Team Sites vs. Communication Sites in SharePoint Online

SharePoint content management: 2 paradigms

With clients, I talk about dividing SharePoint content into two categories:

  1. Bottom-up: content that’s created and shared collaboratively by many users and potentially consumed by even more users.  This can be expanded to include more tightly-governed document management paradigms as well.
  2. Top-down: content that’s curated by a select few users and consumed by many.  In legacy SharePoint, this content typically belonged in Publishing Sites.

Bottom-up: Team Sites

First out of the gate in SharePoint Online were Modern Team Sites (powered by Office Groups), which provide a great way to collaborate on “bottom-up” content with a team.

Top-down: Communication Sites

Released in June, Communication Sites are modern SharePoint’s answer to “top-down” publishing.

Team Sites vs. Communication Sites

new site

Below are the main differences between Team Sites and Communication Sites in SharePoint Online.  Keep these in mind when creating a site, and your SharePoint admin will thank you….

Communication sites aren’t connected to an Office Group

team site.pngBecause Team Sites are built with collaboration in mind, creating a Team Site in SharePoint Online automatically creates an Office Group behind the scenes.  In addition to a SharePoint site to share news and documents, you get a shared calendar and inbox in Outlook, a Planner tasks board and a OneNote notebook.

When you create a Communication Site, no Office Group is created behind the scenes.

Communication sites are private by default

Creating a new Team Site from SharePoint Home prompts you to select Privacy Settings, which are set to Public by default.

You’re then immediately prompted to add team members right on the Create Site page.

snip_20170630105629.pngContrarily, creating a Communication Site doesn’t prompt you to add members.  Instead, you’ll need to click Share site from the site’s home page; adding users assigns them read access by default.



Different default home pages

After creating a Team Site, you’re taken to a home page that’s pre-configured for collaboration, featuring a News web part and Site Activity that highlights recent documents and pages on the site.



Creating a Communication Site prompts you to select from 3 default designs: TopicShowcase or Blank.

Creating the site takes you to a home page matching your selected design:


Different navigation

Communication Sites feature Top Navigation by default rather than the Quick Launch (left) navigation that ships with Team Sites.


snip_20170630123155.pngAnd because there’s no left navigation, the Search box moves to the upper right on Communication Sites pages, beneath the new Share site button and the familiar Follow button.


Team Sites , which are connected to an Office Group, gain 3 unique navigation experiences that you won’t find on Communication sites:

Quick navigation to Office Groups features

Clicking the name of the Team Site or the site icon pops up a dialog with navigation to other Groups features like Planner, Conversations and the OneNote notebook:


Add links to Office Groups features in left navigation

You can also add links to the aforementioned Office Groups features in the Quick Launch (left) navigation while editing:


Members and Conversations

snip_20170630123305.pngFinally, Team Sites show a summary of team members and a link to team conversations in the upper right-hand corner of the site navigation.

This helps to further emphasize the collaborative, “bottom-up” nature of Team Sites, where visitors to the site are likely to want to know who else is a part of the team.

Final thoughts

Aside from these main differences, Team Sites and Communication Sites are actually very similar:

  • snip_20170630134904.pngBoth have Pages libraries to house pages and News, where you can access all of the new page layouts and web parts
  • Everything you can do with a page on a Communication site you can do with a page on a Team site, including customizing the header image (finally!)
  • Both ship with Documents and Site Asset libraries
  • Both provide the ability to publish News that appears on SharePoint Home to users who follow the site

Users still must follow a Communication Site to always see News from that site on SharePoint Home.  I had hoped that Communication Sites would provide a way to kindly *ahem* shove content down users’ throats, but it appears the News feature on SharePoint Home is strictly opt-in for now.


13 things I did in 1 hour with Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams went GA this week.  I took it for a test drive Wednesday night, and I couldn’t believe what I got done in just an hour (be forewarned: the screenshots were taken Friday when I wrote this blog!)…

1. Created a new Team

…And with it got a shiny new Office 365 Group, Exchange Distribution List, SharePoint Site, Exchange calendar, etc.

This is the typical case for Microsoft Teams: collaborate with a team (get it?) on a business process.

I work with our other directors, our partners and our sales team to collaborate on sales pursuits.  Our current process uses SharePoint document sets, but it’s a little cumbersome, so I built a new process in Teams.

We’re all on the team– the 4 other directors, the partners and the sales team.  Different sub-groups of us collaborate on different pursuits, so we create a channel for each pursuit.  This automatically creates a folder in the SharePoint Documents library on the Team site, accessible in the Files tab for each channel.


The same files appear in SharePoint when clicking the Open in SharePoint button.



2. Chatted with my team and @mentioned team members by name

Another cut-and-dry use case here, but it’s smooth as butter.  Anyone I @mention gets a notification.

I also downloaded Teams app for iOS.  Works as expected, and I get notifications when someone @mentions me.

3. Got silly

I can send images, gifs and smileys right inside the rich text message editor.  There’s even a handy meme generator for putting my coworkers in their place:

I saved the “Broke the build” sticker for my dev channel.

4. Pinned a document for quick access & chat

With a proposal due Friday, I decided it made sense to pin our roadmap presentation to our pursuit channel to make it easier for everyone to find.  Teams let me choose the document to pin and added the tab (which I renamed to “Roadmap Deck”).  Clicking the tab shows the presentation and allows me to edit it in PowerPoint or PowerPoint Online.

choose presentationdeck.png

The possibilities here speak for themselves: if you need to collaborate around a document for a short period of time, or you use something like an Excel workbook to manage a team process, pinning a document as a channel tab just makes too much sense.


You can even chat about the document right in the tab.



5. Created a Wiki to help the old fogies learn how to use Teams

This is one of those features I didn’t know I needed until I used it.  When I created my Sales Pursuits team, I noticed a Wiki tab was created in the General channel (in fact, a Wiki tab gets created for every channel by default).  I renamed the tab to “Using Teams for Sales Pursuits” and began filling it with how-to instructions to help some of my less-technically-inclined coworkers learn how to use Teams for collaborating on pursuits.

I created two pages, each of which appeared in the Wiki navigation with sections on the page listed beneath it for easy navigation. I imagine this being even more essential when Microsoft opens up Teams for external users.


6. Cut the clutter from my list of Teams and Channels

One.  Hour.

One hour is all it took for me and the other geeks at PSC to start creating teams an inviting everyone and their brother to join them.  So I favorited the teams and channels I cared about and hid the rest.

Favorite teams are shown at the top of the Teams list, with non-favorites hidden beneath the “More” button until it’s expanded.

Hiding a team channel is easy, too. Just remove it as a favorite (by default, channels you create are marked as favorites):

Manage clutter 1

Non-favorited channels are hidden in the “{n} more channels” button and can be opened or re-added as a favorite by clicking the “{n} more channel(s)” button.


7. Connected my team to a different SharePoint document library

I already mentioned that we had a document-set-based collaboration process for sales pursuits.  I know that introducing new technology without a change management plan is bad practice, so I added a tab to our General channel so my team can easily find all the documents in our “legacy” SharePoint site.

Adding a tab for a SharePoint site is easy: just paste the site URL, click Go, and select the site after Teams verifies that it’s actually a SharePoint site (hint: don’t hit Enter, because that triggers the back button :-O).

Add sharepoint site
Adding a SharePoint site as a tab in my channel is easy… unless I hit Enter on my keyboard.

Once the site is loaded, I picked the document library I wanted in my tab from the list of site libraries:

Pick library


I even got the option to rename my tab and post about it in the conversations for the channel:



8. Added a new Team on top of an existing Office 365 Group

We recently began using Office Groups for each of our client projects; when we start a project, we create a Project Group for the project team and our clients.

Of course, I wanted to spread the Teams love to my project teams using existing Office 365 Groups.  In Apple-like fashion, it just worked.

When creating a new team, I had the option to add a Team to an existing Office 365 Group:

add team


WARNING:  If you create a Team for an existing Office 365 Group and decide to delete the Team, doing so deletes the whole Office 365 Group! 


Sure, there’s a safety checkbox, but be careful.  You’ve been warned.

9. Created a Planner plan for my project Team

We’ve gotten in the habit of using Planner to handle PM for our small-to-midsize projects because Microsoft Project is just overkill unless the project is large and we’re managing 5+ resources.

After adding a new tab to the project team’s General channel and choosing Planner, I got to choose between creating a new plan or using an existing one (for Teams created from existing Office 365 Groups, chances are you already have a Planner plan created for your group).  This means that Teams opens up the ability to create multiple plans for a single Office 365 Group, which was not previously possible.

Choose a plan.png

Boom! My plan showed up in the Planner tab and I could immediately create and move cards and buckets.


10. Added Kanban board tabs to track features and user stories

This is where Teams’ potential to revolutionize our project collaboration flow really began to stand out.

We decided to use the project team’s General channel for PM work and handle all of our development conversation in a separate, nerdier Dev channel.  And you can’t spell modern development PM without “K-a-n-b-a-n”, right?

Enter the Visual Studio Team Services tab.  In seconds, I added the feature-level work board (you can choose to show epics, features or user stories when adding the tab) directly to  our PM channel.  Doing so was as simple as connecting to Visual Studio Team Services with my Azure AD account and choosing the team project (note: Microsoft Account VSTS boards are not yet accessible in the Visual Studio Team Services work board tab).

I chose to add a Visual Studio Team Services work board, but Jira tabs are supported, too.

And on our Dev channel, I added a Kanban board for user stories:


11. Pinged some code with Markdown

Speaking of our Dev channel, it turns out that Teams announced full support for Markdown (including pre-formatted code!) in chat:


12. Connected a Power BI dashboard

Still on the Dev thing, although the PM in me appreciates this one, too.

We already use Power BI to roll up bug, build, sprint and Git commit/pull request reports from our Visual Studio Team Services projects.  A couple weeks ago, I geeked out about the ability to embed these dashboards in modern SharePoint sites with the new Power BI SPFx web part.

Welp, you can do the same thing in Teams, now, and it’s awesome:


13. Joined a meeting

This next one makes the case for being able to stay in Teams for most of my work day.  The Meetings section in the Teams app showed me all my meetings for the day (and coming days) and let me join Skype meetings directly with a single button click.


This screenshot is from a different day, but you get the point.


What didn’t I do?

That’s the beauty… a lot.

In an hour, I did all this (not the blog, that took longer).  The sky is the limit for Teams, and I get the feeling that I haven’t even scratched the surface.  I played with connectors and some of the other tab apps, but the things I covered in this blog were so stupid simple that anyone can do them without training.

I’m looking forward to peeling back the layers and seeing what Microsoft has in store for extensibility…

New in Office 365: Copy files from OneDrive to Groups and SharePoint sites

This morning, a much-anticipated feature hit our Office-365 tenant: the ability to copy files directly from the OneDrive to SharePoint sites, all in the OneDrive interface.

I was greeted with this message when I logged into OneDrive.

I gave it a test drive, and it works more or less as you would expect.  To copy a file, select the checkbox next a OneDrive file (there is no option yet in the “right click” menu), then click Copy to in the ribbon.


***(I edited this image to protect my clients’ privacy)


By default, you are shown a list of your most recent sites.  Clicking Browse sites displays sites you follow at the top, and recent sites below.  You can click Show more to show more sites.


I was pleasantly surprised that subsites (not just root sites of site collections) were also displayed in my list of recent sites.


I was slightly disappointed at the lack of search functionality or the ability to browse a complete list of sites, but hey, this is a great start.  Selecting a site brings up a menu that allows you to choose a document library; once inside a library, you can even create a new folder.


After selecting a site, you can choose the destination library and even create a folder once a library is selected.

The rest is gravy.


Happy file copying!  If you don’t see this functionality in your tenant just yet, don’t worry– it’s rolling out to First Release customers now, and will be generally available later this year.