Posey's Tips & Tricks

A First Look at Staff Hub for Office 365

Microsoft goes after the deskless employees with its new service aimed at providing more communication between workers.

I have worked in IT for what seems like forever, but as a teenager I did some jobs that weren't IT related. Back then, I spent a lot of time mowing lawns, doing farm work, and fixing computers at my dad's office (OK, that one was IT related). But my main job back then was at a grocery store. On most days, I spent my shift bringing carts in from the parking lot, but I also spent some time as a bagger and I briefly worked in the produce and dairy departments.

Back then, I didn't have access to a computer at work. After all, I was the cart guy. What did I need a computer for?

Roughly about 25 years have passed since I quit the grocery business to work in enterprise IT, and a lot has changed in that time. Consider, for instance, how work schedules were handled back in the day.

During the years that I spent working at the grocery store, the store manager created a shift schedule every Tuesday morning and then posted the schedule on the wall of the break room. Every employee was responsible for taking a time out at some point on Tuesday to read the schedule. That wasn't a big deal for those who were working on Tuesday. But if Tuesday happened to be your day off, it meant that you had to go to work anyway so that you could get your schedule. Whenever that happened, I always tried to be stealthy so as to avoid being put to work on my day off.

Today, this entire messy process could be easily handled by a new Microsoft Office 365 app called Staff Hub. Staff Hub is designed to be a portal for providing information to what Microsoft calls "deskless workers." Deskless workers are people who work at construction sites, retail stores, restaurants and in other similar environments rather than sitting behind a desk all day.

Now maybe I'm a bit of a cynic, but when I first heard that Microsoft was designing an Office 365 app for deskless workers, my first thought was that the number of new people subscribing to Office 365 each month must be starting to slow down, and Microsoft must be trying to boost sales by coming up with a reason for corporations to create accounts for employees that would not traditionally use Office 365 on the job. Although I'm sure that Microsoft has created Staff Hub as a way of boosting its Office 365 licensing revenue, I have to admit that Staff Hub appears to offer real value for deskless workers.

Staff Hub is a tool for delivering job-related information to employees. Although deskless workers tend not to have computers at work, almost everyone has a smartphone, and Staff Hub can deliver information directly to employees through their smartphones.

Now admittedly, a company could set up a Web page and use it to deliver information to its employees without the cost or hassle of an Office 365 subscription.  The thing that really sets Staff Hub apart from a static Web portal, however, is that Staff Hub is interactive.

For right now, one of Staff Hub's primary functions is shift scheduling. Managers can create a shift schedule through Staff Hub, and employees can view the schedule from their smartphone. I really wish we had something like this back in the day because it would have meant that nobody had to come into work on their day off just to check a schedule.

Having work schedules available online is nice, but like I said earlier, Staff Hub is designed to be interactive. Employees can use Staff Hub to request time off, or even to swap shifts with one another.

For right now, scheduling seems to be Staff Hub's primary function, but it isn't the only function. Employers can also use Staff Hub as a company bulletin board. If, for example, an employer decided to close the shop because of a blizzard, the employer could post a message on Staff Hub telling employees not to come into work, rather than trying to call everyone.

As of right now, Microsoft is offering Staff Hub as a part of the Office 365 Enterprise K1 subscription plan. The current pricing for this plan is $4.00 per user per month, and includes access to Exchange, SharePoint Online, Yammer and Office Online.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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