Increasing collaboration with Office 365

Image: Collaboration with Microsoft O365
By Tom Bestow on

Current common practices

It is common for Businesses to utilise tried and tested technologies to allow groups of people to manage collaboration on Emails that have been received. Often the aim is to get the Emails to those that can deal with them in a constructive manner. To that end a couple of choices have been used in the past:

Distribution lists

A distribution list is a common method to make sure a specific group of people get a copy of an Email sent to a single address. It’s relatively quick to setup and simple to use. However, it isn’t the most flexible of approaches and presents a few issues.

In the event of a distribution list Emailing multiple people over a disparate location, it may be difficult for the people to know who has dealt with the Email. In some cases, multiple replies from different people may be sent, causing confusion for the person on the other end.

If a person wants to be removed from a distribution list, they will need to contact an owner of the list or a person with enough permissions to make the change for them, which may not be readily apparent.

The same Email being sent to everyone on a list also presents problems for storage, with a copy of the same Email being stored in every mailbox on the distribution list.

Finally, a sufficiently large distribution list which has no restrictions for senders on it can cause chaos in the form of an Email Storm. Something large companies ranging from the NHS to BP to even Microsoft have suffered from!

Shared mailboxes

Shared mailboxes provide a centralised place for people to read and manage incoming mail. This is often used for things like Helpdesk mailboxes. It means that users can all have the same view, know what has been worked on (by Emails being read or otherwise tagged) and read replies to Emails.

With an increasingly mobile-oriented workplace, opening multiple mailboxes can be frustrating and having to switch between your mailbox and any shared mailboxes to see the latest Email is a needlessly time-consuming task.

There’s also a lack of auditing when it comes to Shared Mailboxes, with little tracking as to whom dealt with a message, moved a message or deleted one.

What’s wrong with them?

Along with the issues listed above, Shared Mailboxes and Distribution lists are out-dated and clunky in today’s world. They lack the flexibility needed for collaboration and management. They fall short on features leaving users to figure out workarounds for problems which should never exist in the first place. Problems like ‘who’s dealt with an Email’ or ‘what should we say in this email’ can result in phone calls, more Emails and even meetings.

For a business with people on the move, out of the office, in multiple locations or working from home, the issues are exacerbated by people not being around each other to even talk about Emails and questions that they have received via a Distribution List or have been sent to a shared mailbox.

How Microsoft Teams can help collaboration

Teams is a fantastic collaboration tool for Businesses and can help in several ways. The most brilliant of which is the ability to Email directly into a channel (every channel gets its own Email address by default). This means that you can tie Teams into your existing setup, having it as a recipient in a distribution list or implementing a forwarding rule on the shared mailbox to push the Emails to a channel.

Once in the Teams Channel users can chat, action or dismiss the message. They can even create documents, collaboratively work on them and have the documents saved to SharePoint, all from the Teams App. People can be tagged so they receive notifications, meaning that a person who normally doesn’t receive the Email message can be easily informed of what needs doing.

How O365 Groups can help

Groups are like a Combined Shared Mailbox and Distribution list, with some extra collaboration tools thrown in. The key difference is the flexibility an Office 365 group offers. For example, Emails sent to the group have the option of being sent to the user’s mailbox as well as a the ‘group’ mailbox, making sure there’s always a record of the Email being sent to people. Users can also manage their own notification settings and opt out of groups, saving the administrative hassle of keeping the groups up to date.

Microsoft even have a handy guide on why you should change from Distribution Lists to Groups which you can read here and an overview of Groups can be found here. There’s also a document how Groups working with Teams which you can read here.

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