Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Tips and Tricks for using Microsoft Lync

I've been doing teleworking since 1998 and Unified Communications since 2003 (Nortel Succession MX). Using Unified Communications has become second nature to me and it occurred to me the other day that some of the techniques I use might not be obvious to others just starting out. My goal with this blog post is to share some of these techniques and make the way you use Microsoft Lync more effective.

Alternative Communication Methods
When I started using AOL Instant Messenger back in 1999 for business communication, it was out of necessity. My hiring manager at Nortel worked in Hartford, CT, and I lived in Lakewood, CO. I couldn't simply walk in to his office and get his attention or pass him a note. I also didn't have the luxury of presence to let me know he was on the phone or in a meeting. So I was left with the option to call him when I had an urgent matter that needed his attention. As you might expect... Being a busy person I hit his voicemail most of the time and this killed my productivity.

I tried an experiment with him and had my manager install AOL Instant Messenger so we could communicate while he was on the phone. As an added benefit, I also knew when he was at his computer because of his presence. It worked so well that within a few days he required the whole Services organization under him to get AOL Instant Messenger accounts so they could communicate with him and each other in the same way.

Another benefit was that any messages he missed while he was out, were immediately visible when he returned. No need to go through voicemail to find out what the critical issues were.

This same scenario can be applied to Microsoft Lync or any other decent Unified Communications system for that matter. The lesson learned was that when you have alternative communication methods available you can still communicate and get critical decisions or information that keeps business flowing. Because decisions can be made in real time and productivity is increased dramatically.

Out of Band Communications
Another technique I discovered fairly quickly was what I call out of band communications. "Out of Band" is a technical term that is defined as transmission of data or information by not using the already established primary communications channel.

An example for Microsoft Lync would be the need for two parties on a conference call to communicate information without others on the conference call knowing. This information can be shared "out of band" through alternative communications.

To illustrate further, an Engineer could have the need to share a critical piece of information to a Project Manager just before an incorrect statement is made to a customer. Instead of interrupting the conversation and making the Project Manager look less prepared, now the Project Manager has the correct information to give the customer just in time.

To accomplish this scenario, Instant Messaging can be used to send that information out of band without the other parties on the conference call knowing. As a side note, you might want to turn down your computer sound or mute the mic on your phone because the constant ding, ding, ding of Instant Messages could have a negative effect as well.

Taking the concept a bit further, Instant Message Conferencing can also be used if there are more than two parties that have the need to communicate out of band. This will allow the whole team to be on the same page and share information in real time during a conference call. Throw in Lync Federation and now you can bring in a partner organization to the same Instant Message Conference and keep the whole team that is delivering the solution on the same page.

Another take on the scenario would be requesting information from a third party that is not on the conference call, but has critical information that would benefit the parties on the conference call. You can go down through your contact list or use Lync Skill Search to find an appropriate resource and then reach out to them using an Instant Message. Maybe after a few Instant Messages, you get to the point where you feel the third party should be part of the conversation on the conference call. With Microsoft Lync, they are a quick click and drag away from joining the conference call.

SIP URI vs Phone Number
I became familiar with the notion of a SIP URI (Uniform Resource Identifier) when I started using Nortel Succession MX. It did not take long before I realized I could reach someone by calling (SIP URI) versus a Phone number and soon started to use the SIP URI primarily.

Being able to call a person by their SIP URI meant the good old company directory wasn't as important because now I had an easy way of telling my computer of who I wanted to communicate with.

What is great about Microsoft Lync is that the system does not care whether a call is by SIP URI or Phone Number. The Microsoft Lync will do a Reverse Number Lookup if a Phone Number is entered and map to the SIP URI of the user so that other modalities like Instant Message or Collaboration can be escalated to.

Think about this another way... what about when you start with an Instant Message to someone and then want to escalate other types of communications like Audio or Video. Now that Phone Number isn't quite as useful is it?

Microsoft Lync takes this a step further with Federation and will allow you to communicate with a SIP URI that is not part of your organization. Now instead of having to hunt down that phone number to call a business partner you can communicate using an easy to remember SIP URI that more than likely matches their E-mail address. Add them to your contact list in Microsoft Lync and communicating with that business partner is even easier.

Want a more in depth talk about where I think all this is going. Read my blog post on why the days of the telephone number are dwindling.

Working from Anywhere
When I started with Nortel, one of the first things I asked my hiring manager if he had any preference on where I lived. He stated as long as I have a phone line and an airport nearby, he did not care where I lived.

At the time, I was limited by technology as to where I worked... primary by where there was a phone line.

Fast forward 14 years, and now with new wireless technologies, I can get an Internet connection just about anywhere (3G/4G) and Microsoft Lync allows for communication with or without VPN. Cisco Expressway seems to give similar features for Cisco Jabber which I believe validates Microsoft's strategy for Federated and Remote Access to a Unified Communications environment. Microsoft first put this technology in to the product during LCS/OCS time frame.

My point isn't about comparing Unified Communication systems, the point is that technology shouldn't get in the way of the user trying to work. If you need to take the car to your local Big O Tire center to have some work done, why can't you work using the provided Wi-Fi? Added benefit... now you don't have to make up the time later and take away time from your family. Win-Win in my book.

On the flip side, since we can work from anywhere, work is now invading our personal lives more and more. Work/Life balance was/is a challenge without technology like Unified Communications.

Teleworkers have to develop Rules of Engagement when they are working from home. Just because Dad or Mom is home doesn't necessarily mean they are accessible when they are working. Here are some things I've found helpful.
  • Set aside space for an office. Working on any piece of furniture sends the wrong message to others that you are not working and can be approached anytime.
  • Train others that if the door to the office is shut, knock before entering
  • Train others to not speak right away. Have visual queues if someone is on the phone or not
  • Lync devices that show presence visually are very helpful (CX 300, Busy Light etc)
  • If your spouse, partner or roommate needs to communicate set them up on O365 Lync or Public IM so they can see your presence and send Instant Messages that are less disruptive
  • When you are not at work, try to give your family/others your full attention. They will respect your work time, if you respect personal time with them.
Working through these issues is crucial. It takes hard work and time to adjust for everyone.

Although Jason Fried is a bit extreme in some of his thinking... he does make you think about Why work doesn't happen at work anymore...

Escalation to other Modalities
Microsoft Lync has several modalities that can be used to communicate. But communication really does not become "Unified" until you start using multiple modalities at the same time. Examples:
  • Audio and Video
  • Audio and Collaboration like Desktop Sharing
  • Starting with an Instant Message and Escalating to Audio
When you use more than one modality to communicate, you add addition context.

Have you ever tried to explain a Visio diagram using just your voice?

Have you ever felt like your Instant Message just was not getting message across properly and your intent being misunderstood?

Being able to use multiple modalities at once is why you can't compare Microsoft Lync to just a PBX. Yes, Microsoft Lync can replace a PBX (I do this all the time), but the two can't be compared across the board.

Effective use of Presence
Most people encounter presence when they use a typical public Instant Message like Skype or Facebook. Knowing when a person is online is crucial to communicating in real time. However, many Unified Communication systems including Microsoft Lync expand on presence to communicate more than just whether someone is online or not.

For example, Microsoft Lync indicates when a person is on a call, in a conference, in a meeting, busy, away, inactive, or do not disturb.

Microsoft Lync does a great job setting presence automatically for the user.

If you a user has a Meeting scheduled in Outlook, Lync changes your presence to "In a Meeting".

If a user just has some time blocked out in Outlook to work on a task, Lync changes the users presence to "Busy".

Not at your computer for a few minutes... "Inactive".

Not at your computer for a longer period of time... "Away".

Think about that for a second... What different choices in communication would you make knowing when a person is not available for a phone call?

If you can see that a person is "In a Call", why give them a call when more than likely you will end up in their voicemail. If you still need to communicate you can now choose Instant Message and eliminate the productivity sucking phenomenon of voicemail tag.

If that person is Away, now you might choose to contact them later or send an E-mail. If you still want to send that Instant Message they are notified of the Missed Message in their Outlook mailbox.

Another scenario to think about is when a users presence indicates they are "In a Meeting". Bring up their contact card and now you will know when they are free next. With this crucial bit of information, you can now decide to accomplish another task or take that long lunch you deserve.

Here is a scenario in the etiquette department. When you want to communicate with a user that indicates they are "In a conference call", there is a possibility their screen is being viewed by others. You should always start off with an IM that is fairly generic like "Can you IM?" Nothing is more embarrassing then a private or confidential IM being displayed to others that shouldn't see it.

Knowing how to communicate with others based on their presence is a key skill to have. But you should also consider what your presence looks to others.

Are you a presence liar and show "Away" all the time because you don't want to be bothered with interruptions?

Maybe you should use Do Not Disturb for those times you need to not have interruptions and then let Lync manage your presence all the other times.

If your presence is always accurate, others will learn to believe it and respect it.

Business to Business Communications
Microsoft Lync is a great product hands down, but what makes Unified Communications more valuable is when you have more choices of people to talk to. Federation is Microsoft's not so secret weapon in the Unified Communication industry.

With Federation, you can communicate with partner organizations whether they have Lync or not. The Lync Federation Project has documented 18,000+ organizations that Federate using Microsoft Unified Communications. However, Lync will also Federate to MSN/Skype, AOL and any other XMPP compatible systems.

With MSN/Skype you are not just limited to Presence and Instant Messages, Audio and soon Video will be supported.

My customers sometimes don't get Federation until I have them do a conference call with someone at Microsoft and myself and then share my desktop. With a simple click and drag we are all talking and can collaborate.

If you have Open Federation like Time2Market, you can discover people that can Federate with you through their presence that shows up in an E-mail from them. Yet again highlighting the complete vision Microsoft had with making Unified Communications more than just in one application.

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