The Bureau of Meteorology has been undertaking a digital transformation of the workplace with Microsoft technologies front and centre. That allowed a rapid pivot to remote working at the start of the pandemic. When it wanted to ensure the safe return of its people to the office it turned to Microsoft partner Barhead and its Clearspace solution – it’s been clear skies all the way.

The past year has demonstrated just how flexible and resilient Australian workers are – first pivoting to working from home, and then gradually starting to return to the workplace as pandemic related restrictions start to ease.

Employers have been mindful throughout of the need to keep their people and customers safe while ensuring the productivity of the enterprise is maintained.

During the past couple of years, the Bureau of Meteorology has been developing a modern digital workplace with Microsoft technologies front and centre to support its more than 1600 staff. It meant that when it needed to ask employees to work remotely, they were able to rapidly transition to a new way of working – accessing the same cloud-based platforms they had used in the office, but now from their homes.

Having begun the migration to Microsoft Teams, the Bureau ramped that up to support people working remotely, who needed to connect and collaborate, but no longer had access to older technology installed in the offices.

When the Bureau needed a way to get its people safely back into the office, Microsoft introduced it to Clearspace, a Power Platform based solution developed by Microsoft partner, Barhead, for precisely that purpose. It can be accessed via Teams or via a mobile app providing flexibility and choice for employees.

Microsoft and Doug Maloney, Barhead’s Head of Product and IP, caught up with the Bureau’s Peter Fattoush, Manager Enterprise and Business Architecture, and Alison Hackett, Manager Office 365 Digital Workplace, to find out more.

Microsoft (MS): The Bureau’s transition to remote working was successful – but what was the issue you needed to address as people started to return to the office?

Peter Fattoush (PF): The obvious challenge was how were we going to track people coming in and out of the office for COVID-19 contact tracing purposes, and how the significantly reduced number of available desks could be managed with ease, accuracy and transparency. We didn’t have the luxury of training and rolling out over a period of time. It had to be quick, easy, and affordable.

MS: Why Clearspace in particular?

PF: The Barhead solution seemed the most logical because it was built on the Power Platform, part of the Microsoft foundational systems. It was quite the logical approach. The other option was building it ourselves – but we want to spend our development time on  products unique to the Bureau, not digital workplace.

MS: How quickly did you deploy?

PF: It was four to six weeks to plan, procure and design the system and go through the internal approvals to allow it to be deployed. After that we brought back staff to a new floor in our Melbourne office each week before then rolling it out across the country.

Because it was developed in the Power Platform, it was quite a straightforward change request through our technology side. Because it was standalone, it limited the risk to our other systems. It was completely separate from our operational systems. So that was easy.

MS: Barhead worked closely with you?

PF: The Barhead team was fantastic in that process. They were really in tune with our releases and were there to help us along the way when we ran into the not unexpected teething issues with such a rapid deployment.

MS: How did you tackle change management?

PF: Change management has been quite easy compared to pre COVID-19 as staff had already pivoted quickly into working from home and adapting to new technologies and processes.

There were well established communication platforms and processes to engage with our people about the Bureau’s response to COVID-19. This included intranet pages as well as specific communications targeted at each group of staff as they returned to the office and needed access to the app to book a space to work. It was also made easier through the support of a well-established ‘change team’ who brought their expertise to the roll-out, having supported staff and their needs throughout the pandemic.

MS: How do people use Clearspace?

PF: One of the nice things about this is that while it is deployed on Power Platform, it can also be used across a range of platforms, such as Teams, web browser, or smart phone. So it’s very accessible. The other thing is that the end-user experience is very straightforward. It’s very simple to book a desk or office space. It’s very simple to check in to a booked space and to check out. So intentionally we’ve kept the end-user experience as quick, easy, and concise as  possible.

Alison Hackett (AH): Our users are predominantly accessing it through the web browser or through the Power Apps app on their phones. So for the most part, we’ve had a very clean implementation. We haven’t had too many issues.

MS: What about ease of use?

AH: The UX (user experience) is very clean, it’s easy to use. It’s very self-explanatory. We haven’t had any feedback about major issues from users.

When you open the app, you have that day’s booking on the landing page as well as a tab for your upcoming bookings.

It gives a lot of the users confidence to come into the office because they know that as soon as they get there, they can check in. All the information’s right there on the home screen.

And they know that if there’s any incidents, we can contact trace immediately. So I think it’s really given some people who are nervous about returning to the city and into the office the confidence that it is safe to do so. And that we’re doing everything we can to make it easy and to put in any fail-safes just in case another outbreak happens.

PF: The majority of our users could use the system without much fuss, and that’s been quite rare – in my career anyway.

MS: So another successful step in your workplace transformation?

PF: Rolling out a product that was going out to every single person in an organisation there’s always a risk. Even if you’ve got 20% negative feedback, that’s quite a large number. We just didn’t see anything like those numbers. I’d say 95% of staff have found the product really easy to use.

We asked for assistance from Microsoft and they pointed us to Clearspace. So yes, from my perspective, marketing and the sales matched the end result, and a very successful, and critical step in our transition back to the workplace.