A deep-dive into SharePoint and Office 365 collaboration tools and features

13.03.2020
10 min.
title

In their Enterprise Collaboration Market—Global Forecast to 2024, MarketsAndMarkets predicts the global enterprise collaboration market to grow from $31 billion in 2019 to $48.1 billion by 2024 (at a CAGR of 9.2%). The popularity of social networking portals and the unstoppable proliferation of mobile devices are the key factors in enterprise collaboration development.

As collaboration standards continue to rise, businesses don’t stop seeking the most suitable software. Indeed, enterprises consider collaboration tools as one of the most important technologies shaping the digital workplace. Surprisingly, with the collaboration software market being oversaturated, only 20% of organizations affirm that their collaboration tools work well. At the same time, almost 40% of businesses admit that their collaboration stack requires substantial improvement.

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Obviously, the software market offers freedom of choice. However, this freedom doesn’t necessarily translate into quality collaboration. Trying to satisfy the needs of various teams, enterprises often implement multiple collaboration tools at once, which results in the following issues:

  1. Scattered collaboration. When every team uses a separate application, it’s difficult to centralize and manage collaboration effectively at the enterprise level and ensure cross-team interaction when necessary.
  2. A hard-to-manage collaboration environment. The more apps are in use, the more organizations spend to support them, ensuring their sleek operation, integrity, and security.
  3. A poor basis for knowledge management. With scattered collaboration, it’s hard to organize decent knowledge management and build related workflows, be it for sharing experience, collecting knowledge across corporate resources, or setting up quality knowledge transfer between teams and departments.

If a company wants to avoid the above-mentioned issues, the most obvious way is to choose a comprehensive solution that would cover the collaboration needs of different employees and teams. SharePoint, Office 365, and the most recent Microsoft 365 are all Microsoft’s products created to respond to this business demand.

However, it isn’t enough to install one of these solutions to succeed with enterprise collaboration. Companies have to approach the implementation of these platforms very wisely in order to build a flawless collaboration environment.

The SharePoint collaboration features

Now let’s move on to the SharePoint collaboration capabilities. Overall, SharePoint can be described as a compilation of tools for automating employees’ collaboration and content-related workflows. Today, SharePoint is available as an on-premises, cloud, and hybrid application. If you compare SharePoint On-Premises vs SharePoint Online, you will see that the latter can boast wider functional capabilities, while the former is more friendly for customization.

To automate processes SharePoint consultants can use built-in and custom workflows. All the content and automated workflows are hosted on SharePoint sites, which are the building blocks of all SharePoint-based enterprise solutions and intranets.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the most popular types of SharePoint sites.

SharePoint team sites let teams:

  • Store and collaborate on various types of content
  • Manage team workflows
  • Organize brainstorming and team building activities
  • Access team and corporate resources
  • Accumulate team knowledge

SharePoint project sites offer all the features of a SharePoint team site coupled with extra project management capabilities. They are suitable for project management collaboration and let team members stay informed at every project stage from anywhere.

SharePoint community sites and portals support professional and social groups. They unite people from the same business domain or those who share similar hobbies and passions.

SharePoint blogs and wikis are optimal for knowledge-oriented collaboration. They serve as aggregators of documented corporate wisdom. Content from blogs and wikis can then be used in newcomers’ orientation, staff training, and employees’ personal development to mention a few of the most popular applications.

SharePoint communication sites support any collaboration scenarios implying interaction with a large audience, be it spreading news and reports, organizing corporate events, or collecting feedback in a community.

SharePoint home sites built on top of communication sites are available in SharePoint Online and help create compelling pages that put together corporate activities, news, people, and content.

SharePoint hub sites are yet another perk for SharePoint Online subscribers. They work as aggregators of content and activities from associated team and communication sites. This way, employees can discover updates from multiple SharePoint sites all on a single page.

There are more types of SharePoint sites available within on-premises and cloud deployments. Owing to this diversity, SharePoint is well-known as a multipurpose platform that can be an enterprise SharePoint intranet, a learning management tool, and a document management system at the same time.

SharePoint collaboration features

The Office 365 collaboration tools

While SharePoint can be used as an independent application, Office 365 is a large suite that embraces multiple collaboration applications. This multitude of tools gives rise to questions and many interpretations as to the suite’s usage scenarios that are based on collaboration goals, participants, and their characteristics.

All in all, apart from SharePoint Online, the Office 365 suite includes over twenty apps:

Office 365 ecosystem

Microsoft Teams are among the key hosts of team collaboration in Office 365. The tool was released in March 2017 as Microsoft’s answer to the extremely popular Slack. Amusingly, the app can outdo not only third-party collaboration applications but also its own digital ‘neighbors’. It has become a real “predator” within the suite, as it has already absorbed Skype for Business Online, StuffHub, and Kaizala. Jokes aside, the app offers public and private teams the channels for chat-based collaboration complete with online meetings and voice calls, which makes it an essential everyday tool for teams across the globe.

Yammer preserves its role of a forum-like collaboration hub. The app is often coupled with SharePoint Online and comes as a default web part on SharePoint’s modern pages. Yammer went through numerous modifications, which were all Microsoft’s attempts to increase the app’s adoption rate. At Ignite 2019, Microsoft announced the arrival of a new Yammer “rebuilt from the ground up with dozens of new features.” The app is to become a central knowledge management hub within the Office 365 suite. Logically, subscribers will be able to see the real outcomes and benefits only after the official release of the app’s new version.

The revamped Yammer to be rolled out over the first half of 2020

OneDrive for Business is a file hub for employees to store and collaborate on different types of content both online and offline. Depending on the subscription plan, it offers either a 1TB storage per user or an unlimited one.

Outlook is the permanent keeper of email-based collaboration in Office 365. In the suite, it comes in four separate components, including Tasks, Calendar, People, and Mail, which allows users to have direct access to the Outlook features they need.

In addition to the collaboration apps, Office 365 also comes with the unique concept of Office 365 Groups. It isn’t a separate tool or a feature, but rather a capability to create additional collaboration spaces provided with a set of apps. Users can create an Office 365 group right in the app they work in, for example, in Outlook, SharePoint Online, Yammer, Planner, Stream, or Microsoft Teams. If a user creates a group in Yammer, it will come with a SharePoint team site and a document library, a shared Outlook email box and a calendar, a OneNote notebook, a Planner grid, a Power BI workplace, as well as Stream and Teams channels.

Office 365 Groups

Office 365 Groups have their drawbacks though. In large organizations, they require substantial administration effort. Unmanaged groups can cause chaotic propagation of collaboration spaces. They are also subject to frequent issues related to access and user permissions.

Are Microsoft 365 and Office 365 the same?

As we speak about collaboration suites, we can’t leave Microsoft 365 aside.

By its nature, Microsoft 365 is broader than Office 365. It includes Office 365, Windows 10, and tools for enterprise mobility and security. SMEs were the primary target audience of the Microsoft 365 promotional campaign. This business segment was oftentimes frustrated by the high implementation costs of SharePoint On-Premises and too cautious about Office 365. An all-in-one offering could finally attract SMEs to Microsoft’s products.

It should be said that Microsoft hasn’t stopped at SMEs and is currently promoting Microsoft 365 among large enterprises. And the suite proves quite successful. As Microsoft stated in its FY20 Q2 report, 25% of Office 365 licenses are being sold within the Microsoft 365 suite.

4 types of collaboration you can host in SharePoint and Office 365

But what is the main competitive advantage of Microsoft’s solutions compared to hundreds of other collaborative tools? The greatest benefit of implementing SharePoint, Office 365, or Microsoft 365 is that organizations can adapt them to different types of collaboration or even use all of these scenarios at once.

Enterprise collaboration. When SharePoint or Office 365 are used as intranet platforms, they become the epicenter of enterprise communication. That’s where employees learn the latest corporate updates, meet newcomers, see important announcements, and find out about corporate benefits. This is also the fastest way to inform numerous communities or get their feedback.

Team collaboration. Both SharePoint and Office 365 provide teams with dedicated collaboration spaces where they can store and share content, exchange ideas, manage their activities, track project progress, and accumulate knowledge. Team and project sites form the basis of team collaboration in SharePoint. In Office 365, teams can combine SharePoint sites with Yammer, Microsoft Teams, Office 365 Groups, and project management tools such as Planner or Project Online.

Social collaboration. If a company runs social activities, it can turn its attention to SharePoint communities and communication sites. With relevant SharePoint design and customizations, they are to help responsible specialists host professional and social communities, organize themed events, and spread the news among community members. Microsoft Teams and Yammer can be supporting channels for social-oriented collaboration.

External collaboration. Users outside of an organization can also come to SharePoint and Office 365 for collaboration purposes. The suite’s administrator controls which apps and features are available for external users and which actions they can perform. Depending on business goals, external collaboration can be rolled out on SharePoint sites, in closed teams and channels in Yammer and Microsoft Teams, or in Outlook email boxes.

Be wise with collaboration features

If your company looks for an optimal collaboration solution, SharePoint Online and On-Premises, Office 365 and Microsoft 365 are the platforms to consider. Businesses of all sizes can leverage the platforms to digitize collaboration, automate workflows, or set up knowledge management practices.

SharePoint is one of the core apps within the cloud suites, that’s why Office 365 and SharePoint collaboration are often used as synonyms. While SharePoint’s customization principles have changed over the years, it still stays the most adaptable collaboration app that internal teams or external SharePoint consultants can tailor to specific organizational needs.

At the same time, both SharePoint and Office 365 adopters shouldn’t hurry up to activate all the available collaboration tools at once. This can only cause confusion and mess.

It’s more reasonable to choose one core collaboration toolset and then enrich it according to users’ needs. For example, a company can launch SharePoint-based document collaboration supported with Outlook, Yammer, and Microsoft Teams. Later on, they can add Planner and Stream. It’s also wise to start with surveying teams and determining their collaborative preferences to provide them with personalized features.