Mastering management of Office 365 Groups

Posted by Shyam Oza on Mar 7, 2017 12:42:28 PM

Modern cloud-based collaboration technologies have significantly changed the pace and dynamic of work across organizations of all sizes and verticals. Microsoft has continued to lead the charge in this arena with the continued growth and expansion of Office 365. Much of Microsoft’s innovation in the past year has revolved around Office 365 Groups, including the launch of Microsoft Teams last year to compete in the chat-based collaboration space. With Office 365 Groups, Microsoft caters to the evolving workforce by providing end users an easier way to create and collaborate on projects together.

To capitalize on this new way of working, organizations must first address the challenges of managing Office 365 Groups natively. Since there are several ways to manage Groups usage within an Office 365 tenant, IT admins should determine the best way to implement the various administrative controls. An IT admin’s job cannot stop at enabling users to create a new Office 365 Group; they’ll also want to make sure the data living in each Group is protected and used the way it’s meant to be. Microsoft provides a few options to IT admins looking to safeguard data and maintain collaboration, such as configuring guest access to Groups, ensuring information protection, and conducting a Groups audit.

After clearing these hurdles, organizations can reap the benefits of Microsoft’s client integration for Office 365 Groups, third-party connectors, and other capabilities like the Activity Management API, Compliance Center, and Threat Detection. These enhancements are paving the way for the future of workplace communication, which means it’s critical for IT departments to tackle the new world that is Office 365 Groups.

Why there isn’t a right way to use Office 365 Groups
Many organizations have yet to nail down best practices for using Office 365 Groups within their teams. This is due in large part to the pace at which Microsoft rolls out capabilities for the solution. There are a dozen ways to create an Office 365 Group, a plethora of new features released regularly, and a ton of existing capabilities that are presented front and center. All of this power is at the fingertips of end users, and can be very difficult for administrators to harness and properly wield.

With this in mind, IT departments can embrace this mentality: There is no right way to use Office 365 Groups. It isn’t a system that forces users to complete lengthy forms or work within the confines of rigid and over-engineered workflows. While there’s some beauty to this type of “chaos,” enterprises could run into the issue of using the same interface and tools to manage their work in different ways.

For instance, the marketing department might arrange their “buckets”—logical containers for various pieces of content they work on—differently than the product team. Though this method might work for individual teams, it can cause barriers when collaborating across departments. To alleviate this gap and understand how Office 365 Groups can work best within the organization, IT departments should establish control groups. These groups can use the platform without predefined features and limitations before deploying to the entire organization.

Policies are still important
Embracing the chaotic nature of Office 365 Groups is a critical first step toward effectively using the system and achieving collaboration excellence within organizations. At the same time, IT departments shouldn’t let policies and controls fall off their radars. IT should observe the following workplace trends to implement some key controls:

  1. Naming conventions: It’s necessary to mandate how Office 365 Groups are named. IT can establish some straightforward rules that can be refined over time. Some policies for naming could include:
    1. Groups cannot be department names.
    2. Groups cannot conflict with existing SharePoint Team Site names.
    3. Group names must have a prefix indicating the business purpose of the group. (Example: WSP_* for “Work Stream Project,” which is used for short tactical projects in the organization.)
  2. Limited life cycle on all Office 365 Groups: Every Group should be created with a clear purpose in mind. More importantly, every Group must have distinct provisions. Asking business users to define the purpose and projected duration of a Group is essential to preventing sprawl and ensuring provisioning is even necessary in the place.
  3. Approach Public Groups with caution: Office 365 Groups can be Public, Private or Hidden. Teams of workers should determine which tools are best for the audience they wish to address. Yammer, for example, can be used to evangelize broad ideas across the organization while Microsoft Teams and Group Files can be used to gather private ad hoc feedback within a small team. While this flexibility can effectively control a message, it’s also important to control membership and access to the rest of the Group’s content. Most Groups should typically be Private or Hidden, and a very compelling argument should be made for a Group that is going to be Public.
  4. Consider restricting who can create a Group using Azure Active Directory Policies: The creator of an Office 365 Group is immediately given full control. This means they can invite whomever they want, modify permissions at any time, and control privacy settings for the Group. Users without proper training or authorization could create sprawl or prompt the conditions for a potential breach.

Iterate and stay involved
IT departments need to understand the impact Office 365 Groups will have on their organization. The demand will come from millennials and baby boomers alike, and IT will need to train and manage their expectations differently. Millennials will likely gravitate to the ad hoc capabilities first, but will need some solid guidance in place. Other generations may need to be sold on how Office 365 Groups will make their day easier and how to best take advantage of key features.

To ensure the investment really sticks, IT should regularly meet with test groups, conduct lunch-and-learns, and identify champions representing all departments and generations. Every organization will face challenges when rolling out Office 365 Groups—some common and some unique. Success will depend on how involved IT stays in the process and how regularly they collect and pivot based on changes in how work is conducted in the organization.

Shyam Oza is senior product marketing manager at AvePoint.

Topics: Office 365

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