blog.frederique.harmsze.nl my world of work and user experiences

October 31, 2015

Office 365 tools: What should I use for collaboration?

Filed under: Digital Workplace,Office365 — Tags: — frederique @ 23:27

Office 365 provides us with a very extensive toolkit, which we can use to collaborate with colleagues and with external partners. However, which tool should we use for what purpose from that toolkit? Recently, I talked to a client who got confused. They have SharePoint, Groups, OneDrive for Business, Yammer. Now what? What do we advise our users?

Their first idea was to start promoting OneDrive for Business and Yammer only, because they feared that SharePoint would scare the users, and they were not sure what Groups would do. But what I fear is that, if you start promoting OneDrive for Business without SharePoint or Groups, people will start using OneDrive for Business the wrong way and then everybody will regret it.

So let’s take a look at the collaboration tools in our Office 365 toolkit. What are their strong points, what are their restrictions, and what is the best area to use them in.

The advantages of any of the tools in Office 365

But before I start comparing them, they are all better than storing your information on your local computer.
Why? If you store information in Office 365 instead of on your c-drive for example:

  • You won’t lose everything when your computer crashes. My computer froze just before the meeting with this client, and there was no way to get it back in business. So I swapped computers. And I savoured the fact that all of my materials were in Office 365, so I could do my presentation, my demo, everything I needed.
  • You can access the information easily from different devices via the internet.

And all of the options are also better than storing your documents in some free cloud service.
Why? If you store your information in Office 365 instead of some free version of Dropbox, Google Docs or something like that:

  • You are safe within the Office 365 environment of your organization Microsoft stakes it reputation on the security of Office 365. Free services could have or get some hidden agenda or some footnote in their agreement stating that they can access your documents.
  • It is easier to share safely with a colleague In Office 365, you pick the colleague from a directory. You don’t have to enter their mail address or risk sharing your document with an outsider accidentally.

OneDrive for Business: my digital desk drawer, my USB-stick in the cloud

Let me start with OneDrive for Business, because I have heard several organizations who wanted to start with OneDrive for Business. Storing documents in my OneDrive for Business is like storing them in a digital drawer of my desk.

OneDrive for Business

OneDrive for Business

Advantages

  • Easy to store, view and edit your documents in Office, both in the browser and in the client on your computer
  • Easy to access your document both online and offline, if you synchronise your OneDrive for Business library to your computer using the OneDrive for Business synchronisation mechanism.
  • Easy to share both with colleagues and with outsiders, if you wish to do so.
  • Integrated with the rest of Office 365. Because OneDrive for Business is integrated with the rest of Office 365, you can for example find documents stored in OneDrive for Business using the Office 365 search and using Delve.

Disadvantages / restrictions

  • You are the only owner of your own OneDrive for Business and the documents stored in it. So if you leave the company, your documents are no longer managed and may even be deleted.
  • If you share individual documents with other people, you won’t see at a glance with whom you have shared them. You can only see in an icon that you have shared a document, as opposed to a document that only you can see. So you need to be particularly careful with document that you have shared with outsiders, for example putting them all in a folder called ‘Shared externally’.
  • Confusing label: OneDrive for Business is not the same as OneDrive. I have seen users accidentally saving documents from MS Word to their private OneDrive when they meant to save them to their OneDrive for Business. Make sure you pick the one called ‘OneDrive – [Your organisation]’, and make sure to tell everyone about this…
  • This problem may be solved soon, but today it is still a problem: You can only synchronise your OneDrive for Business library as a whole to your computer. Not selected folders within that library. Microsoft is working on this one, see The OneDrive Blog: I sync therefore I am…
  • There are restrictions as to what you can upload and synchronise to your computer using the OneDrive for Business synchronisation mechanism. See Restrictions and limitations when you sync SharePoint libraries to your computer through OneDrive for Business. For example:
    • Folder plus filename can’t be more than 250 characters,
    • Some characters are forbidden (less than there used to be! \ / : * ? ” < > | # %)
    • Some folder names are forbidden, e.g. Forms.

So use it for:

  • Storing documents that are relevant only for you, not for the team or the organisation. For example, notes about your personal development, a list of your travels for which you still need to submit an expense report.
  • Sharing a document in an ad hoc fashion If you have found something interesting that does not have anything to do with the team and you want to share it with someone, you can use your OneDrive for Business.

Don’t use it for:

  • Systematic collaboration Because you are the only owner, if you leave the organisation, your colleagues are stuck.
    See also Should I save my documents to OneDrive for Business or a team site?
  • 1-on-1 upload of all of the documents that you have stored in the My Documents on your computer over the years. It may seem like a good idea, but you should look before you upload, because:
    • Many of these documents may pertain to a team effort, so they don’t belong in your personal OneDrive for Business library.
    • You OneDrive for Business and/or computer may crash if you try a mega-upload. It seems that they synchronisation mechanism is getting better, but I have heard to many horror stories about crashes caused by bulk uploads to dare do such a thing…

Please note:

  • We are talking about OneDrive for Business here, not about the private offering called OneDrive, which is a different tool.
  • The name OneDrive for Business includes three things:
    • My personal document library, for storing documents
    • A synchronisation mechanism for synchronising OneDrive for Business and SharePoint libraries to your computer.
    • An entry point for all documents created by me or shared with me anywhere OneDrive for Business or SharePoint.

Office Groups: “we” instead of “me”

Groups are a new tool for collaboration in the Office 365 toolkit. They are one step more “serious” when it comes to collaboration than OneDrive for Business. A Groups is not as full-blown a tool as a SharePoint site.

Office Group and its options available under the ellipsis (...)

Office Group and its options available under the ellipsis (…)

Advantages

  • Start collaborating quickly and easily
  • Different ingredients that you can use if you like: conversations, calendar, files, OneNote notebook.
    See also What are Groups for Office 365.
  • Easy integration in Outlook, with e-mail. You start to attach a file to a message, the system guides to you store it in the Group.
  • Easy to manage. It does not depend on one person: you can make other people group admin.
  • Easy to store, view and edit shared documents in Office, both in the browser and in the client on your computer
  • Easy to access the document both online and offline, if you synchronise the document library associated to the Group to your computer using the OneDrive for Business synchronisation mechanism.

Disadvantages / restrictions

  • No good overview in the user interface. To access the different components (conversations, calendar, files, OneNote, members) you need to click the infamous ellipsis (…). There is no ‘start page’ where it all comes together.
  • Confusing how you get to your groups Users are looking for Groups in the App Launcher, but there is no tile for Groups. You can access your Groups via Outlook (in the browser or in the client) or via OneDrive for Business in the browser.
  • No subtleties like
    • other lists, pages, the option to change the structure as the admin,
    • fine-grained permissions, auditing, restoring from the recyle bin, retention policies, etc for serious content management
  • Integration with the rest of Office 365 is not optimal (yet)
    • The conversations are not part of Yammer but Outlook messages
    • The files are stored in SharePoint, though the interface looks like OneDrive for Business. But you can’t use the other SharePoint options.
  • There are restrictions as to what you can upload and synchronise to your computer using the OneDrive for Business synchronisation mechanism. See Restrictions and limitations when you sync SharePoint libraries to your computer through OneDrive for Business.

So use it for:

  • Setting up temporary collaboration (e.g. the organisation of a team barbecue) Because you can create a group in one click of a button.
  • Collaboration with people who are devoted to Outlook Because the Groups are visible and usable in Outlook.
  • Basic collaboration in general Because if you don’t need the additional options that a SharePoint site offers, why not use a Group.

Don’t use it for:

  • Collaboration with a process that should be facilitated by workflows or (for now) task or issue lists Because currently Groups are not well suited to keep track of shared status information and to assigning items to individuals.
  • Publishing information to a large group (“intranet”) Because the information in a Group is not displayed in the most user-friendly way.

Please note:

SharePoint: the powertool for collaboration with a process

SharePoint is an old friend to some people (like me…). It has been developed and improved for over a decade. And over the years, some people got allergic to the term SharePoint, because they had bad experiences with one or more versions of SharePoint. For those people it may be helpful that they term ‘SharePoint’ is not very prominent in Office 365: you click on the label Sites, not SharePoint to get to your team sites… Because I don’t want to give up on SharePoint as yet. It is still a useful tool in our toolkit.

SharePoint team site

SharePoint team site

Advantages

  • Powerful tool
  • Easy to use for the site visitors and members, if the site owner has configured the site properly
  • Options like
    • list templates (e.g. issues, hyperlinks,…),
    • managing information together (e.g. updating status fields),
    • structuring information, by creating smart views based on metadata,
    • bringing together relevant information on a page,
    • fine-grained permissions, auditing, retention policies for serious content management,
    • workflows to facilitate processes.
  • Easy to store, view and edit your documents in Office, both in the browser and in the client on your computer
  • Easy to access the document both online and offline, if you synchronise the document library in your SharePoint site to your computer using the OneDrive for Business synchronisation mechanism.

Disadvantages / restrictions

So use it for:

  • Collaboration with a process (like requests)
    Because you can set up workflows in a SharePoint site.
  • Collaboration where colleagues have different roles, e.g. reader, contributor, owner etc.
    Because you can set up different permissions for the different roles
  • Making information available to large groups
    Because you can create pages that display views of the information that is most relevant at that point.

Don’t use it for:

  • Quick & dirty, temporary collaboration
    Because it takes more time to set up a SharePoint site than a Group. And if you don’t need the SharePoint functionality, a Group is more suited as a throwaway “digital meeting room”
  • Personal documents, that are only relevant for you
    Because those belong in your OneDrive for Business.

Please note:

  • Microsoft is moving collaboration focus from SharePoint to Groups. See also SharePoint Team Sites are dead!
  • Collaboration that requires a process, with a workflow, will not be moved to Groups but will stay In SharePoint, as far as we know.

Yammer: a discussion forum

And we have Yammer, the enterprise social technology that Microsoft bought in 2012 and added to the Office 365 toolkit in 2013. It can help you collaborate, although it is not a “serious” collaboration tool

A Yammer group

A Yammer group

Advantages:

  • Easy to post a question or idea, and invite people to participate
  • Easy to respond
  • You can post a document from SharePoint to Yammer in order to discuss it
  • You can invite people outside your organization to join the conversation (in an external network or even in your regular network, if you have not blocked external conversations)
  • Easy to manage. It does not depend on one person: you can make other people group admin

Disadvantages / restrictions:

  • You cannot format your post to make it more readable.
  • Yammer content is not integrated in the Office 365 search. The SharePoint search center only offers a link to search for the same term in Yammer.
  • Search in Yammer is not good at surfacing the most relevant items
  • No subtleties like
    • other lists, pages, the option to change the structure as the admin,
    • fine-grained permissions, auditing, restoring from the recyle bin, retention policies, etc for serious content management
    • document versioning

So use it for:

  • Discussing ideas, issues or anything you like
  • Asking question and giving answers
  • If you like working in Yammer: Light, ad hoc collaboration, if the result is captured elsewhere in Office 365 (e.g. work on a document and put it in SharePoint after it has been finished) or if the result does not have to be findable afterwards. See also Document collaboration in Yammer just got better with Office Online

Don’t use it for:

  • Serious collaboration, involving many documents, processes etc.
    See also Yammer Conversations vs. SharePoint Collaboration Sites
    Because the items are hard to find in Yammer and the “serious” features are missing
  • Posting long stories
    Because you cannot format the text, so they are hard to read. It works better if you post the long story elsewhere and point to it from Yammer for discussion.

Please note

  • Over the past years, some steps have been taken to integrate Yammer into Office 365. Maybe more will follow. For example, Delve should include links shared in Yammer and in the future Delve will allow you to have Yammer conversations directly from Delve items. See Office Delve—discover exactly what you need, when you need it
  • In the community, we are not sure that Yammer is still the way to go. In the recent Unity Connect conference, many people said that they would not start a Yammer project now, although you can keep using it if you already have it. See also Has Yammer played out its role?

 

So you can pick and choose the tool that best suits your purpose. And basically it boils down to this (Thank you Benjamin Niaulin):

  • Me = OneDrive for Business
  • We = Office 365 Groups
  • We + process = SharePoint site

 

 

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