If you have an Office 365 subscription, you may be throwing money out the window. COVID-19 has forced businesses to transform rapidly to address the immediate need to work remotely. In doing so, businesses have scrambled to identify tools to support their business: tools to facilitate communication, project management tools, document storage services, virtual whiteboards, and more. In the mad dash to address tactical needs, some businesses throw money at procuring new apps and services while overlooking their investment in Office 365, which comes with many of those tools.
Why do businesses overlook Office 365 apps? In my experience, it’s due to a lack of knowledge of what comes with Office 365. Typically, a business reaches out because they want to migrate their email to the cloud or implement SharePoint. Once the project is done, that’s it. They focus on the specific need—which is satisfied by purchasing an Office 365 license—but overlook the fact Office 365 includes dozens of business productivity apps. Let’s look at some of the tools by category so you can achieve a better return on your investment.
Communicating with Colleagues
Responding to COVID-19, the first thing businesses needed to ensure was that colleagues could still communicate effectively: typically via a chat application. Most businesses already had something in place. But if you didn’t, you probably looked at tools like Slack, etc. But Office 365 already has several tools designed for real-time chat/text-based communication. Let’s take a look at two of them.
First up is Microsoft Teams, the primary collaboration tool in Office 365. Teams is focused on productivity and collaboration and it’s a great way to start using Office 365. It brings together many of the apps in Office 365 so people aren’t bouncing around from app to app in order to get work done. It works best with groups who need to work together, have conversations, share files, and hold meetings. It lets you stay organized through the use of Channels, which are a way to focus your collaboration on a topic, eliminating the clutter you often see in email conversations.
Another communication tool Office 365 offers is Yammer, an enterprise social networking tool. While the chat functionality is similar to Teams, Yammer is really meant for socializing or sharing information, while Teams is geared towards teamwork and content creation.
Many businesses evaluate tools like Slack, an industry-leading collaboration and communication tool that uses channels to isolate communications, much like Teams. It’s a really good tool. I use it heavily. Although often compared to Teams, the use cases are slightly different. For example, it would be totally appropriate to have a Slack channel around a hobby or topic of interest, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s appropriate to do that in Teams. When you create a Team, behind the scenes, it creates a few things, including a SharePoint site, an Office 365 group for security, and other features like shared team calendars and inboxes. Creating a channel about your favorite Netflix shows wouldn’t make sense in Teams. A tool like Slack might make the most sense for your needs, but realize that you’re already paying for similar functionality in Teams and Yammer, so it may be worth piloting those apps with a few small groups to determine if they meet your needs.
Collaborating and Publishing Content
Another thing folks need to do while working remotely is author, share, and publish content. Teams comes back up in this category, along with SharePoint and OneDrive. SharePoint is the backbone of Office 365 and the primary content service. SharePoint can be used as a traditional intranet for publishing corporate news and announcements to the organization in a central place, instead of email announcements that get lost or clutter inboxes. An example would be a Crisis Management site where people can provide updates to the organization around the pandemic, as they relate to your business or area.
You can also use SharePoint for department or project-based collaboration. Teams actually creates a SharePoint site on the backend to house any documents you work on. When deciding between SharePoint or Teams, it comes down to how you want to work. Do you want a chat-driven approach to collaborating with content? Try Teams. Do you want more control over version history, notifications when content is updated, or the ability to customize the page presentation so you can offer organized content like news, quick links, and more? Give SharePoint a try.
Another content tool, geared toward personal file storage, is OneDrive. This lets you work on a file you may not necessarily need to share with others. The benefit of OneDrive is that you can access these files from anywhere, so you’re not tied to a laptop. You can access your OneDrive content from your laptop at work, or your laptop, or mobile device, at home. Any device, anywhere.
When it comes to content authoring and sharing, one more great tool to consider is Box. To me, OneDrive is generally more convenient. Customers often ask when it’s appropriate to use SharePoint vs Teams vs OneDrive when it comes to storing content. My general response is, when you’re working with one or more people on content, pick between SharePoint or Teams. If you’re working alone, OneDrive is a good choice. If you’re still not sure, just use Teams. Based on how you’re communicating around that content, Teams will choose one for you behind the scenes.
Small and Large Meetings
Quite possibly the largest challenge that businesses face in our shift to 100% remote work is around managing meetings without conference rooms. If you had not heard of Zoom before, you most certainly are aware of it now. Zoom has become the leading tool for hosting virtual meetings. Despite the recent security concerns around Zoom, its meteoric rise has a lot to do with its ease of use.
Office 365 also has tools capable of supporting virtual meetings. For starters, Teams has built-in virtual meetings. A cool feature about Teams is that you can start the meetings from a channel to help organize meetings within channels.
One limitation of Teams meetings is the number of visible speakers (currently 9 speakers after a recent update). This may or may not be a problem, depending on the size of your meetings. One cool advantage is that recorded meetings can be automatically saved in Microsoft Stream, which is an enterprise-level video streaming service. Videos uploaded to Stream can leverage artificial intelligence to enhance the user experience. For starters, the videos can be automatically transcribed, and the transcription text will be searchable. So, when your CEO explains what EBITDA means for the 10th time, you can search for that text and go directly to that part of the video, without having to remember when he or she said it. There’s also a really useful facial recognition feature that detects when a person’s face appears in a shot and maps out when that person appears. This is great for those times when you just want to get to the portion of the video where a certain person was speaking.
For more information on Stream, take a look at my post on Modern Video Management Using AI and Microsoft Stream.
Ok, so we covered how to meet face-to-face. But what about whiteboard sessions? Office 365 has you covered there, too. Office 365 has a web-based app called Whiteboard which can be paired with a desktop version that has a few more features. You can take a picture and add it to the whiteboard.
Turn the image into a sketch and overlay ink, add labels, and rearrange objects.
When it comes to meetings both large and small, tools outside the Office 365 suite include Zoom for video calls, and Miro. Both are feature-rich and very good products but, in-keeping with the theme, you already have tools in place that you’re paying for and should evaluate to see if they meet your needs. Miro, for example, offers more visuals that make it easier to collaborate outside your company, while Whiteboard is currently fairly basic. So, it comes down to what is it you need to achieve.
Finally, each business is unique, and tools might not be readily available to support all needs. Another unfortunate reality is that businesses have had to reduce staff to stay afloat, and as a result, need to operate more efficiently. Office 365 contains a series of Power Platform apps that may be able to help. Thoee tools are Power Apps, Power Automate, Power BI, and Power Virtual Agents.
As the names suggest, these tools are geared toward power users who have some technical savvy. They allow you to build end-to-end solutions—from a form to collect data, to a process automation to manage any business logic, assign tasks, requests approvals, and more. Power BI lets you report on data, and Power Virtual Agents lets you create a chatbot to automate simple, repeatable tasks. If your IT team is overwhelmed while scrambling to support remote work, a chatbot can be created to help streamline requests, allowing your team to focus on other tasks. An example of this is a help-desk triage system. A chatbot can collect and record all relevant information and direct the ticket to the appropriate tech or provide a simple response before escalating to support.
Office 365 isn’t the end-all-be-all. It’s not guaranteed that each tool will fit the needs of your organization, and there are tools out there that specialize in each category which provide better features. In this rapidly changing world, it’s understandable that businesses are scrambling to address the problems in front of them. But before you go out and buy more tools, evaluate what you have in place, run a small pilot to evaluate the tools, talk to experts to see if needed features are available or can be added. If after that evaluation process you find the tool isn’t right for you, then start looking for alternatives. Just don’t throw money away by buying a product when you already have one that meets it. Lastly, if you have any questions around Office 365 that haven’t been answered here, please don’t hesitate to give Anexinet a call. We’d love to help you get started.
SharePoint/Office 365 Architect