In mid-March 2020, Teams users at Oxford University went from 2500 to 25,000 almost overnight. This was a massive task for the small team of eight staff responsible for delivering the services which are part Office 365 (known as Nexus365 at Oxford). Chris Mackie, Oxford’s Nexus Service Manager, told us about the team's experiences during the pandemic.
A lot of the Nexus tools (email, SharePoint On-premise and One Drive) were already important for those who worked remotely, but overnight the number of daily users skyrocketed as they, and many more online tools, quickly became vital for remote working, teaching and learning.
As it was already available and security tested, Teams quickly became the core collaboration tool used by the University. As you can imagine, the first few months of the pandemic were incredibly busy. Requests for Teams were relentless, and thousands were manually created by the Nexus team – we went from a couple of hundred Teams in early 2020 to over 9000 now. The request process has now thankfully been automated.
There’s a lot more to delivering and running the service than people realise. It’s not just about making Teams or other tools available – it’s also about making it work for the University more generally, thinking ahead for what we might need in the future, and considering other things such as information security and compliance. We were keen not to get to the ‘new normal’ and have to undo lots of work – systems put in place needed to work for the University in the longer term too. Good governance was essential to minimise housekeeping after the pandemic.
Evolution and communication
At first Teams lacked some of the features, bells and whistles that other tools were providing. It was interesting to watch Teams develop as it became the primary focus for Microsoft, with whom we developed a strong working relationship, helping us to keep up with and communicate changes.
But it didn’t end with simply delivering Teams to thousands of people. People started using a lot of the other integrated Office 365 tools too, such as Forms, Whiteboard and Power Automate and SharePoint Online. So, in addition to facilitating requests for new Teams, we also found ourselves writing guidance and helping people to use and understand the tools. We worked closely with colleagues in our IT Learning Centre, Educational Media Services team and the Centre for Teaching and Learning, to ensure consistent, reliable messaging and guidance.
All this rapid change and widespread use of the Nexus365 tools available gave our small team the opportunity to meet and work with people they probably wouldn’t have met before, developing many strong new relationships. I am really proud of our Team delivering important tools to help the University run as smoothly as possible during the pandemic.
Looking to the future
Many of the new tools we delivered have become core components of our services and are now for many of us, the primary way of working and collaborating at Oxford University.
At the start of the pandemic only email and SharePoint were widely in use. Now Teams is very much front and centre, facilitating new ways of working, whether hybrid, remote or office based - it is no longer just a ‘pandemic tool’. The New Ways of Working framework has been key in looking to the future and making this happen.
During the pandemic, our team also rolled out SharePoint Online which units across the University are currently moving across to from SharePoint On-premise. This is another part of the Office 365 world, allowing everything to join up much better than in the past.
We also formed the Nexus365 User Group (NUG) which has become an active, thriving Teams community of nearly 700 users from across the University, helping each other and sharing good practice for Teams and SharePoint Online.
As you would expect, Microsoft continues to evolve their products, aiming for seamless integration of many tools that are frequently used here at Oxford as part of Teams and the Office 365 environment. We will continue supporting these products and making them available across the University.
Teams and other related resources were an essential part of responding to the pandemic and helping the University to deliver its goals. But as we move to our new ways of working, there has been little drop off in use of these tools, and this will keep us busy into the foreseeable future.