looking out from the inside of a Microsoft office
PHOTO: Indi Samarajiva

Office 365 for business is a Microsoft subscription service that includes access to Office applications and online productivity services, as well as business services such as web conferencing, hosted email, and online storage.  However, Microsoft keeps adding new tools and services in response to enterprise need, but are workers using all of them?  We talked to several enterprises to see what part of Office 365 is working for them, and, in some cases what they would like to see added to the productivity suite in the future.

1. OneDrive

For Jovan Milenkovic, co-founder of KommandoTech based in the Czech Republic, One Drive is one of the most underrated productivity tools included in Office 365. It allows users real-time access to edit, share and to keep their work safely stored on Microsoft's servers. With a basic Office 365 package, each user is capped at a whopping tera-byte, which should be plenty for most small businesses.  OneDrive enables teams to collaborate on projects using Office 365 tools quickly and efficiently from anywhere in the world. "With data stored on the Microsoft cloud, your work is secure and accessible from any device while you're on the move. It increases productivity by keeping all files neatly stored on a shared cloud, saving the hassle of downloading endless attachments or having to sift through your mailbox to find important files," he said.

Everything is on the cloud and two-clicks away from a shareable link that your co-workers can quickly access shared files and get work done more efficiently.

2. Teams

Norhanie Pangulima is an outreach consultant at Kansas City, Miss.-based Centriq. He cites two tools in Office 365 as being particularly useful. Office 365, he said, is equipped with Microsoft Teams, which you can use to host online meetings and video calls.  It acts as a communication tool that doubles as a collaboration tool, which is needed for a fluid interaction between employees in a workplace who don’t always get to work in the same physical location.

As such, Teams provides users with a unified communication and collaboration platform that combines persistent workplace chat, video meetings, file storage (including collaboration on files), and application integration. Teams is a competitor to services such as Slack and is the evolution and upgrade path from Microsoft Skype for Business.

Related Article: Don't Know Which Microsoft Collaboration Tool to Use? You're Not Alone

3. Email

Citing the fact that 95% of organizations use email as their way of communicating internally, he said that a digital workplace is not going to work if there is no email system in place to provide a venue for the exchange of formal communication. Office 365 has this as well, through Outlook. Primarily an email application, Outlook also includes a calendar, task manager, contact manager, note taking, journal, and web browsing.

4. SharePoint

Hunter Willis, product marketing manager at Jersey City-based AvePoint shared that traditionally Exchange and One Drive have been very important, but as Microsoft continues to roll out features in Office 365, SharePoint and the Power Platform along with Teams have become increasingly important for productivity. Demand for mobile accessibility and enabling the modern digital workplace has shifted the focus and nature of collaboration to be much more reliant on chat interfaces.

5. The 'Power Platform'

'Power Platform' is a collective term for three Microsoft products: Power BI, PowerApps and Flow. They provide the means to help people easily manipulate, surface, automate and analyze data and can be used with Office 365 and Dynamics 365.

In addition, the speed and pace that is required by less structured work processes and the diversification of workforce talents require a faster pace of productivity. The power of chat-based collaboration coupled with the search and data organization tools that come with SharePoint are extremely enabling when it comes to rapid collaboration productivity.

Related Article: 10 Keys to Microsoft Teams Governance Success

6. Microsoft Graph and AI engine

In addition, Microsoft Graph and its AI engine proactively surface documents that users may have been unaware of but may be interested or could be useful to them. This is extremely powerful when it comes to optimizing collaboration. Office 365 enables not even IT pros or tech junkies, but any passionate worker to automate processes, build apps, collaborate in chat, email and document sharing, all from one interface.

“The stack of Teams, SharePoint/ (One Drive) and the Power Platform (Power Apps, Power Automate and Power BI) are the future of digital workplace collaboration productivity,” Willis said.

7. Word, Excel, and Outlook

Ileana Luts, manager at Canada-based Distantjob pointed out that she, like many people, is just looking for the basics. She said that Word, Excel, and Outlook are the most used tools by desk-workers. “Skype is a great tool if you often need to have extensive online meetings with distributed team members, but its chat features leave something to be desired,” She also said that she finds the support offered for Skype annoying. “If you create a ticket, you get numerous emails and calls, and the calls always come in the evening, long after I've finished work,” she said.

8. Yammer

Reuben Yonatan is CEO of Fresh Meadows, New York-based GetVoIP. He said that when it comes to productivity tools, the ones that help us collaborate over a distance are the most helpful. “Yammer (found within Office 365) is a great example of that. It enables workers to brainstorm with each other, share information, and come up with solid ideas. It also provides usage stats that help us really hone-in on how we work best as a team and which tools help us the most,” he said.

Yammer is a social networking service designed with enterprise communication in mind. Created by a company called Geni and launched in 2008, it was acquired by Microsoft in 2012. Microsoft rolled the new product into their Office 365 suite in 2014, and today it is used by 85% of fortune 500 companies worldwide, according to Microsoft.

9. To Do

Other than Outlook, Word and Excel, Cira Apps CTO and founder Vern Weitzman said that his favorite Office 365 app is “To Do”. “I have tried Asana, Trello, Todoist and a few others. Microsoft To Do app is hands down the easiest to get my thoughts into a checklist,” he said.

To-Do is an intelligent task management app that makes it easy to plan and manage your day.Microsoft To-Do delivers a smart, more personal and intuitive way to help people stay organized. Powered by Office 365 integration and an intelligent algorithm, it is part of Microsoft’s objective to simplify task management and help you to achieve more.

So, What’s Missing?

But there are holes and as they become more apparent, other third-party vendors are going to step up to the mark.  Joe Ferdinando is president of HotHeadTech, an IT support company. He told us that the biggest thing Office 365 is missing in his opinion is file recovery.

There's no way that office 365 can recover the lost data which can lead to confusion, and ultimately, frustration if your employees are using Office 365 to get their work done. Make sure you have proper backups in place or and saving your work to the cloud because if not, you may end up paying the consequences, said Ferdinando.

For Sarah Franklin of Blue Tree AI in Ottawa, some of the most effective productivity tools in digital workplaces include time trackers to set deadlines, dashboard organizers to clean up your business, new tech applications, and a platform that allows all the employees and leaders to communicate in the same area and share work/ideas so there is no confusion about what is to be done. “Office 365 is a great service to use for improving productivity, but I do believe there are better options available that provide more detailed help to create a very personal space for a business,” she said.

This leads to a more effective way of growing and maintaining success to increase financial gain. Office 365 provides a very general service which is great for newer businesses but can lack authenticity as a business begins to grow larger.