Getting the Most Out of Office 365: Using Office 365 Groups

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Microsoft has been building enterprise email services for decades now and while the GUI around them has changed, the experience remains ultimately the same. Their product for classic email is Outlook on the Web, but more recently they have created email for groups called Office 365 Groups. This product is interesting for several reasons, and while at first glance it seems like boring email, it is much more.

Outlook 365 Groups aims to make cloud-based teamwork hassle free and immediately intuitive. This is done by pooling the technologies, which already exist in Office 365. When a new group is created messaging is front and center. However, a directory for storing group files in the cloud is created on OneDrive for Business and all group members are given access. A group calendar is created; as well as a OneNote notebook for the group. The OneDrive for Business space is hosted on the companies SharePoint. The Notebook is also stored on the company side and not stored in the OneDrive of the founding member.

Initially this product may seem very lack luster when compared to products like Yammer, however Office 365 has a trick up its sleeve, and you already know how to use it. The conversations view is simply a shared group inbox; you already know how to use the calendar webapp. Hosting the files works just like you would expect and there is even an automatically shared notebook for to-dos, project tracking, meeting notes, or lab reports, or data dumps, or whatever. Office 365 Groups simply takes all the tools you already know how takes the chore out of using them in teams.

While creating new groups is easy and they can be made private, groups can be browsed by anyone in the company, so watch what you name your groups. When a group is created a new entry into your company’s global address book gets created as well. When addressing the group in Outlook, it can be expanded and the members revealed even if the group is private.

One partially new feature in Office 365 Groups would be the conversations. These are similar to email and the conversations view acts as a sort of group inbox. This way everyone in the group can keep up to date with conversations pertaining to the group while not blowing up their own inbox. If you would prefer to get an email in your personal inbox every time something happens in the group, you can subscribe to the group.

Hopefully your teams can start using Office 365 Groups with minimal training and take advantage of the other benefits to working in the cloud. To me, Office 365 Groups was created as an on-ramp for people who are skittish when it comes to getting real work done in the cloud. The worst hurdle to working in the cloud is getting everyone together in the same space working on the same documents and communicating. Office 365 Groups makes setting permissions for files and notebook easy and communication intuitive.

If your company uses Office 365 and you do lots of work in teams, I recommend exploring this option for your teams. Save documents to a shared space, and track to-dos and progress in the OneNote notebook and with the calendar. Also if your inbox is constantly flooded with emails from your team this may be a way to alleviate some of those emails by relegating communication to the group conversations.