Q&A: Top Tips from Scott Hoag on Managing Office 365 Groups

Cloud Solutions Architect Scott Hoag offers his best dos, don'ts and more for working with Office 365 Groups ahead of his session on the topic at Live! 360 this November.

Scott Hoag is a cloud solutions architect with ACTS, a frequent SharePoint and and Azure speaker and cohost of the Microsoft Cloud IT Pro podcast. He'll also be presenting the session, "Managing Office 365 Groups in Office 365," at Office and SharePoint Live!, part of the Live! 360 conference this November in Orlando. We got Scott to share some of his tips on this topic ahead of his presentation:

What is the biggest difference between Office 365 Groups and Exchange Distribution Groups?
Office 365 Groups and Exchange Distribution Groups appear very similar on the surface and are even created in the same place in the Exchange Admin Center in Office 365 -- but that's about where the similarities stop.

Exchange Distribution Groups allow an administrator to create an e-mail address that can then have users associated with it. Whenever someone sends an e-mail to the distribution group, all of the group members receive a copy of the message. There's no shared mailbox -- membership is fully managed through Exchange and/or Outlook, and no knowledge is captured if you add new members to the group later.

Office 365 Groups are a membership system that exists in Azure Active Directory. When an Office 365 Group (also known as a Unified or Modern Group) is created, there are a number of assets that are provisioned, including a SharePoint site in SharePoint Online and a Shared Inbox in Exchange. The group's membership is then synchronized down to those assets and any time you alter the group's membership that synchronization occurs.

Compared to a Distribution Group, Office 365 Groups bring a whole new level of knowledge capture and collaboration to Office 365. As you add new members to a group, they automatically get access to all of the workloads associated with that group. This means they'll have access to all of the conversations in the group's shared mailbox, all of the documents and lists in the group's SharePoint site, the group's Planner plan, the group's Power BI Workspace, etc.

What is your favorite tip for working with Office 365 Groups?
One of my biggest takeaways from deployments that use Office 365 Groups is you need to make sure you're deploying the right tools to enable your users to be successful!

Because Groups can be accessed on the Web through a browser, on the desktop through Outlook and even on mobile, you need to understand the needs of your organization. I've seen deployments where organizations deploy Groups but then they don't deploy Outlook 2016 on the desktop, which is the only Outlook client that lets users interact with their groups. Not deploying the required tools and not being mindful of your organization's needs is the equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot when it comes to deploying Office 365 Groups.

What is the No. 1 thing admins should NOT do when working with Office 365 groups?
Turn them off or lock them down so much that users can't create them! Office 365 Groups are a core component of Office 365. Want to use Teams? You need Groups! Want to use Yammer? You need Groups! Want to use Planner? You need Groups!

In the same vein as that tip we discussed earlier, administrators and operators of Office 365 need to truly understand the needs of the organization and how they're going to enable the organization to be successful with Groups.

What are a couple of top security best practices that you recommend for Office 365 Groups?
Groups can be created in their own domain with the multi-domain support for Office 365 Groups. This lets administrators deploy groups and their associated email addresses into a unique domain. This makes it much easier to track and manage the e-mail addresses associated with Office 365 Groups.

In addition, administrators can allow Groups to be enabled from just inside the organization or from both internal and external senders. Not all Groups are going to require external senders and organizations should be prepared to enable this functionality where it is needed.

And probably the biggest one: Groups support expiration policies. Every organization should be thinking about implementing an expiration policy for Groups and how the lifecycle of the data associated with groups is being managed.

What are your top automation-related features for Office 365 Groups, and how can they help admins?
Groups have a full set of PowerShell cmdlets available through Exchange Online PowerShell remoting and the Azure Active Directory PowerShell cmdlets. Admins should be embracing PowerShell for management of Groups automation.

There are also those expiration policies we just discussed. By implementing that feature, the Office 365 platform is automating the lifecycle of Groups for you based on your needs.

Some of the best automation features are hidden by other licenses. For instance, if your organization has access to Azure Active Directory premium licensing, the membership of Office 365 Groups can even be dynamically managed based on the attributes of users in the directory.

What are your top configuration dos and don'ts?
Top "Do": Embrace Office 365 Groups. Understand the options we've discussed here today such as restricting group creation to certain security groups, multi-domain support and expiration policies. Having these things configured the right way will drive the way your organization collaborates and communicates in Office 365.

Top "Don't": Don't think you can avoid Groups in Office 365. Groups are a core underpinning and used everywhere -- from Teams to SharePoint, Yammer, Planner, Power BI -- the list goes on and on!

For more on Live! 360, go here.

About the Author

Becky Nagel is the former editorial director and director of Web for 1105 Media's Converge 360 group, and she now serves as vice president of AI for company, specializing in developing media, events and training for companies around AI and generative AI technology. She's the author of "ChatGPT Prompt 101 Guide for Business Users" and other popular AI resources with a real-world business perspective. She regularly speaks, writes and develops content around AI, generative AI and other business tech. Find her on X/Twitter @beckynagel.


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