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Updated May 2023
The most fundamental way your SharePoint and Microsoft Teams experiences are intertwined is through documents shared and stored in MS Teams. The reason for this is straightforward; all document management in MS Teams is actually just a window into what is happening in SharePoint.
Whether you choose to access the documents in SharePoint or Teams, they nevertheless exist in SharePoint. This makes sense given the history of the SharePoint platform and its roots as a Document Management System. Microsoft Teams adds to the existing SharePoint document management layer with other features like Conversations, Apps, and other integrations.
Let’s go over the available SharePoint document management features, explain how they can assist your teams in working together, along with takeaways for you to apply within your organization for some quick wins.
While Document Management is not always seen as an exciting topic, it nevertheless continues to underpin a huge proportion of our collaborative activities. For the purposes of our conversations, it is helpful to take a broader definition of a Document as almost any file that a team will use (e.g., Word Documents, PowerPoint Presentations, Excel Spreadsheets, PDF, Images, CAD Drawings, etc.). No matter the type of Microsoft Teams team, its members are continually creating and updating documents as part of their day-to-day interactions.
SharePoint when used effectively in tandem with Microsoft Teams can become the key to unlocking collaboration and adoption across your entire organization.
If you are looking for some tips on how to best utilize SharePoint to supercharge collaboration across Microsoft Teams, watch our on-demand webinar.
In SharePoint, documents or files are stored in a container called a Document Library. Each Site (and its attached Microsoft Teams team) begins with a single document library called Shared Documents, but many more can be added if desired. Some of the available features for Document Libraries include:
SharePoint offers a great built-in version history that is enabled by default and captures changes made to a document by all editors over its life. Past versions are all stored in the background against the document but can be viewed and restored at any time. This not only provides a way to review the history of a document but also allows for reverting to past versions if subsequent changes are not desirable.
Metadata, sometimes called Tags, is simply information we append to our documents to ensure they are properly identified and categorized. While the usage and implementation of metadata can fill multiple blogs easily, the benefits of metadata cannot be underestimated, as they:
Image: Metadata of a Document
Certain metadata is always available in SharePoint and becomes applied to content automatically, such as Created By date, Created By User, Modified By date, Modified By User, Version number, ID, and many more.
Where metadata really shines, is when additional situation-specific metadata is applied to content in a library. Several types of metadata are supported, including Text, Choices, Numbers, Dates, People, and something called Managed Metadata which allows an organization to create a centralized dictionary of terms that are then reused across SharePoint and Teams. With these types available, metadata can be used to classify the status of a document, its type or category, its owner, and even its sensitivity or confidentiality; to name a few use cases.
Another topic worthy of multiple blog articles on its own, SharePoint supports reviews or approvals within Document Libraries. Suffice it to say there are two primary methods to enable approvals or reviews of documents: via the Content Approval method in SharePoint, or via integration with Power Automate. Either way, Approvals provide a way for contributors to make edits to a document while retaining the ability to review steps before the document is published. Approvals can be configured to ensure that regular users do not see proposed changes to a document until they have been approved.
SharePoint Sites and their attached Microsoft Teams teams have permissions that establish who has access to perform what activities.
In SharePoint, Document Libraries use the concepts of Readers, Editors, and Owners; reflecting a spectrum of permitted activities from very few to very many. If multiple Document Libraries are used on a site, they need not all have the same security applied to them. Actually, this is one of the most common reasons for creating additional libraries.
Security in Document Libraries is, by default, inherited from the Site where it is contained – greatly simplifying the management of security. While it is possible to apply security at a very granular level including folders, and even individual items within a Document Library; this is not recommended. Always apply security at the highest possible level, with the Site or Team being the preferred option. Avoid applying security exceptions (breaking inheritance) unless an exception is truly required (e.g., a Document Library specifically created for storing Invoices within a Project Team may be restricted to a subset of the larger team).
SharePoint Document Libraries have excellent integration with Microsoft 365, and with Teams and OneDrive in particular. The integration with OneDrive allows for users to ‘Sync’ entire libraries, or folders within libraries, to a user’s machine to facilitate easier entry to a list of commonly used document libraries. This functionality is a tremendous asset when conducting change management and adoption efforts for users accustomed to working within File Shares as this replicates a similar experience for them to access documents.
Historically, many document management systems have relied on folders to organize documentation into a nested hierarchy.
Folders introduce a physical structure to categorizing or classifying information, whereas metadata does not. The challenge with deeply nested folder structures is that they have often grown organically over time but without a pre-existing architecture framework in place to guide their growth. Furthermore, folder structures are often designed by a single user in a way that makes sense to them, but not necessarily to anyone else. Often, we see the use of folders as an unfortunate shortcut for change management, or simply because a file share structure was migrated “as is” into SharePoint. In either case, this often represents the unrealized benefits of moving to a more modern platform like SharePoint. When used with care, metadata can typically replace the need for folders.
For Document Libraries connected to Teams (such as the standard Shared Documents Library), adding folders introduces further complexity and often results in confusion as an attached Microsoft Teams team already generates a folder for each Channel of the Team.
Document Libraries offer support for creating pre-set Views of information. A good way to think of views is a defined “lens” by which to look at the information. Views are incredibly flexible and can be Public (accessible to anyone) or Private (accessible to the user who created it). They allow for consolidating information in fewer libraries and folders by using Views to segregate content, show and hide information when it is appropriate, or simplify what information is shown about documents at a given time.
Some common and useful views include:
More recently, SharePoint has offered additional ways by which we can configure views, to better tailor the display of content for the type of information. For example, a Tiles View shows all content in a gallery-like layout, which can be more suitable for libraries with images.
Read our blog on vertical sections for the SharePoint homepage and pages which are an excellent tool to highlight certain content and overall drive engagement and adoption of SharePoint.
We can also format views with custom formatting to help call attention to particular information or create our own custom layout (more on this in a future post in this series).
Real-time co-authoring is an amazing feature built-in to SharePoint Document Management. It allows for multiple users to work together seamlessly. Many of us in the SharePoint world will remember the constant headache of files “locked”, which, fortunately, has largely been eliminated. Now it is easy to see who has the document open, and even what area of the document they are currently working on.
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