Office 365 Groups. They’re everywhere… or they soon will be if you’re about to open up the floodgates in your organization for self-service Group creation. If you want to learn more about Groups in O365 here is a link.
I’m writing this post from 2 perspectives. The first is as an end-user using Groups throughout my day to collaborate with others and get my work done. The second perspective is as an O365 Adoption Specialist.
I’m currently a member of a half dozen O365 Outlook Groups at an organization as well as a couple of pilot Microsoft Teams’ Groups (I believe these will be typical numbers in organizations with Groups deployed). I use them in real-world collaboration scenarios which means I’m adjusting to the “nuances” of working with them day-in and day-out. In doing so, I’ve discovered 2 key areas I consistently struggle with.
Curious as to what these are? Keep reading. 🙂
TLDR? Here’s my strategy for helping…
“Follow it. Favorite it. Put it on a Delve Board.” -Me
Struggle #1 – Navigation
I consider myself fairly adept at navigation in general, however across the O365 Groups’ services I find it disjointed and an awkward experience. I can only assume navigation will change in the future to improve this experience.
Example: When in Outlook with an O365 Group selected, I have a navigation bar providing links to Conversations, Files, Calendar, Notebook, Planner and Site as shown below:
When I click ‘Site’ to navigate to the SharePoint site provisioned for the Group, I don’t have this same navigation. The standard SharePoint quick launch on the left-side replaces this with links to Documents and Notebook only. I have no direct link to Planner.
To navigate to the Planner for this Group my navigation choices are to either click the ‘Group Conversations’ link in the top right corner of the SharePoint site to go back to Outlook where I can then click the ‘Planner’ link from the Group’s navigation bar OR click the O365 App Launcher in the top left corner to launch the Planner app. From there I can see all of my Planners across O365 and find the one for the Group I’m in.
When I’m in Planner, the navigation is different yet again but much closer to what we see in Outlook. No direct link to Site, but indirectly thru the Files and Notebook links as follows:
This is one example is it relates to Planner, but similar disjointed navigation experiences are found for other services within an O365 Group.
Whether this navigation experience will hinder an end-user and by how much will depend on the user. However, unless this experience changes I guarantee there will be some users who are frustrated and will want/need some tips on how to navigate within these services quickly and efficiently.
My recommendation? Leverage “favorites and follows” within O365 to allow you to quickly get back to a point of interest instead of solely relying on built-in Groups’ navigation. Fortunately, there are several places within O365 to help us identify our favorite “things” to get back to. So, for instance, go directly to your favorite Planner in the Planner Hub as opposed to getting there by using the link from the Outlook Group. Starting from Outlook will still work, in fact if you’re already in Outlook that may be the preferred way, however this is an alternative way to enhance and standardize Group navigation – another option.
My 3 Recommendations:
- Favorite your Group in Outlook so it shows under the ‘Favorites’ section on the left-hand navigation of Groups as follows:
- Follow your Groups’ SharePoint sites so they show on your SharePoint app page in the ‘Following’ section on the left navigation. **Groups I’ve recently provisioned were automatically followed for me.
- Add your Groups’ Planners as a favorite so it shows under ‘Favorite Plans’ on the Planner page as well as on the Planner Hub.
These recommendations are all “self serve” as opposed to the “built-in” navigation that comes with the default Groups provisioning process. Both can and should be used to deliver the best experience.
Struggle #2 – Where’s my file?
Imagine you’re working on files across your Groups’ SharePoint sites. You need to get back to a file you worked on in one of your Groups a couple of weeks ago. If you’re in a lot of Groups, maybe you can’t even remember which Group it was in. Sound familiar? This has already happened to me.
You can pin a document to the top of the document library, but this is not always the right option since it’s a global setting that applies to everyone viewing the document library.
You can use the Activity feed showing on the homepage of every Group’s SharePoint site’s homepage that shows recent activity on documents within the Group however your document may not be in there particularly if there has been a lot of activity in your Group.
Recently, I’ve made a concerted effort to use Delve to find documents now that Group files are included. (First Release only) However, the file may or may not be in my Delve Recent documents depending on what other activity I had been doing within that timeframe.
You can also go to your OneDrive app from the O365 App launcher to get a consolidated view of all Recent files across O365 including those from Groups. On my tenant, I see the 50 most recent files I’ve worked on in this view. One limitation I see from this is you can’t see where the file is from (Group name, Site name) like you can in Delve unless you hover over the File and look at the URL. From the OneDrive App you can also see links to the document library for each Group you’re a member of in the left navigation which can be helpful.
If you’ve tried the above things and you still are having difficulties finding your file, here are some things I’d recommend.
My 3 Recommendations:
- Best tip… if you’re not using them yet, start using Delve Boards for documents, sites and pages you are working on to quickly get back to them. (How to create Delve Boards) A great quote from that link … “When working with others, information tends to get scattered. And that’s OK. Organizing around ideas and topics with boards is easy and powerful. Just click + Add to board, enter a board name or pick from a list of existing boards.”
- From Delve (or within any SharePoint site), favorite any documents you want to get back to ensuring they will show up in your followed document section in Delve
- From Delve, use Search with key words from your document to find your document.
“Although the ability to favorite and follow things has been around for awhile in O365, I think it’s a feature you should be using now more than ever with the proliferation of Groups across organizations.” -Me
These recommendations use existing features in O365 to enhance the Groups’ navigation and findability experience for users across your organization.
It’s important to get in the habit of leveraging the apps I’ve identified with the green checkmark to the right when you work across O365, particularly when your work spans multiple collaboration groups. The goal is to find things in as few clicks as possible. The technique to do this will vary depending on the preference of the user, the number of groups they’re a member of and the features being used within each Group. (i.e. not all Groups will use a Planner board for example).
I consider myself a fairly “normal” user and can only assume that there are others who will struggle with these same things. As groups are being provisioned at scale across organizations, end-users may be looking for guidance.
My guidance starts with these recommendations.
Thanks for reading.