A bad habit turns productive with Office 365 Groups

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Office 365 Groups simplify team collaboration by reducing the friction experienced when changing between collaboration tools. I know that when I start a conversation with a Group email address or upload a document to Group Files, all my team members can access and participate.

In the past, I would have used a Distribution List to send an email to all members of my team. If I wanted to share a file, I may have taken the easy route and attached the document to an email. I knew better, that I should be browsing to a team site and uploading the file to a document library. But there are two reasons that people take “the easy route” and attach the file to an email.

  1. If I have to upload the file to SharePoint, I have to decide on the best place to save the file to. Which site? Which document library? Is that location accessible to everyone? Decisions take time. When you’re in a hurry, you take “the easy route”.
  2. Once you have clicked around and decided where to save the document, you have to refer to it in the email. Using a hyperlink is the most elegant way to do so. But that involves more clicking, copying selecting and pasting.

Once you have clicked around and decided where to save the document, you have to refer to it in the email. Using a hyperlink is the most elegant way to do so. But that involves more clicking, copying selecting and pasting.

Attachments have become the more natural way to share a file and have a conversation about it. But this method has it’s negatives. There are now multiple copies of the document. If anyone wants to edit and send a version to the team members, there are now multiple separate versions of the document. The likelihood has increased that team members will be working from old and inaccurate information.

I have good news for you, lazy file attachment collaborators. You can continue to take the easy route and attach files to emails when you use Office 365 Groups.

  1. Email your attachment to the Office 365 Group
    • All Groups have an email address. If you’re used to communicating with your team using a Distribution List and you are using Office 365, consider upgrading the DL it to an Office 365 Group. Then, keep taking “the easy route” and email your attached document to the Group. You can email your attachments to the Group from any device. The Office 365 Group will share the file for you with other Group members.
  2. OR Start your conversation with attachment, in the Group’s conversations
    • Visit the Office 365 Group from Outlook 2016, Outlook Web Access (browser) or the Outlook Groups app on your mobiles and tablets. Create a new conversation or reply to an existing conversation and attach your document.
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Keep doing what you’ve always done – attach that file to an email to your team. You’ll find it easily in Group Files.

Job done! You have just correctly shared your document with your team by doing what you’ve always done, attaching the document to an email and sending it to a DL.

Wait, what just happened? How does Office 365 Groups turn my bad habit into a productive one?

This is one of those rare moments in life where you are told you don’t have to change a bad habit to do something correctly.

Your email with the attached document reaches the Conversations area for the Office 365 Group. Conversations use a Shared Mailbox, so that all conversation threads are available to all new and existing members of the Group. When an email or post with an attachment is received, the file is automatically saved into the Groups Files.

Under the hood, Group Files is a SharePoint document library, used to organize, share and manage the Group’s documents and files. All members of the Group can access the files and can edit or contribute to them. Versions are managed automatically. Members can work on the document at the same time.

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So what happened to the email? It’s still available to read and respond to. If Group members are subscribed to updates, they will receive a copy of the email in their Inbox.

Here’s where the magic happens.

The attachment still appears to be included in the email message. But now when you open the attachment, you are opening it from the Group Files. It is safely saved and managed where all Group members can access it. Everyone is working from the same copy of the document.

When you open the attachment, it directs you to a web browser to open the document using Office Online. Alongside the document, the email conversation thread opens too. This makes it possible to continue a conversation about the document at the same time as editing the document.

This is isn’t the first time we have seen conversations in the same context as reading or editing a document.

In 2015 we saw Yammer briefly being used as the conversation experience alongside a document.

In the first half of 2016 we saw real time Skype Instant Messaging being used to hold conversations alongside open documents. But the drawback with using Skype is that the conversations aren’t persistent. Due to their real time nature, the conversation is not kept with the document so that later, other team members can read it.

But with Office 365 Groups, the by-document conversations are email based. Group members can participate and read the conversation any time.

Credit: Erica Toelle "Why I’m Disappointed the Yammer Document Conversations Feature Has Been Cancelled in Office 365"
Credit: Erica Toelle “Why I’m Disappointed the Yammer Document Conversations Feature Has Been Cancelled in Office 365”

If working in the browser using Office Online isn’t your preference, or you require a fuller set of features, you have the option to open the document on your desktop. But if you remain in the browser, you have the option to both edit the document and reply to the email/post at the same time. This is ideal for quick edits to contribute to the document and continue to hold a conversation about it.

Finally, it is easier for team members to find an attached document. They don’t need to open email and filter to find all messages with attachments. Just by visiting the Files for the Office 365 Group, all files that are attachments are easily recognized by the email icon and in search result. Time is saved.

So, continue your lazy collaboration. Keep taking the easy route and attach the files to emails sent to your team. When you use Office 365 Groups, your old bad habits are turned into productive, truly collaborative habits.