The whole concept of working like a network has been around for a bit now and we are starting to see how some of the newest releases within Office 365 are providing tools that empower us to fulfill the vision. The latest set of tools that provides connections for our users is the chapter one release of Groups in Office 365. Starting on September 25th, those who have signed up for First Release (FR) started to see the new Groups experience within Office 365. Now it is important to note here that even though you have signed up for FR, this doesn’t mean you see it on day one. Those signed up for FR will see it based on the schedule rollout to all FR tenants that will happen over several different cycles. This means that you will still get the features before general availability, but that you might not get them the same day as someone else does.
When Groups are activated in your tenant you will see them in a few different locations. With the first release they have made available in Outlook, OneDrive and Calendar. Accessing any of these locations in the Top Navigation bar will display the Groups navigation elements.
Users will be able to create new groups and by default groups are open to everyone in the organization. This approach allows for content to be easily shared across the entire organization. For those conversations and documents that need to be secured more closely, the group admin can choose to set the security to private, thus restricting it to only group members. The experience for creating new groups is very straight forward and easy to understand and follow.
Step 1: Create a New Group
During this step you will be able to assign and name and description to your group, as well as determine the permissions for the group and the default subscription for the members. The subscription settings can be changed later by each group member based on their preference, but by signing them for the subscription you will be ensuring that they see the conversations from the group directly in their personal email feed. In most cases, I suspect that you will want to subscribe your group members. One thing to keep in mind though, is that with the first release you will be limited to 300 subscribing members per group.
Step 2: Add Users
Once the group has been created, you will be immediately prompted to add users to the group. You can add users by typing their name into the new members search box. Once you have added all the members that you wish you will click on the Add icon at the top to save your changes. If you wish to add members to the group later you can simply click the Not Now option at the top of the pane,
Step 3: Add a Group Image
Once you complete step 2 you will be taken to your group home page. From here you will be able to add an image so that the group can easily be identified. This is a good thing to do so that you can help your group stand out as users are navigating through various groups. You can access the Group Image in the group edit pane. This pane becomes visible when you click on the edit icon in the Group square. You will also notice that here is the location where you can update the original group settings such as title, description and privacy.
Step 4: Start Adding Content
With your group now ready to go it is time to start adding content. You can do this from any of the locations that the group is accessible and you can easily navigate between the areas with a few clicks.
These 4 steps are all it takes get a group of people working together using common tools that they are familiar with and love working with. This new way of working together provides a way for people to connect together in ways that were previously different. The product team has provide us with some great documentation on groups that is far superier to the quick intro I just provided. I recommend that you take a few minutes and read through the documentation to get a better idea of how easy it can be to work with groups and to learn additional details on updating configurations and group settings.
If you are like me, the first time you see all of this you have a whole collection of thoughts running through your head! The most prominent one for me was – “how does this fall into line with all the things I am already using for documents, conversations and calendars?” As I took some to think about this first release I have come to the conclusion that this is really another way of doing some of the same things that we are already doing, but it is a way of doing it differently. In my mind, it is a complementary set of tools that allows you to work differently. I know that the overall vision presented at SPC14 was a unified experience across the entire Office 365 suite and I fully believe that future releases will keep marching towards that end goal. But for the first release we are experiencing the first step toward the goal. This is the new Microsoft they have been promoting, and this is an example of a new product that is being released in phases. Based on usage, demand and feedback we will be able to provide a voice into the future phases. For now, the best thing to do is to understand what is capable and then help your organization make the best decision for them. In some cases that might be turning off groups, in other cases that might be pushing people to groups instead of SharePoint, in yet another case that might mean pushing them more towards Yammer. None of these choices are wrong and in some cases none of them are right. They are just different ways to do the same thing and based on the experience you are looking for you can choose the option that is best for you. I imagine in many cases there will be no wrong choice and many right ones. It is kind of like a choose your own adventure book.
If you want to get an idea of the way I am thinking through things, here is a table where I outline some various scenarios and how I would map them to the tools available today. The thing to remember about a table like this is that as new features are released my approaches and thoughts will change, but as of now, here is how I am thinking of things.
|A team of individuals that wants to collaborate on a document. They will be working on the document collaboratively and likely meeting together a few times to discuss and make updates.|
|If they would typically use just emails and meetings, I would push them towards groups. I would do this because it closely aligns with the ways they already work. It could be a very quick win.||If they are big Yammer users and they spend more time in Yammer than email (or I want them to!) I would probably push them towards this solution.
If this was the primary business need they had and they weren’t already Yammer users I would probably point them towards using Groups.
|Unless they needed to use Tasks List or other Apps I would likely discourage them from creating a team site for this purpose. It can be done, but you want to be careful to not bring a firehouse when a squirt gun will do.|
|A team needs to manage a collection of documents. These documents needs to be tagged and classified based on their document type and then based on the type different policies need to be enforced for retention.|
|Since they need retention and metadata I would likely push them towards a team site. I would do this because of the added management tools available.|
|A group of individuals within the organization want to collaborate together over a shared interest.|
|I would first try to point them to Yammer because at this point I feel the Yammer experience will give them a greater community experience. However, this solution might be just what they need.||I would point them here first and try to show them how great a collaboration experience could be within Yammer.|
|A team that wants to manage their team schedule (ie vacations, out of the office , team meetings)|
|Groups would provide a great experience for many teams that need to do this. The good news is that you don’t have to worry about any integration because you never even left the tools that you are already using to manage your personal calendar. The groups experience would allow for everyone on the team to easily see and access a common calendar in the same context as their personal calendar.||Team sites can do this, but to be 100% honest I often find that teams feel it is cumbersome or difficult to see the data in context to their personal calendars. Based on that being the typical outcome I have seen I would definitely push people to groups first in this scenario.|
With a few leading questions I imagine in most cases I could guide a user to make the selection that works best for them. I think over time as the lines between the three become less blurred the questions will come less and less and people will just naturally work where it makes sense to them and across all tools. For now, my recommendation is to make all of the tools available and to support and encourage the use of all of them. If your organization is new to Office 365 I would encourage you to focus on Yammer and Groups and work towards some great wins! If you organization is already heavily involved in SharePoint I would look for pain points or scenarios that are difficult that could be eliminated through the use of Groups or Yammer. The important thing is that you focus on the users and what solutions can bring the most impact to how they are able to work together. While doing all of this, continue to be involved in things like First Release and the Office 365 Technical Community to stay up to date on the latest features, tools and integrations that are being made available. Updates are happening often and with each new update it just might change the way we work together.