-first approach with policies communicated and implemented across all functional disciplines, including human resources, legal, security, and IT.

Keep channels of communication open

The remote working space has meant losing face time between team members and a lack of spontaneous interactions usually experienced in the traditional office environment, like random chats in the lunchroom or ad hoc brainstorming sessions in the boardroom. 

Remote workers still need to feel connected. Business leaders must be more intentional in ensuring that those working from home are still included and connected to the team. 

One way to ensure this is to provide formal communication channels to keep remote workers informed of important decisions. At the same time, leaders need to establish trust between teams, both in-office and remote. Keeping open channels of communication and collaboration will undoubtedly contribute to combatting proximity bias when returning to the office.

Consider a flexible working environment

Returning to the office may lead to fear and anxiety for employees, and business leaders must ensure that they address these with empathy. A worker who is reluctant to return to work in the office should not be discriminated against.

If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it is to take a flexible approach to business operations. When it comes to returning to the office, business leaders should consider a flexible working environment that includes a hybrid work model of both in-office and remote work, giving employees the option to work how they are most comfortable. 

When implementing a hybrid approach, businesses should create opportunities for smaller working groups so that employees are only required to come into the office for collaborative brainstorming sessions or essential projects. For more focused work, they should be given the option of working from home. Another option includes the introduction of staggered shifts to ensure fewer people are in the office at the same time.

The responsibility of business leaders during this complicated transition

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for new approaches to our traditional business models. Enterprise leaders must be flexible in approaching the unique challenges of keeping operations going while minimizing their employees’ risk. 

designDATA works with business leaders to develop and implement the best leadership methods customized for their services and teams. Get in touch with one of our experts today to discuss how our leadership consults can help you and your teams. 

“Creating an Announcement” and Other Features in Microsoft Teams that Help Replicate the Office Space

“Creating an Announcement” and Other Features in Microsoft Teams that Help Replicate the Office Space

In the current remote-work culture, a socially-distanced workforce is deprived of the personal interactions experienced in a traditional office environment. Organizations across the globe have faced the challenges of encouraging connection and engagement in their virtual spaces. 

Since the pandemic started, Microsoft Teams has become one of the most popular tools to manage remote teams and promote collaboration. They have even developed and enhanced many features to help replicate the physical office space.

Here are five of our favorite tools in Microsoft Teams that allow workers to communicate more naturally and engagingly, fostering quality creativity and collaboration:

Create an announcement for everyone to see

Within a physical office space, it’s easy to make announcements to your whole team. A great new feature in Microsoft Teams that replicates this is the ability to create an announcement. This will appear as a banner at the top of a post and is a helpful way to instantly draw attention to important information about an upcoming project, meeting, or social matter. 

Plus, they’re customizable: you can add a title and image to the announcement, and it can be marked as important by adding a red exclamation point. Announcements are available in channels, and it’s also possible to post one across multiple channels. You can even email them directly via Outlook.

Use a whiteboard or mural for real-time collaboration

Whiteboard is a great feature that replicates the boardroom environment by allowing participants in a virtual meeting to sketch, write, and brainstorm new ideas onto a shared digital canvas. 

Mural is just as awesome. This Teams app provides a digital workspace for real-time visual collaboration. The app allows participants to create diagrams, add digital sticky notes, share concepts, chat, and start a video call while simultaneously collaborating.

See a virtual meeting room with Together Mode

Together Mode is an innovative new app in Teams that also replicates the boardroom. Using AI segmentation technology, meeting participants are digitally placed in a shared background to make it feel like they are all in the same room. 

Not everyone in the team has to use the feature, but for it to work most effectively, every participant needs to have their camera on during the meeting. Everyone will be visible simultaneously, and their position does not change throughout the online session. This makes it easier to read body language, reactions, and create a more cohesive and engaging virtual meeting space.

Create channels for focused collaboration

Much like having different teams hosting meetings and collaborating directly within an office, channels are a handy way to deal with project management. It’s a space where everyone who has access to the channel can collaborate, hold meetings, and have conversations. Team members within a channel can use the ‘follow’ option to receive updates about all channel activities.

Use live reactions to respond in meetings

The lack of visual cues and personal interactions often leaves virtual-meeting participants frustrated. Plus, it can be challenging to express yourself in a virtual environment. 

Thankfully, Teams has released some fun new tools for users to communicate and respond during a meeting without interrupting the flow. There are four reactions available: like, love, applause, and laugh. Participants can also click on an icon to raise their hand in a meeting – a great option to avoid those awkward moments when a few people try to speak simultaneously. These reactions are accessed by hovering over the ‘show reaction’ in meeting controls at the screen’s top right area.

Welcoming Teams software into your work environment

Microsoft Teams has greatly helped facilitate our move to remote work, promoting productivity among our teams and softening the blow of losing our office space. We’ve recently launched Microsoft 365 Business Voice and have found that this telephony software has also helped replicate the physical workspace in such a meaningful way. Let designDATA help you achieve the same results by setting up your business phone system for calling, chatting, and virtual meetings all in one app.

How to Foster Innovation and Creativity During the COVID-19 Pandemic

How to Foster Innovation and Creativity During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Organizations have had to quickly adapt to the many unexpected challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the most significant adjustments has included the move to a remote workforce.

While remote working environments have welcomed a more diverse workforce and increased flexibility, they have also tested organizations in addressing issues like innovation and creativity.

Working from home has many advantages, but business leaders have still had to take action to keep their remote teams connected in a meaningful way. In the same vein, finding ingenious ways of encouraging originality needs to be an ongoing aspect of any business strategy.

Here are five ways to foster innovation and creativity in the workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Make mental health a priority

The current pandemic has had a noticeable impact on the mental well-being of employees. Many remote workers have found this mentally challenging, and stress and anxiety are not conducive to workplace creativity. 

Organizations must create an emotionally supportive and empathetic environment so that workers feel their employer cares. Stay connected and encourage team members to voice their concerns and address their feelings of fear, uncertainty, and isolation. An excellent way to do this is to have regular check-ins with individual team members and teams.

Establish clear work-home boundaries

While the work-from-home culture has created a more flexible environment, there has also been a blurring of lines between work, home, and family life. We recommend that employers and employees alike create clear work-life boundaries. This includes set office hours and a respect for personal and family time. 

Encourage your employees to set times where they are not expected to respond to messages or check-in with their team; managers and colleagues alike should respect these times. When employees feel like their time is appreciated and there are firm boundaries in place, their brains switch gears better, and they can provide more inventive insights regarding their work. 

Host virtual team-building activities

A common challenge for companies with remote teams is ensuring that workers feel together even when far apart. Humans need connectivity, and company leaders must find creative ways to increase team bonding and morale, leading to quality brainstorming and valuable work.

There are no longer spontaneous interactions between team members with the lack of physical office space, like hallway encounters or breakroom chats. These provide opportunities to inspire and share ideas. Consider designating social times where colleagues can chat and have time out from work mode – establishing a specific social channel in Microsoft Teams may be an option to facilitate this. 

You could also hold virtual team-building activities or an occasional online happy hour. Provide some entertainment, like a band or comedian, to perform virtually for the team, or join a webinar together. These activities give workers something to look forward to, reduce feelings of isolation, and inspire more creativity.

Encourage a change of scenery

Sitting at a desk alone and carrying out repetitive tasks can quickly become monotonous. It is a good idea to take regular breaks and change your scenery throughout the day.

Managers should encourage their team to get moving. Motivate your employees to head outdoors to walk in the sunshine or take the laptop to a cafe. Changing one’s environment can significantly encourage renewed focus – and great ideas.

Acknowledge good work

It is essential to set clear objectives for virtual teams and have attainable goals while at the same time creating a culture of appreciation. In the current work-from-home business environment, motivation levels are low, and organizations need to find innovative ways to encourage employees. When team members feel appreciated, they are more productive and, ultimately, more creative in their work approach. 

Some great new apps have been developed to acknowledge great work. In Microsoft Teams, Karma was designed to help people give thanks and encouragement. Praise is another handy Teams app that allows you to send badges to fellow employees. These can be sent in a personal chat or posted to a channel for the entire team to see.

The world has witnessed a digital transformation in how we do business since the start of the pandemic. Organizations need to continue encouraging more interpersonal connections with their teams to increase motivation and ensure great work. To find out how the solutions at designDATA can help your teams collaborate and produce quality ideas, get in touch with one of our Microsoft experts. 

The Five Best “Hidden Gem” Features in Microsoft Teams

The Five Best “Hidden Gem” Features in Microsoft Teams

Having a comprehensive online team space for collaboration and virtual engagement has become essential in today’s remote and work-from-home business environment. Since the pandemic began, many organizations have turned to Microsoft Teams to simplify their group work and increase their virtual teams’ creativity and productivity. With more than 115 million users, Teams has become a popular tool for managing remote work.

From apps designed to improve workflow and efficiency to comprehensive project management tools, there are many great “hidden gem” features in Microsoft Teams to help organizations reach their productivity goals.

One of Microsoft Teams’ best assets is integrating fully with Microsoft 365 and the apps that many team members are likely already using, like Outlook, PowerPoint, Excel, Word, and SharePoint. This means that all your apps are in one location, and introducing Teams should be a seamless transition, allowing team members to collaborate in real-time easily.

Here are our top five favourite hidden gem features in Microsoft Teams:


Being able to bookmark messages and attachments makes it easy to save required actions for later. This is especially useful when you are multitasking and have multiple chats open. It is also possible to mark a message as unread if you want to tend to it later. These commands are found by clicking on the ellipsis next to a message. To find your unread or saved messages, use the slash feature by inputting /unread or /saved in the search bar.

Search Bar and Slash Commands

A search bar is nothing new or extraordinary and may not seem like a hidden gem feature in Microsoft Teams. In this case, however, it doubles as a command bar, which is handy for quick navigation. Commands are shortcuts for performing specific tasks in Teams like changing your status, opening a file, making a video call, or starting a chat. By inserting a / before a word in the search bar, a list of useful commands appears.

Applying Background Effects in Video Chats

When it comes to virtual meetings, background distractions can be a frustrating thing to manage. There are great features in Microsoft Teams that allow participants to utilize background effects to subtly conceal their background so that only they are visible during a Teams video call. To blur the background, click the ellipsis in the bottom toolbar. It is also possible to suppress background noises during a video call. To control the background noise settings, go to your profile picture at the top of Teams, then to Settings > Devices > Noise suppression.

Meeting Whiteboards

Meeting whiteboards are a useful feature in Microsoft Teams that allow participants to collaborate visually in real-time. There are two ways to use whiteboards in Teams: using the Microsoft Whiteboard app or the Freehand tool by InVision. Meeting participants can sketch, write, and brainstorm new ideas onto a shared digital canvas, much like they would in the boardroom. This makes for a more personal and interactive experience. After a meeting has ended, the board will still be available to participants in a tab labeled “Whiteboard.”

Multiple Languages and Built-in Translator

Having Microsoft Teams support more than 60 languages allows for more inclusive collaboration for teams across the globe. This handy feature allows for captions for the spoken language or translated captions in one’s native language for messages and chats without leaving the app. This means that team members who are more comfortable speaking in their first language can do so during meetings or chats.

The translate function can be accessed via the ellipsis next to a message. You can also record a meeting, and have it transcribed – this is then available to team members needing a recap of what was discussed in the meeting.

Work Better – Home Office Edition

Microsoft Teams has greatly helped facilitate our move to remote work and the practical and productive functioning of this work environment. We’ve recently launched Microsoft 365 Business Voice and have found that this telephony software has also helped replicate the physical workspace in such a meaningful way. Let us help you achieve the same results and improve your company’s efficiency; join one of our experts for a free productivity consult.

How You Can Use Microsoft 365 Business Voice to Your Advantage, and why it is the best VoIP platform on the market

How to Use Microsoft 365 Business Voice to Your Advantage

Learning these key Microsoft 365 Business Voice features will make you much more productive during the workday. Keep reading to get started.

Microsoft is renowned in the business community for providing software that drastically increases their overall productivity. Many organizations would be entirely lost without access to the Microsoft Office Suite.

Although not quite as well-known as some of its larger products, Microsoft 365 Business Voice offers many benefits for companies willing to take advantage of them.

Not quite sure how to get started? We’ve got a guide that can help you.

Let’s dive in.

Enable Key Features

To make the most of this software, you need to take full advantage of the numerous features. Many of these tools require setup, but the implementation is well worth it.

One of the most notable is the fully-customizable auto attendant. This tool is seamlessly able to take incoming calls and reroute them to the correct queues. You have a large amount of flexibility regarding how you configure this tool. The standard parameters many organizations use are language, time zone, or overall availability.

When these callers reach the queues, they’ll be presented with a custom greeting while they wait (accompanied by music if necessary). Other notable features include audio conferencing, cloud-based voicemail management (and voicemail transcription), and direct SIP trunk routing.

It’s best to determine which tools your company can benefit from most and integrate them as soon as possible.

The Microsoft Teams Admin Center

As the name suggests, the Microsoft Teams admin center serves as a centralized location that you can use to help manage your organization’s projects and tools. You can also use it for 365 Business Voice.

This tool helps you set up cloud calling and audio conferencing. You can also contribute to a database of relevant phone numbers that are easily accessible.

You can even use the admin center to assign certain levels of functionality to specific phone numbers. For example, one phone number could be a dedicated conference bridge connecting multiple users to a single conference call.

It’s possible to do the same for call queues and auto attendants. By taking full advantage of this utility, you’ll be able to improve your level of customer service drastically.

Build Upon Its Functionality

Although Business Voice provides a large amount of utility for many organizations, some businesses still prefer to use other software alongside it.

For example, a small business owner might use Business Voice as a foundation while also implementing a different partner compliance recording solution.

This scenario is easily achievable. Microsoft 365 Business Voice is highly extensible, allowing users to expand upon its functionality. This means that those who already have a preferred contact center software don’t have to worry about any conflicts arising.

This is particularly useful for more sizeable organizations that benefit from using a large set of tools.

Train Your Team

To get the most out of Microsoft Business Voice, you’ll need to train your team on its functionality. Fortunately, the volume of training required is very low.

Employees who have experience using Microsoft Teams will likely require only 5 to 10 minutes to get familiar with Business Voice. After everything has been configured within the admin center, your employees will often only need to set up their respective voicemails before they can begin to make calls.

This makes Business Voice extremely straightforward to integrate into a company’s practices and is one of the primary reasons entrepreneurs choose to use it.

Looking to Boost your productivity and empower your remote workforce? Book a call with one of designDATA’s productivity experts today.

Porting Existing Phone Numbers

Porting your company’s current phone numbers to Microsoft is a straightforward process – if you have the required info.

To help make the transition go as smoothly as possible, be sure that you have access to the following:

  • Your current company name
  • Business telephone number
  • Business address
  • Account number
  • Personal identification number
  • A comprehensive list of the phone numbers you want to port

You’ll also need to indicate whether or not you’re porting your entire list of numbers or only some of them.

It’s important to note that you will need to make separate porting orders for service toll numbers. This also applies to toll-free and user numbers.

Generally, your order should be processed relatively shortly. Fortunately, Microsoft will provide you with a temporary business phone number while you wait, which comes complete with audio conferencing, call queues, and auto attendants. These can help direct incoming calls to your temporary number.

You Don't Need Additional Hardware

Using Microsoft 365 Business Voice doesn’t mean that you’ll need to overhaul all of your company’s hardware. But, you may want to consider it depending on your needs.

For instance, if you don’t plan on using call queues or the auto attendant tool, it may be worth investing in more efficient hardware for relevant employees. In contrast, your current hardware should do just fine if you make heavy use of the utility that Business Voice provides.

So, take a moment to determine which option would be most suitable for your company before you spend thousands of dollars on new equipment.

Integrating Microsoft 365 Business Voice

Diving deeper into the features offered through Microsoft 365 Business Voice will ensure you take full advantage of the utility that it provides. Integrating this tool into your Microsoft Business stack may be the perfect solution for streamlined collaboration in your organization.

Want to find out if Microsoft 365 Business Voice is right for your business? Reach out to us today and see how we can help.