How To Improve Office 365 User Adoption Rates

If you followed the news from Ignite this year, you probably noticed one of the key areas Microsoft is focusing on is increasing Office 365 user adoption.

There were tons of speaker sessions and workshops on the topic, alongside the launch of a new Microsoft Service Adoption Specialist course, which has already seen thousands of enrollments.

There has been a growing need to tackle this issue, as enterprise organizations increasingly take the microscope to IT to ensure they’re getting maximum value for their cloud investment. It’s all very well paying for this new technology, but what use is it if nobody’s playing with their new toys?

All kidding aside, there’s a big push both from Microsoft and enterprises to make sure that the enterprise is getting the best possible value from Office 365 license spend.

If you’re responsible for managing your company’s Office 365 licenses, you’ll know how painful this scenario can be and how challenging it is to encourage – or even enforce – widespread adoption of new workloads.

In this article, I’m going to share a few words of advice based on first-hand experience and the conversations I had with Ignite attendees from all over the world.

Key actions for better Office 365 user adoption

Whichever way you look at it, communication is the key. This means you can’t just shout and expect your workforce to fall in line. You need a wide-ranging communication plan that talks to specific user groups, highlighting the benefits particular to their roles. If you can make the benefit of using a particular Office 365 workload obvious, people will flock to it (this explains much of the rapid growth of Microsoft Teams).

However, creating and implementing such a broad plan is far too big a task for IT alone. Key stakeholders from across the organization first need to come together to clarify the business goals, set Key Performance Indicators and collaborate on an adoption strategy.

If you’re tasked with making this happen purely because you’re the IT team, you need to make it clear this isn’t purely an IT challenge; it’s a question of culture and changing behavior, which requires a more nuanced approach.

Technical expertise is certainly vital to managing the change, but it should never be the sole focus.

Heard this before?

I highly doubt anyone reading this has just fallen off their chair, paralyzed by shock as the penny finally drops. Yet, while talking to industry professionals in Orlando, this issue kept rearing its ugly head; business leaders still drop the adoption problem off on IT’s doorstep, despite all the best-practice advice.

Don’t let it happen to you! Make sure you emphasize the need to drive adoption from multiple angles rather than a linear, top-down ‘you must do this because I said so’ approach. IT can enable adoption, and IT can encourage adoption, but in the end, the business stakeholders involved have to do their part to get their users on board too.

And if you get push-back from the bigwigs, send them to me. Tell them they need to listen to you. Because I said so.

Be specific, multiple times, in a variety of ways

Ultimately, your adoption team needs to articulate both the advantages of and need for change, workload-by-workload. For example, this means highlighting the benefits of Teams over Skype for Business, rather than simply stating the need to change as SfB is slowly retired.

By all means, reference articles such as those found on Practical 365, but a single DL-ALL email will not suffice. You need a multi-faceted communication strategy that covers multiple channels, i.e. Town Halls, team meetings, one-to-ones, and so on.

You should also outline how the new technology fits with the company’s overall future and aim to achieve buy-in based on this vision.

Training end-users on how to use their new services is obviously essential, but what’s arguably more important to adoption is identifying workload champions who can help you create motivational content. Peer-to-peer influence is infinitely more effective than top-down directives, so sharing success stories via internal channels will pay off.

No doubt you already know who the most enthusiastic adopters of new technology in your business are – they’re the ones who are always coming to you to ask you to support device X, platform Y, or application Z before it even ships. Figure out how to bring those bellwethers into your adoption program and lean on them to help you spread the good news.

Educational material on the ‘how’ can only take you so far; it’s the ‘why’ – role-by-role, workload-by-workload – that will really drive your success.

About the Author

Paul Robichaux

Paul Robichaux, an Office Apps and Services MVP since 2002, works as the senior director of product management at Keepit, spending his time helping to make awesome data protection solutions for the multi-cloud world we’re all living in. Paul's unique background includes stints writing Space Shuttle payload software in FORTRAN, developing cryptographic software for the US National Security Agency, helping giant companies deploy Office 365 to their worldwide users, and writing about and presenting on Microsoft’s software and server products. Paul’s an avid (but slow) triathlete, an instrument-rated private pilot, and an occasional blogger (at and Tweeter (@paulrobichaux).

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