Supporting collaboration is one of the main objectives for any digital workplace, helping to drive a range of benefits from increased productivity to inspiring innovation, supporting the hybrid workplace to better customer service. Collaboration is very important as a source of competitive advantage, and is often reflected in digital transformation strategies, company values and more.
In this post, we’re going to explore the world of collaboration tools and why Microsoft 365 is a strong collaborative platform. We’ll also explore the different Microsoft tools which support collaboration in more detail.
Collaboration tools and the digital workplace
Enabling collaboration is high on the agenda for any digital workplace team. The good news is that there is an enormous range of different digital workplace tools out there to enable collaboration.
One of the reasons that there are so many is that multiple types of collaboration occur every day in organisations: collaboration across teams and projects, wider collaboration across communities, document collaboration, online meetings, user workshops, synchronous and asynchronous collaboration, brainstorming, ideation – the list goes on. In practice, different tools are needed to best support these different forms of collaboration.
Microsoft and collaboration software
Because of the wide variety of tools needed to fully support collaboration, many organisations choose to deploy Microsoft 365, which provides an excellent collaboration platform for several reasons:
- There are multiple tools suited to different types of collaboration, covering the majority of most companies’ needs
- Microsoft is continually investing in the collaboration capabilities of the suite, so you’re future-proofed
- The tools integrate together seamlessly to support more advanced collaboration and related use cases
- The quality of the tools is high, with well-designed interfaces, useful features and ready-to-go support resources
- Considering the breadth of features you get, the cost per user is reasonable
- Many organisations already have Office 365 or Microsoft 365, so many employees will have experience with the tools within them.
- There are multiple other reasons why companies choose to go down the 365 path, so the decision almost becomes a no-brainer.
Having said this, the collaboration tools within Microsoft 365 tools are not perfect, and there is room for improvement. There is also some overlap between capabilities which can cause confusion.
Let’s look at some of the key Microsoft 365 collaboration tools that businesses should be using.
1 Microsoft Teams
When most people consider “collaboration” and Microsoft, they usually think of Teams. Teams is a unified communication and collaboration platform encompassing multiple capabilities that can be used for collaboration, including:
- Online video meetings
- Hybrid video meetings enabled through an ecosystem of Teams-friendly audio and visual equipment
- Group audio calls
- Group discussions and messaging for both real-time and asynchronous collaboration
- Wider community collaboration using discussions or embedding Yammer feeds
- More advanced collaboration tools, such as whiteboarding
- Embedding other forms of collaboration, including documents that people can work on simultaneously
- Additional Teams apps that connect to non-Microsoft tools can also support collaboration.
One of the most powerful aspects of Teams is its sheer ability to cover so many collaboration and related communication scenarios all from one place, with seamless alternation between the two and the ability to work in parallel. An online video meeting, for example, can incorporate a discussion thread to help the flow of collaboration.
Teams is also set for the future of collaboration, with support for Mesh – Microsoft’s mixed reality platform that may see collaboration increasingly using augmented and virtual reality.
Yammer is usually regarded as a social collaboration platform or even a social network that is bundled into most Microsoft 365 and Office 365 licences. It is now relatively mature and provides a good tool to support more enterprise-wide or community-wide collaboration through Communities of Practice, Communities of Interest and Employee Resource Groups, for example. You can add documents into Yammer, but its main function is to facilitate discussion threads, with the ability to do @mentions and #hashtags.
Some internal communicators use Yammer more as an engagement and communication channel than a collaboration platform, and the truth is, it can be a good tool for discussion-based collaboration for working teams and project groups, as well as more of an engagement channel for wider communities. There are also tools within Yammer that support scenarios like embedding polls and giving praise (engagement), or marking best answers (collaboration and knowledge sharing). Another powerful feature of Yammer is the straightforward ability to embed feeds into SharePoint pages and Teams tabs.
Before Microsoft Teams, the main engines for collaboration were SharePoint team sites, which were often used by project teams and other working groups for everyday collaboration. Team sites are still used today through SharePoint modern, and provide a good way for teams to connect with each other and share documents through a document library, supply news updates, share discussions via threads and keep on track through the task management feature.
SharePoint further supports collaboration in a number of ways:
- Providing opportunities to gather feedback and input from wider groups through commenting, allowing for more community-led or even enterprise-wide collaboration
- Embedding content and information that supports collaboration best practices or helps people connect to different collaboration spaces and communities
- Embedding Yammer feeds that support more community-led collaboration
- More specific collaboration processes that might utilise SharePoint features like lists.
We explore all of the above and more in a post dedicated to how to use SharePoint to support collaboration.
4 OneDrive and document collaboration
Collaborating on documents is a common, and thus critical, activity for most organisations, and Microsoft 365 provides lots of opportunities for multiple people to work on the same document simultaneously. It’s hard to argue which specific Microsoft tool facilitates document collaboration. OneDrive provides an opportunity for individuals to share a document with others, while Microsoft Office apps like Word allow online access to the actual file. Features such as commenting and track changes also support such collaboration.
Sometimes, collaborative documents are also stored in SharePoint libraries that are accessed through Microsoft Teams. Although collaboration might happen in real-time on the same version of a document, document versioning within a SharePoint document library also supports collaboration.
5 Microsoft Viva
Microsoft Viva is an employee experience platform rather than a collaboration platform, but there are elements of it that support collaboration. Viva Connections surfaces posts from Yammer groups, while Viva Topics can encourage people to connect with subject matter experts. Viva Learning facilitates seamless access to Microsoft Learn resources that provide tips on how to use collaboration tools. Meanwhile, Viva Insights supplies analytics and insights into meetings that will suggest better practices.
Microsoft collaboration tools
Microsoft 365 has a great set of tools to support different kinds of collaboration. Within these are specific features that will meet most use cases. If you’d like to discuss how Microsoft 365 and the Microsoft stack can support your collaboration strategy, then get in touch.