Welcome to the Modern Workplace


The workplace is changing. The arrival of the Cloud means we can seize new opportunities to change the way we work and create what Microsoft calls ‘The Modern Workplace’.  

 The Modern Workplace takes advantage of two separate technical changes that give us the ability to work in any place, on any device, at any time.  

An ‘always connected’ society 

The first change is the huge increase in the speed of our Internet connections and the widespread availability of internet connections. With internet connections almost everywhere, we go in our professional lives – into cafes, restaurants and across the mobile phone network – we now take connectivity for granted.  

The world of mobile devices 

The second change is the advent of the smartphone and tablet computer; mobile devices with wireless network connections. These devices offer real processing power, lots of storage and have given us a world of cloud-based apps and cloud data storage. 

Working in the cloud 

This combination of changes is moving the world of work from desktop computers with desktop applications to mobile devices using cloud-based applications. Couple this to the transformation from desktop phone to mobile phone and we have the power to liberate people to work how and where they want to work, delivering greater workforce engagement and greater productivity. Welcome to the modern workplace. 

We can also use this revolution to change the way we work, if we choose to. You can, of course, decide not to change. But remember that those who choose not to are the ones that risk being left behind. 

Let’s uncover how to embrace this change, how to help those that might be our ‘reluctant heroes’ and how to keep everything secure. 

Planning the transformation 

You are not going to suddenly throw away all your existing IT infrastructure and announce that your business is now transformed into a modern workplace. Almost all businesses will have legacy equipment; the new servers they only bought last year or the accounts software that won’t run in the cloud. New businesses can be ‘born in the cloud’, but for the rest of us it will be a gradual transformation that will take time, effort and a good deal of planning. 

The transformation means that you will have data in lots of places on lots of devices, so there will be a big need for management and control of things that are physically out of reach. That is enough to make any business owner nervous, but as you will see, there are plenty of tools to provide the management you need. 

Remember that this isn’t only about technology; you must take your people with you on this journey of change. Whilst the millennials in your workforce might be thinking “At last, they get it!”, there could be others who dread making a change from a familiar system that works. 

The tools of the Modern Workplace 

The software that is undoubtedly propelling a lot of this change is Microsoft’s Office 365. What started out as just a different way to get your email and licence your Word and Excel has evolved into a whole suite of tools to enable us to change how we work. If you would like to learn more about the products, there is more information on the Riverbank website

Office 365 provides the tools but, as in any profession, success is not just the tools, it’s how you use them. Let’s get a clearer view of the future via Microsoft’s three circles. 

Microsoft’s three circles 

Microsoft talks about the three circles; the personal circle, the inner circle and the outer circle. Each of these circles is instrumental in developing your new way of working.  


Personal circle 

The personal circle is largely familiar territory for most of us. It’s where we do our day-to-day work. It includes the workhorse Office applications of Word, Excel and Outlook. Even here there are major differences that can change the way you work: 

  1. Office applications are always up to date; no more versions and updates to reduce your productivity. 
  2. Web applications. There are web versions of Word and Excel and they are now rather good. If you are working on documents in the cloud, it makes a lot of sense to use applications in the cloud to edit them. We’ll come across these again later on. 
  3. Outlook may be a familiar friend, but it is also the centre of the deadly email trap. Email can kill, or at least it can kill productivity. It can be a great place to hide, driven by your inbox and forced by others to work in the least productive way possible. Email has been instrumental in the IT revolution but, as you will see, there are far better tools available now. 

 A great way to start liberating yourself from email is to start using Skype for Business (not to be confused with Skype, a completely different application). Briefly, Skype for Business delivers: 

  • An excellent instant messaging/chat facility, so you can pop a quick question to a colleague. 
  • ‘Presence’; the ability to see if your colleagues are available, away from their computer or busy. 
  • Screen sharing, audio and video calls. 
  • The ability to contact any colleague that uses Skype for Business, not just people inside your organisation. 

Also included in the personal circle is the under-rated OneDrive for Business. At the time of writing (August 2018) it comes with a massive 1TB of storage. Store all your private work files in OneDrive then start to make use of the other things it can do: 

  • Share files or folders with colleagues. 
  • Work online/offline by synchronising some or all of your data to your laptop. 
  • Use the web-based version of OneDrive to get quick access to files you worked on recently or use regularly, see what others have shared with you and discover what others in your organisation are working on. 

The final component in the personal circle is OneNote, a handy note-taking tool. It also offers a lot more than simply writing notes. You can dictate direct into OneNote and it will convert the audio to text. You can also share notes will colleagues if you want to do some ideas brain-storming. 

Inner circle 

The ‘inner circle’ is your team within your organisation. In the Modern Workplace a ‘team’ means any group of people who get together to complete a project. It’s far more than just your own section of the company’s organisation chart. 

At the heart of the inner circle is one application, Microsoft Teams. You can find out more about Teams on the Riverbank website. Teams is one of the most powerful components in the Modern Workplace because it really does help you to work in a different way.  

Traditionally, work is kept in separate silos such as Finance, Legal and Technical, the traditional teams in an organisation. Microsoft Teams changes all that. When you create a new project in Teams (it’s called a new ‘Team’ within the app), you invite the people who will form that team. That immediately makes it cross-department.  

The Teams software creates three areas automatically in each new project: 

  • An area for conversations. You can have multiple conversation threads running and each one is persistent, ie you have a permanent searchable record of the conversation. This is another way to escape from lengthy email trails. 
  • One central location for the team’s files, which helps to break down barriers between departments.   
  • A wiki, an area for informal shared notes or a project knowledge base 

With the combination of OneDrive for your own files and Teams for shared data, there really is very little need for a traditional file server. You have a new way to work, using the installed applications on PCs and mobile devices or working via a web browser using the web applications. Welcome to the Modern Workplace. 

Don’t miss out on co-editing 

We can’t leave the inner circle without talking about co-editing. If your files are stored in OneDrive or Teams, you can simultaneously co-edit the same file with other team members. It is simplicity itself to use. Taking Word as an example, when two or more people open the same document, Word tells you who else also has the document open and shows you where they are in the document. As they make changes, those changes also appear in your document in something close to real-time.  

You get the co-editing feature in the installed application on your PC and in the web applications. Seeing it in action makes you realise that this Modern Workplace is something very different – your staff working anywhere on any device, but working together as a team.  

Outer circle  

The ‘outer circle’ encompasses the wider group of people in the entire organisation. There are two elements of Office 365 in the outer circle; SharePoint and Yammer. 


SharePoint is enterprise-level software that was originally designed as a large-scale data store or company intranet. It sits at the heart of the Office 365 data storage and powers both Teams and OneDrive. Whilst it is very powerful, it is not the easiest of software to use. OneDrive and Teams do a great job of hiding the underlying complexity, allowing the user to get on with their work rather than worrying about the software. 

If you need a company-wide data repository, SharePoint is there. 


Yammer is part of the outer circle because its purpose is to provide a company-wide social networking area. The key difference between Teams in the inner circle and Yammer in the outer circle is that in Teams you get invited to join a group. In Yammer you can join any group you like; just drop in and say hello. 

Keeping it all secure 

Having the tools for the Modern Workplace and migrating to a new way of working could be revolutionary, but it can only happen if security can be maintained. You need more tools for this Modern Workplace, and this time the tools are those that keep everything secure. In short, we must protect each of those three circles. 


 Not surprisingly, IT security is a hugely complex area and Microsoft has reported that it is spending over $1bn per annum on ensuring security in the Modern Workplace. The result is a security system that is powerful but also easy to use. 

Security is applied in three ways: protecting people, devices, the documents and data they access.


Protect the people 

At the heart of the security for the Modern Workplace is Azure Active Directory, Microsoft’s highly respected network management and security software that manages all the people and devices that are permitted to access your company resources. Quite simply, if you aren’t on the list of known users, you can’t come in. 

One aspect of security that people find hugely frustrating is the need to remember multiple passwords. The solution to this is Single Sign On (SSO). It makes life much easier for the individual, since they have one sign-on instead of trying to remember many different passwords. At the same time, it also keeps the organisation more secure, because you can manage and control all the web-based applications that your staff can access. 

Protect the devices 

Mobile device management (MDM) is established technology that enables you to control which devices can be used to access your data or run your applications. It can manage policies for other aspects of security, such as device encryption, and it gives you the power to wipe devices when they get lost or stolen.  

Protect the documents 

Document protection is a new and developing field. Under the guise of the Modern Workplace, Microsoft offers two approaches to document protection; applying protection to individual files and using policy-based protection to look for signs that company policies are in danger of being breached. 

Protecting individual files  

Type of protection is Information Rights Management (IRM), security that stays with the document, wherever that document goes.  You control who can open, copy or print a document. 

Policy-based protection 

A second technology used to protect your documents is Data Loss Prevention (DLP), a policy-based system that identifies potentially confidential information and either blocks a suspicious action or alerts the user that they might be about to breach their organisation’s rules. Behind the scenes, the system identifies markers for different data types, including medical, financial and personal information. 


The Modern Workplace represents an opportunity for organisations to change the way they work. Many of the tools will be familiar but the way we will use them is much more in keeping with the way that people want to work in the 21st century – working in dynamic teams, on multiple mobile devices, anywhere, any time. You decide if now is the time for your organisation to start changing.