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

May 31, 2020

Developments I like in Microsoft Teams

Filed under: Digital Workplace — Tags: , — frederique @ 10:54

Microsoft is accelerating the development of Teams, to cater for our needs in remote meetings and conversations. Teams was already the go-to tool for online collaboration for the enthusiasts. But now that so many of us are working from home, it has become indispensable for a lot of people. So it is absolutely necessary that the tool works easily, seamlessly and robustly. After all, there are so many new users who are not particularly computer savvy and who just want to get their jobs done in these difficult circumstances. Well, Microsoft is working on it! There are quite a few new and newish developments. Let us discuss a few.

In Team meetings

1.Raise your hand

Large online meetings get very messy if everyone just activates their microphone and jumps in. What you need is a moderator who can give people the floor – or rather: the microphone – one by one, when they want to ask a question or contribute something.

Fortunately, we now have the option to raise our hand digitally: you use the hand icon and the label explictly says this is to raise your hand. Very classroom isn’t it? I would not be surprised if this option was asked for by the educational community. But it is also handy (sorry…) to be able to raise your hand in an enterprise meeting. I recently attended a Teams meeting where I did not have permission to use the chat, as I was not a member of the Team where the meeting was organised, but I was still able to ask my question by raising my hand and activating my microphone when the speaker addressed me.

Click the hand in the toolbar to raise your hand; clicking again lowers it. The presenter/moderator is prompted with a number on the people icon that somebody raised their hand, and sees who it is.

Click the hand in the toolbar to raise your hand; clicking again lowers it. The presenter/moderator is prompted with a number on the people icon that somebody raised their hand, and sees who it is.

2.Up to 9 video feeds in the main screen

When I am conducting a meeting, I often share my screen to allow the participants to see my presentation or my demo. But we also have “talk meetings”, where we just have a conversation without any slides or demo or anything. For example, the virtual coffee breaks that we are having regularly these days…

In Microsoft Teams, you could see up to four video feeds of participants, in a 2×2 format. Since two weeks, we get see up to nine video feeds in the main screen of the meeting: 3×3. And if there are less people, the video tiles are distributed neatly. Ok, if you have more people in your meeting than nine, the participants who do not talk are still only displayed as thumbnails at the bottom. But still, nine is better than four, and it is just matter of time before we get more…

3.Choose your own background in your video feed

I am working from home these days, and conducting my meetings online. I often switch on the camera, so that I can look my colleagues in the eye. After all, this is the only way we can see each other. But that does not mean that I want to show them my messy home office. Or the living room where I’ve also put my laundry out to dry.

Fortunately, showing my face does not imply I have to show my room. Earlier this year, we got the option to blur the background of our video feed. And a month or so ago Microsoft added the option to select a background image, to make your video feed more attractive.

So far, however, there is no button to upload your image, to make your video feed not only more attractive but also more personal. But you can “hack” the image collection and add your own photos via Windows Explorer: just put your pictures on your computer in C:\Users\[you]\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Teams\Backgrounds\Uploads (please note, most people don’t see the Appdata folder, so go there by entering %AppData% in the address bar. I have resized and cropped my photos to the same size as the Microsoft images: 1920×1080 pixels, because otherwise the horizon was in the wrong place.

Teams-Meeting-MyBackground-app

Click the ellipsis (the …) to get the option to use background effects. There you can select an image.

Update June 2020: And now we also have a button to add our new photos from the Teams-meeting.

Upload your own image to your backgrounds gallery

Upload your own image to your backgrounds gallery

In the chat

4.Read receipts in the chat

I sometimes check if my colleague has read my chat message yet. Since January this year, I get a checkbox icon if the message has been delivered and an eye icon if my colleague has seen my message. Of course seeing does not automatically imply understanding or taking action or anything, but it is a first step towards confirmation.

Note: Only the latest message that has been seen gets an icon, to avoid clutter in your conversation.

Teams-Chat-ReadReceipt-ann

When your colleague has seen the message, you get the eye icon. If he or she has not seen it yet but the message has been sent, you get the check icon.

Also note: You only get these read receipts in the Chat section of Microsoft Teams. Not in a Team channel, where the posts are open to all team members. In a group chat with more than one colleague in the chat section, it looks like the message only counts as read if all participants have seen it.

Teams-ChatGroup-ReadReceipt-add

In a group chat with more than one person, everyone needs to see the message before it is labeled as ‘Seen’.

5.Pop-out a chat

I like multitasking while I am in an online meeting. I know, I have to pay attention to that meeting and I do! But it is efficient if I can ask another colleague for some details or prompt him to finish a related task in a 1-on-1 chat, while still having a full view of, for example, the shared screen in the Teams meeting. I usually have enough space on my monitor to do this. But up until now, the meeting was minimized when I opened a chat.

Fortunately, now I can pop out the chat window and position it next to my Teams window with the meeting. I had already read about it, but I literally saw it for the first time in my environment just now ;-) For now, we get this option in the desktop app; not in the online version or the mobile version of Teams yet. See also Microsoft’s support page Pop out a chat in Teams.

Teams-Chat-Popout-ann

Click the icon to pop out the chat in a separate window, that you can move and resize. If this functionality is available to you, you will see the icon at the top right of the conversation and in the overview when you hover your mouse over the item.

April 30, 2020

10 Practical tips for conversations in Microsoft Teams

Filed under: New world of work,Office365 — Tags: , — frederique @ 23:56

Do you want to ask a colleague a quick question or give them a heads-up? Even though you are far apart and unable to just bump into them at the coffee machine? Then use Microsoft Teams to connect and have a quick conversation. Always handy, but indispensable now that we have to keep our distance and work from home during the Corona crisis.

Microsoft Teams offers us two functions for conversations:

  • 1-on-1 chat like we have (or some people by now: had) in Skype for Business. Anyone who has Microsoft Teams at their disposal can use this chat for ad hoc conversations with one or more people.
  • A ‘team conversation’ within a separate Teams environment: our digital office that you can create or request (depending on your organization’s policies) for collaboration with your team.

Let’s take a look at ten tips for such conversations in Microsoft Teams (with some associated “sub-tips”).

Tip 1: Use the chat for 1-on-1 conversations

If you really want to have a 1-on-1 conversation, open the chat section in Teams. Yes, in a Team conversation you can specifically address a particular colleague (by @-mentioning her or him -see below). However, all the other team members can see your message as well, if they happen to take a look in the Team. And yes, I have talked to enough people who were confused by this.

Tip 1a: Add a colleague if 1-on-1 is not enough

You can have more people in an ad hoc chat conversation. If the two of you can’t solve you problem, ask another colleague to join the chat via the ‘Add people’ icon at the top right of your chat.

Ad hoc conversations in the chat: 1-on-1 and you can add people

Ad hoc conversations in the chat section of Microsoft Teams: 1-on-1 and you can add people

Tip 2: Add audio and video to your chat

When you are tired of typing to and fro with your colleague, turn your chat into an audio call or a video call using the phone button respectively the camera button at the top right of the chat.

Add audio or video to the chat to talk directly.

Add audio or video to the chat to talk directly.

Tip 3: Ask your colleague if audio is convenient right now

DO NOT just click on the phone or video button when you feel like it, but ask your colleague if she thinks it is a good idea to have a call right now.

Maybe your colleague is at a very noise location or at a location where no sound is tolerated, so she has to move first. Or maybe she wants to grab a headset or a coffee first. Or she may already be in another call. And yes, I have been at the receiving end of such unannounced calls and they annoy me as much as a phone , that always interrupt at a bad time…

Tip 4: Conduct conversations relevant for the team in the Team

Do you have a question about the project for which you have a Team? Or about work for the department that collaborates in a Team? Conduct that conversation in the ‘Posts’ tab of that Team, so that the other – current or future – Team members can also see what is going on. Also, documents attached to this conversation are stored in the right place: in the Team where you collaborate.

Tip 5: @-mention your contact in a Team message

Do you want specific colleagues to see your message, because they may have the answer to your question or may need to know what you explain? Then make sure you @-mention them: type @, start typing their name and select the right person.

If the entire team should see your message, @-mention the Team name. Or @-mention the channel, if it is relevant for everyone who is interested in the channel.

@-mention the person or group (e.g. the channel) who should see the message and respond.

@-mention the person or group (e.g. the channel) who should see the message and respond.

Tip 6: Do not assume your Team message has been seen without an @-mention

Too often I see messages addressed to me like “Hey Frédérique, can you help me with this?”. Usually I see those at least a week late, when I visit the Team to help somebody who did address me properly with @Frederique…

If you do not @-mention a person or a group, then you cannot assume that anyone has seen your message. Especially if these persons do not frequently visit the Team because they are not used to the new tool (like the people I have bene training recently), or because they have way too many Teams to keep an eye on all of them (like me…)

Tip 7: Answer in the reply field, not as a new conversation

In the 1-on-1 chat you don’t have separate fields for responding or for starting a new conversation. But in a Team post, you should answer via the Reply field, so that the conversation remains in one piece. If you respond via the field that says “Start a new conversation”, your answer may get separated from the question, when the conversation continues.

Reply in the reply-field, not in the field for starting a new conversation

Reply in the reply-field, not in the field for starting a new conversation

Tip 8: Made a mistake? Edit or remove your message.

Don’t post an additional version of your message. Just fix the original one, if you made a mistake. Or delete it and start again, to keep the conversation clear and compact. Click the … ellipsis (next to ‘Like’) to get these options. Please note: you can only edit or delete your own message, not somebody else’s.

Click the .. ellipsis to get the option to Edit or Delete your message.

Click the .. ellipsis to get the option to Edit or Delete your message.

Tip 8a: Can’t edit your messages? Change the Team-settings

The option to edit or delete your own messages is governed by a setting at the level of the Team. They should be enabled. If they are not, get a Team Owner to change the settings via Manage Team > Settings > Member permissions > Give members the option to delete/edit their messages.

The Team Owner should configure the settings to allow members to edit and delete theor own messages.

The Team Owner should configure the settings to allow members to edit and delete theor own messages.

Tip 9: Format important messages to make them easy to read

A message in Teams is not meant to be a fancy news article. But if the message is a longer, structure it with for example a bulleted list and key terms highlighted in bold.

Click the Format icon (the ‘A’) below the message field to get the edit options. Otherwise your message gets posted as soon as you hit Enter.

Tip 9a: Give important conversations a title

A title helps users to see easily what the message and then the threaded conversion is about, so they can assess quickly if it is important for them. The title field is also conjured up by clicking the ‘A’ icon.

Click the 'A' icon below the message field to format the text and provide a title.

Click the ‘A’ icon below the message field to format the text and provide a title.

Tip 10: Post a link to the document that you talk about

If you ask for feedback on a document or encourage your colleagues to check out your great presentation, attach the file to your message via the paperclip > Browse teams and channels. This way, people don’t have to search for the file that you are talking about.

Tip 10a: Upload the document before you post your message.

There is an option to upload the document while you are writing the message. But then the document gets stored directly in the channel folder, while you may want to store it in a subfolder within the channel. So if the core of my message is about a file, I make sure I store the file in its proper place first, before I start talking about it.

It does seem like the link from the message to the attached document survives if you move the document into a subfolder, for example. But I am not sure if it always works. In the earlier days, the link used to break if you moved or renamed the file, In those days I learned to think about where I put the file first…

Teams-Post-DocumentLinl]k-ann

Link to the file you discuss via the paperclip, so that your colleagues can open it directly.

If you follow these guidelines, Microsoft Teams is a great tool for remote conversations. If you want to have a real meeting, instead of a chat, please check out the 12 Practical tips for online meetings using Microsoft Teams.

March 31, 2020

12 Practical tips for online meetings using Microsoft Teams

Filed under: New world of work,Office365 — Tags: , — frederique @ 22:40

Now that many of us work from home, to avoid spreading the coronavirus and catching Covid-19, we are fortunate to have options to conduct out meetings online. We can talk with each other with the audio functionality, see each other with the video functionality and see our work with the screen sharing functionality of Microsoft Teams. Let us take a look at 12 tips based on our recent experiences, with some associated bonus tips. They are geared towards Teams-meetings, but most of them also apply to Skype-meetings or other online meetings.

1.Use Teams-meetings to meet online

In the organization where I work, we have both Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams at our disposal. Skype-meetings are more familiar to many users, but we stimulate the use of Teams-meetings. The main reason right now is that Teams-meetings are more robust and stable, especially in these times of overloaded networks and systems. Microsoft Teams does sometimes “wobble” at bit: video gets stuck, presentations don’t load properly. But Teams still works better than in Skype. Some people are using free internet tools like Zoom, but those are banned within the company, because you pay for these “free” tools with your data…

2.Use a headset or other audio device to talk

To get good audio experience, you should use a headset instead of shouting at the standard microphone incorporated in your computer. You can hear better what the speaker says, but most of all: the other participants can hear you better when you contribute. Without a headset, you also tend to get strange echoes. Many of my colleagues use the ear plugs that came with their mobile phones, so try those if you don’t have an “official” headset.

Back in the day when I could be in a meeting room with some colleagues, I often used a speakerphone to have a conference call with the rest of the team; that device picks up the other speakers as well. Right now, I am working at home by myself, so no other speakers to pick up. Nevertheless, I sometimes switch to this device, when my ears get tired of the headset: it has a smart microphone that focuses on my voice.

2a. Check your device seetings if your audio is troublesome

Did you plug in a headset but it doesn’t give you sound? Check the device settings and switch if necessary.

Check your device settings and select the correct audio device and camera.

Check your device settings and select the correct audio device and camera.

3.Mute your microphone

Make sure to mute your microphone when you are not talking, if you are in a noisy environment or if you don’t use a headset. This is particularly important if you are in a large meeting with many participants. The meeting will get very messy, when you hear the washing machines, children, neighbours with power drills or even just coughing from ten participants…

3a.Don’t forget to unmute when you want to talk!

It is easy to forget that you have muted your microphone or to “mis-click”. I am not the only one who has made some very intelligent remarks (well…) only to myself, because I had not unmuted my microphone properly. So unmute and check that you have unmuted before you tell your story.

4.Help each other

We’re in this together, so let’s help each other. Especially now that many people are forced by the coronavirus to conduct online meetings and use tools that they are unfamiliar with. For example, if you think colleagues may be talking to themselves because their microphone is still on mute, please remind them to unmute.

You can check whose microphone is muted in the Teams-meeting via the Participants button: the mute icon is displayed for participants with muted phone.

Mute and unmute your own microphone. And help your colleagues, if you suspect they are accidentally muted: check their microphone status via the Participants button.

5.Use the chat in the meeting

If you cannot talk, use the chat within the Teams-meeting to ask your questions or place your comments. The chat is the way to go, for example, if your microphone does not work, if the ambient noise is bad or if you are in a large meeting where things would get chaotic if everyone just spoke up via audio.

Microsoft Teams meeting chat

Microsoft Teams meeting chat

 

6.Don’t talk at the same time

The larger the meeting, the more you have to pay attention to “speaker management”. In a real life meeting, it is impolite and tricky to talk at the same time instead of waiting for the other participant to finish his or her sentence. In an online meeting, it is worse: the meeting becomes incomprehensible.

Use the chat to ask questions and give short comments. If the meeting is large and important, you should arrange for someone to moderate: keep an eye on the chat and pinpoint the items that need to be addressed via the audio, by the presenter or by the participant. The moderator can then give the floor (i.e. permission to unmute the microphone) to the right person.

6a.Mute all

Weird noises in your meeting from unmuted microphones? You can mute them all from the People pane. This option only appears if there are enough microphones open and there is something to be muted. Please note: everybody in the meeting who has the presenter role (the default for colleagues in your organisation) can use this ‘Mute all’ option.

Teams-Vergadering-Personen-Allen dempen-crop

7.Use video to support non-verbal communication

It is helpful if you can see each other, when you are talking. Especially if you are stuck by yourself, quarantined in your home, you don’t see anybody in real life and you are getting lonely. Switch on the video-option in the Teams-meeting and make sure your webcam is uncovered.

Please note: at the moment a Teams-meeting displays at most four video feeds: the person who is talking and the people who talked most recently. Microsoft is working on showing us more participants (see Uservoice). If you don’t want to see the current and recent speakers, you can also pin specific video image to your canvas, as a participant – this selection is only visible for you.

Update May 2020: Now we see up to nine video feeds, instead of four, in the main screen. You will some more as small thumbnails at the bottom of the screen.

7a.Check your video image

You will see your video image at the bottom of the Teams-meeting, on the right. So you can tweak things like the angle of the camera, your hair and the lighting: avoid sitting with your back to the window or other light source, or you will only show up as a silhouette. And of course this video image will make it clear if you have forgotten to slide back the privacy cover your webcam.

7b.Switch off your video for discretion

Turn off the video, before you do something embarrassing (pick your nose extensively, put your underwear on the clothesline or in extreme cases go to the bathroom bringing your laptop with you… no, I refuse to link to the YouTube video of the conference where that happened…). Just click on the video button again and check that your video image is no longer visible at the bottom of the screen.

8.Blur your background – update: or use a background picture

In a Teams-meeting you have the option to blur your video background (this option is not available in Skype-meetings). This minimizes the distraction for the meeting participants, and it hides the mess you in your room or the sensitive pictures on your wall that you don’t want to show your colleagues. You will find this option under the … menu > ‘Blur my background’. If you want to show something, you unblur it again with another click.

Teams-Vergadering-Videocall -Achtergrond vervaagd-a

Switch your video on and off with the video button. Blur your background for focus; only unblur it if you want to show something.

Update: Since April 14th, Now I also get the option to use a background picture instead of blurring my own home office. Microsoft offers a set of photos and paintings, so I can choose a nice and tidy office or a beach or the galaxy for example. At the moment, there is no button to upload my own images. But you can do that if you navigate to this folder on your computer: C:\Users\[you]\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Teams\Backgrounds\Uploads (please note, most people don’t see the Appdata folder, so go there by entering %AppData% in the address bar). And I have cropped and resized my photos to fit the 1920 x 1080 px that the standard images had, because on my first test the horizon ended up in a strange place.

Blur the background of my home office or choose a picture as my background

Blur the background of my home office or choose a picture as my background

Update June: And now we also have a button to add new images to our backgrounds.

Upload your own image to your backgrounds gallery

Upload your own image to your backgrounds gallery

 

9. Share your screen

If you want to talk people through a presentation, report or demo: share your screen so everyone in the meeting can see what you are talking about. In a standard Teams-meeting or Skype, all colleagues from your organisation have the role of ‘presenter’ and the option to share their screens, but external participants can’t. Just click on the screen icon in the meeting toolbar and select the screen you want to share.

In informal meetings, I prefer to share my desktop as a whole, because then I can switch between applications and the participants can see everything I show.

9a.Share only a specific screen if you work with sensitive information

If you work with sensitive information, be careful of the screen you share. Especially if you share with a large group and/or external participants. In this case, it is not safe to share your entire desktop, because you may inadvertently show a confidential document or a sensitive email message may land in your mailbox in full view. So share a selected screen, like your PowerPoint presentation or your report.

Share your entire desktop or a specific window or presentation

Share your entire desktop or a specific window or presentation

10.For larger meetings, separate presenters from attendees

In a regular meeting, everyone can take over screen sharing and everyone can mute all. If your organise a meeting with many and/or unruly colleagues, invite them as attendees with only selected presenters. See the overview of the roles in a Teams meeting. You will find the options for these settings via the link ‘Meeting options’ in the body. Then you can determine who can present: everyone, only you or specific people. You can only select colleagues from your organisation, you have already added to the invitation.

Please note: at the moment, these options are different from the Skype-meeting options that you will find in the ribbon of a Skype- invitation. In Teams you cannot switch off the microphones and video cameras of all attendees beforehand. I you need to keep your attendees more in check, you should set up a Live Event.

Select the presenters via the link 'Meeting options' in the invitation

Select the presenters via the link ‘Meeting options’ in the invitation

11.Lighten the load for your computer and network

Especially video in online meetings does ask a lot from your system. Even more so in Skype than in Teams. So connect carefully, especially when you have to present something in an important meeting: restart your computer if you haven’t done that in a while, connect the network cable (instead of wifi – and negotiate with your house mates that they don’t overload the network just now) and close all windows and activities that you don’t need in your meeting. If the meeting still falters, switch off the video, especially if you are sharing your screen and your face is therefore less important at that time.

12.Look business-like in video conferences

Some of us don’t make as much of an effort to look nice when we work from home. However, if you use the video, you should try to look presentable. Comb your hair, put on a somewhat business-like top (nobody will see your pyjama bottoms…). And be understanding if things turn out a bit less business-like for a colleague, like in this BBC News interview.

Update: Troubleshooting tip to unfreeze Teams

Update April 28th: Teams froze on me a few times recently. But full disclosure: I was using my webcam with a background … on a Windows 7 laptop. Is Teams frozen solid in your meeting and you can’t get any response? Then quit the application from your taskbar: right-click the icon and then select ‘Quit’. Don’t just close the window, because then Teams will still be frozen when you restart it.

Quit Teams from the taskbar in Windows 7 (Dutch version) and Windows 10, to unfreeze the application

Quit Teams from the taskbar in Windows 7 (Dutch version) and Windows 10, to unfreeze the application

If you follow these guidelines, Microsoft Teams is a great tool for online meetings. If you want to just have a chat, instead of a real meeting, please check out the 10 Practical tips for conversations in Microsoft Teams.

November 30, 2015

Skype for Business – I cannot work without it

Filed under: Digital Workplace,Office365 — Tags: , — frederique @ 23:26

I work on different locations, with colleagues and clients who are not always at the location as I am. When I want to discuss something with them, I use Skype for Business. Recently, we got an error message instead of the conversation we wanted. That made me realize just how much I depend on this tool in my daily work. Let me explain what I like about it and how I use it.

In a previous post, I discussed some tools Office 365 offers for collaboration. Tools like Office 365 Groups, SharePoint Online and Yammer allow us to write things down and share them with a group of people, who can read them and contribute to them. But sometimes you just need to talk to somebody about the problem at hand.

But isn’t that what telephones are for? Yes, but I prefer Skype for Business, which is also part of Office 365, as a tool to talk with colleagues and clients. Why?

Chat: direct but not necessarily immediate

First of all, when my phone rings, I have to pay attention to it RIGHT NOW. Yes, the all caps shouting is intentional, because that’s what a phone call feels like to me: somebody shouting at me that I have to drop everything and listen to them at that very moment. I can either pick up the phone or ignore it, no middle ground.

But if somebody uses the chat functionality of Skype for Business, I can finish my sentence, save my work, grab the cup of coffee I have been aching for and then pick up the conversation. Those 5 minutes are almost always perfectly acceptable.

Of course this advantage does not apply when people immediately use the call functionality in Skype for Business. But if you want to talk to me, I highly recommend that you send a chat message first, to check if this is a convenient time to talk :-)

Presence status tells me if you are available

Skype for Business does not just give a busy signal like a phone when you are already on it. If you want to talk to someone, the presence status in Skype for Business tells you if that person is already in a call, or in a meeting according to his or her Outlook calendar. If they have stepped away from their computer (and for how long) or if they have left their digital workplace altogether (i.e. if they are offline). If they are busy or do not want to be disturbed.

This allows you to either pick the colleague who you can ask your question now, or to pick your moment to contact a particular colleague.

Switching from written chat to a voice call

All this typing chat messages is well and good, but sometimes it is easier to just speak with someone, and listen to what they have to say. That is the call functionality of Skype for Business. This is a bit like a phone, but in a Skype for Business call I can invite additional participants as we speak (literally…)

Share your screen

While you are talking via Skype for Business, you can also show what you are talking about. This is the killer functionality for me… I work in a digital workplace, so a lot of what I want to discuss is on my screen or on your screen: functionality on Office 365 that we are discussing, a list of open issues, examples in a presentation…

I have been in telephone conversations where it turned out that we were not talking about the same thing at all, because it was so hard to describe verbally what we each saw on our separate screens. I want you to point out what you see and what you significantly do not see. I want to see it for myself.

This is what recently broke down for me. We wanted to discuss some functionality in Office 365, and the Skype for Business meeting on my interlocutor’s computer would not go beyond the message that she had to connect a microphone – this was not a laptop with a built-in microphone. Even though we talked over a phone line and only wanted to use Skype for Business for screen sharing. Aaarrghh! It was so frustrating not to be able to look at the same screen. Fortunately then someone found a microphone at her office. She plugged it in and, even though we did not use it, she could finally get the Skype for Business meeting to share the screen.

I can’t live without Skype for Business? That is an exaggeration. But I can’t work without it. It is a great tool that helps me collaborate effectively and efficiently.

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

 

 

May 31, 2009

Addicted to collaboration sites…

Filed under: New world of work — Tags: , — frederique @ 22:26

In my job, I use SharePoint project sites – or more generally team sites – to share documents and information with my team mates and to keep track of projects. I’ve just discovered how much this way of work has become a part of me, when we were planning our holiday. Help, I’m addicted!

We are going island hopping in Scotland in the busy season, so we need to book several ferries and bed & breakfasts. And for that we needed some idea of what we wanted to see and how much time we would want to spend on each island.
My travel companions live in different locations, so we discuss our plans whenever we meet in person, by phone and by e-mail. However, I soon lost track of our ideas and decisions and of the status of the bookings that different people were taking care of. So I found myself itching for a project site.

Unfortunately, we don’t have Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) running on our home computers. But fortunately, there are other tools available: We used Google Docs to share our plans.
It doesn’t work as well as my usual sharepoint project sites. For example, I have not found a way to get a notification whenever somebody edits the document. And it wasn’t a coherent environment where we could also share announcements, tasks and contact information in an easy way as well. But hey, it worked and at least I could get my collaboration fix …

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