Modern SharePoint and document management

SharePoint Modern Series

SharePoint has been used, over the last 10+ years, mainly for two things: Intranet Portals & Document Management. In the past, I have shared my opinion about the state of the Intranet. The topic of Document Management, I haven’t touched in a while.

Other posts by Jasper about the modern SharePoint experience:

In my eyes, the introduction of the new SharePoint Document Library experience was mainly aimed at providing an optimal and improved user experience related to Document Management. The classic experience was complex, slow and not user-friendly, so the modern SharePoint Document Library really shines due to a series of valuable features. We’ll be discussing this in the following paragraphs.

What’s new

Downloading Multiple Documents

This feature seems a bit silly, but don’t forget: this wasn’t possible (without any 3rd party apps) with the Classic SharePoint Document Library. We are now able to select multiple documents and download these with a zip file:

Resize Columns

Again, resizing columns sounds like a silly feature, but it’s so crucial for the user experience. Often, the complete name of documents wouldn’t be visible to the users. This is now easy to resolve by resizing the length of the column. The following screenshot shows the before look & feel:

You can double click on the right side of the column and SharePoint does the resizing for you. The following screenshot shows the end result:

Bye Bye, Ribbon

The ribbon has been completely removed within the modern SharePoint Document Libraries. This was bad news for developers, who created custom solutions, but good news for end users. In my opinion, the ribbon contained way too many options. This resulted in confusion and a high learning curve. We now have an action bar:

The options presented in the action bar, change according to the actions performed by the user. For example: Let’s select a document:

The options in the action bar changed and are aimed at the selected document. This is a lot more user-friendly for end users.

Copy & Move

Let’s not beat around the bush: this was a bad, painful and frustrating experience. Trying to copy or move a document was impossible to understand for end users. For example: if a user wanted to copy a document to another site, this happened:

To copy the file, you have to remember the URL of the destination. Come on! What about moving a document? You had to use the content and structure menu. It’s so archaic, I am not even able to include a screenshot because it’s being deprecated by Microsoft:

The new copy & move experience works like a charm. The user interface is identical:

The user selects the site, library and voilà. Before you copy or move a document, you need to be sure the permissions are correct on the destination. That’s because the permissions for the original location aren’t moved to the new one. You would have to share the file again. I am going to discuss modern permissions in a future blog.

The most common scenario for moving files is as following. I work in the HR department and need to deliver a presentation. I don’t want to start working on the presentation in the Team Site that’s accessible for all my HR colleagues. I start working on OneDrive for Business. After sharing the file with a couple colleagues, for review purposes, I am confident to move the file to the HR Team Site. That said, I am not a fan of copying files because it creates duplicates and could create confusion why there are multiple duplicates of the same file.

The document is now copied or moved to its new location. Be aware of the following: the metadata isn’t copied or moved. Only the version history. In case the new location makes use of metadata, the user has to manually assign metadata to the document. No need to worry because the attention view is here to help! You may wonder, what is the attention view? Don’t look any further:

The classic SharePoint Document Library, automatically, performed a check-out of all the documents without required metadata when the user forgot to assign the metadata. This was annoying because other users weren’t able to view the document. This has been disabled (finally) and the attention view was introduced. The view shows all the documents without assigned metadata.

The site owner, or user, is now able to address this issue. What about uploading multiple documents and assigning metadata? Has this become a little bit easier? Definitely! Let me introduce to you the bulk edit properties:

The users select the documents they want to change and use bulk edit properties to quickly assign the correct metadata. All these features make our lives easier while working with documents in SharePoint.

Further Reading: How to use SharePoint Online and SharePoint Online best practices: tips, tricks & common issues to avoid

Pin Documents

Pinning documents seems like a minor feature but it’s actually very helpful! There are situations where you want to, temporally, highlight important documents. For example, in project scenarios.

You worked on a presentation for the customer and want to make sure all your project members are in the loop:

You are able to pin a maximum of three documents. Just don’t forget to unpin after a while.

Group by & Drag and Drop

This is one of my favorite features in the modern document library experience. Grouping documents, based on a metadata field, isn’t new. This feature has been around since SharePoint 2007. What’s new, is the following:

You don’t have to change the metadata from each file individually, or use the bulk edit properties, but just select the document(s) and drag these into another category. That said, this feature doesn’t always work properly in the different browsers. I sometimes encounter this issue. You should contact Microsoft support if ever this happens because this feature should work.

Details Pane

The details pane is going to be your best new friend. That’s the location where you manage your documents. You can view a preview of the file:

Instead of opening a document, you can use the preview to see if this is the document you are looking for. You can see the statistics of the file:

Always useful to check if your document is valuable for your colleagues. You directly manage the access to the file:

Managing access in modern SharePoint

View all the properties (metadata):

I really love how you can change the metadata and it’s automatically saved.

Last but not least, the file activity and general information are displayed:

Basically, a one-stop shop to manage your content!

Keep Working Within Context

I want to end this chapter with all the awesome modern features, on a high note. You are now able to change the library experience within context of the browser. What does this mean exactly? For example: you want to change the library view or create a new one? The classic experience requires you to go to a settings menu:

You exit the document experience. This isn’t very user-friendly and often confusing. You want your users to stay within the same experience, without exiting and arriving in a new menu. This is one of the biggest advantages of the modern experience. Just look:

I can change the view of the library without leaving the library experience itself. That’s really user-friendly and definitely improves the adoption process. The ‘work within context’ experience is continuously being updated. You can also create new columns directly from the browser experience:

Pretty cool right?

Let’s be Dutch for a Moment

All the new and improved features I just discussed are great but, unfortunately, I also have some criticism. This is where the Dutch in me comes out. Apart from being careful with our money, we are mainly known for being too honest and blunt. The modern SharePoint Document Library experience isn’t a perfect experience.

Document Sets

The promise and essence of Document Sets are brilliant  👍 :

  • Bundling content in a super empowered ‘folder’;

  • Two separate views: One for the library overview and one for the content in the Document Set:

  • Automatically assigning metadata to the content;

  • A welcome page to introduce the content.

Unfortunately, the management and user experience has been very poor  👎 :

  • There is only one welcome page for Document Set content type. Preventing you to create multiple welcome pages.

  • There is only versioning on the metadata of the Document Set, not the included content;

  • Enabling a Document Set requires extensive SharePoint knowledge and expertise.

On top of the above issues, the Document Set is still using the classic SharePoint Document Library experience. I know for a fact that this is on the top of the SharePoint Product Team minds and I am sure the Document Sets are going to be fixed in the near future. That said, all these issues, and the absence of the modern experience, have prevented me to keep working with Document Sets.

This issue is the big one though, and one hard to explain. I am going to give it my all!

The sharing experience has definitely improved within Office 365. There is a cohesive sharing experience for SharePoint and Office:

That’s great for adoption but the problem starts due to the following:

  • There is a Copy Link button and a Share button;

  • The default sharing experience automatically enables editing.

Both these issues are intertwined with each other so let’s dive in. The most common scenario for end users is the ability to share a link to a document. That’s it. For example, they want to share a guideline or template. They don’t necessary want to collaborate, just share a link. That’s confusing because of the presence of two very similar buttons: Share and Copy Link. Intuitively, end users are going to go for the Share button:

The link is automatically going to share the document with the recipients and give them contribute permissions. This can be seen through the “People in your organization with the link can edit” text.

Let’s take a deeper look into the mechanics. My colleague Anne Wallace is already a member, through the connected Office 365 Group of our marketing site. She already gets edit permissions through that membership. I just want to share a link to the document with Anne. After applying the share option, the permission of the document is changed:

Anne receives a new permission level: Contribute. That’s not necessary because she already had the correct permissions through the Marketing & Communication Members Group. This has been creating a lot of confusion with our customers lately.

Let’s go back to the Copy Link action. What happens when I use this button:

This is basically the same as Share button. Looking at the settings in the screenshot, the link will provide each user, within your company, with edit permissions. You can see this through the following steps:

1 . Select the document and click on Share, and then, click on Manage Access:

2. The link I just created is displayed on top :

This whole process is just too confusing for end users. I can barely wrap my head around it! I would advise the following:

Set the default sharing link to read-only. Teach your end users to only use the Share button. Do they want to collaborate? Tick the ‘Allow editing’ checkbox. Do they want to share a link? Click on the Copy Link option:

Does this make our lives easier? Not really. I would advise Microsoft to remove the Copy link button and only use the Share button.

Microsoft Flow

Workflow has always been a crucial part of Document Management & SharePoint. Unfortunately, this never has been SharePoint’s strong suit. The out-of-the-box workflows lacked the ability to configure complex workflows. SharePoint Designer was a horrible and unstable application basically leaving customers with the need to acquire 3rd party solutions such as Nintex Workflow.

Workflow is slowly being moved away from SharePoint towards a new member of the Office 365 family: Flow. This is the workflow service you have been waiting for, allowing customers to connect and integrate with internal and external applications through visual designer. That’s it for now on this topic, but I am definitely going to discuss this topic in the near future.

Update: Microsoft Flow has been replaced with Microsoft Power Automate, which provides even more resources for users to create, automate, and enhance their SharePoint workflows. For more, check the official website.

Moving from Classic to Modern Document Libraries

Let’s discuss the adoption & governing part of modern SharePoint Document Libraries. Microsoft provided a very helpful support page listing the differences between both experiences.

Are you new to SharePoint Online? Start using the modern experience immediately.

Are you currently on the classic experience? I would advise to keep the default setting on classic.

You need to perform an inventory of your sites & site collections if there are any blocking issues, customization-wise, between classic and modern libraries. For the sites & site collections without any blocking issues, I advise starting using the modern experience. You can manually change each library or automate by using PowerShell & CSOM.

Do you have business-critical customizations in your classic document libraries and are these not supported in modern libraries? You have two options: Stay in the classic experience until you are able to move. Try and find alternative solutions for your customizations that actually work in the modern experience. I would advise hiring a SharePoint Developer with SharePoint Framework experience. The developer can transform classic solutions into modern solutions. Microsoft also provides PowerApps and Flow for Business Automation & Form solutions. These two services are being integrated within SharePoint Document Libraries & Lists.

Before you start turning on the modern experience, please get your adoption strategy in place. I am discussing my adoption tips & tricks in a future article.

In the previous chapter, I discussed the issue with the sharing button and the SharePoint permissions. To change the default, you have to go to the sharing menu within the SharePoint Online Admin Center and change the following:

Default Link Permission on Modern SharePoint

Conclusion & Looking Ahead

Are you still with me? This was a long one, but I really hoped you enjoyed reading my views on the Modern SharePoint Document Library experience. The classic experience is on its way out, perhaps not this year, but don’t count on it being around for many more years.

I am very happy with the Modern Document Libraries because even with its faults, it’s still so much more user-friendly and easy to use. Microsoft is moving forward with Modern Document Libraries and loads of new features are on their way. Take a look at the following:

SPC18 Wrapup – Content Services Updates and Roadmap

The biggest Microsoft event of the year, Ignite, is on its way in September. I am expecting loads of new announcements!

The full journey of Modern SharePoint experience is here. Keep an eye out for the following, upcoming, articles:

  • The SharePoint Modern Experience Is Here to Stay!
  • SharePoint Modern Document Libraries (you are here)
  • SharePoint Modern Lists (coming soon)
  • SharePoint Modern Pages
  • SharePoint Modern Team Site
  • SharePoint Modern Publishing Site aka Communication Site
  • SharePoint Modern Search
  • Adopting and Governing the SharePoint Modern Experience

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