Office 365 Groups has been around for a while now, but many people either don’t know about it, or don’t use it. Quickly, O365 Groups provides users a way to communicate and collaborate with each other in a quick and easy environment. More importantly it is the foundation of Microsoft’s growing feature set for the cloud.
What are Groups?
O365 Groups are often seen as simply a communications channel that allows for a group of users to have email, mobile, and web enabled communications with each other. This, in and of itself is a powerful tool, especially as end users are able to create their own groups on the fly in a similar manner to Yammer. If all that O365 Groups did was provide the email communication they would be valuable, but because they are built on both SharePoint Online as well as Exchange Online, you also get many SharePoint features at the same time. In effect users can now spin up their own self-service SharePoint sites with an attached and configured email address without asking IT for assistance.
How can they be used?
O365 Groups have a ton of uses in an organization and users will find new ones constantly. In fact, the thing holding groups back in most organization is knowledge that they exist or IT shutting them off. Some examples of how we have seen them used:
- Project Site – Instead of a full featured project site, a group can provide all of the features, a place to store files, a project calendar, a OneNote, and a way to contact the entire team with one email address
- Document Workspace – A group is a great way to collaborate on a document or documents in a location that isn’t a OneDrive
- Team Site – much like a project site, a team often needs less than a full site in SharePoint and O365 Groups can provide those features without the overhead of requesting and building a team site
- External Drop Point – Because the email address can accept external emails, we have seen groups used to be the “public face” of a team or even an entire organization. In this way external people can send an email to the group and, eventually, will be able to access files from the group.
- Knowledge Management – A group is a place where knowledge can be stored in documents, notes, and emails.
At the heart of O365 Groups is the ability to have threaded discussions via email, the web, and on mobile devices
There is even the ability to link your Group into Outlook and consume it as part of the Desktop Office Suite
The key here is that users have a choice in how to participate in the group and by providing even more choices our adoption rates can increase…assuming we do out job of rolling this out well.
Note that all of the aspects of the group are exposed via Outlook (well most). You can still get to the Files, the Calendar, and the OneNote right from Outlook…well technically it opens up the Files in the web browser and the OneNote opens up in the desktop client of OneNote.
There are two big keys to collaboration. One is the ability to store documents that everyone can get to and use. This is accomplished by the O365 group using a SharePoint site for each group. This site will contain a document library that while it doesn’t have all of the features of a traditional document library…does the basics just fine.
Side Note on Document Libraries in Office 365
Recently I ran into an issue with a group and had to get Microsoft on the phone to assist. During that I learned that you can fully manage the lists and libraries in O365 Groups. You can even create new lists and libraries and even sub sites. Its pretty easy to get to this. You enter the following URL
I’ll post more on that in another blog post.
The Foundation for the Future
So, why is this the foundation for the future? Well, let’s look at where Microsoft is going with Groups. At Ignite they showed how they were taking Groups and adding them to Yammer. In the near future when you create a new Yammer group it will also create an O365 Group for you in your tenant. This means that while Yammer will be the interface for communication, the collaboration area will be in SharePoint fronted by a group. Currently Microsoft has Teams in preview. Teams provides a persistent chat based communications interface for users but the collaboration is built on O365 Groups. What we are seeing is Microsoft using the Groups architecture to provide users with multiple ways to communicate with each other depending on the needs and the style of the end user. I suspect, that we will continue to see convergence between these styles and hopefully they will merge into one offering that allows the user to communicate how they want to, email, web, Yammer, chat regardless of how other users choose to communicate.