SharePoint Communication Sites: Taking Your Modern Workplace to the Next Level
Not too long ago, I wrote a blog about the death of the Intranet. I still stand by the message of the blog and believe the role of the Intranet is slowly diminishing. We are moving towards a new world with three components:
- Modern Workplace for collaboration tools
- Personalized Dashboard
- Communication Portals
In future blogs, I am going to discuss the first two components. For now, I am focusing on Communication Portals. Although the Intranet is dying, there is always going to be a need for communicating information and content. We used to have SharePoint publishing sites and pages at our disposal. The team sites received an update with the modern experiences but no news about the publishing part of SharePoint. During Ignite 2016, Microsoft finally announced the modern publishing pages. These were eventually rebranded to Communication Sites. We had to wait for it but on the 27th of June, Microsoft finally sent the communication sites into First Release. I was able to get my hands on the latest update from Redmond and I am ready to share my thoughts with you. Are you ready? Let’s go!
You create the Communication Site from SharePoint Home:
We have three options of Topic, Showcase, and Blank. The first two provide you with a pre-configured site. The two templates give you inspiration to quickly get up and running. You are always able to start from scratch with the blank site. Hopefully, we are able to add our own templates in the near future.
New Section Layout
I have been a fan of the modern team site in SharePoint from the moment it was released. The usability was very easy. The site was immediately responsive and integrated with the free SharePoint app. One of the features missing was an additional page layout. The browsing experience was from top to bottom. Many customers did not really like this. This is finally part of the past because we have more options:
The multiple columns provide us with a lot more flexibility in presenting our content. For example:
We can change the layout at any time:
The modern web parts released with the modern team site are all present. The release of the communication sites also comes with new modern web parts:
The Hero web part allows you to display one or more multiple links with an image. The links can refer to a document, page, or link. The web part is very easy to configure. The following options are available:
We can display links as tiles or layers. Tiles are displayed from left to right and layers from top to bottom. It is nice to get such flexibility to display our content. Last but not least, we can easily move links between our tiles or layers. Just hold down the picture and move to the new location. After five minutes, our Hero web part could look like the following example:
I really love how easy the web part is and how fast we see the results of our work. That said, the web part is very basic. Do not expect any audience targeting for links.
The events web part allows you, no shocker, to display corporate events. The following image shows an example:
The event page contains the usual suspects of date and category but has a few nice additions:
- Background picture
- Location with Here Maps
- Button to add the event to your calendar
- Overview of all events
Let me show you the overview of all events:
We can filter the events by using a date range or categories. This is nice! The events are displayed on the homepage:
I really like the events web part. The out-of-the-box features are definitely valuable for many of our customers.
Communication Portals are nothing without a contacts web part. People want to see and know who is responsible for the content. The people web part delivers that requirement:
The contacts are displayed with a profile picture, name, and job title. The contacts are also enriched with the intelligent people card:
This provides us with relevant information and the ability to quickly make contact through email or chat.
Modern Pages 2.0
The communication sites contain modern pages. These also received a few necessary updates.
Update Number One — Image Header
To be honest, the gray header of modern pages was ugly. We are now able to add a picture to brighten up our lives:
Great! It looks so much nicer! You can move the image up and down to decide what part you want to display on your page.
Update Number 2 — Comments
The previous release of modern pages was missing a feature to leave comments. A comment section is included by default:
You have probably noticed the absence of Yammer? That is right. For comments, we do not need Yammer because we have a build in the web part. Nice! I am missing an option to like replies but I have the feeling that will be coming soon.
The modern team sites allow us to collaborate with modern, intelligent, and responsive tools. Collaboration is only one part of our daily work lives. The other one is communicating. This is where the communication sites kick in! I am impressed with the first release of the communication sites.
The new web parts are really good and a step in the right direction. That said, I already know customers are going to ask if we can change the look and feel of events. Is it ever good enough? But to be fair, that is the world we work in. I am guessing, these changes will be possible in the future.
Although I hate branding, customers do need a form of corporate branding. At the moment, this is not available. During the SharePoint Virtual Summit, color themes were announced. That is definitely a step forward.
Are you using First Release and cannot view the Communication Sites? Quickly browse towards Marc Anderson’s site. He wrote a blog that did the trick for me. Enjoy working with the communication sites.