Outlook Groups, Yammer or Teams? Which should I use and when?
The great thing about Office 365 is it includes a lot of tools you can use to be more productive, but just like having a tool box with everything you need and more, the key to being productive is knowing when to use the right tool when. And if you are just starting to explore this toolbox and figure out which tool is suitable for which job, it can be quite confusing when you pick up three tools that seemingly can be used for the same job.
Firstly, let’s make something clear. The right combination of tools to use depends very heavily on the organization, and understanding the appropriateness is born out of user research. However, it’s important to have a baseline understanding of what tool is right and when so that you can map the right tools to the ways of working you are trying to encourage or facilitate.
Groups versus Teams and Yammer?
When you start to research which tool is appropriate and when there is a lot of conflicting information – especially posts talking about Groups versus Teams or Yammer.
Office 365 Groups serves as the foundation for collaboration across Office 365 services and doesn’t actually “compete” against Yammer or Teams. In contrast, Office 365 Groups serve as the glue to keep the group metadata itself, list of owners and members and the associated data across Office 365 services:
Creating a Group in Outlook, Teams or Yammer provisions the underlying pieces in services like SharePoint that enable real time document collaboration, OneNote notebooks and storage of data for the group of users.
Because Groups initial iteration focused heavily on Outlook as the main method for group interaction, it makes sense that for many people Office 365 Groups is seen as an Outlook-centric service. With Yammer only recently leveraging on Office 365 Groups, this is understandable. But, it’s important to understand that creating a new Group via any of these services creates an underlying
Office 365 Group that can leverage file storage, OneNote, and additional services like Planner. So, when it comes to evaluating what Office 365 services a Yammer, Teams or Outlook Groups user can leverage, there is parity.
When to use Outlook Groups
Outlook Groups provides a familiar interface within Outlook and provides both a group Calendar, as well as email conversations. Groups can be set up to subscribe members to new messages in their mailbox, or access group conversations as they arrive. In essence, Group conversations are a modern Distribution List with a threaded conversation archive.
Figure 1: Outlook Groups viewed via OWA (Outlook on the Web)
In our recent blog post reframing how employees think about email, my colleague Natalie Inwood describes the difference between PUSH and PULL methods of communication and how there is a place for both in a modern enterprise, but it needs to be considered carefully to avoid the age-old problem of email overload.
Use it to replace distribution groups that need to be used to push messages to people
Outlook conversations provides a bridge across the divide, allowing organizations to use a modern Distribution Group style of communication to push email to members of the group – but also allowing employees the option to choose when to pull information from groups by remaining a member of the group, but not receiving emails to their inbox as they arrive. Whilst better than using traditional distribution groups, use it sparingly as a replacement and instead consider how Yammer can better replace wider communications within the organization.
Use it when you need to bring people into a conversation using a standards-based technology
Conversations in Outlook Groups take the normal form of emails – they have a standard subject, can include additional recipients easily and are standards-based. It makes it very easy to push messages to external recipients, but like all email threads, conversations can easily fork if recipients choose not to reply all to the group, and of course once information is in email, it’s hard for people across an organization to search for that information once it forks from the group into a side-conversation that might include important information.
When to use Yammer
The value of an Enterprise Social Network is clear – you can read more about why in a recent blog by our CEO Tim Wallis, The value of workplace by Facebook and Microsoft Yammer. At Content and Code everyone benefits from our use of Yammer – whether that’s long term employees that need to research on previous projects they know of, or new starters learning about our past projects and how we work.
Figure 2: The All Company group in Content and Code’s Yammer network
The benefits really cannot be understated, and many people who’ve used a viral approach for initial adoption but lacked an overall strategy, plan and support, across the organization can have a negative opinion of the benefits an Enterprise Social network bring.
Use it to work in way that involves everyone
Working out loud is all about changing the way you work on tasks that would have traditionally been kept private, and hard for others to see and provide valuable input. Whilst some conversations aren’t really relevant for public discussion at a larger organization (for example, a team’s performance reviews, or even who wants a coffee this morning) changing the way you work to move out of siloed technologies like email in every instance you can, allows people across the organization to benefit from what you are doing, and provide relevant input.
Use it to have open discussions across the organization
Sharing information via traditional technologies, like email, is often frustrating for everyone involved. Email from management sent out by their assistants is rarely interacted with, and colleagues emailing the latest updates about technologies they are working with can be a frustrating distraction. Moving conversations like this, where people can not only pull the relevant information they need, when they choose to – but also comment on it and provide their perspective is very valuable. Fostering a culture where information sharing is encouraged (and not just noise) is helpful, and encouraging interaction by people across the organization – whatever their pay grade – breaks down barriers that traditionally hold good ideas back.
When to use Microsoft Teams
It’s better to work out loud, so why would you want to use Teams. You’d think it would take away discussions from Yammer and silo them away within yet another technology. Whilst you could do that, you shouldn’t.
The first rule of Teams is if it’s better on Yammer – put it on Yammer
A group of people who start to use Teams alongside Yammer could easily begin to start only sharing information within Teams. This is not what you should encourage. If you encourage working out loud – then make sure Teams doesn’t undo those efforts.
Use it to provide a single view of a team’s activities
Tabs within Teams allow members of a team to access more than just chats and meetings. If there’s relevant Yammer Groups that the Team use, then those can live within a Tab to make it easy to work out loud without leaving the client. Have Fresh intranet? The team can access it from within Teams.
Files and documents are accessible within another tab, and team task lists can be added from Microsoft Planner. Third party services like Trello and even Microsoft Bots are integrated into a single pane of glass.
Figure 3: An example view of C&C’s Tech Enablement Team
For Teams that are no longer email-centric (or don’t want to be tied to their email client), Teams provides the modern replacement for the single collaboration app.
Use it to replace other technologies used for quick, transient discussions
Teams strength is in bringing together conversations that had no place for email, and no place for Yammer. An email to the team asking who’ll be around this morning? Sending out a quick catch up / remote stand-up meeting invite?
It brings people back from utilizing Skype for Business as the open channel for group conversations during the day. How many times have you had a group chat with several team members chatting about a problem quickly, or just keeping in touch when they aren’t in the same place and want to feel part of the same team.
For people who aren’t using Enterprise Voice or Cloud PBX, the great thing about teams is it is Skype for Business integrated. Use it to replace day-to-day reliance on the Skype for Business app. You can use it for one-to-one chats as well as voice and video meetings. It even integrates with your calendar for scheduling meetings.
Even better, if groups of people have adopted third-party technologies without IT approval, like Slack or WhatsApp to conduct these kind of quick, throwaway conversations, Teams provides a forum for these.
Use it to replace Skype for Business persistent chat
If Persistent Chat is keeping your Skype for Business or Lync implementation on-premises, then Teams fills that void. Long-running chat threads are stored for compliance but benefit from the instant-message chat based team communications teams that needed persistent chat used it for. Built in compliance hold functionality stores chat threads within Exchange Online for long-term discoverability.
Whilst it is not intended to be a single “one size fits all” when looking at Outlook Groups versus Teams versus Yammer, there are clear use cases to enable people to work better together. It’s critical to use the right tool for the job though. What use cases are Outlook Groups, Teams and Yammer working well for you? Let us know your thoughts by commenting below.
Microsoft Teams, Groups or Yammer? What should you use and when?
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About our author
Principle Technology Strategist | MVP - Exchange & Office 365
Steve is a 5 times recipient of the MVP (Microsoft’s Most Valuable Professional) award from Microsoft, is a regular international conference speaker, podcast host, regular blogger, plus he is the author of a number of best-selling Exchange books. Steve has worked on a vast number of Exchange and Office 365 projects across customers large and small, often with complex requirements and would love to help you on too.
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