By Rob Moses, Office 365 Consultant              6/27/2019

I spend a lot of time working with end-users and encouraging change in the way they work in the Office 365 ecosystem.  Getting buy-in to use a content management system (CMS) to minimize duplication of content, share links properly and reduce the number of libraries is a challenge, given the long ingrained habit of emailing copies of content instead of links to a shared portal.  The concept of using filters and permissions in views still stumps most users.  Add in categories in place of folders and you get a lot of blank stares.  But using these best practices is exactly what makes SharePoint and Office 365 so valuable when it comes to reducing the paper blizzard and mountain ranges of documents all offices face.

A lot of my work involves cleaning up Office 365 implementations where the users attempted a do-it-yourself approach or hired a low rate consultant, perhaps from India, to build it out.  After all, Microsoft ads infer this CMS is “easy” to implement and administer.  Out of the Box (OOTB) implementations are easy to set up and use if you want plain vanilla setups. However, most users find the default setup to be woefully inadequate.  

In my travels, I have found the failure to utilize more than 20-30% of SharePoint & Office 365 to be surprisingly consistent. I’ve discovered strong  themes in the use of these CMS apps and will cover them below. While I am sure this is not new information to many of you, it is useful to keep in mind when talking to a potential client about their utilization of Office 365/SharePoint.

I have engaged with many individuals and departments across organizations who are frustrated and confused about  how to organize and then locate files when they need them.  It is obvious they lack confidence on the fundamentals of collaboration in Office 365 or any CMS.

Add that to then moving an organization into Microsoft Teams and the users carry the underlying issues into this collaboration space. Combine that with lack of clear governance, poor organization, piles of folders & subfolders, and it just becomes a mess. I have come across some unique ‘ways of working’ in Microsoft Teams. One group I met with recently were creating a new Team to discuss a customer issue, rather than just having a group Chat in Teams.

People are creative, they find a way to do things, and when lacking knowledge will find odd ways and embed bad behaviors leading to stress and then a negative view of the services. Developers who are unfamiliar with the features of SharePoint will write back end code to achieve the result they need, often adding latency and maintenance to their growing list of concerns about their CMS.

Foundation knowledge is still lacking across many users. It’s not possible to have a ‘go-live’, some one-off training and then dive into this new world grasping it all. Instead, they take on enough knowledge to ‘keep the lights on’ and move forward scraping by… pulling their hair out possibly for months.  Smaller companies are by far the worst at minimal training, just enough to use the basic features, often missing 80% of the power of Office 365. Checking back 6 months or a year later often finds them still stuck in using the basics and creating work arounds instead of learning the tool.  Then management wonders what happened to the promised ROI and enhanced productivity everyone talks about with these tools.

Many users try to employ their CMS as a “Files-on-Demand” tool without understanding the basics of sharing, permissions, and consolidated content storage so often lauded as a strength of CMS. This which inevitably leads to the very chaos and spread-everywhere file system they were trying to reign in in the first place.   

Another key behavior to change is to have users build the habit of moving documents, or posting/ sharing the right type of link, rather than uploading duplicates when sharing across Teams or Sites, or even externally. I feel like I could travel the world globally on a quest just to reduce duplicates, highlighting the many ways users create duplicates and educate and drive so much change in this area alone!

We need to work more on increasing end-user understanding of document sharing and storage to assist with more effective use of Teams, OneDrive or SharePoint. With this we can reduce using Outlook as a filing cabinet, kill the habit of duplicates, increase satisfaction and confidence and be more compliant with information shared both internally and externally.


While I understand we have relied on Outlook for many years, even decades, and some habits are deeply engrained, it’s time to move forward.I will try hard not to rant and rave here but all I will say is that I have major frustration with ‘reply all’ emails. They are more common then anyone cares to admit.

Users rely on Outlook for so much of organization wide communication and need to open their eyes to modern, more effective, communication techniques. You either ‘don’t know what you don’t know’ or are too stubborn to change.

My personal golden nugget I often drop into a showcase is the ability to forward an email into a Team Channel and continue a conversation there. People. Are. Blown. Away.  To further the sense of awe at the power of SharePoint & Office 365, I show them collaborative whiteboards, documents during online meetings, task assignments, and even external sharing.  “I never knew” is a common comment I get at that point.

Posting links instead of duplicates. It’s not super complex but there is little knowledge out there. During implementation training, a focus is most likely on document storage, cloud libraries, syncing, co-authoring. Its complex stuff. So modernizing communication is secondary however still deserves effort in awareness and education. It’s a whole new world for office workers and there are many paradigms to overcome as the old ways resist change.

I have seen multiple Lists and Libraries where one consolidated storage container would make administration, maintenance and finding files so much easier.  Concepts like site content, categories, filtered views, and of course, permissions, are the core of these CMS tools and yet are rarely implemented.   Many companies do not see the need for dedicated administrators who are familiar with these concepts and able to set them up and administer them.  They assign administration to some barely trained manager, office worker or support person and hope they learn enough to avoid future issues. 

I’ve always pushed one point for companies considering moving to a CMS, go all in or go home. Hire an experienced SME (subject matter expert) to setup and configure your site(s), plan the infrastructure and hierarchy, set up the site content, workflows and permission groups. Work with the staff to set up views with filters and permissions as well as the pages with links to get there and proper search tools to rapidly find content.  Trust me, it will pay huge dividends in the end.

Then add in familiarity training for not only proper sharing, but Teams and Yammer.  We need to increase knowledge in Microsoft Teams and Yammer as a place to share information, ask questions and actively collaborate with co-workers on projects. This will truly help drive the value of Office 365 and then we will see productivity soar.

Personal Productivity

Personal Task Management and note taking are like the poor cousins of ways of working and Office 365. For managing tasks, users rely paper lists, emailing themselves, or using their inbox to manage workload.  And of course for personal notes, trees are still dying daily so we can write hours in notebooks that most people don’t often reflect back on.

I have consistently noted a general lack of OneNote and To-Do product awareness or knowledge as they are outside of “mainstream” collaboration and document storage tools. People are so excited by the features they see in demos but we are still a long way from going paperless. Paradigms. “That’s how we’ve always done it.”  It’s hard to change our ways but important to move in that direction if we are ever going to realize at least some of the ROI and enhanced productivity we’ve seen in the demonstrations of these powerful products..

We need to increase understanding of OneNote for personal work notes and content along with the ability to enable shared Team notes. The value of searching, tagging, sharing etc. are too good to miss out on.

People should utilize OneNote and To-Do for more effective management of personal work. I haven’t yet seen one person try and then tell me “it wasn’t worth giving those a go”. Usually it’s the opposite energy.

So what should we do?  Remember, Office 365 is not plug & play, set up and forget, nor one size fits all. As with most organizing projects (think closets or filing cabinets here), investing the planning up front will assure smooth operations down the road.

During enablement the focus may be on removing servers and moving files to the cloud, migrating mailboxes and ensuring users can continue their work. As time goes on though, knowledge needs to step up and that happens through familiarization training.  Don’t rely on one-off training. People learn differently, they apply things differently and absorb it all at a different pace.  Build training libraries with actively engaging content. Provide virtual issue labs where users can connect and share their screen with an expert to resolve an issue.  I have found solving one issue often helps many others who were observing while waiting their turn to share their issue.

Encourage power users to experiment, to push the boundaries of the CMS.  Give users the opportunity to try, fail, ask questions, try more and succeed in stages. To do so they need ongoing access to support and up-to-date training content.  If you are not a large company, the need for the SME will fade with time and your power users and small help desk team can use the knowledge they’ve picked up from all those virtual sessions and labs to resolve most any issue they encounter.  Even more, they are confident they know where to look to find solutions to new issues, how to ask for help and what to document (like screen shots) that speed up the troubleshooting process.

If you don’t invest in this process you will not see the true value of Office 365. People are already being left behind. ROI is lagging. Performance is falling short and messes are overtaking your users. Organizations are expecting people to be empowered to self-learn and it’s not having strong results.  Invest in experts to plan, develop and implement your Office 365 or SharePoint onprem CMS. Then be sure to provide enough training opportunities to build confidence among your staff.  As they become increasingly confident, the need for the SME will fade and your office will hum with enhanced efficiency and higher productivity.

How satisfied and savvy are your users?

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