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How to Use the Steps Recorder

How to use the Steps Recorder

The Steps Recorder is a well-hidden tool available in Windows 7, Windows 8/8.1 and Windows 10. It allows you to record actions and then share the recording with others.

So why would you want to record actions? Well, have you ever had a colleague who is always asking you how to do things in Office? Instead of telling them, record the steps and send them the document. Or how about those occasional error messages that you need to report to your IT Team? Instead of explaining the issue, record the steps you took to get to the error.

Of course, steps recorder doesn’t just limit your recordings to Office.  You can record actions on pretty much anything; how to log expenses or use the line-of-business time tracking tools or how to play sneaky at Fortnite.  And the recorder tool is intelligent enough to black out sensitive fields such as passwords or digitally protected windows.

  1. Open the Steps Recorder (if you do not know where the Steps Recorder is located, search for it from the Start screen)
  2. Close any open windows other than Steps Recorder
How to use the Steps Recorder

NOTE: Steps Recorder will make screenshots of what’s on your computer screen and include those in the final recording. It is important that any unrelated open programs are closed first as this could be distracting.

  1. Click the Start Record button
  2. Complete the steps necessary as normal

You can tell when Steps Recorder is recording when the Start Record button changes to Pause Record and the title bar flashes ‘Recording Now’. The recording can be paused and resumed at any given time. During a recording you can also click the ‘Add Comment’ button to highlight a section of your screen and manually add a comment.

  1. Once you have finished, click Stop Record
  2. Click Save As
  3. Give the recording a name and click Save

A single .zip file containing all of the information recorded will be created and saved to your Desktop unless another location was specified. This can now be shared in one of the following ways:

  • Attached the file to an email
  • Copying the file to a network share drive or flash drive
  • Attaching the file to a forum post
  • Uploading the file to a file sharing service and linking to it

It is worth noting that Steps Recorder is not available in operating systems prior to Windows 7.

 


Do Challenges Motivate Trainees?

Snail moving to a finish line

Not that we like to brag but we’re pretty good at motivating attendees on our courses and events.  But there’s no magic bullet or panacea.  Just like raising children – lots of advice out there but no single, simple answer.  I can sense your disappointed face.

When we’re designing training exercises or labs, we need to motivate the trainees.  One way we can do this is to break new and potentially complex tasks into simpler steps and lead the user on a journey of mini-achievements.  Success is like endorphins; keep plying the attendee with obtainable challenges and they’ll continue and remain engaged.  Sounds like common sense; “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.  I believe Kayne West took the credit for that gem.

But the difficulty of these challenges is a science in itself.  This study from the University of Southern California says the key is what people think ease and difficulty mean for them.  For some people, if tasks feel too easy, the journey becomes demeaning and boring and thus a demotivator.  Too difficult and the trainee might give up.  For others, easy tasks are in themselves motivators and for others still, high levels of difficulty can trigger feelings of the task being valuable and worthwhile to invest time and effort.

How people perceive difficulty can significantly influence their learning performance and the study found that people who perform better are the ones who felt that difficult does not mean impossible and easy does not mean trivial.

So we design course materials with a mix of challenges; some important objectives that are easy to accomplish (easy ≠ trivial) along with some complex or unfamiliar tasks broken down into methods, steps and terminology that allow trainees to achieve or at least confidently tackle the problem (difficult ≠ impossible).

Demographics comes into play as well so we also need to understand our audience and the mix of people.  The study found men on a low income are more likely to view difficulty to mean probable failure so may demonstrate a propensity to ‘give up’ quickly.  Statistics should always be questioned however and the study covered only 1,000 people and may not be representative of wider communities.

In conclusion, don’t set labs based solely on people’s perceived skill or ability but understand your trainees and set the right mix of challenges in order to maximise and maintain their motivation.  Training based on motivation is likely to be more successful.


Quick Access to a SharePoint library

Being able to synchronise a SharePoint document library to your pc in order to utilise it through Windows File Explorer is extremely useful. However the synchronisation will use up storage space on your local hard drive and having organisational documents stored locally will increase the risk of information compromise.

An effective way of rapidly accessing SharePoint document libraries and folders through File Explorer is to add them to the Quick Access section at the top left or the File Explorer windows, aka Favourites.

Step 1 – Navigate to the library through Internet Explorer

Browse to your SharePoint site and click on the document library.

SharePoint Document Library

 

Step 2 – Open the library in File Explorer

This is a great little step which opens the library as if it were a traditional mapped drive.  On the right-hand side of your document library toolbar (New, Upload, Sync, etc.) you’ll see the All Documents view.  Dropdown to see options and choose Open library in Windows File Explorer.  This allows you to act on the files just as you would normally for operations such as bulk copy or move.  The files are not synchronised locally so there is no offline access, storage or latency issues.  You must be online to achieve this and also must be using Internet Explorer as Chrome, FireFox and even Edge don’t support the Open library in Windows File Explorer feature.

Open a SharePoint document library in Windows File Explorer

Step 3 – Pin the library to you Quick Access navigation

When the explorer window opens, right-click the Quick Access on the left hand side and choose Pin current folder to Quick Access.  Or if it’s just a subfolder, right-click the specific folder you want and select Pin to Quick Access.  You’ll now have a handy shortcut to your online document library within File Explorer.

Pin a folder to Quick Access in Windows File Explorer

 

Caveats

This method assumes you are on a domain-joined machine with the same login as your Office 365 account, you have automatic login enabled and your SharePoint intranet is a trusted domain within Internet Explorer.  Otherwise File Explorer won’t be able to authenticate and you’ll get an error window stating access denied.  If this is a problem you aren’t able to resolve, then try one of the alternative methods below.

SharePoint Access Denied Error

 

Alternative methods

You can achieve a similar result in the Office applications.  Copy the URL of your SharePoint library (removing everything from the /forms suffix onwards).  Start your Office application, e.g. Word.  Select File, Save As and paste the URL into the filename box (you may need to click Browse first).  Hit enter and the app will open your document library.  Now you can scroll up the folder tree on the left until you see Quick Access and right-click in the same way as step 1.  This will propagate into other Office apps but not File Explorer and it’s useful if you regularly save into or open files from SharePoint libraries.

Finally, it’s also possible to pin the web page to your Windows taskbar in order to have quick navigation to the portal view of your library.  Drag the webpage tab onto the taskbar until the icon changes to Pin.  Then release the mouse button and you’ll have a persistent icon to that page.

Pin a webpage to Windows taskbar

Don’t Cycle in London

London bike theft data by street

 

3D Mapping in Excel (formerly Power Maps) is one of our favourite features and can make a huge impact on a dull spreadsheet of data.  We were working with the Metropolitan Police recently during their upgrade from Windows XP and we created a customised Excel analysis demo on crime data.

UK crime data is publicly available and we envisaged mapping crimes across police forces.  It turns out there’s quite a lot of crime in the country.  So we limited the data to just the Met Police.  Still a lot of crime.  Then we filtered to just show bicycle thefts.  Still a lot.  So we limited the data to between January and November 2015.  Still 13,500 recorded cycle thefts just within those eleven months.  So the moral is don’t cycle in London.

Turn Dull Data into a Compelling Story

Imagine you are a crime prevention officer (or perhaps you already are in which case just imagine you have a different name).  Your experience tells you a bike anti-theft campaign in Richmond will pay dividends in lowering the crime figures for the area.  You want to take the data to a budget holder to ask for some cash for bike marking, lockable posts, etc. and you show them the following:

London bike theft data sample

 

It doesn’t paint a compelling argument to obtain budget.  And there are 13,500 of these rows too.  Now luckily, you recently saw an awesome awareness session from someone at ImageFrame when they ran a Buzz Day at your office and you recalled Excel 3D maps.

3D maps allows you to create a graphical report (called a tour) with pages (called scenes) on which you can plot data with geographical information such as postcode, town, latitude/longitude.  For example, in the first scene of our bike theft tour, we mapped the count of bike thefts grouped by London Borough.  This gives us a good overview.  Then we mapped the count again but using lat/lon for accuracy down to street level.  This clearly shows us correlation we don’t see from the data alone; the high concentrations of bike thefts are from train stations (notice the highest brown column in the first picture in this post).

3D maps also allow us to overlay different data sets so we could show crime data overlaid onto demographic information.

If that wasn’t enough, we can include a timeline so the map ‘matures’ and plots the data gradually in relation to dates.  This allows us to see which months are the hotspots for bike thefts.

We’ll blog about how to create a 3D map in the near future but for now you can download our sample data set here and the completed map report as a video here.  Once you have the data set, open it in Excel, select the Insert tab and 3D map then Open 3D Maps.  You’ll see our tour already created for you.  In Office 2013, the ribbon tabs will refer to Power Map instead of 3D Map.

Open 3D Maps in Excel

 

Have a play and if you do cycle in London, make sure you have a really good bike lock.

 

 


Simple ways to cut costs through tech

We’re often told how technology can help organisations save money so here are some concrete actions that be used in organisations and teams.

Action 1 – Utilise virtual meetings

Until we develop telepathy we’re going to need to meet with other people but we can do this in a much smarter way.  Think how quick and easy a telephone call is; no travel, no hanging around, we get things done quickly.  Now translate the benefits to a meeting.  Spending time finding, booking or hiring a meeting room, getting to the room (which may involve some participants travelling in), setting up your laptop, waiting for everyone to arrive all put a dent in your time and budget.  It’s incredibly easy to hold virtual meetings from your desk or a quiet corner.  Your virtual meeting room is always ready and waiting, people can join from anywhere and if someone is only needed for part of the meeting, they can be invited into the virtual space at the appropriate time.  Many virtual meeting tools include whiteboards, presentation tools (where all participants can annotate slides), polls and moderated Q&A channels.  Also think about recording the meeting instead of taking minutes or as a record for absent staff who couldn’t attend in person.  There are plenty of free tools to run virtual meetings, share screens and documents as well as the more enterprise-ready and full-featured Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams.

Steps to achieve – Reduce your in-person meetings to once or twice a month and hold the rest using the virtual collaborative tools available to you.

Action 2 – Work from anywhere

We have worked with many enterprise organisations that are reducing physical office space because it is extremely expensive.  It’s possible to work in virtual teams where staff aren’t expected to come into an office.  How did your staff fare during the big UK snowfall of March 2018?  Could they work from home or if not what were the blockers?  Personally, I was stranded in Edinburgh due to the lack of flights and trains.  I was just as productive, perhaps even more so because of the room-service cheesecake on tap.  You can still remain in-touch through collaborative portals such as SharePoint and Teams and using presence information from Skype for Business.  Setting up team portals or collaborative spaces for individuals sectors, projects or clients can add a great relationship benefit because you can include external users, such as business partners, agencies or the customer in your team portals.

Steps to achieve – Set up a team channel in Microsoft Teams (there is a new free version if you don’t already have an Office 365 plan), invite the relevant colleagues and start collaborating on your project.

Action 3 – Save on software licences

We worked with a marketing firm a few years ago and due to acquisitions, an aggressive hiring plan and allowing their staff to use the tools they were familiar with, they had almost 300 disparate business intelligence reporting tools in use.  That’s an extreme example but we often see companies paying for software which is available to them in another licence they own.  For example, paying for WebEx or paying an external provider to host virtual meetings when you already have an Office 365 plan with Skype for Business.  Or paying for screen recording software when PowerPoint has the ability to record and trim screen recordings (brilliant for creating training videos) and Windows has Steps Recorder built-in (brilliant for capturing a series of screenshots for documentation).  The latest update to the Office applications allow for dictation when creating emails and documents so if you’re paying for dictation software this could be your first reduction in licence costs.

Steps to achieve – Perform an audit of software (many tools available to do this including Intune, the Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit or Spiceworks Software Inventory Audit) and look for duplication of functionality.

Action 4 – Use project management tools

Breaking down projects into assigned tasks, delegating and distributing workloads can save time, duplication of effort and enable working to tight schedules.  There is a host of choices including no-cost options.  Microsoft Project is a full-featured suite for enterprise project portfolios or again, Office 365 can help here with the Planner app for simple task management across your team.

Steps to achieve – Choose a project to pilot with a project management tool and monitor the benefits from stronger planning, time management and budgeting.

Action 5 – Reduce stationery

Yes, we had to check we had the right spelling of the word; we’re not perfect!  Notepads, pens and all those colourful post-it notes cost a lot to buy, no surprise there, but they also cost a lot to store and then recycle after use.  You can’t password-protect or encrypt a notepad (bad handwriting doesn’t count as encryption), it’s not easy to search back through hundreds of pages of notes, you can’t add rich content such as graphs, videos or pictures and you can’t share notepads so people can work on a common set of notes.  Even if you don’t have mobile or touch devices, OneNote is a superb tool for digital note taking with the ability to accept handwriting (and convert to text if needed), paste pictures and then search the text within the image (or even extract the text), dictate, tag, assign tasks share and record audio and video.  The notes also synchronise between devices so you can browse your notes on your mobile phone whilst you’re on the train travelling to the next meeting.

A common task we see users perform is signing documents.  The user prints the document, walks over to the printer, signs it with a pen, scans the signed copy, shreds the printout, walks back to their desk and emails the signed scan.  Open the document in Word (even if it’s a PDF, Word 2013 onwards can open and edit PDF files), use your mouse, finger or stylus to sign the document and then select File, Share, Send a PDF.  Word will convert the annotated document to a PDF and attach it to an email for you saving time and paper.  We’ll blog about how to do this in an upcoming post.

Steps to achieve – Use OneNote in your next meeting (In your Outlook meeting, choose the Meeting Notes button on the ribbon).

 

We’ll continue this blog in part 2 with some more steps on moving to VOIP and easy steps to move to the cloud.


Teams is an App not a Service

Microsoft Teams Logo  I must admit to being frustrated when Teams was first introduced.  It automatically started at Windows login, sometimes before I’d even connected to wifi (and then would error out due to the lack of an Internet connection) and the disconnection between some of the Office 365 services Teams uses and the main apps for those services, e.g. Skype for Business, was hard to explain to customers.

The gap is closing however and Redmond are putting some thought into Teams now that it’s gaining momentum.  There is a healthy roadmap, some good product management and top level buy-in from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

There is still a gap between some of the native clients and functionality in Teams.  For example, you can do more in online meetings through Skype for Business currently than you can in a Teams meeting despite both apps using the Skype for Business online services.  Teams is now bringing in functionality for meetings that isn’t available in Skype for Business so we find ourselves in the familiar place where we have two apps with an overlap of features but which individually might not meet all our needs; we need to choose which tool to use and accept some sacrifices in functionality.  Check out this brief post from Satya introducing the updated features and the new, free edition of Teams.  We’ll blog about the differences over the next week or so.

The thing to bear in mind is Teams is a presentation layer; an app.  It connects to the existing backend Office 365 online services and enhances them with integration and connectivity to other services, including 3rd party services and apps.  This is the strength of Teams – it is a hub where we can perform 60-70% of our collaborative tasks before we might need to go into another app to continue or access deeper features.

We would like to see Teams become an Office 365 service in itself and have service definitions just like Exchange online, SharePoint online, Yammer and Skype for Business online.  It would need to find it’s own place for that to happen though, or displace Skype for Business completely.


Automatic alt-text in Pictures

Office 365 utilises Azure Intelligent Services for a number of features including dictation, designer and smart lookup.  One of the features we love is the automatic alt-text generation when you insert a picture into an Office document.

We are strong advocates that accessibility is not just important to users who need these features; everyone who creates content should be making it accessible.

A picture tells a thousand words but when a screen reader is parsing a document it will read out the alt-text for an image.  If there’s no alt-text then you’ll just hear something along the lines of ‘picture’.  Not very helpful.  It’s been possible to manually enter the alt-text of course and this is very helpful in online content for search engine optimisation.

Intelligent services can automatically generate the alt-text for you based on the image contents.  If you are dealing with sensitive images, this feature can be turned off in options as it does require information being sent to Microsoft.

Let’s insert an online image into a document to see how it performs.

Button to insert pictures in Office

 

For blatant blog-promotion SEO purposes I’m going to search for an online image of the royal wedding.  Megan Markle Prince Harry Royal Wedding Windsor Castle.  That should raise us at least one place in search results.

Search results for online pictures

 

When I insert the fourth image, intelligent services analyses it and generates an alt-text tag for me.  In this case, it’s accurate but not quite hitting the spot of wedding dress and it certainly doesn’t even try to achieve facial recognition; we know that’s a minefield.  This result is far better than leaving alt-text empty though.

alt text for an image

 

So you’ll get mixed results.  Insert the third image and you’ll get an amusing result of “A picture containing dancer, indoor, sport, red” when clearly the image is all about the military and boys in culottes.

Alt text in a picture

 

Now, we’ll try a business image and search for Donald Trump.  I can feel our SEO going up.

alt text in a picture

 

The alt-text is accurate but again, no face recognition.  Last example to see if there’s some Microsoft bias.  I inserted the Microsoft logo.

Microsoft logo

 

No alt-text was generated but there’s a button in the image option alt-text panel which you can click to generate some.  If you need to use this button, the image was typically not obvious enough for intelligent services to work out straight away so the confidence level will be lower.

Office generating alt-text for a picture

 

Our result?  A drawing of a face.  Perhaps Bill Gates’ face is in the logo subliminally.

 

Alt-text result for the Microsoft logo

 

 


Can you Spell Albuquerque?

I won £500 in a pub quiz recently because I answered a question incorrectly.  The question was “Which suburb of Seattle was Microsoft founded in?”

I started at Microsoft in 1991 and knew full well Microsoft was founded in Alberquerukey, New Mexico.  So that left me with Redmond or Bellevue.  Bellevue was the first Seattle office but I figured the quizmaster had checked a press article or something stating Microsoft was founded in 1975 in Redmond (their current location).  So I gave Redmond as my answer and won £500.  Do I feel guilty winning by giving a knowingly false answer?

No but the point of this blog post is where can you find official facts about Microsoft, the products, interesting numbers, quotes and stories?  Check out Microsoft Story Labs.  As well as news articles there are fun facts and figures like how much Fanta Microsoft employees drink (the company offers free beverages on campus) and details about the company in the Press Tools dropdown.  It’s a good resource to be aware of.

News site for Microsoft

 

Had the quizmaster asked me to spell Alberqwerky, I would have gone home empty-handed.

 

 


Change a Recurring Meeting to Skype

It’s common to have recurring meetings in our Outlook calendars.  If the unexpected happens, such as snow or disruption on the trains (not so unexpected), it can be useful to change one of the meeting occurrences to a virtual meeting or a hybrid meeting where some staff are present in the same room and others can dial-in.

Outlook doesn’t provide the option of changing a single occurrence to a Skype for Business meeting however so here’s how to solve it.

If you double-click a meeting entry in calendar and select ‘Just this one’ to edit only this occurrence (below)

Editing an Outlook meeting entry

 

You will not be offered the Skype Meeting command on the ribbon (below).  Note we have the Teams Meeting option because we have the Teams app installed alongside Skype for Business; you may not see Teams.  We’ll be blogging about Teams and it’s relationship to Skype for Business at a later date.  Note the ribbon tab showing we are editing the Appointment Occurrence.

Outlook meeting toolbar without Skype for Business

 

If we had chosen to edit the entire series, we will see the Skype Meeting option in the ribbon.  Note the ribbon tab showing we are editing the Appointment Series.

Outlook meeting toolbar with Skype Meeting option

 

Outlook is being helpful here because if you edit a single meeting in a series, it will break the recurrence.  In this instance, that’s exactly what we want to do though.

To overcome this, we can add the Skype Meeting command to the meeting Quick Access Toolbar (QAT) by right-clicking the command and selecting Add to Quick Access Toolbar.

Add to quick access toolbar option

 

The next time we edit a single instance of a meeting, we can click the Skype Meeting icon on the QAT to add-in the virtual meeting options.

Outlook quick access toolbar

 

When we save the updated meeting, our calendar shows we have broken the recurrence with the icon in the bottom right of the meeting block.  But at least our colleagues stuck in some rain-soaked train station can still dial-in and take part in the meeting.

Outlook icon to indicate broken recurrence

 


We Try Out Dictation in Outlook

Dictation is being made available to Office 365 applications including Outlook, PowerPoint and Word.  Currently it’s a first release feature but will gradually make its way into the mainstream release.  This is different from the Windows speech recognition feature where you can control your PC using speech and it’s also distinct from the Windows 10 dictation added to Windows last autumn (and only available for US English).

We loved the Learning Tools add-on for OneNote which included dication and a host of accessibility features and were keen to give dictation a whirl in Outlook.

Enabling Dictation in Office 365

Luckily, there’s very little to set-up as this is a feature that’s enabled by default in an office upgrade.  It uses Microsoft’s intelligent services (just like the automatic Alt-Text feature for inserted images) so you’ll need an internet connection – dictation can’t be used offline.  If you can’t get dictate to work, check Intelligent Services is enabled in the File, Options, General tab.  Your Office account must also be up to date.

Office 365 intelligent services in options

 

Using Office 365 Dictate in Outlook

In a new email, click the Dictate button on the right hand of the Ribbon Home tab.  The dropdown menu shows the languages this is available in.  This should default to your Windows locale and having UK English gives me a good excuse to test for UK spelling.

Office 365 dictation languages

 

It’s unlikely many built-in pc microphones will provide good results in a noisy office so I grabbed a Sennheiser headset and recorded the following:

My favourite colour is purple to wear and green to see.  I also like black but it’s not really a colour.
I still can’t get dictation to type pounds.
My favourite neighbour is the one down the road with the aluminium blinds.
I drank too much at a party and made a bit of an arse of myself.
It’s my mum’s birthday soon.

You need to specifically add punctuation by saying ‘full stop’ or ‘period’, etc. and also formatting such as ‘new line’ to add a carriage return.  I was speaking in a normal cadence but did add a bit of a Windsor accent.  This is the result:

Dictation in Outlook

 

Quite an impressive outcome.  I like the way offensive words are automatically censored.  Spelling is UK English.  Why it shortened road I don’t know and the final ‘I’ would have been capitalised had I said ‘new line’ to move to a different paragraph.  And I still can’t figure out how to get it to type a £ symbol.

You can say the following to add punctuation:

Period
Comma
Question mark
Exclamation point
Exclamation mark
New line
New paragraph
Semicolon
Colon
Open quote
Close quote
Open quotes
Close quotes

This should be a real boon for users and because it uses Microsoft’s online intelligent services with machine learning, recognition and accuracy should improve over time.