SharePoint lists: The Beginner’s Guide

SharePoint lists are one of the most useful features in SharePoint and the wider Microsoft 365 digital workplace.  They are a highly flexible and convenient way to store and display data and content, with a variety of different options relating to formatting, access and workflows; they’re also super-easy to use.

At Content Formula we are long term fans of lists and over the years we’ve used them many times across our projects. If you have a SharePoint intranet or environment, it’s extremely likely that you will use a SharePoint list somewhere along the way.

If you’re relatively new to SharePoint lists or don’t use them as much as you could do, this beginners guide to SharePoint lists is for you. In this long read we cover:


What are SharePoint lists?

SharePoint lists have been a core feature of SharePoint for many years. Lists are essentially a way of storing and displaying data and content within SharePoint in a set of rows and columns, similar to a table or a spreadsheet. A list is a highly flexible way to both manage but also display structured information and content within SharePoint, with a variety of options relating to formatting, access rights and different types of content. You can also apply rules and workflow.


What’s the difference between Microsoft lists and SharePoint Lists?

At the moment there are two separately branded lists from Microsoft – Microsoft lists and SharePoint lists; this can cause some confusion in the marketplace. Actually, these have the same features and user interface and can be considered the same – the only difference is that SharePoint lists sit within a SharePoint site while Microsoft Lists sit within a personal site, similar to OneDrive.

Microsoft introduced the “Microsoft lists” branding when it upgraded the list features in 2020 and wanted to emphasise that lists can also be deployed directly into Teams and be used standalone. However, since then the features within SharePoint lists and Microsoft lists are synchronised. Microsoft lists have their own dedicated web and mobile app. For a deeper dive on this topic, please read our article about the difference between Microsoft lists and SharePoint lists.


What are the benefits of a SharePoint and Microsoft lists?

Lists are an excellent way to store and manage data in SharePoint, Teams and Microsoft 365 and have several benefits:

Highly flexible and scalable

Lists are highly flexible and scalable. They can be very small or very large with thousands of items. They can accommodate different types of content including text, images, videos, audio, documents, formulae and metadata. They can also have a wide variety of different formatting. You can also apply workflow to lists and control the access. This flexibility means that a SharePoint list can meet a wide variety of use cases and scenarios – it’s one of the key reasons SharePoint lists are so useful.

Granular levels of control

One of the most powerful elements of lists is the high level of granular control that you have over lists down to the row, column and even cell level, for example relating to both formatting but also access control. For example, you might have a number of people who are updating a list of first aiders throughout your organisation that is displayed on your intranet, but you want to ensure they can only update one column within the list. The granularity of control means you can protect the rest of the list and ensure other information doesn’t get overwritten, for example.

Easy to create and manage

Another major advantage of lists is that they’re super easy to create and manage; working with lists is not dissimilar to working with spreadsheets. Because of Microsoft’s generally “no code low code” approach to modern SharePoint, you do not need to involve the IT function. Lists are open to use by non-IT professionals, such as the intranet team or even local site owners.

One source of truth for data and content

When organisations use SharePoint for their intranet or as a trusted repository of information, they are often trying to ensure there is one source of truth for data. SharePoint lists support one source of truth by having various features to support the governance of data, including granular access control and integration with Power Automate to ensure information kept in a SharePoint list is updated in other systems, and vice-versa. Because the list can also be surfaced across different Microsoft 365 tools it also means that there only needs to be one instance of the list, again supporting one source of truth.

Ready-made templates and formatting

Lists come with a set of ready-made templates with nice formatting to cover different types of lists such as asset managers, content schedulers, budget trackers, issue trackers and many more. Many of these are provided by Microsoft, but there are also many others available on GitHub from the Microsoft community.

Deep integration with other Microsoft 365 tools

One of the reasons that lists are so powerful is their deep integration with other Microsoft 365 tools. You can use lists within Teams, for example. Integration with Microsoft Forms is also particularly useful as you can easily create a Form for people to add information too and then instantly populate a SharePoint list; this can be very handy when you want to guide users to enter certain types of information, with a Form doing the heavy lifting on the data entry.

Integration with Power Automate, Power Apps and the other tools within the Power Platform is also key meaning that workflows can be triggered when information is changed or added, and then be updated in another system, and vice-versa. For example, if somebody changed their name in the HR system of record, this could then be updated in a SharePoint list of first aiders that was kept on the intranet.

Often better than an Excel spreadsheet

Many teams use Excel to store and manage structured information, but actually a SharePoint list is usually a superior tool for managing information. Reasons that lists are frequently better than Excel spreadsheets include the ability to maintain control over certain areas of the list, better data integrity and deeper integration with Microsoft 365.

Microsoft keeps on investing

Like most of the tools across the Microsoft 365 suite, Microsoft keeps on investing in lists and making improvements. For example, there was a major “upgrade” in 2020. Lists is also a heavily utilised feature in SharePoint and will almost certainly be around for a long time yet, so you are effectively future-proofed using lists.


What are the different features of a SharePoint list?

Three are a number of key features of SharePoint lists.

Cells, columns and rows

A SharePoint list is fundamentally a table that includes different cells set out in a rows and columns format. However, within a list the rows are known as list items. Within the columns you can define required different data types such as text, number, date / time and so on. A column can also define a look-up list of values; for example, all the locations within an organisation or the list of products your company offers to clients.

List views and formatting

It's possible to set different views to filter your list and use different formatting. This is now highly flexible so that you can create a range of formats to suit different use cases, reorder columns and even do things like pin items to the top of the list. There is even conditional formatting so that a list could change in appearance based on the item added, for example a status could be displayed as Red, Amber or Green depending on information being added.


As already noted, Microsoft has created a set of different templates which include asset manager, content scheduler, employee on-boarding, event itinerary, issues tracker, recruitment tracker, travel requests and work progress tracker. There are also community-driven templates available via GitHub.

Rules and workflows

You can also add various rules and workflows to your list, some of them through the integration with Power Automate. You can also control access to read and edit different areas of the list. The integration with a Microsoft Forms front end can also help to enforce different rules for content entry.


What are some of the use cases for a SharePoint list?

There are many different use cases for a SharePoint list, many of which are reflected in the templates available. SharePoint lists are excellent for scenarios where:

  • Information is often changed on a regular basis
  • Where a wider number of people may be inputting data
  • Where a wide number of people need to regularly refer to the data
  • Where the data needs to be displayed in more than one place
  • Where the data needs to be updated across different systems.

Here are a few popular use cases, but there are many others:

  • Using it as an events calendar to store on your intranet covering key dates and milestones, including holidays in different countries
  • An inventory list covering office equipment or technical equipment
  • Maintaining lists of people relating to roles such as fire wardens, mental first aiders, HR contacts for each location and so on
  • Maintaining a list of locations with related information about each office, such as address, opening hours, main contact etc.
  • Tracking a list of issues and their related status for a project
  • Maintaining a backlog of changes for a product or application – even your intranet!
  • Logging requests and feedback on a product or application and tracking their status
  • Keeping a log of different requests such as for a new phone and then allowing people to view the status for their request
  • A list of subscribers to different journals and information feeds
  • Maintaining a list of the required steps for a new starter during the employee on-boarding process
  • Providing the latest version of a user manual or documentation across a portfolio of products
  • Keeping a directory of apps in use throughout the enterprise
  • And many more!

How do I create a list in SharePoint Online?

1.  Navigate to the SharePoint site where you want to create the list.
2.  Click on the gear icon in the top right corner of the page and select "Site contents" from the menu.
3.  Click on the "+New" button and select "List" from the options.
4.  Enter a name for the list and a description (optional) and click on the "Create" button.
Once the list is created, you can add columns and items to it by clicking on the "Add column" or "New" button.


How do I delete a list in SharePoint Online?

1.  Navigate to the SharePoint site where the list is located.
2.  Click on the gear icon in the top right corner of the page and select "Site contents" from the menu.

3.  Locate the list you want to delete and hover over its name.

4.  Click on the ellipsis (...) that appears and select "Delete" from the options.
5.  Confirm the deletion by clicking "Delete" in the pop-up window. Note: Be careful when deleting list, it will be permanently deleted and cannot be restored.


How do I import a SharePoint list from Excel?

1.  Select the gear icon and choose "Add an App"
2.  On the next screen, give your new app/list a name, then choose an Excel file. Click Import.
3.  You will now notice an Excel file open up with a pop-up window where you need to select a range of cells to import. Once you choose the range of cells in the pop-up, click Import.
The table will now be imported to SharePoint. It will go ahead and create a custom list with proper column headers and values.  

Need help with SharePoint list or Microsoft lists? Get in touch!

We hope this beginner’s guide has given you an overview of SharePoint lists, how they can be used and answered some key questions. We’ve been using SharePoint lists for years, so if you need any help then get in touch!

Find out more about using SharePoint lists for your organisation...

Request a call back with one of our SharePoint experts, for a free consultation about your business.

Get in touch to discuss your project

What is the difference between SharePoint Lists and Microsoft Lists?

Lists are one of the most longstanding and useful elements of SharePoint and the now the wider Microsoft 365 environment. Lists have multiple uses, are extremely flexible and are an easy way to store and manage controlled data and content that is frequently updated and needs to be displayed to many people, for example through an intranet or on Microsoft Teams. Here at Content Formula we’re long-time fans of lists and we regularly use them in projects for our clients.

In recent years, Microsoft has given lists some love and invested in new capabilities, effectively giving hem a bit of an upgrade. This attention has been welcome, but it has resulted in what appears to be two version of lists – SharePoint lists and Microsoft lists. From time to time we get asked what the difference between the two is. Are they the same thing? And if not, what are the differences between them? In this post we’re going to explore the differences between SharePoint lists and Microsoft lists.

What is a SharePoint list?

Our comprehensive beginner’s guide to SharePoint lists takes a deep dive into SharePoint lists where we cover what they are, the main benefits, popular use cases, different elements and characteristics of a SharePoint list and how to carry out some of the basics, such as creating and deleting Lists. In the guide we define a SharePoint List as:

“a way of storing and displaying data and content within SharePoint in a set of rows and columns, similar to a table or a spreadsheet. A list is a highly flexible way to both manage but also display structured information and content within SharePoint, with a variety of options relating to formatting, access rights and different types of content.”

What is a Microsoft List?

Microsoft themselves define a Microsoft List as a “smart tracking app in Microsoft 365” that allows you to “work with anyone, anywhere” and where lists can be configured to “better organise events, issues, assets and more.” In this way Microsoft lists are strongly identified as part of Microsoft 365 rather than as part of SharePoint.

However, a Microsoft list is essentially the same piece of functionality as a SharePoint List. It has more or less exactly the same capabilities and user interface but is delivered and packaged as a standalone app while a SharePoint list is directly part of SharePoint.

SharePoint Lists vs Microsoft Lists

While this separate branding might be a bit confusing, there is some logic behind it. In 2020 Microsoft added some key functionality to lists, including the ability to integrate some social features, extending formatting options and creating a number of very useful templates. They also wanted to emphasize that lists can be deployed within Microsoft Teams and were not just confined to being deployed within SharePoint sites. This new version of lists was branded as Microsoft lists to differentiate it. However, since then, the functionality of SharePoint lists and Microsoft lists has been synchronised, so they now share the same features.

If they are the same thing, why are they different?

Not everybody uses SharePoint but lists are highly versatile and can be used in their own right, particularly within Microsoft Teams and in integrations with PowerApps and the Power Platform.

The differentiation in branding does help to emphasise their independent use outside SharePoint but also some of the new formatting and power that has been brought to lists.

When Microsoft lists were initially launched, they had more features than SharePoint lists, but they now share the same feature set. However, there are some differences in where lists are stored. Microsoft lists are stored in the same place as OneDrive files – on a personal site – while a SharePoint List will be on the individual SharePoint site that its kept on.


What does the list app do?

Another major difference is that Microsoft Lists has its own dedicated web app and mobile app, that is available via Google Play and the iOS app store. The app can present an aggregated view of lists and help you to manage them. Can you move SharePoint lists to Microsoft Lists and vice versa?

There is a facility to copy lists from one place to another that would allow a list in a SharePoint site to be created as a Microsoft lists, and vice versa. There is also a workaround in copying SharePoint list into Excel and then copying that back a Microsoft list – a process that also works the other way around. However, there have been some reports that formatting can get lost when carrying out both these processes.

Still confused about lists? Get in touch!

Microsoft branding can be a bit confusing at times with so many different apps and services, and even different names for what is essentially the same functionality. The good news is that the feature set in Microsoft lists and SharePoint Lists are essentially the same, meaning that you can deploy a list with confidence in a SharePoint site or within Teams, or use lists effectively as a standalone app. You can also integrate with PowerApps and Power Automate and also leverage a library of helpful templates for key use cases, helping lists to become a highly useful feature within the wider Microsoft 365 digital workplace.

As we’ve often said, at Content Formula we love lists! If you’re still confused about the difference between SharePoint lists and Microsoft lists, or want to know how you can better use lists in your intranet or digital workplace, then get in touch!

Find out more about using SharePoint lists for your organisation...

Request a call back with one of our SharePoint experts, for a free consultation about your business.

Get in touch to discuss your project

Should I synchronise SharePoint lists with SQL server database?

SharePoint lists and Microsoft lists are a wonderful way to manage and display information, for example in your intranet or within Microsoft Teams. Organisations that are keen to ensure there is one source of truth for their data and information can use lists together with Power Automate to help maintain the integrity of their data, so that when there is a change to one piece of data this is also reflected elsewhere.

Some organisations that use SQL Server to store and query their data, and also use SharePoint for communication and their intranet, are often keen to ensure that the data that is stored in SQL can also be surfaced in SharePoint lists.

A question that we occasionally get asked is what the best way to synchronise a SharePoint lists with SQL Server database, so information is updated in both systems. Other related questions include:

  • How do I import or export data from SQL Server to a SharePoint list?
  • Can I connect a SQL server to a SharePoint list?

While synchronisation and data import / exports are technically possible, these approaches have several disadvantages, and is a practice we do not recommend to our clients. In this post we’re going to explore the topic in more detail and suggest why there are better approaches.

What are SharePoint lists?

A SharePoint list (or Microsoft list) is a format for storing and displaying data and content within SharePoint in a set of rows and columns, similar to a table or a spreadsheet. Lists are a highly flexible way to both manage but also display structured information and content within SharePoint, as well as Teams and other part of Microsoft 365. For more detail on see our SharePoint Lists beginner’s guide.

What is SQL Server database?

SQL Server is a relational database management system that is frequently used by organisations to store, manage and query data used in core systems, reporting and business intelligence. It has been around for many years and is still a popular way of storing data in organisations, with SQL skills commonplace among IT professionals.

Why do organisations want to keep the data in lists and SQL synchronised?

It’s not surprising that organisations want to keep their data synchronised between SSL and SharePoint lists. Having one source of truth ensures that data is consistent wherever it appears, across core systems, dashboards, reports and communication channels like the intranet. Bringing data together from different sources is essential for decision making, management and leadership, as well as compliance, risk management and more.

It is essential that the integrity of data is maintained, and querying data dynamically has value. Commonly, digital workplace teams want to surface data and display information that managers and employees need to refer to, in popular channels like Teams, a SharePoint intranet or in SharePoint communication sites. Lists is a very useful format for visualising and displaying data.

Lists are also used to manage and update information too, and teams want to ensure that any information changed in a list is also updated in SQL too. With two-way synchronisation, teams can ensure there is one source of truth.


What are the challenges of synchronising lists and SQL Server?

If you are planning to go ahead and synchronise SharePoint lists and SQL Server, there are various pitfalls to be wary of.

1. You’re going to need to get IT involved

Synchronising lists and SQL is essentially a custom development and will come at a cost, as well as create technical debt which causes various problems down the line. There are connectors on the market, but these will need to be tested and again come with some risk. However you approach it, you will need to get a development resource involved in the synchronisation. If you haven’t got the expertise in-house, you’ll likely have to go external.

2. It needs ongoing maintenance and monitoring

Connectors and / or custom code will require ongoing maintenance and monitoring to make sure the synchronisation is taking place, and then to make any necessary fixes if a problem arises. Again, this results in ongoing costs and reliance on development resources.

3. You risk the integrity of your data

Perhaps the most significant issue with synchronising SharePoint lists and SQLs is that you are actually setting up two places for data to be stored. If the synchronisation fails, it means that you are risking the integrity of your data with two different versions.

If there is an issue and doesn’t get noticed straight away, it might take a lot of unpicking and effort to restore all the data to its correct state, There may also be potential consequence if employees are relying on out of date or incorrect data for decision-making and key processes.

4. SQL and lists are not the same thing

SQL is a relational database, but a SharePoint list is not a relational database. This can limit some of the information you can synchronise; if you are trying to synchronise you really do need to know what you’re doing or further risk your data integrity.

What are the alternatives?

In our view synchronising SQL and lists comes with associated risks, costs and ongoing effort. There are better alternatives.

Using Power BI

Sometimes teams want to visualise their data and content using a SharePoint list, because its an easy and flexible format. However, Power BI offers an alternative (and often superior) option for data visualisation and comes with a ready-made connector for SQL. Here, you can then set up your dashboard and report without undermining the “one source of truth” caused by syncing with lists, and also avoid the costs associated with a custom approach.

Using the Dataverse

The Dataverse is Microsoft’s solution for data storage that’s utilised across Microsoft 365 and the Power Platform. It’s an Azure-based relational database for storing data which can then be surfaced, updated and queried across different Microsoft applications, as well as non-Microsoft applications if required. It is bundled in with Power Apps subscriptions.

Using the Dataverse means your SharePoint list can easily utilise the data contained within it in a more effective and cheaper way thanks to seamless integration which means:

  • You don’t have actually have to involve developers; this can be carried out by Power Users all within a low code no code interface
  • No customisation and associated costs are required with everything covered in your PowerApps subscription
  • You don’t need ongoing maintenance and effort
  • You avoid the risk of creating conflicting data.

Overall, using the Dataverse rather than trying to sync a SharePoint list and SQL means lower risk, lower costs, less effort and avoids various other pitfalls.

Need advice on lists, SQL and the Dataverse? Get in touch!

Synchronising SharePoint lists or Microsoft lists and SQL Server has various pitfalls, and in our view there are better alternatives.

If you’d like to discuss lists, SQL, the Dataverse or how you manage and store your data across the digital workplace, then get in touch!

Find out more about using SharePoint lists for your organisation...

Request a call back with one of our SharePoint experts, for a free consultation about your business.

Get in touch to discuss your project

What is Power Apps and how can I use it?

Please note: for the most up-to-date information about Power Apps and its latest features and functionality, please see: Micrcosoft Power Apps

Power Apps is yet another offering from Microsoft associated with the Office 365 suite of tools that delivers exciting opportunities to build custom apps, drive process automation and create efficiencies for businesses of all sizes.  We often find ourselves in conversations with clients and organisations either curious about Power Apps or with business issues where Power Apps could make a real difference.

To give clients an overview of Power Apps and its possibilities, we’ve written this article to explain what Power Apps is and how you can use it in your business. This is part of our occasional blog series on the fundamentals of the individual parts of the Office 365 universe. You may also be interested in our posts on Microsoft TeamsMicrosoft Graph, and Flow.

What is Power Apps?

Power Apps is a tool that allows you to create custom apps, leveraging many of the features of the Office 365 and Microsoft platform. Apps can be accessed via mobile devices or via the browser.

What sets Power Apps apart from other offerings is that while it can be used by developers, it can also be used by non-technical employees  such as business analysts. This means that it is quite possible for a Power Apps power user to create a custom app. Just like its Microsoft cousin Flow, Power Apps is successfully bringing the power of process automation to a non-technical audience.

Having said that, realistically users will need to have some technical understanding, training and appreciation of the tools and data they are working with. There’s a long way to go before everyone is creating their own apps and realistically you may need to bring in developers to work on more complex functionality.

Microsoft defines Power Apps as a suite of apps, services, connectors and data platform that provides a rapid application development environment apps for your business needs.  While you can add integrations with other applications, a key strength is its ability to build apps based on Office 365 and also Microsoft Dynamics 365. If you have a particular process that uses different parts of  the Microsoft universe, for example SharePoint Online, Excel and Dynamics 365, then an app based on Power Apps has the potential to bring them all together for your users in one handy, convenient experience.

The beauty of building your own app is that you can also make sure it is completely wrapped around your organisations unique user needs and the way your employees work.


Similar to Flow and other Office 365 automation tools, Power Apps comes with features and tools to help create apps that don’t require any coding. These include:

  • a library of sample apps that you can work from as a starting point and then customise
  • a library of over 200 connectors to integrate data and systems including those across the Office 365 universe
  • an easy drag and drop interface for the creation of apps
  • close integration with other Office 365 and Dynamics tools
  • good support structures, including an active Power Apps community.

Canvas and model-driven apps

There are two ways to develop Power Apps via the canvas approach or the model-driven approach.  The canvas approach is a bit like working from a blank canvas where you connect data sources, add workflows and create interfaces for your app using the drag and drop interface, potentially relying on the library of standard connectors.

Leveraging the connected world of Office 365 allows you to even create canvas apps within other tools such as SharePoint as the starting point.  Using the canvas approach also gives you complete control over an app you’re creating from scratch.

More recently, the model-driven approach for creating apps  has been introduced. Originally a feature of Microsoft Dynamics, this approach leverages Microsoft’s Common Data Service which already has information on the various forms, data structures and business rules you have already defined, and then allows you to start building your app on top of this. In this way the structure and data lead the creation of the app, a very useful approach when you are relying on potentially complex underlying data for your app, for example stored in Microsoft Dynamics.

How can my organisation use Power Apps?

Power Apps can be used for multiple processes involving workflow, automation, data visualisation and reporting, collaboration and more. It could involve teams, field workers, your management team and even your customers. Use cases can range from the relatively simple to the highly complex. You can both be improving the basics or also be highly innovative. Power Apps can be experienced as a mobile app, a website or even within an Office 365 tool like Microsoft Teams.

For inspiration, our popular article on different ways to automate business processes includes a number of ideas that can be achieved with Power Apps, including:

  • Enabling field workers to enter data when out in the field, for example logging repairs needed or the results of site inspections
  • A Know your Client app used for due diligence on new clients, covering various criteria and interrogating various databases
  • Building model standard documents such as contracts using automation based on different criteria and metadata
  • Building a customised 360 appraisal system with input from a variety of users, workflow and handy reporting
  • A system for IT departments to track assets such as hardware, mobile devices and software licenses
  • A variety of marketing automation tools to follow up with clients based on their interactions and responses.

New powerful capabilities

Like most of the tools and services within Office 365 Microsoft continue to invest in Power Apps, and the latest announcements for near future capabilities are particularly exciting.

An AI Builder capability allows Power Apps to tap into Microsoft’s AI  and machine learning frameworks and develop smarter, more advanced apps.  For example, Microsoft cite the ability for AI to analyse and categorise your customer feedback responses and then take particular actions, helping to bring marketing automation to the next level. They also quote a real example of how Power Apps injected with AI is helping workers in a manufacturing and distribution unit identify and track product items just by taking a photo. Additionally, there are opportunities to integrate blockchain (via Azure Blockchain Services) to develop even more specialist apps.

Microsoft has also announced Power Apps Portals, the ability to create websites aimed at external employees, in the same way as Power Apps. This feels significant to us, connecting customer actions on a website directly to internal and back-end processes, marketing automation and more. For example. if you set up a customer feedback portal using Power Apps Portals, you could create some pretty intriguing and powerful workflows and actions.

Should you leverage the power of Power Apps?

You should definitely leverage the power of Power Apps. We love working with Power Apps and our clients tell us they love the results. Were confident that you’ll love Power Apps too, creating compelling apps that will help simplify ways of working, drive customer service and more, potentially becoming more sophisticated as you expand capabilities with AI and website integrations later down the line.

If you’d like to discuss with us how you can use Power Apps to help your business then get in touch!


What intranet design works best for you?

Hopefully, we’ve given you some ideas for intranet designs and some of the factors to consider when designing your homepage. What one works best for you? If you’d like to talk to us about intranet homepages and intranet design, then why not get in touch?

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15 digital workplace statistics you need to know for 2023

The digital workplace continues to evolve and play a major role in employee experience and organisational life; over the past few years it has moved forward enormously.  There are various statistics which reflect and demonstrate just how far the digital workplace has come, but also show that there is still a lot of work to do.

These statistics are useful in helping organisations think about where they are in their own digital workplace journey, as well as conversation starters to talk to business stakeholders. They can also be a useful reference point in any business case.

In this post we’re going to explore fifteen key digital workplace statistics for 2023 that you need to know. These are all from authoritative sources, can be used in a presentation or business case, and cover different aspects of the digital workplace from technology adoption to employee engagement to intranet team size!

1. The digital workplace is very important for over 70% of organisations

Over the years, the digital workplace has been growing in importance and priority for organisations. According to the annual State of the Digital Workplace Report from SMG, 72% regard the digital workplace as an “extremely important” or “very important” priority. Only 8% regard it as “slightly important” or “not important”.

2. Only 26% of organisations regard their digital workplace as mature

Even though the digital workplace is regarded as a priority by the majority of organisations, many feel that there is room for improvement and evolution. According to the same SMG survey, only 26% regard their digital workplace as “mature” with a further 45% regarding it as “about mid-way”.

3. Only 21% of employees are engaged at work

Employee engagement continues to be an important dynamic in the workplace, but surveys continue to show that only a minority of employees feel genuine engaged. According to the authoritative 2022 State of the Workplace Report from Gallup, only 21% of employees are engaged.

4. Companies with strong employee experience are 25% more profitable

Having a strong employee experience drives a range of strategic benefits. Research led by Kristine Dery at MIT has shown companies with strong employee experience (top quartile) are 25% more profitable than those with a weak employee experience (lowest quartile). Similarly, they are also like to have twice the level of innovation and double the customer satisfaction (NPS scores).

5. The average team size of an award-winning intranet is 17

The intranet is still a major channel within the wider digital workplace. Each year the Nielsen Norman Group runs a competition to determine the top ten intranets of the year, and they also run some interesting statistics. Although relating to generally larger enterprises, according to Nielsen Norman the average intranet team size is 17 FTE, based on winners between 2015 and 2022.

6. Larger companies deploy an average of 187 apps

A major issue impacting employee experience is the sheer number of different apps that are in use within any one organisation and in practice many efforts to improve employee experience try to simplify the app landscape. According to Otka’s annual “Business at Work” report, in 2021 on average a company with more than 2,000 employees had 187 apps across the enterprise.

7. 67% of employees say their digital experience outside work is better than inside work

An ongoing theme in the digital workplace is the superiority of the technology experience in the consumer space compared to that of work. A 2022 survey of IT decision-makers and knowledge workers in the US and UK found that 67% of them had a better digital experience outside work than inside work. Only 8% said their digital workplace experience was better than their experience as consumers.

8. Employees who feel cared for by an employer are 3.7 times more likely to recommend working there

Supporting wellbeing has been rising on the agenda for HR and is increasingly seen as a component of employee experience. This appears to have an impact on employee perceptions of their employer; a LinkedIn Learning report using information from the Glint engagement tool suggests that an employee who feels “cared about at work” is 3.7 times more likely to recommend working for that company.

9. Social tools can increase the productivity of knowledge workers by up to 25%

The value of social and collaboration tools in raising the productivity of knowledge workers is now widely accepted. One of the most (over) quoted statistics in the digital workplace space is from a McKinsey Global Institute article from way back in 2012 that suggests using social technologies to improve collaboration and communication can raise productivity between 20% and 25%.

10. Employee onboarding increases employee retention by over 80%

Teams focusing on employee experience frequently look to improve the employee onboarding experience for new hires. This makes good business sense as research from Brandon Hall (from back in 2015) suggests that a good onboarding programme can increase employee retention by as much as 82%.

11. 58% of executives report improvements to individual productivity from hybrid work

The scaling up of remote and hybrid work is still contentious in some organisations, with some senior executives demanding a return to the office. However, omany people report increased productivity from hybrid work. A McKinsey survey of executives found that 58% reported an increase in individual productivity, with 49% also reporting an increase in team productivity from remote work brought on by the pandemic.

12. There are 270,000 million Microsoft Teams users

Over the past few years Microsoft Teams has seen a meteoric rise in usage, with the pandemic also acting as a catalyst for the platform’s dramatic growth. Microsoft now continues to expand and is a major component of many digital workplaces. According to useful statistics website Statista, in 2022 Teams reached an estimated 270,000 million users, almost double the number in 2021.

13. The value of the digital workplace market is set to surpass $75 bn by 2027

As the digital workplace has grown in importance, the related technology solutions and services that enable the digital workplace have also evolved. In fact analyst firm Market Research Future (MFPR) estimates that the digital workplace “market” will be worth $USD 76.6 billion by 2027, representing a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 21.8% from 2021 to 2027.

14. 50% of organisations have embedded AI in least one function, more than doubling over 5 years

AI is steadily growing in influence within organisations and across the digital workplace. According to McKinsey’s annual State of AI report released in late 2022, 50% of all organisations have adopted AI in at least one function, a level which was only 20% in 2017.

15. 39% of organisations who are leveraging AI are using it for Robotic Process Automation

The same McKinsey survey asked organisations who have adopted AI in products or processes within one function how they are using it. The most popular answer has proved to be Robotic Process Automation (RPA) mentioned by 39% of respondents. This tallies with our experience at Content Formula that many organisations are using the AI of the Power Platform to automate simple and repetitive tasks, releasing time for employees to carry out more valuable activities.

Helping your digital workplace journey

We hope you found these digital workplace statistics helpful! If you’re starting out on your own digital workplace journey, planning your roadmap for the new year, making a business case for investment, or want help with a particular digital workplace project, we’re here to help!

You might be working with Microsoft 365, Microsoft Teams, SharePoint or Microsoft Viva, or are looking to integrate other technologies. We have decades of experience working with intranets, collaboration and the wider digital workplace and have a range of services running from strategy formation to technical development to adoption and change management support.

Discuss any aspect of your digital workplace by getting in touch.

What is the digital workplace?

What is the digital workplace?

The digital workplace is a term that is commonly used in conjunction with Microsoft 365 projects, intranets, collaboration platforms and other similar enterprise solutions that support collaboration, communication and engagement.

But what actually is the digital workplace? While most of us have an idea of what it generally refers to – perhaps a digital environment accessed for work or the systems we spend our working day in –  many teams don’t have an exact definition of what the digital workplace actually is. In this post we’re going explore what the digital workplace is, and some of the different definitions that have been made.

There is no consensus on the digital workplace, but it matters

First of all, it’s important to state that actually there is no industry-wide standard consensus on what the digital workplace is. It can relate to both a specific technology environment, but also as a wider term that implies a strategic approach to designing and managing it.

A related question is whether this actually matters and whether you need to have a definition of what the digital workplace is. Our view is that if you are using the term “digital workplace” to describe your project or environment then it is good to have a set definition of what it is. This helps you to engage stakeholders and users who might be less familiar with the term, ensuring that everybody is working from the same page, and also to reduce misunderstandings.

How long has the term been in use?

The digital workplace as a term and concept has been around for nearly 15 years and was originally used by pioneers in the intranet and workplace technology space including Paul Miller from the Digital Workplace Group (DWG) and Jane McConnell.

While the term remained quite niche, it started to become more mainstream as it became increasingly used by technology analysts like Gartner and some other software vendors. Now it is a commonly used term by agencies, consultants, vendors and major players like Microsoft. Here at Content Formula, we’ve been using the term for a number of years.

What are some definitions of the digital workplace?

There are some different interpretations of exactly how to define the digital workplace. In a way, these are all correct and we’ve incorporated different nuances around the definition depending on the clients we’ve worked with.  Let’s look at some of the main ones.

The digital workplace as all digital tools

At the highest level, the digital workplace can refer to the technology we use every day at work, covering all the enterprise applications in use. This is actually the definition that DWG use, describing the digital workplace as:

“the collection of all the digital tools provided by an organization to allow its employees to do their jobs.” .

This means that all organisations have some sort of digital workplace, stretching from extremely basic to highly sophisticated.

The digital workplace as a planned ecosystem

Others when defining the digital workplace refer to a more planned, controlled, coherent and designed approach to workplace technology.  In these cases, the digital workplace is a deliberate, managed and optimised ecosystem that delivers distinct benefits.

For example, Gartner refers to the digital workplace as something that “enables new, more effective ways of working; raises employee engagement and agility; and exploits consumer-oriented styles and technologies.”

Typically, the kind of benefits envisaged include:

  • Greater productivity and efficiency
  • Process improvement
  • Enhanced employee engagement
  • Stronger collaboration
  • Better communication
  • A better employee experience
  • Enabling automation and workflow
  • Driving innovation.

The digital workplace as the counterpart to the physical workplace

A variation of the definition of a planned ecosystem, is when the digital workplace is presented as a digital counterpart to the physical workplace, a virtual equivalent. For example, Sam Marshall at ClearBox has used the metaphor of a town to illustrate the concept and scope of the digital workplace. This can be a useful definition, particularly when trying to explain the concept to stakeholders who are unfamiliar with the term.

The digital workplace as a distinct environment

A digital workplace is also sometimes described as a specific integrated environment that has a set number of tools within it rather than the entire set of enterprise applications. For example, a digital workplace might consist of a number of Microsoft 365 tools. Another digital workplace might be the tools that are specifically supported by the IT function.

This tends to be a definition that is found inside organisations. An IT team might refer to their Microsoft 365 environment with SharePoint, Microsoft Teams, Yammer, Microsoft Viva, Outlook, OneDrive and other more niche 365 solutions as a “digital workplace”.

The digital workplace as the front door to the wider environment

Some organisations have also used the term “digital workplace” to describe what is effectively actually an intranet or portal but which links through to other applications, has single sign-on and also might include some integrations with other key corporate systems like ServiceNow. Effectively the intranet or portal is a “front door” or single-entry point to the wider workplace technology environment.

In some cases the term  “digital workplace” is sometimes being used interchangeably to describe both this “front door” and the wider digital environment that people can access. In our view an intranet is an intranet; it’s not a digital workplace but is often a very important channel within the wider digital workplace. However, the term can be useful in positioning the intranet to users and stakeholders, as a gateway to other services.

Digital employee experience vs Digital workplace

Another term that is frequently used in this space is “digital employee experience (DEX)”. We tried to define this in a previous post and found seven different definition. DEX is distinct from the digital workplace – it’s an outcome of it and its design, not an environment in itself. Going wider, employee experience itself takes in many different factors, including experience of digital technology.

Which digital workplace definition works best for you?

There are multiple definitions of the digital workplace, most of which are overlapping. None of them are incorrect and used in the right way, they all have value. However, we do believe it helps to decide what the term means to your organisation and then to use it consistently in your projects. You will achieve a common understanding by considering and defining the scope and value of your digital workplace.

If you’re still confused about what the digital workplace is and want to discuss it with us, or if you’ve got a completely different definition to any of the above, then get in touch!

Ten digital workplace and Microsoft 365 trends for 2023

It’s that time of year when many of us start to look ahead to the coming months and plan out our programme of work. It’s also a time when the blogosphere is full of predictions posts about the trends we’ll see in 2023. Personally, I don’t think that’s a bad thing; considering the trends can help start conversations and be a useful reference point for the planning process.

Last year I looked at the intranet and digital workplace trends that I thought we’d see in 2022. Reviewing the list makes me think that we certainly saw some of those happening, although perhaps not always to the extent that was envisaged. This time around I’m going to look at ten digital workplace and Microsoft 365 trends for 2023. So, having given my crystal ball a good polish, here’s what I think we’ll see next year across the digital workplace and Microsoft 365.

1. Microsoft Viva picks up momentum across the digital workplace

Microsoft Viva has now been around for almost two years, prompting a lot of interest from digital workplace teams, as well as HR and internal comms functions. So far, actual implementations that we’ve seen are mainly focused on Viva Connections and other free elements of the suite. As more features and apps have been added to Viva, including Viva Engage (a rebranded and enhanced version of the Yammer community app in Teams), interest has continued to grow.

In 2023 we can expect Viva to really start to pick up momentum as another round of apps including Viva Pulse and Viva Amplify (aimed at communicators) become live. Overall, what started off as four apps in 2021 will have expanded to nine, and will also include a number of capabilities that are available across more than one Viva app. 2023 looks set to be the year Viva has more of a visible presence in the digital workplace and will also start to feel more like an integrated employee experience platform.

2. Hybrid working starts to get into more of a rhythm

Hybrid working has emerged as the dominant working pattern for knowledge workers in 2022, with a full return to office simply not happening across multiple organisations. While a relatively easy adaptation to remote and hybrid working has occurred for many teams, it’s easy to miss that there are also some challenges, particularly around engagement and culture, and onboarding new employees. Within individual teams, the pattern and cadence of going into the office is still emerging. Some leadership teams also have a problem with hybrid working, and there can be tension and flashpoints with employees in some organisations.

Of course, the digital workplace plays a critical role in supporting engagement, team dynamics, leadership and more in the new hybrid workplace. New capabilities and offerings are emerging such as Microsoft’s Places product that helps coordinate activities such as when teams are coming into the office, as well as features within Microsoft Teams to support more equitable meeting experiences. I think as we go through 2023, we’ll see hybrid working normalising, and getting into a rhythm, with more and more of the challenges starting to iron themselves out. And behind the scenes, some of this will be down to the efforts of digital workplace teams.

3. Digital workplace teams start their early thinking about Mesh and the Metaverse

The media loves cover the technology of the not-too-distant future and often this focuses on the use of Virtual, Augmented or Mixed Reality, as well as immersive virtual worlds populated by avatars. Up to now, the use of VR / AR in the digital workplace has tended to be relatively niche and restricted to learning, health and safety and industrial use cases, with some additional engagement-led online events.

In 2023 the media attention won’t relent, and in particular it will likely focus on the promise of the “metaverse” and perhaps the use of Mesh, Microsoft’s own VR / AR platform. Some events like the launch of Apple’s own VR / AR headset and operating system xrOS will also get a lot of interest. All this attention is likely to mean that more digital workplace teams will start their early stage thinking on the topic, even if they still largely choose to adopt a “wait and see” stance. When that will translate into articulated strategies and roadmaps around the use of the metaverse is hard to predict, but more teams having conversations about the near-future digital workplace is a good direction of travel.

4. Knowledge management and findability advance in the M365 digital workplace

The need for robust knowledge management in industry sectors such as professional services, and the desire for strong findability across the digital workplace have never really gone away. But I think we’ll see a renewed emphasis on both knowledge management and findability in 2023, particularly in organisations with a Microsoft 365 digital workplace.

Part of the reason for this is that as digital workplaces have evolved beyond the basics, teams are now starting to concentrate on more advanced capabilities such as KM and effective search. But it’s also due to Microsoft’s investment in specific elements such as Syntex, Viva Topics and the Microsoft Graph which is enabling organisations to make advances in areas where it has previously been difficult to achieve success.

5. More power users from outside IT start to use the Power Platform

“Low code no code” is now becoming the default design for enterprise software, meaning that power users from the business can achieve more without having to involve their colleagues from the IT function. This is even manifesting itself in fully blown “citizen development” programmes where non-IT professionals are producing simple apps, workflows, visualisations, automation and even bots, within a supported framework.

We’re really starting to see more and more power users take advantages of the Power Platform, Microsoft’s suite of automation, workflow and data visualization tools that has been built along “low code no code” lines. In 2023 we think this trend will continue, with more and more teams across the business producing custom apps, workflows, dashboards, sites and chatbots, taking the pressure of busy central software development teams. We also think we will see advances in power user adoption of Syntex to build intelligent document management approaches, and even the use of the Dataverse to support a consistent data management approach. This is down to combination of all these tools’ ease of use and high productivity pay backs.

6. Savvy teams focus on ACM to achieve agility in the digital workplace

The world has proved to be a pretty volatile place in the past few years, and digital workplaces need to be flexible to meet ever evolving needs. Many digital workplace teams realise the importance of agility, being able to respond promptly to the demands of employees, teams and organisations. Agility is achieved in several different ways including following (or borrowing from) Agile methodologies for delivery, setting up mechanisms to test tools with users, leveraging the scalability of cloud platforms like Microsoft 365 and so on.

But achieving agility is also dependent on having highly effective approaches to Adoption and Change Management (ACM), and being able to launch and support tools quickly to encourage their best use. In 2023 with an increasingly complex digital workplace and where Microsoft continues to launch feature after feature, those teams with effective approaches to ACM are going to be the ones who can achieve the desired agility across the digital workplace. The relentless pace of change in the digital workplace seems likely to be a trend for 2023; organisations who can navigate this are the going to be those who can successfully apply ACM.

7. The lines between SharePoint, Teams and other 365 tools starts to blur

As internal communicators, intranet professionals or digital workplace teams, we tend to think in terms of separate channels, products, tools and applications, and the processes that go into managing each. Of course for end users, the distinction between them all is far less clear and is arguably getting fuzzier due to integrations between applications; where an intranet starts and ends, for example, is not something that end users think about.

As Microsoft continues to make it easier to embed different elements of the 365 platform with each other, the lines between different applications are becoming even fuzzier. In particular, Microsoft Viva Connections is allowing SharePoint content to be viewed within Teams, but it’s also allowing elements of Viva Connections to be viewed in SharePoint. Similarly, Viva Engage means Yammer is now being accessed through Teams. Moreover, the evolution of a series of Teams apps means other system content is being viewed and interacted with through Teams.

Overall, the lines between all these systems are blurring. Teams, SharePoint and even Outlook are all arguably windows into an integrated digital ecosystem – and in 2023 we can expect these lines to get even fuzzier, as content and features from one 365 tool appears in or is accessed through another.

8. AI starts to move into the DWP with content generation

On the wider internet, AI services that produce content based on simple instructions have started to proliferate and are becoming increasingly sophisticated. You can create images, rewrite paragraphs, write whole articles (with varying degrees of success) and now even produce videos with very lifelike avatars reading out the text submitted. This content that is being created outside the digital workplace has obvious uses within it, for example avatars reading text could be used to support digital learning.

In 2023 we think AI-powered content creation might start to move in the digital workplace. Content creation is often time-consuming for local content owners and not always within their skillset or comfort zone, and these tools are an attractive option, particularly for image and video creation. However, we think there needs to be strict governance in place to determine usage and in particular, using AI to generate text (outside translation) is a difficult area that may internal communicators will object to. In the longer term, it will also be interesting to see how AI-powered content generation influences the evolution of digital workplace tools. We’re already seeing tools auto-tagging content, and making editorial suggestions; using AI to actually write content does not feel so far away.

9. Intranet teams move away from full in-a-box solutions

SharePoint Online, Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Viva have all been rapidly evolving to support intranet and “intranet-like” capabilities, straight out of the box. This is empowering more teams to produce complex enterprise intranets and employee portals, using mainly their Microsoft 365 subscription, something that would have been very difficult to achieve even a couple of years back. However, even with this approach, there are still some gaps to fill.

In 2022 we saw more teams swing away from purchasing “intranet-in-a-box” software to plug the gaps in intranet functionality inherent in SharePoint out of the box. Instead, they are taking a more granular approach, and focusing more on purchasing specific apps and web parts, or carrying out limited customisation to build a single web part.

We think this trend will become even more prevalent in 2023 and there will be more providers focusing on solutions that support this more targeted and granular approach, creating a full-featured SharePoint intranet without the need to buy a whole additional platform. For example, our Lightspeed product provides all the additional web parts you need to achieve an enterprise SharePoint intranet, plugging the main gaps in just using native SharePoint, and providing a more cost-effective approach to building an intranet. This is not to say that purchasing an in-a-box product like LiveTiles intranet can still sometimes be the best option, depending on your needs.

10. Digital workplace teams make all the difference

With hybrid and remote working now normalised, the digital workplace team has never been more important. Digital workplace, intranet and Microsoft 365 professionals don’t always get the credit they deserve, although they work incredibly hard behind the scenes and contribute hugely to the success of every employee’s working day.

2023 will be another year when digital workplace teams make all the difference. The combination of skills, experience, dexterity and passion means high performing teams can achieve incredible things with tangible results. Here at Content Formula, we love working with our great set of clients, and we’re looking forward to more projects in 2023.

Happy new year

That’s our round-up of the trends we think we’ll see in 2023. Do you agree with us? Is there anything we’ve missed out? If you’d like to discuss your digital workplace or Microsoft 365 strategy and roadmap for 2023, or a specific project, then get in touch. And of course, we wish you all a healthy and happy new year.

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