Office 365 Groups has been a slightly confusing addition to Office 365 and Office applications. Is it SharePoint? Is it Office? Is it a distribution list? While I’m not sure Microsoft can answer that question now, the more important thing to know is how to leverage this technology to make your project-based business more successful.
The fact remains that when you have multiple people on a project, they all need to communicate and collaborate. This increases exponentially the moment you have people geographically separated. This means conversation, documents, and reporting.
At Cardinal, we may have multiple people from multiple offices all working on a single project with different deliverables. At one point, there was no easy way to keep the entire team in lock step. Even with SharePoint, Email, Skype for Business, and OneNote, it was still a little disparate to be 100% productive.
Now, with Office 365 Groups, this is all well-tied in! When you create an Office 365 Group, each one will get the following:
Outlook Conversation Thread
With each Group, a new system is created that can handle email threads. Now, you can keep a conversation within context, outside of your normal inbox. This helps de-clutter your inbox, placing all of the project-relevant content, within the group conversation.
Each group also gets a group calendar! This can hold information such as project milestones, delivery dates, customer closure dates, meetings, and many other calendar-related items. When one person adds something, the entire group automatically gets it. It is also easier to view because, just like other calendars in Outlook, this can overlay directly on your personal corporate calendar. I personally use this to ensure that my day-to-day obligations can be worked around dates related to my various projects.
File sharing is a key component of projects. Anything from statements of work to architecture documents and reports need to be shared with the group members, as well as the key contacts on the project. By receiving a separate file storage area for each group, it becomes dead simple to share files with the group, ensuring that they are hidden from prying eyes. Best of all, these files can be synchronized to your PC just like other OneDrive files.
As I live in consulting longer and longer, I realize more and more how important it is to have an area for notes. This could be a scratch paper lying around, a full-blown notebook to capture critical information, or a place to drop documents that I'd like to be able to reference later. Each group receives a synced OneNote notebook to ensure that everyone is maintaining project notes in the exact same place. I use it daily to copy down meeting notes for projects. Now I rarely get the question "How'd that meeting go?" or "Any follow-ups from the meeting?" Everyone knows what was discussed and who has take-aways. t saves so much time!
Skype for Business Group
Skype for Business is an integral part of my tool set for communicating on a daily basis. I've written article after article about it. The power gets even better with Groups. Because Groups creates a distribution list on the back end (within Exchange Online), that group can be used within Skype for Business. Once you add the group as a contact, everyone in the group is automatically added to your Skype for Business contact list. Additionally, anyone that is added or removed is automatically reflected within the Skype contact list. This is incredibly important for remote people who may not be as familiar with everyone in the list.
Microsoft just released into public preview a Slack replacement product. This product also leverages the Office 365 Groups to enable continuous conversation threads between everyone in the group.
All of these tools work together to create a wonderful tool set for your project-based business to leverage. No longer are your team members left to figure out where files are stored or where data resides. If they're on the project, they're part of the group. If they're part of the group, then they're part of the Group. If they're part of the Group, then they have every piece of information needed!