Four best practices for leveraging Office 365 Groups

Office 365

It’s no secret that cloud-based collaboration tools are transforming the way we work, and Microsoft, with Office 365, is playing a major role in shifting workplace communication. Last year, Microsoft continued to enhance and develop Office 365 Groups as a powerful hub for team productivity. When armed with Office 365 Groups, employees have the opportunity to collaborate within a dedicated space with popular Office 365 features like mail, persistent chat, and collaboration powered by familiar technologies like Exchange, SharePoint, OneNote, Skype for Business, and Planner.

Before organizations can embrace this new way of working, however, IT teams need to combat the challenges of natively managing Office 365 Groups. Why? First, there are several ways for users in an organization to create a Group within an Office 365 tenant -- meaning IT admins must determine the most effective way to implement administrative controls to prevent unnecessary sprawl. Once users have the ability to create new Office 365 Groups, IT is also tasked with controlling group membership, placing safeguards around content within groups, and overseeing the lifecycle of Groups, including the eventual decision to delete or archive a Group and its content.

Office 365 Groups Provides User Freedom

With Office 365 Groups, the power lies in the hands of end-users, who have a variety of ways to create a Group, access to new feature developments, and pre-existing, appealing capabilities presented within the platform front and center.

Office 365 Groups is unique because it doesn’t require users to work through complicated workflows or fill out extensive forms in order to provision a place to work on documents together or have conversations with colleagues. Though this freedom and flexibility can help drive adoption and business agility, organizations could face one key risk -- balancing the value of agility and speed against the dangers of sprawl. For example, users don’t have to be mindful of things like Group membership, naming conventions and the due diligence of verifying whether a group is valuable or redundant. Further exacerbating the issue is the fact that Group ownership goes to the creator, not the IT owner, which can reduce visibility into where potentially sensitive conversations and content exist.

Organizations Need to Embrace Policies

Because of the user-centric delivery model, many organizations have yet to roll out formal best practices for using Office 365 Groups.

To achieve collaboration excellence, organizations must embrace the "chaos" of Office 365 Groups -- a key first step in determining how to best use the platform. However, policies and controls should remain at the forefront of an IT department’s priorities. IT can implement appropriate controls after adopting a few best practices:

1. Establish naming standards: To ensure an organized and streamlined workflow, it’s crucial to mandate how Office 365 Groups are named. IT departments can roll out a set of rules that can be adjusted over time if needed. A few naming policies might include:

  • Groups cannot interfere with existing SharePoint Team Site names
  • Groups cannot be team names
  • Group names must include a prefix to illustrate the purpose of the group (E.g. WSP_* for "Work Stream Project," which can be used for smaller scale projects within an organization)

2. Determine lifecycle provisions for all Office 365 Groups: All Groups should serve a clear business purpose, and more importantly, each Group should operate under distinct provisions. To prevent sprawl, ask users to define the purpose and estimated timeline of a Group.

3. Cautiously use Public Groups: There are three privacy settings for Office 365 Groups: Public, Private, or Hidden. When determining this setting, teams should figure out which tools are best suited for the audience they want to address. For example, Microsoft Teams and Group Files are best for collecting private, ad-hoc feedback within small teams while Yammer is best suited for brainstorming ideas across an organization. Though this flexibility can be effective in controlling messages, it’s also necessary to manage membership and access to all of the Group’s content. Unless a user has a strong argument as to why a Group should be Public, all Groups should generally fall under the Private or Hidden categories.

4. Use Azure Active Directory Policies to place restrictions on who can create Groups: When a user creates an Office 365 Group, they’re automatically given full control. The creator has the power to invite whoever they want, adjust privacy settings and modify permissions at any given time. Without the proper training or authorization in place, these users could trigger a potential data breach or create sprawl.

Emphasize Best Practices and Be Agile

Office 365 Groups has the potential to have a significant (and positive) impact on today’s organizations when the platform is used correctly. As employees of all generations continue to demand flexible, easy-to-use workplace tools, IT must train and manage expectations differently. Though tech-savvy millennials will initially seek ad-hoc capabilities, IT should continue to provide guidance and policies for using the solution. Older generations, on the other hand, may need to be convinced on how Office 365 Groups can lead to increased productivity and how to maximize their use of the key features.

To ensure ROI and adoption among all employees, IT departments should solicit frequent feedback from test groups, host training sessions, and pinpoint Office 365 Groups advocates within all generations and departments. While implementing Office 365 comes with its fair share of challenges, IT departments who stay involved in the process and make adjustments based on how employees want to work will likely see the most success.

Shyam Oza is senior product marketing manager at AvePoint.

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