Teams who communicate well understand what needs to be done, what is being worked on, and what is coming up next. To many in the business world, communication is synonymous with email. Microsoft is finally catching on to the trend to dethrone email as the one and only business communication tool. For a couple of years now, Microsoft has been building and improving Office 365 Groups, and it has now come a long way.
Office 365 Groups represent the future of business communication investments for Microsoft. Office 365 Groups embodies many core principles of the new Microsoft. Office Groups use new tools such as Planner to mirror many of the workflows, such as flagging emails, that have been staples of Office productivity. Microsoft has been working hard to bring all of their tools into the browser, and the most recent addition is Skype for Business.
Email started out as an effective way to send memos around an office quickly. However, now email has become a monster to manage and work with. The success of chat tools like Slack and Hipchat have been sold upon the ill-will toward email. Many have wondered why Microsoft has not purchased a popular productivity chat application, and the reason probably has a lot to do with their investment in Office 365 Groups.
Microsoft clearly believes that chat is just one piece of the productivity puzzle. You still need storage, notes, to-do trackers, calendars, contact lists, and in many cases email. From their recent SharePoint conference Microsoft made it clear Office 365 Groups is their new productivity platform. When a group is created, it gets its own OneDrive for Business storage, OneNote Notebook, SharePoint site, Planner Plan, Conversations, Calendar, and even email list.
In my professional life, I am beginning to create Office 365 Groups for the different teams to which I belong. The plan will be to start small and see what works but eventually I plan to cut email out of the equation all together. Meeting notes will be taken and shared in OneNote; group files will be stored in OneDrive for Business. With the addition of Planner, I can track issues and to-dos without email or custom macro-enabled Excel workbooks.
Groups are supported in the most recent version of Outlook 2016. Access to the Notebook, OneDrive for Business, Calendar, and conversations are all built into the Outlook ribbon. Group support in Outlook makes the transition off email easier and more natural for many uninterested. There are still some odd quirks, like marking conversations as read, but for the most part the experience is very similar to email. Having a link at the top of the group to the team OneNote Notebook makes meeting note sharing super easy and natural.
A word of warning; if you only like using tools when they are complete and not a work in progress, you may want to wait before hopping on the Office 365 Groups train. While Groups is useful today and can be a powerful way to assist teams working together, many improvements need to be made. The Outlook 2016 integration is nice, but it does not feel complete. The best Groups experience is on the web, which means sluggish performance and lots of small delays while pages load.
However, if you are looking for a simple all-in-one package for teamwork and you are already using Office 365, then Office 365 Groups is a great solution. With the addition of Planner, Groups can now completely contain projects and their many moving parts. Groups will be improved over time but is very useful in its current state. If your team is already comfortable being productive via a web browser, then the major battle is over. Now is a great time to see if Office 365 Groups is mature enough for your teams!