New “Groups” Launching in Office 365 for Improved Enterprise Collaboration

This past week, I was presenting the ‘Modern Office’ and the collection of Office 365 applications from Microsoft to a CIO and his senior team commented on the challenge of introducing so many applications, especially Yammer, Lync, and SharePoint on top of email, OneDrive, and new Office 2013. Too many disconnected tools!

It is great news that the new ‘Groups’ solution is launching to all Office 365 users starting today for early release subscribers and will continue with general availability by the end of 2014. It is a place for ad hoc teams to collaborate through email, calendars, files and conversations in one place. For everyone who has hesitated to roll out Yammer, this is a great way to get started on enterprise social collaboration.

Public and private groups are possible and you may include participants outside of your organization. Conversations come back to your inbox so everything can be done in Outlook or through the Group site on Office 365 Web Access.  A Group calendar can be created and synced automatically to your personal calendar. All files are stored in the OneDrive for Business workplace. Search is again a powerful productivity tool for group members to find information fast.

Unfortunately, this initial release is via the Outlook or Office 365 WEB APP only. Exciting news is that Lync and Yammer will be added to the equation soon, and many more features are coming in 2015.

  • Note for IT Teams: you can impose access request controls for external sharing and you can manage Group membership in the Office 365 Admin center
  • Some sample screen shots enclosed below where we started a small conversation about event we are holding on Tuesday- sharing links, photos, presentations, etc. with automatic emails to the team.
  • Enclosing links to additional support and instructions about Groups that you can post on your SharePoint Intranet
  • Great comparison chart describing the differences between Groups, Distribution Lists, Site Mailboxes, Shared Mailbox and Public Folders
  • As always, please let us know if we can assist you with Office 365 administration, training or support!

Office 365 Groups Page 1 Office 365 Groups Page 3 Office 365 Groups Page 2

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Find help about groups in Office 365

A group is a shared workspace for email, conversations, files, and calendar events where group members can conveniently collaborate and quickly get stuff done. To learn how to use and manage groups to be even more productive, check out the topics below.

Getting started

Using groups day-to-day

Managing groups

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Collaboration in Office 365

Office 365 encourages collaboration through Groups, distribution lists (also called distribution groups), site mailboxes, shared mailboxes, and public folders. Each of these options has a different purpose, user experience, and feature set. What to use depends on what the user needs to do and which tools your organization provides.

Summary of collaboration options

This table explains the various collaboration options available to you with Office 365.

Collaboration tool Description
Group A shared workspace that works across all applications in Office 365. Includes a shared inbox, calendar, and OneDrive for Business site for storing files. Users can create, find, and join Groups right from their email or calendar. Users need both a OneDrive for Business license and an Exchange Online license to participate in Groups.
Distribution list (also called distribution group) Used to distribute email messages to two or more people at the same time. Distribution groups are also known as mail-enabled distribution groups. A variant of the distribution group, called the dynamic distribution group, is a mail-enabled Active Directory group object used to send email to a large and evolving group of recipients. The exact recipients are determined by filters and conditions that you specify, such as all members of a particular locale or all full-time employees.
Site mailbox Includes SharePoint Online site membership (owners and members), shared storage through an Exchange mailbox for email messages, and a SharePoint Online site to store and share documents. A site mailbox brings Exchange email and SharePoint documents together. A site mailbox serves as a central filing cabinet for the project, providing a place to file project email and documents that can be accessed and edited only by site members. In addition, site mailboxes have a specified lifecycle and are optimized to be used for projects that have set start and end dates.
Shared mailbox A mailbox for select users to read and send email messages and share a common calendar. Shared mailboxes also can serve as a generic email address (such as info@contoso.com or sales@contoso.com) that customers can use to inquire about your company. When the Send As permission is enabled on the shared mailbox, email sent from the mailbox will use the generic address (e.g., sales@contoso.com).
Public folder Designed for shared access, pubic folders provide an easy and effective way to collect, organize, and share information with other people in your organization. Public folders organize content in a deep hierarchy that’s easy to browse and always visible in the Outlook folder view. A public folder can be mail-enabled and added as a member of the distribution group. Email sent to the distribution group is automatically added to the public folder for archiving or later reference. Public folders also provide simple document sharing when you don’t have a SharePoint Online subscription.

Which collaboration tool to use?

The following table gives you a quick glance at the various types of groups and explains when and how to use them with the various collaboration features of Office 365.

Groups Distribution lists Site mailboxes Shared mailboxes Public folders
Who uses? Users who want a collaboration workspace for their group messages, files, and calendar that is integrated with the Office 365 services they already use (Outlook Web App, OneDrive for Business) Users who need to send email to a group of recipients with a common interest or characteristic. Users who work together on a specific project with definitive start and end dates. Project documents are stored on a SharePoint Online site and team members send and receive project-related email via the site mailbox. Delegates working on behalf of a virtual identity, such as support@contoso.com. Delgates can respond to email as that shared mailbox identity. With the proper permissions, everyone in your organization can access and search public folders. They are ideal for email archiving or for sharing documents.
Ideal group size Any Large Small Small Large
Access Exchange Online and Office 365 users For distribution groups, members, must be manually added. For dynamic distribution groups, members are added based on filtering criteria. Site mailbox owners and members Users can be granted Full Access and/or Send As permissions. If granted Full Access permissions, users must also add the shared mailbox to their Outlook profile to access the shared mailbox. Accessible by anyone in your organization
Shared calendar? Yes No No Yes Yes
Email arrives in user’s personal Inbox? No. Users can subscribe to a group and then forward all Group messages to their inbox Yes. Email arrives in the inbox of all distribution group members. No. Email arrives in the site mailbox. No. Email arrives in the Inbox of the shared mailbox. No. Email arrives in the public folder.
Supported clients
  • Outlook 2013 (forward after subscribing)
  • Outlook Web App
  • Outlook 2010 (forward after subscribing)
  • Outlook 2007 (forward after subscribing)
  • Outlook 2013
  • Outlook Web App
  • Outlook 2010
  • Outlook 2007
  • Outlook 2013
  • SharePoint Online
  • Outlook 2013
  • Outlook Web App
  • Outlook 2010
  • Outlook 2007
  • Outlook 2013
  • Outlook Web App
  • Outlook 2010
  • Outlook 2007

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