5 Reasons to Use Office 365 Groups for Team Collaboration
As one of 85-million users of Microsoft Office 365, you are likely missing out on some high impact productivity tools Microsoft has added in the past couple of year. We’ve seen it before, as Microsoft’s first Canadian Cloud Partner, most clients still use Microsoft Office as just a standalone desktop tool with email sitting on your Exchange server in the closet.
Isn’t it time to get your full wallet share out of Office 365 by leveraging the tools that will floor the accelerator on productivity? One such tool you should be leveraging in Office 365 is Microsoft Office Groups for team collaboration.
While the Groups component of Office 365 was released over two years ago, many Microsoft Office customers still haven’t heard about it or the team collaboration benefits it offers.
WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT OFFICE 365 GROUPS?
It’s simple. You and your team can collaborate and communicate easier through leveraging Groups in Office 365. Groups can be created and administered easily using Exchange, Outlook or Yammer. Since each of your teams likely works a little differently, you may set up your Group to work with your team and the tools they are accustom to using.
Leveraging Office 365 Groups you can use all or any of the following (depending upon your Office 365 subscription):
- Shared Outlook Inbox (Email / Conversations)
- Shared Yammer Group (Chat)
- Shared Outlook Calendar (Calendar)
- Shared SharePoint Document Library (Document Repository)
- Shared OneNote Notebook (Common Notebook)
- Shared SharePoint Team Site (Project / Team Site)
- Shared Planner (Task Management)
Any Microsoft Outlook or Yammer user can set up a Group within either application or through the People application. As an Exchange administrator, you may also set up Groups simply, in the same means you used to add a distribution list or shared mailbox.
To add the collaboration functionality of Groups to your Office 365 subscription, contact your Microsoft Certified Office 365 Partner today. If you don’t have a designated Microsoft Certified Partner for your Office 365 subscription, as the first Canadian Cloud Partner, we’d be happy to help.
TOP 5 REASONS YOU SHOULD LEVERAGE OFFICE 365 GROUPS
1. GROUPS MADE EASY: SIMPLE AS ADDING AN EMAIL ADDRESS
Office 365 Groups are dead simple to setup and administer. If you are familiar with the Microsoft Exchange Administration interface, it is as easy as adding a distribution group or shared mailbox.
The truth is, it is even easier than that and the creation of Groups is accessible to everyone, not just administrators.
Setup an Office 365 Group from Office 365 Online in 4 easy steps:
¬ Step 1: On your Office 365 navigation bar, click People, then New in the dropdown.
¬ Step 2: From the New dropdown, select Group to add a new Group.
¬ Step 3: Name your Group and select the Create button.
¬ Step 4: Add Group Members and select the Add button.
Presto! Your Microsoft Office Group has been created.
There are various other ways to create a Group in Office 365 through its many different applications. All are equally as simple.
Following that simple 4-step process you created the following applications for your new Microsoft Office 365 Group:
- Shared Conversation Feed / “Inbox”
- Shared Outlook Calendar (if Outlook enabled)
- Shared File Repository
- Shared Notebook
- Shared Task Manager
- Shared Team Site*
…and opened yourself up to a wealth of over 50 connectors that expand the scope of your Office 365 Group even further.
*Depends on your active Microsoft Office 365 subscription – contact your Microsoft Certified Partner.
2. MICROSOFT OFFICE GROUPS: NO LEARNING NEW SOFTWARE
Working in the same familiar interface of Microsoft Office 365, you don’t need to spend the time or expense of training your team / group on a new software system. While Microsoft Office Groups have greatly extended the features and functionality of Office 365, it follows the same user-friendly format and intuitive layout Microsoft Office is known for.
This means your team can get to work in the familiar integrated Office 365 Groups application as soon as it is available. Trying to assemble the full-functionality of Groups using other software would require you to use multiple software platforms, with the hopes to integrate these to keep all or most of the information in a central location.
However, with each new piece of software you add to the puzzle, the more complex the solution becomes and the greater the need is for training in hopes of faster adoption and accelerated efficiency.
3. OFFICE 365 GROUPS: ADDING EXTERNAL USERS
Collaboration isn’t limited to just the employees in your organization. Often you need to collaborate with teams and third-party consultants outside your office walls and organization’s domain. Office 365 Groups let you do just that!
Adding an external user to a Microsoft Office Group, also known as Guest Access, gives the user direct access to the SharePoint Team Site, including the Document Library (a.k.a. Files), shared OneNote Notebook and shared Outlook Calendar invitations. They also receive emails sent to the Group and can send to the Group. However, since these external users are not a part of your domain, they do not have direct access to the Group shared Inbox or Group shared Calendar or Group shared task Planner.
Inviting external users to a new Group is a quick way to work with clients on new projects, work with third-party consultants on fixed timeline projects and expand small ideas in to work groups in a few simple steps.
4. MICROSOFT OFFICE GROUPS: EASILY EXPAND CONVERSATIONS
Often a single question email expands into twenty emails and before you know it your inbox is flooded and you can’t find the details you articulated ten emails ago to add to your pitch deck or formal project plan. Office 365 Groups easily expands conversations with the application natively called Conversations.
Conversations can be a continuous stream of comments / responses on the same topic or a catalog of different discussions that are pertinent to that Microsoft Office Group. Additionally, any Group member can start or respond to a Conversation. As well, any team member that has subscribed to the Group can receive email notifications when there has been a response added to the Conversation. If you are on an older version of Outlook it is highly recommended you subscribe to the Conversation to receive notification.
5. OFFICE 365 GROUPS: HIGHLY MOBILE & EXTENDIBLE
Why else should you extend your Office 365 subscription to include Groups? Groups themselves are greatly extendible and accessible.
First, Groups is a completely mobile friendly platform, so it works however and whenever your team works, which doesn’t always mean in front of a desktop computer screen. More often your team is on the go between meetings, in transit or on a mobile device they more commonly utilize. The Groups application is available to download from the Windows Phone App Store, Google Play and Apple App Store.
Second, Office 365 Groups is quite extendible, well beyond just Microsoft platforms with more than 50 connectors to popular applications / platforms, such as: Twitter, Trello, Asana, MailChimp, Stack Overflow, GitHub, Aha, Zendesk, etc.
WHEN ARE OFFICE 365 GROUPS A BAD IDEA?
While you can probably sense my excitement about the seemingly endless functionality of Groups, there are distinct circumstances in which I would not recommend Office 365 Groups.
Structured Workflows and Environments
In those scenarios where the team is aiming to define a very structured workflow or more structured and diligently documented work process, Office 365 Groups is not recommended. Groups is a quick expansion and extension of small conversations or smaller projects that have sprouted into a team beyond a simple idea. However, for those HR and IT projects that require structured documentation and long-term retention for growing forward, Groups is not the best team tool for long-term, structured collaboration.
Not ALL Teams Should Be Groups
Not long ago, Microsoft was set to provision a Group for every instance of a manager field utilized in Active Directory. There was an overwhelming number of customers, namely large organizations, that did not want Groups to be set up for every “team” scenario in their organization, especially with the sprawling nature of how many Groups would have to exist. Not only that but for every Group provisioned a set amount of SharePoint storage is required and allocated for each SharePoint Team Site/Document Library setup.
Once you’ve consumed the set amount of storage space allocated per Office 365 user you have provisioned you must pay for storage consumed, which can be an expensive additional cost each month. Given this, IT generally wants to control who can provision new Groups and how this storage is allocated, not to mention the extensive web that can be woven if every user creates their own Groups with their own naming conventions. For these reasons, I do not recommend opening the flood gates to all users to create Groups without defined parameters…check out What’s New & What’s Coming for a few suggestions on this.
OFFICE 365 GROUPS – WHAT’S NEW & WHAT’S COMING
There are many more features and benefits to Microsoft Office Groups than what I’ve been able to include in this article. Here are a few more noteworthy Groups’ features available today:
- Restoration of Deleted Groups – this one was made for your IT team and your clueless co-worker. An Office 365 Groups is retained by default for 30 days post deletion to ensure your Groups work is no longer trashed, unless you really want it deleted.
- Group Label Management – another feature for easier management and organization of Groups across your business; label classification of Group emails and documents help with governance and enforcing retention rules.
The upcoming additions to Groups that I and many of our clients will be looking forward to are:
- Expiry Policy – again this pertains to the need for ongoing organization and management of Groups as the number of Groups created grows. You will be able to set a policy that automatically deletes a Group and all its associated apps after a set period of time. The Group owner will be able to extend the expiration date if the Group is still active.
- Naming Policy – soon Administrators will be able to configure a policy using Azure AD to append text the beginning or the end of a Group’s name and email address no matter where the Group originated (e.g. Outlook, Planner, Yammer). Additionally, there will be a native list of thousands of blocked words available to keep directories clean for teams and Administrators.
Again, these are just a few new and upcoming features and functionality Groups offers/will offer, not a comprehensive list. Stay tuned to the Office Blog, Office 365 for Business Blog or Office 365 Technology Blog to stay up-to-date on the latest with Office 365 and Microsoft Office Groups.
HOW DO I GET STARTED WITH MICROSOFT OFFICE GROUPS?
With hopes that I have piqued your interest in Office 365 Groups, here is what you need to know to get Groups for you and your team. Groups are available in the following Microsoft Office 365 subscriptions*:
- Office 365 Business Essentials
- Office 365 Business Premium
- Office 365 Enterprise E1
- Office 365 Enterprise E3
- Office 365 Enterprise E5
* Note: Office 365 K licenses have access to some Microsoft Office Groups functionality – ask your Microsoft Certified Partner for details.
To find which Microsoft Office 365 subscription you are currently running select View Account from the dropdown available underneath your Office 365 profile photo in the Office 365 navigation bar.
Alternatively, contact your Microsoft Certified Office 365 Partner to review your current subscription and subscription options. Are we a Microsoft Certified Partner? Absolutely, we were the first Microsoft Cloud Partner certified in Canada! We’d love to help you add Groups to your Office 365 productivity and collaboration tools. Give us a call (604 298 7700) or drop us a line here.
As you may have gleaned from this article on Office 365 Groups, Groups are very easy to set up but require a bit of strategy, planning and architecture over the long-term to use Groups effectively and without taking a heavy toll on your IT resources/team. We’ve helped many mid-sized to enterprise level organization plan for incorporating Groups into their Office 365 tools. I recommend working with a Microsoft Certified Office 365 Partner to have the right strategies in place to make Groups an effective tool for your workforce.
If you have any questions about using or deploying Office 365 Groups, please email us here.
Author Bio: Bruce Piper
Experienced Solutions Architect with a demonstrated history of working in the information technology industry. Skilled in Service Delivery, Enterprise Software, Messaging, and Enterprise Architecture. Piper has a Diploma of Technology focused in Electrical and Electronics Control Option from British Columbia Institute of Technology. In his time off, Piper enjoys travelling the world.