How to start a collaboration intranet in Office 365

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Fun fact, I haven’t always been a cloud convert.

To be honest, I didn’t really like Office 365 in the beginning. My first impression was that it was like a big confusing maze and I would get thrown around between apps like a ping pong ball.

Fast forward to today, even with the waffle menu to move from one app to another, the navigation just isn’t entirely user friendly. From an end users’ point of view, it’s not “just damn simple”.

The Office 365 Intranet Series
1. Is the Intranet Still Relevant with Office 365?
2. Your Office 365 Intranet – Collaboration or Publishing?
3. How to Start a Collaboration Intranet in Office 365

But back to my first impression. Like any user, I was curious, so I tried each tool just to see how it could be useful to me and to my teams. I call this behavior; “The Tool Driven Syndrome”. You know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you?

See, the thing is, I’m not alone with this issue. People are always saying to me: “Just show me what Office 365 has to offer, then I’ll tell you what we need”.

Which brings me to my first piece of advice; turn the tables around. Ask yourself: What problem am I really trying to solve? That’s the first step to collaborating in Office 365.

Office 365 Isn’t Always the Solution

Trust me, I have a profound love of everything Office 365 has to offer today, but (to my dismay) it’s not a cure-all remedy.

Don’t let your employees find themselves lost in the crazy maze that is Office 365, like I did.

No matter how collaboration works in your organization, the transition to Office 365 will feel like a BIG step and it can go horribly wrong if it isn’t handled correctly.

“If you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”, ever heard that saying?

Office 365 is like a swiss army knife. It seems to have a solution for every problem, but it’s not always great at everything.

This brings me to my second piece of advice; face the fact that you won’t use everything you pay for, especially in the beginning. You’ll get more ROI (return on investment) by maximizing the use of specific tools to improve areas where you struggle.

So, when you’re moving to an Office 365 intranet for the first time, don’t go all out with every tool right from the beginning.

Keep Calm and Choose Wisely

Here’s my list of Office 365’s Intranet features and their potential purpose for your organisation. I’ve outlined everything relating to our current subject; collaboration.

Collaboration in Office 365

What we can learn from this, is that more than one tool can address the same problem… No wonder people get confused and disoriented!

What this means, is that your organisation will need to make some choices before making the big move to an Office 365 Intranet.

  1. Moving Personal Files to OneDrive for Business

    Like I mentioned in my previous blog article, document management is the core of collaboration in most organizations, so moving your employees’ personal/shared documents is a good starting point for your migration project.


    • Straight forward migration (From your employees’ personal drive to ODFB storage space: 1 TB/user)
    • Easy to use for end users because of its similarity to file systems (explorer) and other solutions like Google Drive and Dropbox
    • Simple and quick file sharing
    • Documents accessible offline


    • Synchronisation client can be confusing to users (OneDrive vs OneDrive for Business)
    • Experiencing sync problems can make people lose confidence in the tool
    • Not meant to share many items or to facilitate team or project collaboration

    In order to help your employees with this transition, it’s important to manage change and to find ways of engaging them and encouraging them to use the tool. Check out this slide presentation that goes over pretty much everything end users should know when using OneDrive for Business and/or OneDrive.

  2. Creating Collaboration Spaces with Office 365 Groups Team Sites (Modern Team Sites)

    After you’ve moved your employees’ personal files, you should start thinking about team / project collaboration. Considering OneDrive for Business isn’t really meant for this, the Team sites provided when a new Office 365 Group is created, are the perfect starting point to introduce your employees to Office 365.


    • Perfect for team collaboration (Document Management & News)
    • Self service is available
    • Easy to personalize for unexperienced users
    • Easy membership management
    • Frequently improved by Microsoft


    • Not meant for department or large communication purposes
    • Gives access to multiple features that may not be needed by the team
    • Hard to manage and keep control

  3. Let it Sink in

    Change management is important here. Make sure you have some sort of roadmap for the transition.

    Help your users get acquainted to working in the cloud. If you can successfully bring people in your organization to regularly (and properly) use OneDrive for Business and Team Sites, you’ll be adding a lot of value with minimal efforts.

    By moving file collaboration to Office 365 (even without talking about Planner, Power BI and all that other cool stuff) you’re also mitigating risk. Document management is possibly the most challenging thing to change. IT or not, we all work with files on a day-to-day basis and messing with people’s work habits WILL present resistance (trust me, I learned the hard way).

    So, here’s my third piece of advice: don’t get too excited about Office 365 and all the sexy things it presents. Remember that Rome wasn’t built in one day! Start small and incrementally build on your successes.

Wait, What About Yammer and Microsoft Teams?

By now you’ve probably noticed, these tools didn’t make the cut for my “quick wins”. Let me explain why.

First of all, Yammer took a beating when Teams was announced. The platform we like to call “enterprise social media”, was acquired by Microsoft to offer a style of “Social intranets”. A multidirectional collaboration tool with an easy onboard process. It’s easy because it looks and feels just like Facebook.

Unfortunately for us though, it lacks integration with the rest of the Office 365 ecosystem. In my opinion, it’s a little redundant with other solutions:

  • Document management -> SharePoint is way better for this
  • News -> New Communication sites that were announced at the SharePoint Virtual Summit this year seem to be a better way to reach people
  • Communication -> Skype, Teams and emails already doing a good job

Change management is also WAY more complicated with Yammer. Although most people in your organization are probably using Facebook regularly, it may not be the case for all your employees. Some people just don’t like the idea of sharing things on social media.

Yammer may be easy to roll out in a smaller company, but may be quite complicated in a larger one. Large organizations are generally a little more old school and aren’t ready for big multidirectional collaboration platforms yet.

Microsoft Teams though, I will say is a really promising tool, because it offers a super effective way to communicate with colleagues. It’s an alternative to third party solutions like Slack, and it’s well integrated in the Office 365 Groups experience. Teams will soon be part of our daily work for sure.

That said, here’s my last piece of advice for you (no more after this I swear!): most organizations have Skype (or other 3rd party solutions) to deal with instant messaging and video calls. So, changing document management is a big enough change for the first step. I wouldn’t recommend integrating Yammer or Teams in this first stage of your move to Office 365.

Let Your Users Tame the Beast

In the end, I am merely giving you advice based on my experience. I think bringing people to collaborate in your Office 365 intranet as the first step will facilitate any future initiatives to extend the use of the platform to its full potential.

This way, people will be working in your ecosystem and you won’t lose two years of files because an employee working with Google Drive left the company!

Do you agree? Let me know what your take on this is in the comments below.

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