Microsoft Launches New Files Experience for Office 365 Groups


Office 365 Groups Files View

New Files Experience Includes Email Attachments

Microsoft is rolling out a new Files view for Office 365 Groups to First Release tenants. The old Files view (in OWA) opened the group document library to view the documents organized in a folder structure, just like you’d expect in a “regular” SharePoint Online document library. The new approach opens an all-encompassing view of all of the files available to the group. The new view includes files circulated as attachments to messages sent to the group and files shared from OneDrive for Business and other SharePoint document libraries.

It’s All About Attachments

According to Microsoft, many active groups do not use the Files function as effectively as they might. Many users continue to circulate documents via email rather than placing them in a document library and sending a “cloudy attachment” link. This is not all that surprising as the majority of groups created to date are likely to be as replacements for email distribution groups.

It’s also hard to break user habits about how they handle attachments. Cloudy attachments work well, but they are still not as straightforward as attaching a file from the local PC, so people simply keep on doing what they have done since the dawn of time.

The logic behind the change seems to be that the new view surfaces files that group members might not realize exist and makes those files easier to work with. In some respects, this is the same logic that underpins Delve, which is all about revealing information to users.

Using Attachments Better

All recent versions of OWA have been able to interact with attachments stored in a user’s personal inbox. The new Files view brings this capability to shared group attachments. A group member can now download attachments or save them to a more appropriate location in the document library or the user’s personal OneDrive for Business site. In addition, they can edit an attachment and send that edit back to the group (see screenshot above). When a file attached to a message is edited, a copy is made and automatically uploaded to the Email Attachments folder in the group document library.

Value Depends on How Files Are Used

The value gained from the new Files view will differ depending on how a group is used. After checking against several groups, I found that many of the attachments circulated with messages are images, not all of which have any business value and whose value exists entirely in the moment. The new view seemed slower to open than the classic document view, perhaps because a more complex query has to be resolved in the background.

There’s no way to set the classic view as the default for a group either. You have to allow the new view to appear and then click the Browse Library button. This seems like a mistake because some groups are highly document-centric and won’t care less about the other debris that can accumulate through email attachments.

For instance, the authors of the “Office 365 for IT Pros” eBook coordinate our edits using an Office 365 Group and are accustomed to working with a customized view of the document library that holds the chapter files. The new Files view is distracting because it includes so much more than the current set of documents. In addition, the workflow that we have used for the last two years is hindered because three steps are needed instead of one to get to the chapter files.

  1. Access Files view
  2. Click Browse Library
  3. Select desired folder

In short, this is a change that might work for general-purpose groups but not for others. Microsoft needs to provide a method to allow group owners to customize the Files view to meet the needs of users.

Expect a Microsoft blog post about this update soon. In the interim, you can check out message MC85367 posted in the Office 365 Admin Center or this support article.

In other news about Office 365 Groups, Microsoft has updated SharePoint Online settings to give tenant administrators more control over how sites are created. In a nutshell, now that SharePoint sites can have associated groups and groups all get an associated SharePoint site, users have the options to create “classic” sites (no associated group) and “group-enabled” sites. This blog post explains all.

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