SharePoint and Office 365 collaboration: key capabilities and advantages

8 min.

As collaboration standards continue to rise, companies don’t stop chasing for the most suitable toolset to cover collaboration needs of all employee groups. According to Smartsheet’s research, 55% of organizations increased their use of collaboration apps over the past year and 57% reported that they will spend more on enterprise collaboration apps over the next 12 months. What’s even more interesting is that 90% of respondents believe their employees become more productive if they use multiple collaboration tools. But what stands behind this ‘multiple’?

As the numbers show, 46% of companies use six or more collaboration tools. On the one hand, by implementing diverse solutions, organizations have bigger chances to meet the needs of different teams and employees. On the other hand, this diversity has a risky side, as it can cause collaboration inconsistency. As collaboration gets dispersed across multiple solutions, and so does communication history, newly generated content, and employees’ expertise, it’s very hard to build a homogenous enterprise-wide collaborative environment.

Is it possible to offer multiple collaboration tools to employees while keeping the collaboration integrity? Definitely, yes. SharePoint and Office 365 can help you achieve this goal.

SharePoint collaboration ecosystem

Today’s SharePoint collaboration features are versatile. Whether you run an on-premises SharePoint deployment or have cloud subscriptions, you can use a set of sites adapted to different collaboration goals.

  • SharePoint team sites support a whole array of team activities. With them, team members can:
  • Communicate
  • Store and share content of all formats
  • Accumulate knowledge
  • Organize brainstorming and team building activities
  • Access team and corporate resources
  • SharePoint project sites offer all SharePoint team collaboration features coupled with project management capabilities. They are great for hosting project management collaboration and enable teams to stay tuned with every project stage from any place and on any device.
  • SharePoint community sites and portals support both professional and social communities and unite people working in the same business domain or sharing similar hobbies and passions.
  • SharePoint blogs and wikis are optimal for content and knowledge-oriented collaboration. They allow organizations to build fully functional content and knowledge management solutions for a variety of purposes, including staff training, employees’ personal development, and expertise transfer.

In SharePoint Online, you have access to two other types of collaboration sites, including:

  • SharePoint communication sites support any collaboration scenarios implying users’ interaction with a large audience, be it spreading news and reports, organizing corporate events, or collecting a community’s feedback.
  • SharePoint hub sites started to roll out in February 2018. They serve as aggregators putting together content and activities from associated team and communication sites. This way, employees can follow the updates on multiple SharePoint sites at once.
SharePoint collaboration ecosystem

Office 365 collaboration ecosystem

Office 365 enables companies to get a variety of collaboration and productivity tools in one suite. The diversity of tools caused a serious discussion among users and gave rise to many interpretations of the suite’s usage scenarios based on collaboration goals, participants, and their characteristics. However, regardless of certain drawbacks, the suite has already won the loyalty of over 100 million active users.

All in all, Office 365 suite includes 20+ apps. Apart from SharePoint Online, there are several apps form the Office 365 collaboration core.

  • Microsoft Teams are the team collaboration flagship within Office 365. The tool was released in March 2017 as Microsoft’s answer to an extremely popular Slack. This year, it celebrated its first birthday with the Best of Enterprise Connect 2018 prize. The app offers general and private teams and channels for chat-based collaboration coupled with online meetings and voice calls. As announced during Microsoft Ignite 2017, Teams will replace Skype for Business Online by inheriting its features. A smooth merge has already started.
  • Yammer preserves its role of a forum-like collaboration hub. The app is often coupled with SharePoint Online and now comes as a default web part on SharePoint’s modern pages. It also proved itself as an efficient knowledge-centric solution and one of the most popular mediums for collaboration with external users.
  • Skype for Business provides Office 365 users with voice, video, and conferencing capabilities. It’s an optimal tool for both individual communication and large-scale meetings. While its cloud version will become a part of Microsoft Teams, its upcoming new on-premises version (Skype for Business 2019) can become an indispensable addition to SharePoint On-Premises collaboration solutions.
  • OneDrive for Business is the file collaboration hub that enables users to store, share, sync, and cowork on different types of content both online and offline. Depending on a subscription plan, it offers either 1TB storage per user or an unlimited one, thus enabling users to accumulate and work on an impressive volume of content.
  • Outlook stays a 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 collaboration apps, Office 365 also comes with a unique concept of Office 365 Groups. It isn’t a separate tool or 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 are working in, for example, Outlook, SharePoint Online, Yammer, Planner, Stream, and Microsoft Teams. If a user creates a group in Yammer, it will come together with a SharePoint team site and document library, shared Outlook email box and calendar, OneNote Notebook, Planner, Stream channel, and a Power BI workplace.

Microsoft’s attempt to put together several apps has its drawbacks though. Office 365 Groups in large organizations require substantial administration effort. Unmanaged groups can cause chaotic propagation of collaboration spaces. What’s worse, they are subject to frequent access and user permissions issues.


Office 365 collaboration ecosystem

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

The greatest advantage of SharePoint or Office 365 tools is that organizations can mix them freely and adapt them to different types of collaboration.

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 couple SharePoint sites with Yammer, Microsoft Teams, Office 365 Groups, and project management tools such as Planner or Project Online.

Content-focused collaboration. Whether employees need to cowork on documents, content, or knowledge, both platforms will help to manage them all. OneDrive for Business is an essential companion of SharePoint document collaboration. SharePoint and Delve blogs, Sway, and Stream will enable users to create their unique text and visual content and share them with their colleagues, get their feedback and recommendations. Yammer and SharePoint wikis can become great mediums for knowledge-focused collaboration.

Social collaboration. When you need to put together a great number of employees sharing the same activities and interests, turn your attention to SharePoint community, communication, and hub sites. They will enable you to manage professional or social communities, organize thematic events, and spread news among community members in a click. Microsoft Teams and Yammer can be supporting channels for social-oriented collaboration.

External collaboration. Users outside of your organization can also come to SharePoint and Office 365 to collaborate with your employees. You decide what apps and features they can access and what actions they can perform. Depending on your goals, you can use different types of SharePoint sites, offer private collaboration in closed teams and channels in Yammer and Microsoft Teams, use Skype for Business for regular calls and online meetings, as well as Outlook for email communication.

What are the benefits of SharePoint and Office 365 collaboration?

The numbers stated at the beginning of the article showed that companies prefer using an impressive amount of collaboration tools. With SharePoint and Office 365, you have an opportunity to preserve this diversity along with keeping multiple apps within the same environment. This will bring several advantages in terms of management and usage.

Permanent control over the collaboration flow. If employees use scattered tools, you have to put great effort into controlling them all. SharePoint and Office 365 let you keep an eye on everything that happens within all the apps through admin centers. This way, administrators can follow user actions and behavior, manage user permissions, and control data sharing across different collaboration apps. Overall, it allows organizations to ensure a secure internal and external collaboration and prevent unexpected data leaks.

Consolidated activities and consistent communication. A centralized collaboration platform enables employees to organize all their activities within a single hub. This reduces the risk of missing important updates, losing documents, or forgetting a meeting. At the same time, it allows for preserving communication cohesion, which is critical in such domains as project management, co-innovation, and co-creation.

Personalized team workspaces. In SharePoint and Office 365, users can have their workspaces tuned to their collaboration style and needs. For example, a recruiting team can create a collaborative hub using a SharePoint team or project site coupled with task management apps (Planner, SharePoint and Outlook Tasks, To-Do) and chats in Microsoft Teams or Skype for Business to manage the recruitment process. An R&D team can build up a workplace using SharePoint wikis and team or communication sites, thus being able to manage and spread their findings, reports, and stats with the involved parties.

Aggregated knowledge. From the organizational standpoint, a unified collaboration platform also ensures a single access point to all the organizational knowledge assets. Supporting a consistent communication and team activities, companies can launch knowledge management initiatives and create digital knowledge bases or expertise centers. Aggregated knowledge allows companies to make training and introduction periods for newcomers painless, as they can easily absorb the organizational experience and become a part of a team faster.

Beware of collaboration overload

If your company looks for an optimal collaboration solution, you have to include SharePoint and Office 365 in the list of platforms to consider. Both platforms offer a wide set of capabilities that your organization can adapt to a variety of collaboration, content management, and knowledge management needs by means of internal teams or external SharePoint consultants.

At the same time, if you decide to adopt the Office 365 suite, don’t hurry up to enable all the available tools at once. This can cause great confusion and collaboration mess. Choose the core collaboration toolset and then enrich it according to users’ needs. For example, launch SharePoint document collaboration supported with Outlook, Yammer, or Microsoft Teams. You can also start with surveying your teams and determining their collaborative preferences. This way, you will be able to offer individual SharePoint and Office 365 collaboration toolsets to different teams and communities.