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I’ve had entire projects and my career pivot around who I’ve bumped into at the office at any given time. Whether it was the time a thoughtful co-worker shared why they were leaving the company or the time an Account Executive revealed a resource who could solve my customer’s exact problem, chance 1:1 encounters play a big part in our success.
With so many of us working from home, these chance encounters have been relegated to the small talk that happens in the first few minutes of our virtual meetings. This idle chit-chat does little to provide what those ad hoc meetings did:
- An outsider’s perspective into our challenges
- Empathy and emotional well-being
Of course, not every encounter was a panacea. There were occasions when it was a waste of time, but on the whole, I’d wager that I got more benefit out of them in the long run.
This scenario became top of mind recently when I heard a Development Manager reflect on her staff lamenting the loss of these interactions. The team was looking into how to safely reopen their office as a result, perhaps in shifts or via some other means.
As an Industry Executive in Capital Markets at Microsoft and someone that doesn’t code, it was daunting at first to take this on. I thought about this challenge and how I could solve it. First, I outlined the basic requirements:
- The tool had to facilitate both random meetings and connecting across common interests
- People had to opt-in for the service since not everyone wants to meet
- The scheduling of the meeting needed to be on the recipient’s terms (meaning they got to pick the time)
Next, I dusted off my low-code/no-code skills and decided on Microsoft 365 and the Power Platform to solve the problem. I leveraged a simple SharePoint list with 4 columns and a PowerApp with 5 basic screens to meet the requirements, starting with the PowerApp. I named it “Water Cooler.”
The app starts with a Splash Screen on a timer. From there, employees enter their information, view a list of potential co-workers to meet with, and schedule the meeting. The functionality seemed pretty basic, but powerful.
The next challenge was to determine how to schedule the meetings. Since I wanted the recipient to dictate the time window they could meet in, I needed an automated mechanism to schedule the meetings based on that variable. Microsoft has an AI assistant that does this exact thing – Cortana.
If you aren’t familiar with Cortana’s scheduling capabilities, I recommend checking out a previous article I wrote about her over on LinkedIn.
The app captured the preferred time and time zone for the recipient to meet, which are fields Cortana can understand. I created a Power Automate button that looked up the email address for the recipient and then executed a pre-scripted email, cc’ing Cortana to schedule during the preferred time.
At this point, the app worked well, but I still didn’t provide a way for people to randomly connect. I felt surfacing a random co-worker was a key component to recreate since it reflected the randomness of bumping into someone at the office. For this, I had to stretch my low-code/no-code expertise.
To do this, I cheated. I took the second screen (above) and shuffled the list. When someone clicked the “Bump into someone!” button, the list would shuffle and an image would appear to block the remaining results – instant random person!
The app makes for a compelling use case to solve a challenge we’re all facing right now, facilitating random connections to gain new perspectives. For technical notes on what is required to get the app up and running or to get the PowerApp and Power Automate code for yourself, check out the repo over on GitHub. Don’t forget that because it’s a PowerApp, it can be deployed right inside Microsoft Teams!
If you would like to showcase this app or see it in action, you can check out the video below!
Matthew Sekol | Industry Executive, Capital Markets
Brought to you by Dr. Ware, Microsoft Office 365 Silver Partner, Charleston SC.