By James Corbishley, Senior Technology Strategist at BitTitan
Remote work is on the rise and appears to be here to stay. The number of people telecommuting in the U.S. has increased 159 percent between 2005 and 2017, according to Global Workplace Analytics. Additionally, a 2020 Upwork survey estimates that 22 percent of the U.S. workforce – more than 36 million Americans – will work remotely by 2025.
Remote work’s growing impact has led to the broad adoption of Microsoft 365 and its collaborative component, Microsoft Teams. As of July 2021, Teams had 145 million daily average users (DAU), almost twice the 75 million DAU that Teams recorded during 2020. The wide acceptance of Teams has made it a standard tool for the remote workforce working around the world.
But with its increased use, the problem of Teams sprawl has emerged, leading to serious issues for companies with thousands of employees and end users. The issue rises in importance as mergers and acquisitions (M&A) remain robust. In August, Reuters (citing data from Refinitiv) reported that global M&A deals had reached $3.6 trillion for this year, surpassing the 2020 full-year total of $3.59 trillion.
Many experts expect M&A activity to stay strong and return to pre-pandemic levels in the next year. But whether businesses are involved in an M&A scenario or not, they need to make sure their digital environments are in order, as a sprawl of data can negatively impact their day-to-day business operations.
Teams sprawl is the uncontrolled overflow of user data – specifically unused, outdated, or redundant data. Sprawl manifests in a kind of mission-creep process that can overwhelm systems little by little, growing into a river of files and data that exists in the Teams environment. As more people use Teams, they create more data and files. Without the proper governance and defined policies and processes in place, digital environments can get out of control.
Problems that can arise
A host of problems can result from Teams sprawl, including challenges with data accessibility, hindered productivity and collaboration, confusion among end users, and more.
The creation of single-use channels is a classic case of sprawl. In the enterprise space with thousands of users, IT managers must provide rules for channel creation. Otherwise, they may find users will create thousands of redundant teams and channels, creating issues with data access and security challenges.
For instance, say that an employee creates a private channel and saves a file that needs to be shared, but other key people are not members of that private channel and can’t see that information. In an attempt to resolve this issue, another employee creates another channel, saves the same file, and then shares it from there. You have now lost the file “source of truth.” When channel creation isn’t governed, this multiple channel growth can make it more challenging for other employees to locate the correct file, resulting in extra time spent trying to find information they need. It can also cause internal miscommunication and, more importantly, miscommunication with existing and potential customers.
Data security is another potential problem. IT admins must have comprehensive visibility of the data within a digital environment and stay on top of managing any guest users or accounts. If a private chat is created and leads to file-sharing among a select group of employees, it can result in sensitive, internal data being leaked or becoming vulnerable.
You might have guests who have access to specific channels and teams. It’s imperative to manage the membership of those teams and channels accordingly, so they aren’t granted the ability to, for example, delete chats or download information containing important data or files.
Stopping the sprawl
A few best practices are key to mitigating Teams sprawl and minimizing the risks:
- Governance is critical. It’s important to identify key stakeholders in the business to manage or stop that sprawl, and doing so comes through policies and procedures. Enact and implement policies and procedures around channel creation for your Teams environment. Another idea is to establish moderators to champion Teams to moderate content as it comes in or gets deleted.
- Routinely monitor the environment. It’s also important for IT administrators to have a firm grasp of who’s doing what in Teams. IT admins need a consistent view into regular user metrics, including everything from the way teams and channels are structured, to the devices people are using for access. As more and more channels are created, there’s more risk of activity happening outside of their purview. Setting and enforcing policy along with routine monitoring can keep that from happening.
- Make full use of Microsoft 365. Control the creation and management of Teams through the native tools Microsoft provides. If you start diving into some of Microsoft 365 Groups admin capabilities, there are many functions that help you control and manage the use of Teams. Leveraging these tools can help effectively manage your various channels, groups, and teams, and eliminate redundancies.
Thoughtful planning, diligent training, and a watchful eye on security can all help IT leaders and managed service providers keep Teams sprawl in check. Teams’ dominance in the workplace collaboration space is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Effective implementation of governance policies will position your digital environment for less sprawl, less confusion, and more productive outcomes.
James Corbishley is senior technology strategist for BitTitan, where he works with product, sales and development teams for MigrationWiz, the company’s leading SaaS solution for cloud migration. A veteran of the IT services industry, James specializes in enterprise software and systems, Microsoft messaging and collaboration solutions, enterprise architecture, and cloud adoption.