By Tim Haight
OneDrive for Business (ODB) can work as a file sharing and collaboration system for work groups. It may not be the best way to do it, but sometimes the best is the enemy of good.
The alternative, at least in Office 365, is to use SharePoint sites for collaboration. Another possibility is to use Yammer, but that makes things too confusing, so I’ll leave that for another time.The issue with using SharePoint is whether all the features there make it more powerful or more confusing.
The answer is both. SharePoint’s complexity has become a bullet point on competitors’ presentations. Managed correctly, SharePoint can be a great collaboration system, as well as an excellent document management system. Managing it correctly requires expertise and work, however, and many organizations may not have the patience. They want simple collaboration now, and they want to be able to do it from a variety of devices.
These desires are what has driven organizations to competitors like Box and Dropbox, and Microsoft is clearly positioning OneDrive for Business to compete with them, as a recent Office blog post entitled “Thinking Outside the Box” makes abundantly clear.
The way OneDrive for Business is organized, however, may not be completely intuitive to users who have been using file servers and email for document sharing so far. To start with, there is no central “server” where shared files are kept. ODB uses the model of individual users are sharing files or folders on their individual ODB drives. When a user shares a folder with people, they get an email announcing it, with a link to the folder. Clicking on the link puts them into the sender’s OBD drive, with a view that allows them to see only what has been shared.
From there, it’s easy enough to edit documents in the folder with Word Online or the desktop or iPad version of Word, saving it back to the shared folder. So far, so good. Problems may arise, however, if users want to check for changes that others have made, make more changes themselves, and understand the context of the changes.
The first handy thing to know about is the “Shared with Me” folder. When you are in your own ODB drive, on the Web page that displays your Documents, you will see “Shared with Me as a link in the folder list in the left-hand column. Clicking on this will provide a directory of all files shared with you. At least, this is what will eventually happen. It takes a few minutes for a newly shared file or folder to show up there. Still, this makes getting back to a document you’re working on with others a lot more convenient than having to bookmark the location of each shared file or folder, or having to find the original email and click on the link again.
Second, you can decide when to go back to a shared document by setting an alert. This will notify you via email whenever somebody else changes the document. Set an alert by going to the shared document and checking the little box to its left. Then go up to the ribbon on the page and click the “Files” tab. Click on the “Alert Me” Icon in the ribbon and follow the instructions.
Playing Well with Others
Sometimes it’s important to explain changes, as you make them. If you’re all using a SharePoint Newsfeed, you can put your explanations there. If you’re not, however, you can use comments in the document the same way you would if you were sending around a document by email. This works both in Word Online and the desktop Word. You can also track changes, but they’re only visible in the desktop Word and in Word for iPad.
The final thing I’ll mention is that whoever shares the file or folder should take a little responsibility for administering it. You’ll want to make clear what the shared folder is for and what people are invited to do with it, such as adding more files of their own. You’ll want to make sure others don’t start competing folders of their own. Get “My place or yours” settled at the outset.
When you invite others to share, you will have the chance to set their rights. There’s a drop-down menu next to where you put there names allowing you to choose “Can Edit” or “Can View.” You also should be prepared to take the lead in announcing when the time for changes is ending, etc., as you would if you were running a similar process using email.
Using these tools and techniques can give you a good process for sharing documents around particular tasks. OneDrive for Business is not a replacement for a file server, much less a document management system, but it’s fast and easy to learn, allowing you to share stuff and get things done.