Beware the Office 365 Group -Based Site Regional Settings!!!

This is a quick post, yet it’s still an important one. We’re using more and more Office 365 Group -based SharePoint sites these days. Even when you know you aren’t going to use some of the goodies you end up with, this type of site is making more and more sense.

<addendum data-datetime=”Sun May 14 2017 10:56:53 GMT-0400 (Eastern Daylight Time)”>
Several people have asked me in other forums the basic question: “So what?” If all dates and times are stored in UTC, does it really matter what the site’s Regional Settings are? Frankly, that’s got me a little bit stumped.

It certainly feels wrong that the site’s settings don’t match its primary locus, but since team members can span the globe, what’s the impact?

I know I struggle as a developer to show everyone things in the right date/time based on their settings, and it feels like the platform doesn’t give us great tools for this. What other issues does it raise? Please add your thoughts and issues in the comments. I’m interested in things other than the usual “The people in Redmond don’t realize that we’re not all in their timezone” stuff – which is basically all I’ve pointed out here.
</addendum>

BUT, there’s a simple problem that can have longer-term ramifications. The default time zone for every new Group-based site we create is PDT, also known as UTC-08:00. You have to go into Site Settings to change it manually for every site you create this way. Since a lot of my clients are in EDT, this is tedious.

I’m guessing no one in Redmond even notices this, because PDT is their time zone. I spot it every time I create a new Group-based site during a migration because Sharegate warns me the time zones of the source and destination sites are different when I start to copy content across. (Yay, Sharegate!)

If you happen to be a non-US person, then ALL of the regional settings are likely to be wrong for you. I’ve checked, and there is no way to change the default here – unless it’s a VERY recent change.

Here are some Office 365 UserVoice suggestions you can run off to vote for:

 

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Dear Microsoft: In Office 365, Groups are Groups are Groups – Unless They Aren’t

One of the problems with using common English words for things like “groups” or “teams” is that we end up trying to figure out the difference between things with very common names. When Sue Hanley (@susanhanley) and I were building our session Lions and Tigers and Teams, Oh My! – Sorting through the options to connect and collaborate in Office 365 for SPTechCon Austin recently, I realized just how confusing this could be – yet again.

The Problem

On the SharePoint home UI, when I want to create a “group”, I am told I will “Get a team site connected to Office 365 Groups”. So based on that one sentence, I might quite reasonably assume I’m creating a “Team” and a “Group” – which it so happens I am – sort of.

In the Groups UI in the Admin Center, we see these options:

  • Office 365 Group
  • Distribution list
  • Mail-enabled security group
  • Security group

In the Exchange admin center when we start to create a “group”, we’re given these choices:

  • Office 365 Group
  • Distribution group
  • Security group
  • Dynamic distribution group

But don’t fret. When you go to create a “group” in the Azure AD UI, you can create a “group” with Membership type of:

  • Assigned
  • Dynamic Device
  • Dynamic user

We can also check a box to “

Selecting ‘Yes’ will turn on Office 365 features for this group

I can even try to add the “group” – it’s not clear which type of “group” I’ve actually created – to the membership of another “group”. “Group Type” seems to be one of the following:

  • Distribution
  • Security
  • Office
  • Mail enabled security

When I create a Team in Microsoft Teams, there’s not even a clue that I’m also creating an Office 365 Group behind the scenes. Maybe that doesn’t really matter to an end user, but the fact that a “Team” is also a “Group” is another terminology SNAFU.

So What?

Some people might say that as an “IT Pro”, one should always understand all of these terms intrinsically, but I doubt that it’s often the case that this is true. The terms cross different “workloads” in Office 365 and can vary in terminology from their on premises counterparts, especially across server versions. Add to that the fact that many “admins” are the lone SharePoint/Exchange/Office 365/Chief Cook/Bottle Washer in their organization, and there is little hope they will understand the nuances. Heck, I do this stuff for a living and I find it confusing. Sometimes things are hard for no good reason.

Let’s assume we have an organization which is totally sold on the value of Office 365 Groups (note the capitalization of “groups”). If they have been using SharePoint and Exchange either on premises or in Office 365, they probably already have a mix of all the different types of “groups” shown above. When someone in that organization tries to create an Office 365 Group for – say – the Executive Team, it’s highly likely they will get an error like:

Note that “group alias” is not one of the terms used above, nor does the error give even an inkling of how to solve the problem. Not even a worthless “Contact your administrator” as a fine how-do-you-do. So, what is the user likely to do?

Well, I’ll posit that they will create a Group named “Executive Group” or “Executives” or something else spelled a little differently. That Group won’t be linked to any of the previous artifacts and thus will begin the route to more chaos that we had before.

Of course, this is a real use case I’ve run into at an actual client, as is often the case with my beefs. As far as I can tell, there is no way to convert a “Mail-enabled security group” to an “Office 365 group” without some sort of Powershell tomfoolery. That’s just bad. I’ve reached out to my MVP network for help here and I’ll update this post if I’m wrong – and I’d love to be.

This is where the old Microsoft line would have been that it’s a great “partner opportunity” or that there are “$9 spent in consulting for every $1 spent on server products”. Those were always crappy answers, and they were often driven by confusing things just like this. The “avoid a mess” or “clean up the mess” roles fell to partners who were more than happy to lap up the dollars agonized organizations were willing to toss them to fix things.

The new Microsoft doesn’t want to work this way, but in many cases, their own large size and competing teams (small “t”, generic use) still lead us to these sorts of problems.

One of the things we as consultants spend a *lot* of time doing is working with organizations to build a common set of terminology. Sometimes you may hear this called taxonomy or ontology, but the bottom line point is to get everyone to agree to a set of words and phrases that they can use consistently to express the same thing. If I came out of one of those efforts with as many terms as I’ve listed above, I’d consider the effort a failure, especially if several terms meant essentially the same thing.

The Ask

So, Dear Microsoft, please tighten up the terminology as quickly as you can. Next we need to know how to convert each of the old, legacy types of “groups” to an Office 365 Group – without resorting to Powershell. Ideally, we should just be able to click a button on any of the old things to make it a new thing, which would take us through a process (if we need one) to get it done.

Even better, when I try to create that Executive Team Office 365 Group, walk me – as a user – through fixing the issue. In other words, help me solve the problem BEFORE I’ve created the mess, so I don’t need to call a consultant to fix things. (Yes, nose, face, etc., but I think most of us consultants would rather be building valuable functionality than cleaning up messes. If your consultants relish this type of work – beware.)

Make it easy for us to help ourselves. Cut down on those support calls. Stop making your customers hire expensive consultants to clean up messes. Make Office 365 the best it can be.


Post 999! Sadly, I may have just used up my allotment of quote characters for any future posts.

Office 365 Groups: Let People Outside the Organization Email the Group

As a consultant, on a daily basis I’m working in multiple Office 365 tenants. In some of those tenants I have an account (license) with my own Sympraxis email, and in many others, I have an email address within the client organization’s domain.

Believe me, it all gets pretty confusing – if it weren’t for LastPass keeping track of my logins, I’d be doomed!

With all the Office 365 Groups goodness going on, it’s great to try to keep track of “Group conversations” in a central place. By including the email alias for a Group in email-based exchanges, we can save those conversations for posterity.

Given the complexity of my account setup across clients (let me know if you have suggestions on how to make that easier!), it’s really helpful for me to use my Sympraxis email account to centralize *my* conversation activity, at least.

To do this in a given Office 365 Group, you can change the Let people outside the organization email the group setting for the Group, as shown below. This allows me to be a member of the group with whatever account I have in that tenant, but also to email in with my Sympraxis account.

In theory, this opens up your Group conversation to “spam” or other unwanted outside emails. In practice, it’s probably not a problem, especially for a Group which has a relatively limited lifespan. You’ll probably want to consider which Groups really need this setting enabled.

In any case, it was a little tricky to find the setting after the Group was set up, so I figured I’d share.

  • If you’re in the SharePoint site for the Group, Go to Group conversations (link in the upper right)
  • This takes you to the Outlook-in-a-browser view of the Group
  • In the upper right of the screen, click on the ellipses (…)

  • Click on Edit group

 

Now, if I could only choose the color for the Group! I’m sure that setting is somewhere, too. Any ideas?

More Granular Permissions for Office 365 Groups: A Work in Progress?

There are changes afoot in the way we can manage permissions in an Office 365 Group Team Site. (Naming for this stuff is getting really tricky. I continue my habit of capitalizing “things” that have a name in the product, to avoid confusion with the “concepts” behind them.)

In the last few days, we’re seeing some new ways to manage Group permissions behind the cog in a “modern” Team Site, aka, the site for an Office 365 Group.

Dan Holme (@danholme) posted an image to Facebook – which I think is visible to his friends, thus basically public – that shows his view of what’s going on.

I see slightly different things in several tenants. I *think* First Release has to be on for you to have these capabilities, but I’m not positive about this. If you have the Site Permissions option behind the cog in a “modern” Team Site, like this…

…you’ll see a panel which looks something like the one below. The red box is what seems to be new. From a Group Team Site life cycle management perspective, being able to “flip” a site from Edit to Read mode is a Very Good Thing. I’m not a huge fan of the “archive” idea, but I often want to stop people from using a site after it’s usefulness has waned. At that point it can be an historical record, but people shouldn’t be able to add new content to it or change existing content.

It took me some fiddling around to figure out how this works, but by clicking on the “Edit” underneath the Group members, I can change the permissions from Edit to Read.

The effect of this is basically to slide the Group members down into the Read bucket.

What I’d really like to be able to do is add *different* people into the Read bucket – maybe we want the executives to be able to drop into a project Team Site, but not edit stuff, for example – but I can’t figure out how to do that with the UI as it is. Note that the “go to Outlook” text at the top of the panel is actually a link (sort of invisible, but it’s there) to take you over to Outlook to manage Group membership. I don’t see anything over in Outlook which reflects this Read idea, but I expect that’s coming.

One of the joys of a living and breathing service is we get to see things as they roll out, sometimes even in the middle of changes. I expect this will all gel in the near term, but at the moment, it’s pretty confusing, IMO. I’ve reached out to Dan to gather more info, and I’ll add it here as I understand things better. In the meantime, we know that more granular permissions control for Groups is really coming!

<UPDATE 2017-03-03>

Yesterday I had a chat with Dan about where this is all heading. It was one of those “I can’t tell you what he showed me” conversations, but I can say that I see the sense in where it’s heading.

It’s a tricky line they are walking as they move SharePoint from “classic” to “modern” pages. Many of us long-time SharePoint folks are looking for the same terminology and UI that we’re used to – even though we’ve been clamoring for improvements for years!

The upshot is I think we will have the right combination of the old SharePoint (that’s probably why we see “Site Members/Owners/Visitors” in the UI above) and the “modern” SharePoint (probably more role-based?). It’s going to continue to feel weird as we move from one world to the other, but we’re getting there.

Finally, Dan and I talked about a few things I think they could communicate a bit better. I expect Dan and others will be doing posts around some of those topics (did you know you can remove the News Web Part from a “modern” Team Site home page now?) and more very soon.

</UPDATE>

Naming New Office 365 Groups Intelligently Is !Important

Sympraxis is starting a new Office 365 -based Intranet project with Sue Hanley (@susanhanley). Julie (@jfj1997) and I are really going to enjoy working with Sue!

As always when we’re starting a project, we want to start collaborating with the client project team in the tools we’re rolling out for their organization.

It’s a funny thing, but I often get push back on this, especially if the project team is IT-based. If the project team won’t use the tool set, then it’s not reasonable to expect everyone else to embrace it. As I always talk about in my Creating a Great User Experience session at conferences, excuses like “it’s too slow” or “I don’t like the UI” are serious problems that need to be addressed right up front. (And no, I’m not making this up.)

Anyway, Sue and I discussed this, and imagine the conversation going something like this…

Me: I think we should spin up a site where we can work with the project folks. Suggestions on the name and location? I would go with a subsite from https://[tenant]sharepoint.com, maybe “New Intranet”, with custom permissions.

Sue: Do you mean a team site for the intranet project? Why not a Group so we get a separate site collection?

Me: Doh! Of course! I’ll set it up. [Note: I’m still getting the hang of this whole “Groups” thing, clearly!]

Sue: Thanks! I am using one for [my other client] and it is actually great.

Me: Public or Private? And can you change that after the fact? (I sure hope so.) I’m thinking “Intranet Project 2017”, in case they want to do another Intranet Project later. Naming these Groups for good governance is a pretty tricky thing, IMO.

Sue: Private. That sounds good for a long name, but short name for the URL, right?

Me: Looks like I can shorten the Group ID. “IP2017”?

Sue: Works for me!

Me: This little exchange shows me that picking a good Group name and ID is REALLY important. Blog post!

Obviously, my first thought was not a new Office 365 Group, and I should really start thinking of it as at least one of the first options in cases like this. I’m simply too used to spinning up plain old Team Sites, which still serve their purpose well. A Team Site with a Document Library, Task list, and Calendar, is often enough to manage a SharePoint project, with other options added along the way. (See my older posts Simple Best Practices for Using SharePoint Task Lists and Recent Changes to Task Management Conventions on Office 365 for how I tend to use the Task lists.)

Office 365 Groups are really cool (they definitely didn’t strike me that way early on) and they make a lot of sense for project-based work. Because of the tight integration with Exchange (most important to end users via Outlook) and other Office 365 services, they really do make a lot of sense.

But the last point is what I want to dwell on most here.

One of the best – and to some people, worst – things about Office 365 Groups is that pretty much anyone can create them. You can shut things down to gain control, but then you lose the value of people spinning up a group whenever they need one to be productive. Your organization’s culture and governance will determine which way you go with this.

Let’s assume you keep things loose. Each time someone creates a new Group, they sort of “burn” the name they use for the group. Remember that creating a Group does a whole bunch of things behind the scenes that can’t realistically be “undone”, like creating a Site Collection for the Group, creating an Exchange mailbox for the Group, etc. This means we can run into all sorts of weird scenarios. For instance…

  • A couple of people could be going to a conference about marketing, so they create a Group called Marketing. Now the Marketing department can’t create a Group called “Marketing”.
  • We have a company meeting every year called the Extravaganza for the Company, so we create a group called EC so it’s simple to type. Now the Executive Committee can’t use that “handle”.
  • In the conversation above, Sue and I settled on the “short name” for the URL of IP2017. That’ great unless there’s a rotating Intellectual Property committee that starts work anew each year.
  • etc.

It’s not quite this cut and dried, but I’m exaggerating the problem a little bit to keep your attention.

A little planning can go a long way here. While you probably want to let people have the flexibility to create their own groups. making a few simple guidelines clear should avoid a lot of headaches down the road. Yup, another place where the dread governance word comes into play.

When you create a Group, there are two things to think about: the Group Name and the Group ID. The Group name can be changed at any time, but the Group ID cannot. Below, you can see that as I’ve typed the Group Name as testing, the Group ID has automatically been populated as testing as well. You get a hint of the significance of the Group ID because the email address the mailbox for the Group will get is listed in green below. (It’s a pretty yucky green, IMO.)

If you click on the pencil icon next to the Group ID field, you can edit the value. You’ll see the change to the email address as you type. As you type each character, there’s also a check to see if that Group ID is in use already. This is where things can get interesting.

In the screenshot below, you can see that when I type moderngroup, that Group ID has already been used. My example isn’t great, because I would be unlikely to want the URL to be moderngroup for a Group named testing, but hopefully you can see the point.

If you create the Group in the Admin interface, the UI is a bit different (Why, Microsoft???) but the result is the same: if the Group Id (note the different capitalization) has already been used, you can’t use it again.

So how can you keep things from going “off the rails”?

Odds are you’ll know about a big bunch of Groups you’ll need up front. For instance, if you want to create a group per customer team, you could use the customer number for the Group ID (12345) and then the Group could be named something like Big Realty Company (12345) or 12345 – Big Realty Company. You’d certainly want to create Groups for your departments and offices up front to reserve those names, etc.

So while there aren’t any hard and fast rules here, make sure you do some thinking about it. One of the reasons SharePoint became popular in the early days was that it grew like kudzu across the organization – it started out great, but things usually got out of hand. I feel that Groups may take the same path – and in early adopter organizations probably already have – without some rational thinking on the part of the planners in each organization.

Do you have a useful way for people in your organization to think about naming Groups? If so, please add a comment!

References