Perhaps you work for one of the thousands of organizations that in the past few years have started using Microsoft Teams for meeting, chats, video calls, departmental and cross-departmental work, customer projects and more. Or perhaps your company is considering using Teams to address the necessity of working from home while continuing to deliver value to customers.
One way or the other, after the initial excitement of finding a tool that can go to great lengths to help with communication and collaboration (and with GIFs!), you have probably started asking questions about how documents are managed in Microsoft Teams, and how you can make it so that the creation, classification, and archiving of those documents are in line with best practices and regulations.
We’ve interviewed five Microsoft pros to discuss the common challenges their customers face when it comes to using Microsoft Teams to manage documents, and their recommendations to ensure that the roll-out of Teams is successful. See what these five Microsoft experts — Alan Debijadi, Karoliina Kettukari, Jasper Oosterveld, Bill Tolson, and Sharon Weaver — have to say about document management in Microsoft Teams.
What Employees Need
When using Microsoft Teams for document management in your organization, a good place to start is ensuring the needs of employees are understood and acknowledged. According to the Microsoft pros we interviewed, one of the most important things to consider is ease of access to a variety of information.
“In my experience,” said Sharon Weaver, CEO of Smarter Consulting, “users do not want to go to multiple locations to find things. It is critical that Teams allows users to easily access information from many different systems.”
A point that also emerged during our chat with Karoliina Kettukari: “Teams is the virtual desktop for all Office 365 applications, but information workers have lots of other applications they use. Nowadays, we already can integrate lots of other applications to Teams, and I think that’s the right step forward.”
It’s not only about accessing information that is stored in different systems, but also doing so in a timely and effortless manner, as Unitfly’s Alan Debijadi stressed: “Having quick access to everyday, important information is always useful, and the key point is speed and accuracy of information. The question in this sense is: Can Teams fulfil that right now? Employees will always go with faster, simpler solutions, and if they can’t, they will go with what is more familiar.”
Of course, needs differ from one organization to the next. Not all companies need to bring information together from network folders, CRM, ERP, legacy ECM systems, and other tools used in various departments. Drawing from his experience working with customers in Europe, Jasper Oosterveld expressed the need to look at every specific situation with a 360-degree view, at the same time, stressing the risks presented by approaching document management in Microsoft Teams from a narrow perspective.
“We have only seen a few customers using the ability to exchange documents between Teams and, for example, a CRM system. The importance depends on the requirements of the organization and the business process. The main risk, in my mind, is the lack of an integrated search experience within Microsoft Teams in combination with external information systems.”
Document Management in Microsoft Teams
There’s little doubt that Microsoft Teams poses some challenges to admins and users alike when it comes to document management. Challenges that, according to Weaver, are mainly due to a positive break from the past.
“The biggest challenge is that you need to architect in terms of group relevance, instead of information relevance. Teams organizes content with permissions at the group level, and so the architecture must support that all members of the group should have access to that content.” Contrary to the traditional approach, according to which permissions are assigned to items (or group of items), with Microsoft Teams, the planning should instead happen “around a group (or sub-group) of members that will all need access to the same information, and then group that by topic.”
The way information is organized within each team is a challenge for admins that are developing the appropriate information architecture for the deployment of Microsoft Teams. But it’s also a challenge for users who struggle to understand where documents are, or how to access past conversations with their peers.
“All written information is visible, yet easy to miss,” said Alan Debijadi. “The biggest challenge for Microsoft Teams is around search capability — that is to say, how to find the right information and how to find it quickly.”
Jasper Oosterveld explained very clearly why this happens and what the undesired consequences are: “The main information shared and stored in Teams are documents. Teams are divided into many channels. A channel automatically creates a folder in the connected SharePoint document library.” This is where you end up when you click on the Files tab in a Teams workspace. “The absence of an integrated file navigation experience prevents a clear overview of all the stored content in a team, resulting in duplication of documents and members missing out on valuable information.”
Documents, images, recordings of meetings, private conversations — and the documents shared within them — are all stored in different places. The lack of a central archive where everything is stored and that can be searched is also a problem when it comes to information governance topics such as archiving, data retention and e-discovery.
Bill Tolson, one of the premier experts in Microsoft and compliance, who recently penned an article on the Archive360 blog on this very topic, had the following to say during our interview: “Teams does not have a central repository where all Teams data objects can be stored. Instead, [these] are stored in OneDrive, SharePoint, private hidden mailboxes, and group hidden mailboxes. Because of this, setting retention policies in Teams content can be complex, in that each repository must have a Teams retention policy.”
Tolson also had some advice to share with those who are about to start using Teams (or have started already, and not yet paid attention to such topics).
“First, be aware of what built-in Teams archiving can do and what it can’t do. Then, realize that Teams data retention is spread across several Office 365 apps. And finally, to ensure Teams data is archived in a compliant and legally defensible manner, it might be appropriate to use a third-party tool specifically built for the archiving needs of Teams.”
One last topic that often comes up when talking about document management in Microsoft teams is information security. As Karoliina Kettukari puts it, “Everything in your Teams is visible and editable for all of your team members and guests, and that’s the basic requirement for modern knowledge work.”
In this scenario, to counter the risk of having sensitive information accidentally exposed, at least at the channel level, Microsoft recently rolled out private channels. Among the experts we have interviewed, there was strong agreement that private channels may be a good way to ensure certain documents are kept safe.
“There are a few ways to manage unique permissions, but the easiest for administrators is to simply create a private channel,” said Weaver. “This will create a separate SharePoint site to support files that only a portion of the team needs to access. The channel will only be visible for members of the private channel, and not appear for those that are not given access.”
We recently posted a blog article called 7 Questions You Need to Answer to Effectively Use Microsoft Teams for Information Governance. In the article, we argued for the importance of implementing Teams to your workforce with intention and planning, drafting guidelines and investing time and resources in training.
This is particularly true when it comes to document management in Microsoft Teams, and all the pros we interviewed have also stressed the need to support user adoption with an adequate strategy.
“The biggest challenge for an end-user is when there are no clear guidelines for basic information management,” said Karoliina Kettukari. “When do I create a new team? When is a channel enough? Should it be public or private? What kind of documents can I store in Teams? What about information archiving and sensitive information?” These, and more, are questions that should be answered way ahead of implementation: “Think about Teams governance, team provisioning, and lifecycle model, including document management guidelines, and consider these before even assigning licenses to the end-users. Make it simple, create visual guidelines, and put some effort into communicating the guidelines.”
Jasper Oosterveld recommends a preliminary workshop involving different stakeholders. “I strongly advise starting with a governance workshop. The workshop results in a governance strategy for the implementation of Microsoft Teams within the organization in order to safeguard the quality of Microsoft Teams within the organization.”
Once the governance plan is in place, Sharon Weaver has some very interesting and thoughtful tips on how to go about communicating it. “Implement a mixture of recorded and live training along with follow up, and dedicated office hours for Q&A to ensure that your users understand how your company will use Teams.
“Also, start with a few pilot teams that have a great attitude and will tell everyone about their success. By showing your users examples of ways that others are using Teams successfully within the framework of the implemented governance plans, it allows them to see that they can quickly have access to the information they need and limit access to information they don’t need.”
When it comes to keeping colleagues in the loop, jumping on a video call or agreeing on next steps to be taken in a customer project, Microsoft Teams is quite intuitive and probably does not require intensive planning and training. After all, it fits nicely in a recent tradition of communication tools to which we have become more and more accustomed, and whose main goal is to make it easy for the workforce to collaborate and exchange information, free from the hurdles of more traditional systems.
Yet, it is probably this very same familiarity and intuitiveness that makes Teams a challenge for both admins and end users when ensuring documents and information are managed according to internal and external rules.
Employees do not always understand that what they say or share in a private chat with a colleague may expose their organization to different types of risk. At the same time, as Bill Tolson puts it, they are still mainly operating under the assumption that their work data is their own, “and they control it locally making it almost invisible to attorneys and dramatically rising collection costs.”
This is why it is important for executives and IT managers to take the lead in carefully planning the roll-out of Teams (and other tools, for that matter), engage stakeholders early in a conversation about needs and must-haves, and invest in initial and continuous training.
The five Microsoft pros we interviewed have not missed the opportunity to share their perspective on this with our audience, and for their time and insights we are deeply thankful. To close with a brilliant reminder shared by Karoliina Kettukari, it is important to be aware that in the absence of a better understanding and clear guidelines, “employees will end up working with old ways and old tools, because that’s what they know. The unknown and the unclear is always more frightening.”
About the Microsoft Experts
Alan Debijadi is co-founder and COO of Unitfly, a company that connects the right technology and business. He has been Senior Software Architect for one of the leading Croatian IT companies and has worked on integration and automation of different enterprise systems, on-premises and cloud solutions.
Karoliina Kettukari is a Teams user adoption consultant and Microsoft MVP. She guides companies through the digital transformation journey and helps organizations to develop modern teamwork and enhance internal communications with the help of Teams and other Office 365 tools.
Jasper Oosterveld works as a consultant for a Dutch company called InSpark. In his role he guides customers implementing, governing, and adopting Microsoft Teams. On top of that, he is also a 6-time Microsoft MVP for Office Apps & Services.
Bill Tolson is the Vice President of Global Compliance & eDiscovery at Archive360. He counts more than 20 years of experience in the archiving, information governance and eDiscovery industries. He is a frequent speaker at legal and information governance industry events and has authored four eBooks on the topic.
Sharon Weaver, President and CEO of Smarter Consulting, is a Microsoft Certified Trainer and Microsoft Office 365, Process Improvement, and Productivity Expert. Sharon speaks professionally at local, national, and global events and teaches subjects such as Office 365, Business Analysis, Six Sigma, Leadership.