How to Preserve Former Employees’ Microsoft 365 Data

And with a record 4.5 million workers leaving their jobs in November 2021, according to the US Department of Labor, it’s only natural that organizations are looking for shortcuts to streamline the process for Microsoft Development Services.

Managers may want to clean up old data quickly, whether to free up Microsoft 365 licenses or to make room in their cloud storage. But before rushing to make room for new hires, there are a few important things to consider. In their recent webinar, “How Cloud Backup Can Improve the Staff Exit Process , ” Ron Delaney and Tom Gawczynski explain why you need to ask a few questions before firing a staff member.

1. Do we need continued access to the former employee’s inbox

When you delete a user’s profile in Microsoft 365, you lose access to the user’s inbox, including all data there, such as past communications and key contacts. You can restore the inbox for 30 days before it’s permanently deleted, which might seem like enough time to figure out if you’ve lost something you need.

However, this delay may be too short. Let’s say your team is working on annual contracts and a client’s contract renewal isn’t due for six months. Suddenly, renewal time arrives and you realize that you are missing important basic information that was only in the former employee’s inbox. Unfortunately, it is too late to restore.

The good news is that Microsoft has a native solution. Before deleting the user, you can convert their inbox to an inactive inbox. Simply block the former employee’s access to their old mailbox and share the inbox with another user, perhaps their manager or a peer. This allows you to release their licenses without losing access to their information for as long as you set the retention policy (up to 10 years).

At this point, you can choose to delete this user profile. But there are still disadvantages: there may be new emails that arrive in the mailbox that you will no longer have access to once the user profile is deleted. If the latter is deleted, you also cannot configure an automatic reply which can be a useful solution for external contacts who were not informed of the departure of the employee or who have forgotten their new point of contact.

Although you are now better prepared to delete the user profile, it is still important to consider these final questions. It might be worth saving a bit more time by adopting a longer retention policy to make sure you no longer need the former employee’s inbox before hitting “Delete.”

2. Will we need to access any files the employee may have saved in their OneDrive?

Although you’ve probably encouraged your employees to save important documents in Microsoft Teams, SharePoint or other publicly accessible platforms, it’s likely that some critical documents are saved in their personal OneDrive, such as unfinished projects, notes on important clients, or even checklists of the work to be done.

Just like Outlook, once you delete a user’s profile, you have a 30-day grace period to recover the deleted user’s OneDrive files. Again, this time frame may be too short, especially when trying to find and train a replacement who can have the final say on what information is useful and what can be safely deleted.

Although 30 days is the standard time Microsoft allows for inbox “soft delete”, just like with Outlook, you can enforce a retention policy that extends to a maximum of 3,650 days or 10 year. This is a great option to save time before permanently deleting the former employee’s data.

Remember that if you keep their data, their files take up space in your storage, which can be costly. Although you can theoretically keep their data for 10 years, it’s best to set a shorter time frame and try to figure out what should be kept and what can be deleted to save unnecessary storage costs.

3. What is our backup plan if my employee deletes their data before leaving?

Not all assignments end on a good note. It is impossible to predict the reaction of a disgruntled or despised employee before he leaves. If the employee was working on an ongoing project or deal and deletes critical information before leaving, the loss may be detrimental to the success of the project or deal.

Even employees who end on a high note may assume it’s good practice to delete their files and emails during the “cleanup” before they leave. Which seems to be good for your storage capacity but can lead to future disaster if important institutional knowledge is lost.

That’s why it’s always best to have a backup plan in place that ensures critical data, such as that in Outlook or SharePoint, is backed up in the unthinkable event. Although Microsoft 365 offers some native features that can help protect key workloads, they have limitations.

Adopting a third-party cloud backup solution is essential to ensure that you can preserve data and restore it easily if needed. AvePoint Cloud Backup can be configured to back up all users’ mailboxes daily and supports exporting mailboxes in .pst format. Administrators can also perform point-in-time restores in Outlook and OneDrive so they can easily recover data from a specific time period.

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