Back in early March, it took a team of Microsoft developers just 48 hours to create the Microsoft Crisis Communications app. This was (and still is) a completely free app, bringing together elements of Power Apps, Power Automate, Microsoft Teams and SharePoint, to allow businesses and their employees to rapidly and effectively communicate as the emerging crisis developed. Their standard app allows employees to report whether they are working from home or having to attend the office to monitor staff safety, as well as using notifications and RSS feeds from the World Health Organisation or local government to stay up to date.
Together with one of our housing clients, we could see how this could be enhanced, so in similarly quick fashion, we worked together to add to the standard Microsoft app in a matter of days. The aim was simple – to protect employees from being furloughed or laid off due to the current crisis.
As a team, what we developed was the ability for both employees and the employer to capture availability as well as open opportunities or projects that staff could be matched to. Projects included data cleansing or document migration, but in future could be extended to include community projects or volunteering initiatives.
Each staff member can set their available hours per day, per week or for the foreseeable future in a few clicks. They can also indicate their skillsets and pick from up to three preferred projects that match their skills. Employer administrators can search for available resources to add to their projects based on their availability, their skills and/or their preferences.
Our client had a personal passion not to furlough staff or let anyone go if it could otherwise be avoided. Equally, we loved the community spirit shown by Microsoft to provide a free app during this crisis so it was a simple decision for us to do the same. As a result of this collaboration, not only will the organisation now be able to re-deploy its staff to relevant projects, but those existing projects that were moving slowly due to lack of resources can now progress much faster by embracing the skills already within the business.
Another example was a social housing provider in Buckinghamshire who wanted to build a new business process within their Dynamics solution, focused around ‘wellbeing’. This new process would require any member of their staff, on any device, to be able to quickly and easily capture the details of customers that were presenting signs of coronavirus, link to their core systems to show an alert icon and inform other processes where things might need to be done differently.
They also wanted staff to be taken through some questions to identify if the household had any new emerging needs such as loneliness, a death in the household or simply that they could no longer get to the chemist, buy food or pay their rent. From here, support staff would be able to define remedial tasks related to these issues, filtering them out to departments and staff with the right skills, to provide a proactive support package to each of those households.
The solution? Together we worked through a rapid one-week project, from initial idea through to testing, feedback and going live. Now that it’s in place, the business can better understand the needs of its community and meet those needs with its continued positivity and selfless efforts.
One other client decided that they wanted to open up a hardship fund for their customers, to allocate money to residents who might be struggling to pay late bills, buy food or had lost their job as a result of the crisis. Within 48 hours, we had worked together to get a Power App created, allowing them to allocate, approve, monitor and report on their fund and to get money into the hands of those most in need, in a controlled way.
People sometimes ask us why we work in the housing sector and not in a more profit-driven sector. Well, because it’s in times like these and having clients like these, that we take total inspiration – it’s one of our greatest motivators.
Whether any of that is innovation, ingenuity or something else, you can decide. But one thing is for sure – during these difficult times, our clients and the Microsoft community continue to inspire us and remind us that there is always a creative way to overcome even the most challenging situations.
Matthew Hedges is a senior business consultant at TechLabs London.