Q&A: How SharePoint Online can help your remote work success

Since 2018, U of T has launched over 400 SharePoint Online sites and has played a key role in helping staff and faculty transition to working remotely. This cloud-based platform enables groups to collaborate, share and publish documents or web content using a variety of template options. It provides a secure place to store, organize, share, and access information from almost any device and all major web browsers.

In this Q&A Heather Postill, an information management analyst with Enterprise Applications & Solutions Integration (EASI), tells us how SharePoint Online can help to streamline your work experience, how it differs from other platforms and why it’s one of U of T’s preferred platforms.

How is Microsoft SharePoint Online different from Teams and OneDrive?
The difference between these applications is mainly one of ownership. Both Teams and OneDrive run on the SharePoint platform, but they all have particular strengths. OneDrive is personal space that is similar to a personal network drive. It belongs to that individual, so you might not want to store departmental files there. In Teams, everyone has equal access to the information so it’s really good for collaboration and dialogue, like you might find with committees and projects. However, if the Team is deleted, all the content stored within it is gone. A SharePoint site is more authoritative and permanent because it’s not tied to an individual or a Team and the content can be more tightly controlled.

Why use SharePoint over Google Docs or Dropbox?
SharePoint is more secure because it’s an official U of T platform and the data is hosted in Canada. As a Microsoft product, it integrates seamlessly with Office and there is also no additional cost to use it. SharePoint offers more capabilities beyond just document management – it has web content features too, so you can build entire internal portals and keep all your information in one place.

How does a U of T staff or faculty member get a SharePoint site?
If you’d like a site, you can request it through your local IT groups. If you don’t have a local IT unit, you can reach us through the IT Service Centre. Designated staff members then become administrators, or site owners, and they design and manage their site to best serve local faculty and staff needs. We’ve created a virtual boot camp to get site administrators started and they can then help to train their users. We’re happy to sit down with users to understand their needs, advise on capabilities and help guide them through the process.

What resources do you offer?
We offer sessions through the Connect+Learn series, which are mostly focused on basic entry-level functionality. Initially, we focused on working with documents and we’ll continue to offer broad-based topics.

As mentioned, we have also have a site administrator virtual boot camp and weekly office hours, which are at an intermediate level. This is an introduction to get people up and running, and our team is also here to support them in their journey.

We have a ton of information on our SharePoint Support Centre, and we also have a listserv – users can find information about this on our Support Centre site.

Finally, we also host a quarterly show and tell, with the next one on May 13, where have volunteers from our community present recently launched SharePoint sites – you can see what people have done and ask them questions about the process.

Divisions or departments can request individual consultation sessions with us by opening a ticket in the IT Service Centre.

What advice would you give to those considering using SharePoint?
If you haven’t used this tool yet, you should give it a try! It’s a feature rich document management tool available to all U of T users – it’s on a secure platform and gives users easy access to information. For many, it will also replace network drives in the future.

Before moving to SharePoint, it’s important to think about all of the information in your area and plan out where it’s going to go and how you’re going to communicate the change to your users. We can help with document management as well – whether it’s for official records management, being able to track document usage or even applying a formal retention policy.

The groups that have already ventured into using SharePoint have found it easy to adapt to remote work and we welcome others to contact us to find out more.