Microsoft 365: An Overview

In this article you’ll learn

  • What Microsoft 365 for Business is
  • What its key tools are
  • Which of its Add-Ins are the best
  • The magic of Microsoft Teams
  • And how it ties into cloud computing

The office of the 70s is a world away from today. Rows of filing cabinets and pin boards are no more. Office supply cupboards are happily shrinking because today, the modern office has digitised every tool and operation possible. One might say Microsoft’s been the driving force behind this change. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Microsoft 365 is the tool for the modern office.

What is Microsoft 365 for Business?

For a monthly/yearly subscription, Microsoft 365 gives businesses every IT tool they need to operate. Microsoft 365 is cloud based, allowing businesses to operate with zero physical assets beyond computers or laptops.

Still, to claim it’s just a digitisation mechanism is to not give Microsoft 365 its due. The tools are more than the sum of their parts. They work together to form the most intelligent virtual office available. Whilst it can help any business on the planet, Microsoft 365 offers a particularly helpful hand to the business looking to optimise.

Optimise their productivity. Optimise their workflows. And with a range of plans and pricing, optimise their tools to their specific needs.

Key tools

The Basics

Microsoft 365 offers a range of applications you’ll find helpful. Naturally, some will be used more than others. We’ll start by giving quick mentions to the foundational applications. The tools that if removed tomorrow would be missed most.

Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote function as the go-to tools for creating the bulk of modern work documents.

Exchange online serves as the hub for an employee’s communication. It combines email with calendaring and contacts.

Outlook offers the same, only as a downloadable application syncing with Exchange. Despite 365 being cloud based, only Exchange actually runs on the cloud exclusively. The rest of the above applications can be downloaded and run on your computer’s hard drive.

Storage

The aforementioned tools will require a place for storing the files they create. Ideally a location that’s easily accessible to all users. Microsoft 365 has two of them: OneDrive and SharePoint.

There’s a degree of overlap but the difference between the two is as follows:

  • OneDrive for Business is better suited to your personal work. Feel free to set your sharing permissions with other employees but note that what goes into OneDrive is not automatically shared with the rest of the business. It allows an individual to save their data on their device and sync it to the cloud.
  • Microsoft SharePoint on the other hand is the library where communal data should be stored. It’s essentially a dedicated, shared server that has historically housed anything a business wants to save and archive. In many ways they complement each other; OneDrive lets you synchronise some of the content on SharePoint onto your local computer.

Tying Them Together

There’s one application which for many is the primary touch point used in conjunction with these key tools; Microsoft Teams.

It’s a piece of teamwork software that can be both cloud based and downloaded as a desktop app to one’s device. Teams offers a wide range of communication functions such as instant messaging, video conferencing and audio calls. For many users it replaces the vast majority of email communication.

Where the tool really comes into its own is with how it facilitates collaboration. We’ll cover that in a little more detail later on. But for now take note that Teams can integrate with all your favourite Microsoft 365 applications and SharePoint. This results in the kind of seamless collaboration a clunky 70s office would’ve dreamed of.

How to use Microsoft Teams will vary a great deal depending on the nature of your team and your work. There are different sets of best practices recommended, depending on your role and team structure. These pointers can be found in a number of places, namely Microsoft 365’s YouTube Channel.

Useful Add-Ins

Our favourite tools often need a little help to become our favourite tools. To optimize their out of the box functionality, the following add-ins have proven popular.

  • Pickit Images
    • saves the user the hassle of scouring royalty free image libraries. It places a searchable library of all the stock imagery your document will ever need within your Word or PowerPoint window.
  • Woodpecker
    • this allows the creation of templates. Turn a regular Word document into a reusable, fill in the blank one. Originally designed for legal teams, it’s ideal for creating contracts. But really the use cases are endless.
  • Boomerang
    • a must for any power Outlook user. In short it makes your inbox less of a headache. It can pause your inbox for when you need some peace. It can schedule reminders to follow-up.  And it can even make it easier to get meetings scheduled. It creates a grid of your availability into your meeting request emails.

The above list is barley scratching the surface. To find the tool you feel you’re lacking, Microsoft has the full menu here.

What Is Microsoft Teams Used For?

As we’ve mentioned, many things. But in one word it would be this; collaboration.

Microsoft Teams can be an all-round wonder move for a group’s productivity. This stems from its real time document co-authoring feature. Whatever doc you’re working on, be it Word, Excel, OneNote etc.

All collaborators’ changes will be displayed in real time. Changes are then synced to OneDrive or SharePoint. You can even keep communication within the document i.e. you can communicate and share your screen all within the document you’re working on.

The pain of requesting revisions and updates via email is over. When combined with Outlook, Teams lets you access and edit files from directly within your Outlook window. Again, saving and updating in real time to SharePoint or OneDrive. This seamless collaboration does rely on one key ingredient. Microsoft Teams will always require resilient broadband and good connectivity.

Microsoft Teams may be a magical boost to productivity, but not if you’re working remotely on shaky WiFi.

Advantages of Cloud Computing 

Working with Microsoft 365 will naturally lead to storing more data on Microsoft’s cloud servers. Whilst it’s possible to have a hybrid approach there are a number of benefits to Microsoft cloud computing.

If you’re still sitting there thinking “what is cloud computing?” to clarify it’s simply the practice of delivering IT resources over the internet rather than on premise.

As we just discussed, it’s a huge boost to productive collaboration. Up-to-date documents are readily available 24/7. Sharing options can also be tweaked on OneDrive to fit your needs. A user can limit document access to just an individual and even set expiration dates on links.

Sharing documents with Microsoft’s cloud will even come with added security. Microsoft limits hacker’s opportunity by placing every file it stores in a lockbox with its own “key.” As you might expect, Microsoft are regularly updating any security measures and backing it up. This means security won’t be problem if it’s in the cloud.

If a cloud migration  seems a little scary, rest assured, when done correctly, it’s not.

Few modern businesses will be unable to make good use of Microsoft 365. Adapting the tool to the needs of your business is an area in itself. There are all sorts of customisation options within each tool. A little much to start covering now. But to start off, considering whether to go with Microsoft 365’s Standard or Premium offering is a smart place to start.

Standard will include everything we’ve covered and numerous other useful tools. Premium has additional security features such as advanced phishing email protection. So quite possibly a no brainer.

Outside the two Business packages, there is an Enterprise option. But that will only be suitable for businesses of 300 employees or more. More can be found out about the Business package differences here. Still, whichever plan you choose, unless your office is firmly stuck in the 70’s, Microsoft 365 really does have something for everyone.