Editor's Note: This article was originally published in 2015, but has since been updated to reflect the recent changes to Office 365 Groups.
An Office 365 Group comes with several things once created, but what are they exactly? Which should you use and when? It may seem confusing at first, but this is the new approach Microsoft is taking to tackle the Shadow IT issue in organizations, so you'll be hearing about it a lot.
Ok, maybe it's also to make sure your end users don't start subscribing to other random online tech that isn't by Microsoft. Still, you should know what you get when you create an Office 365 Group and how it can be useful.
The Office 365 Groups Series
- Office 365 Groups explained
- Office 365 Groups – what you get and what to use
- 3 ways to manage who can create Office 365 Groups (new!)
Refresh on the Basics of Office 365 Groups
Before you read on, I recommend you start with the basics.
It's important to understand that Groups are not a new product, nor do they compete with any existing Microsoft software.
At the very core, it is just an Active Directory object, very much like Security Groups. Users can be added within the Group, where they'll get access to folders and documents thanks to the permissions they are granted.
The big difference lies in the automated provisioning when a Group is created. Whether it's a SharePoint Site Collection or an Exchange Mailbox, they're all created and associated to that Group to provide a better collaboration experience for that team or project.
Now that we've covered the basics, let's see what you get when a Group is created.
Conversations Can happen in Multiple Ways
I think this is what confuses people the most, because there are many different options. Ironically, when visiting a website that has a forum, a chat and a contact email, we don't seem to be troubled by it.
The same with Facebook: Posts vs Messenger has never been an issue; we always know which to use and when. Same goes when you create an Office 365 Group, you get different options for your conversations.
When you create an Office 365 Group, Exchange generates a mailbox for it. This gives the Group an email address to send and receive through Outlook, and enables the members of the Group to communicate openly using email as a conversation mechanism.
- A feed of email threads displayed as conversations
- Once you've clicked on one of the emails, you can see every email and reply that was sent in the thread.
What you should know about Outlook Conversations:
- Members of the Group considered as Guests, meaning they are external users outside of your organization, will not have access to this interface to browse the previous conversations.
- Outlook Conversations are always included in Office 365 Groups, except when created from Yammer. As mentioned before, a Group can be created from within SharePoint, Outlook, Planner, Power BI, Teams, Yammer and probably other products in the future as well.
- The mobile app is available on Windows Phone, iOS and Android.
- It's not available in Outlook for Mac (though it has been announced) – so Mac users should use Outlook Web.
Microsoft Teams Conversations
Microsoft Teams is a tool that allows you to create chatrooms, or live and persistent conversations if you will. Within these Teams chatrooms, you can create channels to isolate a specific conversation topic.
What's interesting about Teams is that the interface, especially the navigation, is well integrated with the concept of Office 365 Groups. If used, it will likely be considered the “Home” of an Office 365 Group.
On top of the live chat experience it provides, it opens up a world of customization with Bots. Bots are like the “apps” of chat services. For example, we created a bot to survey our organization.
- The name of your Team, which is also the name of your Office 365 Group.
- You get a channel called General by default, but you can also create your own. In this example, I created one called Logistics.
- Customizable navigation for the rest of the products that come with your Office 365 Group.
- Live chat, whether you want to type in plain text, rich text or even create an appropriate meme.
You can even host team meetings using audio and video, where all chat conversations are stored and available in the chatroom even after the meeting has ended.
What you should know about Teams Conversations
- When a Group is created through Teams, the privacy of the Office 365 Group is automatically set to private and cannot be changed.
- You can add a Teams chat to an existing Office 365 Group if it's set to private and has fewer than 600 members in the group. Note that this may change in the future.
- Teams cannot be added if the Office 365 Group uses Yammer for conversations instead of Outlook, as mentioned above.
There exists a mobile app, available for Windows Phone, iOS and Android.
- Teams can be extended with Bots and Connectors.
Outlook Conversations are for emails; Microsoft Teams are to live chat and Yammer is for forum-like threaded conversations. Yammer conversations are a little different, as they are not always available with Office 365 Groups. To get an Office 365 Group with Yammer Conversations, you must create it from within Yammer and Yammer only.
If you decide to create a Yammer connected group, it's exclusive. You will not be able to use the Outlook Conversations, Microsoft Teams, or the Calendar.
Which conversations should you use for your Office 365 Groups?
That's the beauty of this Groups concept, when one is created, you're providing the members with a set of tools that they can choose from. Of course, it doesn't mean you shouldn't provide them with some guidance, to help them know and understand what those tools are.
I am often asked or told that there is too much confusion with three choices for conversations, but I tend to disagree. You don't need to be told when to use live chat, emails or a forum… You just know. It comes naturally. However, you should explain what each of them does and how it can be useful for users in different scenarios.
What Else Comes with Groups Besides Conversations?
We mentioned before that every Office 365 Group created comes with several elements. And this is always the case, regardless of whether the members choose to use them or not. You may want to start with a calendar for the team and eventually grow in a year or two to use the SharePoint Site or the Planner for task management.
A Calendar that Belongs to the Group
Although not available for Groups created with Yammer, this full-featured Outlook calendar allows you to manage events and appointments, like team meetings, without being linked to a specific individual in the organization.
Simple File Management when SharePoint isn't Needed
You'll notice a tab, or navigation item, called “Files.” This is a full-featured Document Library in your SharePoint site, but surfaced directly within your Outlook or Teams experience.
- Create files right from this simplified interface
- Browse to the full-featured SharePoint Document Library
This is a very welcome experience, not everyone in an organization wants to deal with SharePoint for their project. Think back to all those times when all your team needed was a place to get the work done and work on a few files.
This is what Office 365 Groups are all about, allowing teams to grow… organically.
Full Featured SharePoint Site Collection
Regardless of how a Group is created, it will always come with a SharePoint Site. There, you can create Document Libraries and manage your Metadata through Content Types, Columns and even add Workflows. You can find out more about the new Modern SharePoint in a recent article we wrote on the subject.
You'll be able to create Mobile Apps using PowerApps and even create responsive pages to share information with others.
- Responsive Pages to provide Team News
- Group Classification and Privacy always on display, an indicator for external users will also show up here
- Jump to the Outlook Conversations or manage Group members right here
- Create something new: Document Libraries, Lists, Pages, etc.
And the list goes on; Planner to manage tasks using cards, a Power BI workspace to visualize your data and OneNote to provide a shared notebook for all members.
Office 365 Groups are about centralizing membership and policies in one place, while providing the best possible user experience for its members.
Stay in control, manage and govern Groups while empowering end users to get the work done.