It’s the Small Changes in Office 365 That Make the Difference

Office 365 Evergreen Cloud

Detail Matters in the Office 365 Evergreen Cloud

Much as I admire the efforts of the Office 365 change management people to make major changes more transparent to tenants, I cannot help wondering that their work is undermined by the way that small changes make it into the service.

Microsoft has told us what they consider a major change. Introducing the Focused Inbox, moving Outlook for iOS and Android to use the Microsoft Cloud, availability of a new Office 365 datacenter region, and so on. The most recent example is the transition of Microsoft To-Do from preview to general availability. It is a good and logical list.

What is not so good is the way that new features turn up on an ongoing basis without ever appearing in the Office 365 roadmap. Or indeed, without a notification to tenants in the Office 365 Message Center.

The Clean Up Mailbox feature hidden in OWA Options is a good example. No roadmap item, no notification to tenants, just a new and useful feature appearing ready to go.

Many Small Changes for Teams

Microsoft Teams is a serial offender. If you look at the Teams section of the roadmap (Figure 1), you see some nice changes, including the introduction of the new 2,500 member limit for a team announced as available through Twitter on October 18.

Teams in Office 365 Roadmap
Figure 1: What the Teams developers are working on (image credit: Tony Redmond)

Some features that need heavy lifting are in the list, like support for retention policies and the introduction of the necessary Azure components to support Teams in the UK, Australia, Canada, and India Office 365 datacenter regions (all due in 2018, according to Microsoft at Ignite).

The listed updates are big advances for Teams, even if many will not influence how many tenants use Teams. But some of the smaller changes that Microsoft slipstreams into Teams using their automatically-updated client are interesting and deserve more publicity.

Updating Guest User Information

Take the way that you add guest users to a team. By default, Teams adds a (Guest) suffix to show that the member is from outside the tenant, but sometimes you want to edit the name to add some detail, like the organization the user is from. You can do this by clicking the pencil icon after inputting the address for a new guest and then editing the value to be whatever you like (Figure 2).

Teams Edit Guest User
Figure 2: Editing guest user information before adding them to a team (image credit: Tony Redmond)

Although it would be nicer to be able to edit guest user information at any time through the Manage Team feature, this is a very useful but not well-known option. If you do want to change the display name for a guest user afterwards, you can do this through the Office 365 Admin Center, Azure portal, or PowerShell.

Viewing Channel Information

Another recent change (to me, anyway) is the ability to see how many members of a team access a channel (Figure 3). You can have up to 100 channels per team to segment discussions into different topics, but it is always possible that a channel is never used. This snapshot shows you how many of the team use each channel and when the last activity occurred.

Teams Channels
Figure 3: What channels are used? (image credit: Tony Redmond)

Perhaps because it is the newest addition to the Office 365 family and has a lot of work to do to take over from Skype for Business Online, Teams is a constant voyage of discovery. Its cadence is more rapid than other applications, which means that you must keep your eyes open to detect and understand new features as they appear. My point is that Microsoft could do a better job to communicate even small changes to tenants. After all, detail matters, even for a fast-moving application like Teams.

Good Release Notes

To be fair to Teams, they do publish good release notes when they push new builds to tenants. The problem is that people don’t know about release notes and must seek them out. It would be better to push notifications of new functionality via the Office 365 Message Center. Then people might learn about interesting new features, like the control over who can post to the General channel.

User Photos

While I’m on Teams, let me make a complaint. You can change your user photo with Teams and have that photo ripple across Office 365 so that it shows up in OWA, SharePoint, OneDrive for Business, and so on. Click the avatar at the bottom left-hand corner of the Teams client and you can update your photo (Figure 4).

Teams Update User Photo
Figure 4: Updating your user photo with Teams (image credit: Tony Redmond)

Guest users cannot update their photo, which is reasonable as you don’t want external people writing into Azure Active Directory. But that’s not the issue. The problem is that Teams ignores any restriction that exists to stop users updating their photos.

Some organizations absolutely want to control user photos. They might have a HR system with corporate-approved headshots that are used in multiple systems and they want to see the same photos used everywhere. Or they simply want to maintain standards and stop people posting silly or inappropriate photos.

Office 365 has a spotty history of consistency when it comes to user photo updates. The easiest and best way is to allow users to update theirs through OWA options, where the new photo uploads to Exchange Online and thereafter synchronizes with Azure Active Directory, SharePoint Online, Teams, and so on.

The ability to use OWA to update photos is controlled by the OWA mailbox policy assigned to a user’s mailbox. You control that policy with the Set-OWAMailboxPolicy cmdlet. Teams ignores the setting for a user mailbox. That’s not good enough for an application targeted at education and enterprise customers. Vote on UserVoice if you think Teams should change.

Upwards and Onwards

I like Teams a lot, just like I like Office 365, which is why I use both. I also like what Microsoft is doing to improve communications with tenants. It would just be nice if those communications also covered the small stuff. Maybe the Office 365 change management people can chat with everyone through their favorite channel?

Follow Tony on Twitter @12Knocksinna.

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