By Anthony Baratta
Happy Chinese New Year and welcome to Plus17, our monthly webinar series. Thank you for taking the time to join us. We know that you are busy – as always, and we intend to pack meaningful information into an efficient 30-minute window.
Watch the Video replay
So, let’s get started. My name is Anthony Baratta and I am CTO for 2Plus2 Partners. Today we’re going to look at SharePoint and Office365. Specifically, we’ll be discussing the different flavors of team collaboration tools available from Microsoft and how to make decisions for adoption within your organization.
The Microsoft group collaboration tools share some infrastructure, but each has a distinct focus and direction to support your team’s communication & collaboration efforts.
How do you decide which tools to introduce into your company? How can you increase adoption of the tools that best support your organization, and reduce or eliminate the usage of the non-supported applications? Let’s get started with the pros and cons of all the available tools, and how each of them could fit into your corporate environment.
Things are changing
Team and Departmental Collaboration within the Microsoft umbrella is undergoing a huge transformation. Today we are going to try and distill this chaotic picture down to its essence and provide you direction for your company to pick the correct tool sets for your internal needs.
And in order understand where we are going, sometimes we need look back at where we are coming from. In the “olden days”, which sometimes feels like 3 days ago, we relied on phone and email communications as the base options for communicating with our teams and departments. While we had team meetings (in person and via conference calls) to keep our projects on track and solve important issues; email and picking up the phone was the go-to option for immediate contact and providing the needed direct and asynchronous communications.
The Microsoft digital landscape
But the landscape has changed with multiple digital tools all expressing that they can support your team collaboration needs: Microsoft tools like Skype, Yammer, Exchange Groups, and SharePoint (via Team and Project Sites) all are fighting for your attention. The problem was that none of the tools individually had everything you needed. A Project Manager, Team Leader, Department Lead, etc. has both a communication need and a digital file sharing need.
Over time the Microsoft toolkit has expanded to encompass a wide variety of digital features spread among what is now a growing cloud-software ecosystem. While the individual project or team manager had the pick of the software suite, the individual tools were not integrated to the point of seamlessly assisting you with your team collaboration – working with them made your project needs feel silo’d and disjointed.
In response, Microsoft has started bundling these individual tools into integrated packages to more fully support your project and team management needs. But in order to understand the bundles that Microsoft is currently providing let’s look at the individual tools.
Microsoft has lots of ways to collaborate
Microsoft has a plethora of ways for businesses to collaborate. Here’s the list:
- SharePoint Team Sites
- Exchange Groups
- Skype for Business
- Office 365 Groups
- MS Teams
They leverage some of the same infrastructure under the covers, but they are different in the features and focus for both the team or company style of communication.
Let’s start with the basics – the tried and true been around forever Microsoft tools.
SharePoint Team Sites
The current standard for file sharing and digital team/departmental management are SharePoint Team Sites. With a shared document library, calendar/events and tasks – which can integrate with your personal outlook calendar, along with workflow and document versioning, the SharePoint Team Site is now the grande dame of team collaboration. SharePoint Team Sites can be public or private depending on your needs.
One step up from direct or personal group emails, a company can provide Exchange Groups to assist with collaborative team needs. Group emails are obviously sent to all team members, but emails are available as threaded discussions within each person’s Outlook client and files can be attached to the Group for shared storage. Additionally each group comes with their own calendar which can be integrated with your own personal outlook calendar. Exchange Groups are best used for private group collaboration and not scale well for company wide communication.
Speaking of communication
Let’s move on to the communication part of the collaboration tool kit. One way to think about your collaboration needs is to start with the communications platform and add in features from there.
Skype / Skype for Business
For many companies, Skype and Skype for Business is the go to tool for voice and instant messaging communications. They allow quick touches with your team members, and well as regular and ad-hoc conference calling. The built-in screen sharing is not fancy but perfect for small group discussions. Both versions of Skype also have video conferencing which might be important to your company’s needs. While you can build ad-hoc groups for chat and conference calling, the instant message threads are closed within your assigned groups and cannot be exposed company wide if desired.
Although missing voice & video communications, Yammer is the go to tool for many companies that have an internal culture that encourages a one to many communication pathway. One way to describe Yammer is a giant discussion forum that groups, departments and even the whole company can participate in. It has built-in instant messaging, but it’s strength is threaded discussions. The discussions are not designed to be in real time, meaning people can participate as they are available and provide feedback and knowledge transfer without having everyone be on-line all at the same time. Tagging of messages also allows conversations to be available via search and used for data mining knowledge within a team, department, or company. Yammer group conversations can be public or private. Lastly Yammer has built-in some basic file and note sharing.
Hot off the press from Microsoft
Now we getting into tools that provide more than one service, trying to bridge the divide between communications and file sharing.
Office 365 Groups
When Microsoft migrated Exchange to the cloud, they also migrated the Exchange Groups to the Office Online environment. Previously, an Office 365 Group worked very much like an Exchange Group. But very recently the Office 365 Groups has undergone a huge transformation and we’ll discuss these changes in the next section of our talk.
This is the newest tool in Microsoft’s collaboration toolkit. Microsoft Teams is a “wrapper” for an Office 365 Group that gives the team and team administrator a centralized web interface or desktop application for one or more Office 365 Groups. While the Group Email Box is still there, it’s now also backed by a Modern SharePoint Team Site for file sharing and OneNote for sharing meeting notes. Microsoft Teams is also bundled with Skype for Business as the base communication tool for threaded discussions and conference calling. And because Microsoft Teams is built on top of an Office 365 Group with Exchange, you also have use of the group calendar features.
The future is now, sorta
As you can see from the previous listing of collaboration tool parts, until recently, Microsoft has been lacking a centralized hub with which to provide the team or department a base of operations for both communication and file/calendar sharing. Historically, the Team, Department or Project Manager has been juggling several distinct tools to keep their tasks organized, files updated and communications on track. The individual tools available directly line up on either side of the file sharing and team communications divide.
To bridge this divide, Microsoft is bundling all their primary tools with a Modern SharePoint Team Site underneath. Just recently, Office 365 Groups and Yammer Groups, when created, now have a SharePoint Team Site created along with them providing a document library and a OneNote file for meeting notes and ad-hoc data collection. In addition, depending on the direction one creates the team collaboration tool, shared Calendars, Power BI, and the new Project App are also available. And as needed, Microsoft Power Apps and Microsoft Flow can also be hooked into your team collaboration suite.
With the next generation of Office 365 Groups and Yammer Communications Microsoft is attempting to build a centralized “team center” that fits within different company communication cultures. The Microsoft collaboration choices distill down to 3 options, each of these has a Modern SharePoint Team Site “underneath” them to provide file sharing and other features:
- Office 365 Group with an Exchange Group
- no centralized interface outside of Outlook
- And email is the primary communication method
- Bonus, shared Exchange group calendar
- Office 365 Group with a Yammer Group
- Yammer becomes the centralized interface
- and Yammer is the primary communication method
- No shared Exchange group calendar
- Office 365 Group with Skype for Business
- Microsoft Team is the centralize interface
- And email & Skype are the primary communication method
- Bonus, shared Exchange group calendar
Additionally, it makes perfect sense to upsize your Office 365 Group that use Exchange Groups to Microsoft Teams, and gain the centralized interface lacking with just Office 365 Groups and Exchange Communications. Even if you are not interested in using Skype for Business for Voice over IP, it’s group instant messaging will be helpful to team communications. Additionally, the Skype message communications are treated like threaded discussions and stored within your Microsoft Team environment for the whole group to revisit. (If you are using Yammer as your communication method within an Office 365 Group, you cannot convert it to an Microsoft Team interface, there’s really no need to since Yammer itself is the centralized interface for your team collaboration.)
Important to note: all Modern Team Sites built with an Office 365 Group or Yammer Group do not support SharePoint workflows, and are limited in branding and other site collection & site administration options which are available to “full” SharePoint Team Sites.
Is Microsoft committed?
It’s always important to assess the concerns you might have, and there are several direct challenges for your company with Microsoft’s Office 365 offerings:
- it feels like a moving target
- it feels like there are internal competing interests within the suite offerings
- Microsoft is communicating these options poorly
- the Modern SharePoint Team Sites are not “visible” to current SharePoint Administration tools
- the Modern SharePoint Team Sites are limited in feature scope compared to Full SharePoint Team Sites
These are all very important concerns. While Microsoft is historically not known to build tools and then deprecating them with a short life cycle, the latest cloud offerings are evolving quit rapidly. One reason is, in many areas, Microsoft is playing catch up to existing tool sets.
From a governance perspective, these new team site creation pathways are problematic. Currently all Modern SharePoint Team Sites are not available for administration via the current SharePoint Administration Center. More worrisome, all these sites count towards your SharePoint Resources and drive space allocations! As much as you’d like to empower your teams, how do you track them over time and archive the ones not in use?
Unfortunately, there is nothing on the Microsoft road map for Administration enhancements for Modern SharePoint Team Sites. The pressure is building for Microsoft to address these administration short falls.
Pick a flavor
So how do we select the correct tool for your company? Microsoft appears to be trying to support some significant differences in communication styles within companies. Group Email communication is very different from Yammer and Yammer style communication is very different than Skype for Business. Additionally, there are only so many internal communication hubs you can expect your employees to use day-to-day.
We believe that Microsoft has stepped up by building SharePoint Team Sites underneath all their group collaboration options. This allows you to have one offering for file sharing, team calendar & team tasks, but what about the critical communication piece?
Here come the hard questions you need to answer:
- What is your company’s internal culture of communication?
- How can you support what you are doing well?
- How can you change or replace what you are doing poorly?
As IT guys and gals, we have our communication prejudices, but we all need to find out what our departments and project managers are using – they really do have their own ideas and many need to be communicated with directly in order to get them on board with any new tools / features. The kind of internal questions you need to be asking:
- Are they and how are they using your currently offered SharePoint features?
- Are they heavily invested in email file sharing or network file shares?
- What instant messaging tools are being used around the office for communications?
- Are your teams and departments using unsupported communication tools in lieu of the corporate standard? And importantly, why are they?
- Does the company need a broadcast / forum like tool to enhance corporate communications and assist with cross departmental communications? (e.g. do you need to break down barriers?)
- Do your teams and projects need tools that centralize your communications and file sharing needs for governance, archiving and digital management requirements?
Your current company communication culture is what will drive your decision to work with Office 365 Groups with Yammer or Microsoft Team Sites with Skype for Business. Choosing Microsoft Teams sites doesn’t preclude you from using Yammer, and visa versa, but you’ll find that internally your communication culture will drive adoption of one tool over the other.
Get a free consultation
As you well know, there never is a one size fits all solution when it comes to team, departmental, and project digital management and communication. Adding on Corporate communications to the mix can lead to analysis paralysis. So, if you are looking to leverage your current Microsoft Office 365 features, we would be excited to help you find your core communication styles and assist you in configuring the available Office 365 tools to support your company’s core needs.
The toolsets from Microsoft are beginning to coalesce into an exciting full featured suite of options for your company and 2Plus2 is here to help you benefit from these changes.
In the meantime, get an intro to organizing your SharePoint Document Library with folders and metadata.
If you need help navigating this process, feel free to reach out to 2Plus2! We are always happy to help sort out the best way to use SharePoint. Call us at (510) 652-7700.
Join us for our next webinar on Tuesday, March 7th at 10 am PT, 1 pm ET when we will take a close look at SharePoint's Modern UI and the exciting things coming soon. Go here to register for the webinar.