Collaboration with Office 365: Making Choices in the Real World

Collaboration with Office 365: Making Choices in the Real World

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“The world is changing.”

That’s a message we’ve been telling our customers for years.

Technology is changing the way people interact with each other in their personal and their work lives, it’s empowering them to take action. Let’s face the facts: users are going to work the way they want to work.

Just look at how technology has impacted our personal lives: Netflix, Uber, booking, food delivery services. For every situation, there’s an app or an online service for that.

Let’s take example from my own personal life. I live in the Netherlands, Amsterdam to be exact. The largest supermarket chain here is called Albert Heijn, and they’ve released an app called Appie. It contains my profile and connects to my Albert Heijn card, for deals and discounts on products. It provides me with weekly personal discounts based on my previous purchases.

The app also allows me to scan products and pay at a special register with no waiting lines. I love it! There’s nothing Dutch people like more: convenience and savings.

This is all great, but what can we learn from my supermarket story? Basically, technology makes our personal lives easier and more efficient, and we’ve come to expect the same advantages in our work lives.

Thanks to the rise of Internet and Cloud services, it’s become insanely easy to find support outside of our company walls. Just look at the rise of Box, Dropbox, Slack and Trello.

How can you deal with this situation as a company? My answer: The Modern Workplace. You need to provide your employees with the tools to get their job done.

This is where Microsoft steps in and provides us with Office 365. This is the collaboration toolkit offered:

Office 365 toolkit

What always surprises me, is how much of a struggle it is for some people to deal with all these work-related technology choices.

I mean, since day 1 we’ve had to make choices in our personal lives. For example, trying to buy peanut butter at your local supermarket. There isn’t just one choice. There’s probably ten! And don’t even get me started on jam.

Peanut butter choices

What I’m trying to say, is that we’ve gotten used to making choices in our personal lives. It’s easy! But we’re struggling with them the second we enter the office.

I often get questions from customers, and others within the community, about making choices in Office 365, so I figured I would take the time to answer them.

Let’s begin by looking at Microsoft’s point of view:

“We offer Office 365, the collaboration toolkit. Every group of people has different needs. Groups are going to pick the collaboration tools suited for their business needs.”

Sounds easy, right?

If it was, I would have been out of a job. In my role as Collaboration Consultant for InSpark, I support business users in finding the right tool for their business needs.

My goal for this blog is to do just that. To provide you, the reader, with a helping hand. The foundation of the Microsoft Office 365 toolkit is Office 365 Groups, so let’s dive right in!

Office 365 Groups

The one and only Benjamin Niaulin aka SharePoint Hipster beard aka Head Geek has dedicated many blogs to Groups. Please click here to read his series.

Basically, they’re made for collaboration scenarios with teams, departments and projects. To be honest, due to the immaturity of Groups, we only just recently started advising our customers on their use.

We did work with Groups extensively internally though and have done many demos and sessions. Here are my guidelines based on my experience and expertise:

  • Use for an open but controlled environment.
  • Adoption! Adoption! Adoption!

The first guideline is because I don’t support disabling Groups. I described in the introduction of this blog how people are going to use a tool to do their jobs, whether inside or outside of the company. Disabling Groups is only going to make things worse.

I’ve heard of and seen many horror stories where Groups exploded in the organization, but you can prevent this by only allowing a small group of people the ability to create them.

You can create a SharePoint Site with a custom list, allowing employees to request a Group for collaboration. After approval, the Group is created and people can collaborate. I am willing to let this approach go after the soft restore, and delete it when the feature becomes available.

Outlook Groups

Groups and Teams are very similar but the main differentiator is the communication method: e-mail versus chat. Does a group of people prefer conversations through e-mail? Go for Outlook Groups! Otherwise there is Teams or Yammer Groups.

Adoption is very important for the success of Groups within your organization. Why? The business users are provided with a lot of tools. You must explain what these are and how they work.

The navigation experiences can also be confusing. Just look at the view within Outlook Groups:

Outlook groups navigation

The navigation is completely different within the SharePoint Team Site:

SharePoint Team Site navigation

Finally, Planner:

Planner navigation

Microsoft Teams

Teams is, by far, my favorite collaboration tool in Office 365. I applaud Microsoft for releasing a new tool, in a relatively short time span, that really provides a complete collaboration experience. Compared to the launch of Groups, this is a huge step forward.

Microsoft Teams is made for project or department collaboration scenarios. Here are a series of guidelines based on my experience and expertise:

  • Use it for an open but controlled environment
  • Use it for chat driven conversations.
  • Need external access? Use the SharePoint Team Site.
  • Adoption! Adoption! Adoption!

We talked about the first guideline in the previous section, there’s no difference here for Teams.

As I write this blog, external access isn’t supported. You can use the SharePoint Team Site to share content with people outside your company, but unfortunately you can’t use chat.

Adoption is easier compared to Groups, because you’re mostly using one interface, the Teams app, for all your collaboration actions. Microsoft released adoption materials for Teams.

Yammer

Traditionally, Yammer is an Enterprise Social Network. Connecting with colleagues without the boundaries of departments, countries or job titles. We’re all part of this one network.

Yammer enables companies with business communication scenarios such as corporate and department announcements, sharing ideas, and sharing expertise.

There is a shift happening. Last year, Microsoft announced the integration of Office 365 Groups with Yammer. What does this mean exactly?

Once a new Yammer Group is created, an Office 365 Group is also generated, thus providing you with a SharePoint Team Site, OneNote and Planner. I am happy with this decision because the collaboration experience with Yammer up until now has been very poor.

That said, I still haven’t seen this integration in action and I’m a skeptical person. Here are a series of guidelines based on my experience and expertise:

  • Use for corporate & department announcements.
  • Share news & announcements without branding requirements.
  • Share ideas & ask questions.
  • Is Yammer successful? Start using it for collaboration. Otherwise move on.

The first three guidelines are straightforward. Let me explain the last one:

Are you already using Yammer in your organization? Is Yammer widely adopted? Move forward with Yammer as collaboration platform.

You haven’t started yet or Yammer isn’t successful? Start looking at Outlook Groups or Microsoft Teams.

Why? I’ve seen more development and progress in those two collaboration tools compared to Yammer. My gut feeling says Outlook Groups and Teams are more suited, and will be more successful for true collaboration.

OneDrive for Business

You probably missed OneDrive for Business (OneDrive) from the Office 365 toolkit graphic above. I always bring OneDrive in the picture, because there is a collaboration scenario present.

You can share content with colleagues, or external users, and collaborate. Here are my guidelines:

  • Collaboration outside teams & projects.
  • Install the next-gen sync engine.
  • Adoption! Adoption! Adoption!

Once you feel a presentation or document belongs in your team, department and project, copy or move the file to a shared space. There can’t be any indistinctness about the correct location and version of content. But, you are definitely allowed to start with documents in your OneDrive.

Loads has been said about the sync engine so what are you waiting for? Go use the version that actually works!

Visit the Office 365 FastTrack center for OneDrive for Business adoption materials.

SharePoint

An Outlook Group or Microsoft Team comes with a modern SharePoint Team Site. You’re still able to create SharePoint Sites such as the Publishing or classic Team Site.

This situation results in deciding between using the Modern Team Site or creating your own. I always advise to use the Modern Team Site, with Outlook Groups or Teams, for collaboration scenarios. For all the other scenarios go for the other sites.

Conclusion

Hopefully you realize how important it is to facilitate the Modern Workplace for your employees. This is crucial to allow them to get the job done and reduces the use of external services or apps.

With that being said, choice isn’t always easy. We have a lot of it, especially with Office 365. I hope this blog makes your lives a bit easier and you’re more confident in making the right one.

By offering choice, guidelines and bringing this together with adoption, you’re on the right track to providing the Modern Workplace within your organization.

Please leave any questions or feedback. I would love to hear from you!

Jasper Oosterveld
Jasper Oosterveld @jasoosterveld

Jasper Oosterveld is a frequently requested speaker, Microsoft MVP, blogger and a co-author of two SharePoint manuals. During the day Jasper is a Cloud Consultant at InSpark, he facilitates seamless implementations of SharePoint Online and Office 365.