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Habitat For Humanity: Smart tech allows flexibility and growth
As written on microsoft.com
Habitat for Humanity of Omaha builds about 45 homes a year for families living in substandard housing, and it’s growing steadily in donations, volunteers, output and programming. Yet its old patchwork of overstuffed shared directories, reliance on spendy outside vendors and trouble managing three locations limited growth and monopolized the budget.
Something had to change—and quickly—to keep up with the organization’s expansion. Through the cloud-based application suite, the community-building nonprofit can now
co-edit files without any hiccups,
work from anywhere,
save time and trouble with powerful cloud-based tools,
streamline tedious tasks, and
save money on tech support.
More homes for families thanks to in-house technology
Taking control for less money
Office 365 grants Lynn easy control over administrator features, such as creating and deleting mailboxes and delineating access to certain files and programs—steps that used to require going through a vendor, paying to put in tickets and waiting hours for a call back.
These changes make work easier for employees, but more importantly, they create a wider ripple effect, he says. “Habitat for Humanity of Omaha is making a huge difference in our community, and one or two additional families are able to purchase interest-free new homes each year because of the partnership with Microsoft.”
Organizing effortlessly in the cloud
Before they started using Office 365 Nonprofit, employees accessed a shared directory on a server. “It was chaos,” Lynn says: Only one staffer could open a file at a time, annotating changes took special steps and documents would disappear—requiring employees to manually poke around for MIA folders.
Today, the team collaborates with SharePoint and OneDrive, which make it simple for multiple users to edit at once. And those phantom documents? They’re a thing of the past. “I have much better control now,” he says.
Staying productive out of the office
Habitat for Humanity of Omaha is just one of more than 1,400 affiliates nationwide, so employees often travel to conferences. But setbacks from business trips are especially problematic when they delay settling a family in a new home. With mobile applications and cloud storage, though, Habitat for Humanity travelers can work just as efficiently as if they were at their desks.
“When I work remotely, I’m on the same files and programs as if I were here in the office,” Lynn says. “It beats coming back to hundreds of unread emails!”
Saving time with smart spreadsheets
The nonprofit has always been Excel-driven, with employees using spreadsheets to track their daily work, monitor budgets and add links or shortcuts to speed up entering data. The problem? Files were moved or altered, links were broken and multiple versions of the same document made work confusing.
“With OneDrive and SharePoint, we’re able to avoid duplicate copies, and I can lock down who can see them in view-only and who has total rights,” Lynn says. “The efficiencies gained from better collaboration and process improvement saves us thousands.”
Onboarding new employees—fast
Entering data in the cloud also made it easier to bring new employees up to speed, says Oscar Duran, Habitat for Humanity of Omaha’s program director. Before, new staff accessed spreadsheets on personal desktops or in emails, and they didn’t have a uniform system for coding projects. Discrepancies added extra work for Duran because he had to sift through mountains of data to find what he needed.
Now, the team uses SharePoint’s Lists feature to enter and codify information. “It works as a centralized database,” he says. “It also gave us the opportunity to institutionalize the terminology we use, so that as new staff comes in and out, they’re accessing databases and changing statuses in the same way.”
Accessing files in a flash
OneNote’s powerful search function has solved an age-old problem for the nonprofit: “People say, ‘I remember working on that but I can’t remember which spreadsheet it was,’” Lynn says.
No longer. He puts every document he touches, including PDFs, into OneNote and relies on it every day (“It is my brain!” he jokes), knowing he can quickly find and access whatever he needs. Lynn says he’s watched his own productivity skyrocket, now that he doesn’t have to sink hours into painstakingly searching through servers.
Running better meetings
OneNote has revolutionized meeting notes, Lynn says. A designated note-taker types minutes in a shared document so everyone can add their own thoughts later, freeing up everyone else to focus on contributing to the meeting.
Staff also use Lync’s desktop-sharing ability to stay connected without leaving the office. Employees can see a colleague’s computer screen during a virtual meeting, and the feature helps IT staff troubleshoot a glitchy program remotely. “It’s given me remote access, which is much more efficient,” Lynn says.