Office 365 Groups are best thought of as the combination of a handful of existing features and products, all bundled up for ease of use by just a few employees, an entire department, or even colleagues in multiple departments working on a project:
- Distribution Group / Shared Mailbox — Called Conversations, each Group has an an email address associated with it that, when emailed, creates a conversation that's distributed to all other members of that Group, as well as kept in the Group inbox for future reference.
- OneDrive — Each Office 365 Group has its own OneDrive, which allows you to share files with your colleagues from a space owned by the group, not by an individual, all without the location-based confines of local file server (yes, this means you can keep your files in a place you can get to from just about anywhere!). Files can also be synchronized to your desktop for offline access. One of the largest benefits of storing files in OneDrive, however, is that some files (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, most notably) can be edited collaboratively by multiple users, simultaneously.
- Shared Calendar — Each Group also has its own calendar, viewable and modifiable by any member of the Group.
- OneNote — Each Group has its own OneNote notebook. This notebook is shared across the group and synchronized in near-realtime, allowing members to keep organized notes easily viewable by all.
- Planner — Task management for teams. Make a plan, assign tasks to one or more team members, and group them into buckets. It even supports email reminders so you'll never miss a deadline if you forget to check Planner regularly.
- Teams — Teams is Microsoft's group messaging system. Among many other capabilities, it allows you to avoid the inbox and message directly with individuals, or the entire Group instantaneously (even on mobile devices), and is tightly integrated into Office 365 Groups. For more information on using Teams at Bedrock Manufacturing, please see this article.
While these various resources are all accessible via web browser, some prefer to use desktop apps or mobile devices (Microsoft Outlook for Windows, or MobileMail on Apple iPhone, for example). Thankfully, the various aspects of Groups are very accessible:
- Conversations — Any email application; Outlook Web Access; Outlook for Mobile (Android and/or Apple iOS)
- Files — Any browser; OneDrive for Windows; OneDrive for Macintosh; OneDrive for Mobile; SharePoint for Mobile
- Calendar — Any browser; Outlook for Windows; Outlook for Macintosh; Outlook for Mobile
- Notebook — Any browser; OneNote for Windows; OneNote for Macintosh; OneNote for Mobile
- Planner — Any browser; Planner for Mobile
- Teams — Any browser; Teams for Windows; Teams for Macintosh; Teams for Mobile
Office 365 Groups can be made for various purposes: to serve as the general collaborative space for the general needs of an individual department, for a specific project, or even for a subset of a department that needs a little added security.
Groups can be private or public, so you have the option to lock down data that you wish to keep close to the vest in one Group, but provide another Group to the public (entire Bedrock organization) that contains information you feel suitable for public consumption.
What about outside users?
From Microsoft: "Guest access in Office 365 Groups enables you and your team to collaborate with people from outside your organization by granting them access to group conversations, files, calendar invitations, and the group notebook. Access can be granted to a guest—including partners, vendors, suppliers, or consultants—by any group owner."
As well, Groups can be configured to allow just about anybody (even without an account) to participate in file sharing.
For more information on how to use Office 365 Groups and OneDrive:
- Microsoft Groups and Teams Best Practices
- Creating an Office 365 Group
- Using Microsoft OneDrive for Business
For even more information on Office 365 Groups, please see Microsoft's own documentation, located here.