While SharePoint was the leading collaboration product of Microsoft On-Premises, companies were able to build their collaboration strategies depending on its capabilities. The status changed after the Office 365 suite was released. Since then, companies’ cooperation capabilities are starting to expand with Microsoft’s growing cooperation pile. Unfortunately, features in quantity can associate with the synonym of confusion.
So it’s peak time to pinpoint the I’s and investigate each collaboration option.
What’s there in Office 365 collaboration stack?
Microsoft is working hard to meet the team’s collaboration requirements, despite their sizes, location, working style and devices in use. This is the main reason behind such a plump Office 365 collaboration kit that currently includes the following tools:
Communications sites in SharePoint Online (Office 365 is available for first release subscribers, which is released already)
- Team Sites in SharePoint Online
- Hub sites in SharePoint Online (Office 365 First release customers can try them in the first half of 2018)
- Outlook Groups
- Yammer Groups
- Skype for Online Business
- Microsoft Teams
Many collaboration solutions have been lost, the end-users can hardly understand the difference between them, and companies often hesitate in understanding the fact that what collaboration tools they should implement and what collaboration scenarios they should cover. Have an analysis of them one by one.
The Familiar Team Collaboration of Team Sites in SharePoint
We start with SharePoint Online team sites because they inherited the logic of their on-premises predecessors, so they are very similar.
Using SharePoint Online team sites, users can find a familiar homepage immediately with the newsfeed, an activity feed, and document libraries.
Credit to the strong integration of SharePoint Online with OneDrive, the team can collaborate on documents from any location and now even without an internet connection through OneDrive Offline folders.
SharePoint Online team sites support workflows and enable employees to exchange data with other Microsoft or third-party services that are powered with Microsoft flow.
Teams can also use the data stored in SharePoint lists to create custom applications enabled with Power App. IOS, Android, and Windows 10 mobile apps support SharePoint on mobile devices, so whenever the need is there, users can access their team sites.
Recommended Collaboration Scenario: Team Sites in SharePoint Online are the most powerful collaboration tools in the entire collaboration suite because they promote the collaboration of large teams who can communicate, follow team activities, store important resources and links.
You can also use workflow and document management features to complete their tasks effectively.
SharePoint Team sites are tailored for different purposes, whether it’s a corporate intranet, a project management system, a learning portal or a knowledge management solution.
Communication sites in SharePoint Online for organization-wide collaboration
During the SharePoint Virtual Summit held last year, SharePoint collaboration sites were announced which became a major part of Office 365. Communications sites cross-team collaboration borders and support company-wide employee interaction.
Everything published on a communications site will automatically be available on the SharePoint home page for the entire community, unlike team teams who keep team collaboration private.
Communications sites will also bring a long-awaited simplified customization, which can be a big advantage for users who want to create custom SharePoint sites without including SharePoint developers.
On a large scale, the purpose of communication sites is to give cloud Intranets a truly corporate nature, thus involving all users in enterprise communication and knowledge sharing.
Optimal collaboration scenario: Communications sites are not there yet, but we can already think of those potential collaboration scenarios they cover.
The communications site will work for HR departments, for example, to publish organizational content and make it available to all employees. It will also be an appropriate tool to announce, discuss, and promote corporate events, training sessions, spread success story and best practices.
Hub sites in SharePoint Online for aggregated collaboration
Microsoft Ignite was introduced during 2017, SharePoint Hub sites are now started in 2018. Their main objective is to put together all activities of the related SharePoint team and communication sites on a single collaboration area.
Hub sites offer the exact navigation, search, and look-and-feel on all related sites, thus, to properly organize the groups of SharePoint sites well-organized and easy-to-follow.
Optimal Collaboration Scenario: While SharePoint Hub sites will not bring dramatically new features, they are arranging enterprise and team collaboration. For example, if a marketing department runs multiple team and communication sites, they can use the hub sites to get all the updates on all the sites in one place. It will help team members tune up and also give a snapshot of marketing activities to top managers.
Outlook Groups for email collaboration
Before piercing into the Outlook Groups, it’s reasonable worth mentioning the Office 365 Groups. Initially, the only SharePoint to deal with collaboration was Office 365, but soon it became clear that strong and feature-rich SharePoint is not always the best tool for strong collaboration needs.
For this reason, Microsoft expanded the Office 365 Groups, which now unites all available collaboration tools and enables employees to move smoothly among them.
The Outlook Groups were the first person to join the Groups concept and support collaboration in the shared inbox. Once the Outlook Group is created, users receive a set of collaboration tools, which include:
- Email conversions to be supported by Shared Outlook between group members and external users
- A shared calendar to manage group events
- To store and share group files, a Sharepoint document library is needed.
- A shared OneNote Notebook to collect group notes and ideas
- A Planner to enable group task management
- A SharePoint Team site enables full-fledged collaboration capabilities for a group
Recommended Collaboration Scenario: Outlook Groups can be easy for employees who prefer email-based collaboration. This tool can also serve well to those teams who need collaboration with external users but don’t consider giving them access to team sites. Thus external users will be able to get all the Group’s advantages and will be able to collaborate effectively with the team.
Yammer Groups for forum-like collaboration
Microsoft acquired Yammer in 2012. Since then, the earlier popular enterprise social network has gone through several ups and downs. Downs were so impressive that people planned for Yammer’s funeral.
Microsoft didn’t give up, however, that ultimately brought positive results. While the stand-alone Yammer Enterprise plan was rejected in January 2017, this device is now an official member of Office 365 collaboration Family and gets its former popularity.
Yammer Groups’ logic has a resemblance to the one of the Outlook Groups. So when a Yammer Group is formed, users get access to the above-mentioned tools (Calendar, Planner, Onenote, Notebook, etc.) with the sole exception: Sharing Inbox collaboration turns into conversation threads in Yammer. The tool also supports file sharing and allows adding external users to the co-operation process.
Recommended collaboration scenario: Although the tool now takes new roles in the organization (for example, to encourage knowledge management), its primary purpose is to support a team such as a forum or enterprise-wide communication.
Integrated tools with a SharePoint team or communication site enables employees to exchange ideas and opinions right on site’s page.
If Yammer is the only tool company uses, a team can still take advantage of SharePoint, for example, if a team using a Yammer Group needs richer document management features.
Microsoft Teams for chat-based teamwork
In a challenging manner, called “a Slack-killer”, the Microsoft Team Tool was released in March 2017. However, by introducing teams, Microsoft not only want to break down their major rival Slack but eventually wanted to provide a pure team collaboration tool.
By using Teams, employees can create open channels to collaborate on different topics together or organize separate channels for personal communication.
Completely integrated with Skype, Team also help employees to carry out voice and video conferences. In addition, the team can diversify team collaboration with social networking features like emojis, stickers, and GIFs.
Users can also create custom memes to make the collaboration experience more entertaining or to use different types of bots, which can become personal assistants of employees.
Microsoft Team with Office 365 is integrated, which means that team members will be able to benefit from features of other collaboration devices: for example, Teams include a Files tab, which is used to store all the team files with the help of SharePoint library.
Since September 2017, Microsoft Team Office 365 offers guest access feature to Office 365 commercial and education customers. From now onwards, external guests can join Teams’ activities on equal terms with internal users.
Recommended collaboration scenario: Clearly, teams should be used for team collaboration. The logic and character of Microsoft Teams will perfectly suit dynamic and enthusiastic teams that aren’t restricted to the stiff hierarchical borderline.
It’s also a good tool for members located in different offices or even the team members located in those countries who rely on online meetings or need to collaborate on projects continuously despite their location.
Skype for Business Online for online meetings
Even though Skype rarely comes to Spotlight for Business Online, is a legitimate member of Tool Office 365 Pack. It gives a platform for instant messaging, VoIP, audio, video, and web conferencing.
Depending on the subscription plan, Skype for Business can also provide benefits to users of other Office 365 tools, including emailing, file sharing and storage.
As per the latest Microsoft announcement, the Microsoft Teams will completely replace Skype for Business, which will become the prime communications client of the Office 365 suite.
Since the merger will not occur earlier than in the second half of 2018, companies can be benefited from the tool, especially if they rely on voice calling and video conferencing massively.
Recommended Collaboration Scenario: Although Skype for Business can’t be used as a full-fledged collaboration tool for business, yet it’s a useful application that’s not dependent on teamwork, thus by any employee chatting with colleagues, participate in online meetings, discuss working issues, and share corporate documents.
SharePoint is constantly at the core of enterprise collaboration
Looking at this mass of collaboration options, companies may think that SharePoint has simply lost between its office 365 neighbors. However, this is not true. While various collaborative tools of Office 365 suite cover different collaboration needs from emailing to video conferencing, SharePoint team remains at the root of team collaboration. And that’s why.
Only SharePoint Content is capable of supporting abundant content collaboration. This means that SharePoint is the right solution for those companies and teams, which require feature-rich document management, project management or knowledge management solutions. Fully-functional corporate intranets without SharePoint either are impossible. Teams can collaborate in any of Office 365 Groups, but as soon as the amount of collaboration-related content is increased, they have to switch to SharePoint.
SharePoint enables workflow-based collaboration. No other collaboration tool can assure workflow which is essential for successfully managing various business processes. Workflow management can also be important for those organizations who plan to migrate to the cloud but want to keep the reason for their SharePoint On-Premises solutions.
Hosting of Centralized search in SharePoint. The diversity of collaboration tools leads us to a logical question: How can users get relevant information if it’s located in different collaboration tools? Well, we have to say that a centralized search capability in Office 365 has not yet been made available. Which means that users have to find the necessary information in different apps they use.
However, Microsoft is planning to enable a centralized search across all Office 365 collaboration tool which will be exactly located in SharePoint.
How to create a perfect collaboration mix?
Various collaboration tools give organizations the opportunity to create their own unique team collaboration combo. However, before the implementation of a particular tool, companies must first wholly analyze the functionality that comes with each particular tool. Then they should detect collaboration patterns inside the organization and those in specific teams.
For example, a small company with 100 employees and 5-10 active teams that requires a strong communication medium can go for Microsoft Teams. Also, a medium-sized company with 1,000+ employees and many offices will definitely need a SharePoint-based intranet with strong content management capabilities at the same time.
In any case, not fighting alone in this collaboration sector, organizations can switch to Office 365 advisors who will help in selecting the most relevant team collaboration scenario.