In the second part of the series on Microsoft 365, we take a closer look at the collaboration tools available on the platform. In the current situation, with workforces spread geographically whilst working from their homes, the ability to effectively collaborate remotely has never been so important.

Perhaps the best-known collaboration tool in Microsoft 365 right now is Microsoft Teams. Teams is commonly compared to the video meeting application Zoom. However, there is so much more to help organisations collaborate, with video conferencing being just a small part of the available toolset.

A ‘team’ within Microsoft Teams can be created around any group or sub-group in your organisation. For example, you may create a Team for each legal and business support department within your firm. Within each Team, you can then create ‘channels’ to establish separate topic areas. For example, the HR team may decide to create channels for appraisals, training and pay reviews.

From there, functionality within each channel allows you to establish discussion threads, groups of files, a knowledge base etc.

However, collaboration does not stop with Teams. Microsoft 365 contains other tools that allow the collaboration with others, depending on the situation.

Document management is a hot topic for law firms and there is a wealth of specialist document management platforms available.

However, some firms do not wish to go to the expense of a best of breed approach. SharePoint Online is another Microsoft 365 product that may suit some firms with straightforward document management requirements.

SharePoint was originally created as a web-based document collaboration platform, but its use varies from firm to firm. For those seeking to utilise its document management capabilities, you can expect advanced versioning, security and workflow as part of the standard functionality. 

Many firms have taken the capabilities of SharePoint to use it as an information portal for staff – like the traditional intranet with SharePoint pages easily built by anyone. It’s like a basic website builder but comes bundled with easy-to-add components that allow anyone with the appropriate permissions to insert forms, reports, videos and other types of content directly into a page.

Alongside document management comes the necessity to share documents and other files, which is where Microsoft 365 OneDrive steps up to the plate and is simply a cloud-based file storage and sharing application. However, the security and collaboration capabilities of the system make it a suitable tool for firms that need to securely share files with clients and third parties without falling foul of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Once a file or set of files has been uploaded to OneDrive, its capabilities allow the user to create a secure link which can then be sent to individuals inside or outside of the firm. The security options allow for a password to be added to open the file and an expiry date can also be applied to the link rendering it unusable after that date has passed. If the link is sent to a named email address, then the recipient will be required to verify their identity by entering a passcode sent to their email address before being able to access any shared file.

For firms that may be worried about a lack of visibility around what their staff are sharing, Microsoft 365 provides administrators the capability to audit what has been shared and even restrict the type of sharing options available.

Sharing files is great but there are also situations where individuals in separate locations will need to collaborate on document drafts, PowerPoint slides and Excel spreadsheets in real-time.

Microsoft 365 has catered for collaboration by introducing real-time co-authoring. For example, anyone that has permission to access and edit a Word document stored in OneDrive can make changes to that document at the same time as their colleagues. You’ll even be able to see the presence of other colleagues in the document and the changes they are making. To further enhance the co-authoring experience, features such as comments in Word can be used to draw the attention of colleagues to certain sections of a document.

When it comes to project collaboration, the Planner app can help firms manage internal projects. Planner is a hub for team members to create plans, organise and assign tasks to different users and to check updates on progress through dashboards.

Planner allows easy integration with Outlook, the attaching and viewing of task documentation by linking to SharePoint and the discussion of projects within Teams while having a Plan open.

Finally, there is Whiteboard. A very simple application that replicates the traditional whiteboard but on your PC, laptop or whichever device you happen to be using. This is great for virtual ‘brainstorming’ sessions where each participant is sent a link by the host to add their own scrawling. This works great if you have a drawing tablet connected!

The most powerful reason to use Microsoft 365 collaboration tools is due to the way they seamlessly integrate with each other. For example, documents saved in OneDrive can be shown in Teams and Planner, allowing users to collaborate in those spaces, rather than having to return to the OneDrive app.

Every day, Microsoft is enhancing the capabilities of its collaboration tools and we look forward to sharing more with you as the product improves further over the coming months.

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Written by...

Nigel Stott