It used to be that team collaboration on documents was time-consuming and tedious. One person would write a draft, give the draft to someone else to make changes, re-read the changes and decide whether to accept them, hand the document to someone else to edit, and so on. Nowadays sharing documents is every bit as easy as writing them, and many people can easily work on the same document. Microsoft Office’s suite of programs is designed for teamwork, but not everyone will find it instinctive at first. This is where a book like Team Collaboration, Using Microsoft Office for More Effective Teamwork could be a real gem. Does this book live up to the title’s promise? As a long-time Office user, I was interested to find out. Let’s see what I discovered.
This Book is Designed for Business
It’s clear from the start that this book is designed for people working in a business environment and especially enterprises. It’s also for people who are already familiar with recent editions of Office (since the introduction of the ribbon) and who don’t need a tutorial on the basics. It’s assumed that the reader has Office 2013 and that is what the illustrations show.
The book begins with a discussion of the concepts involved in teamwork (team dynamics, leadership by example, and so forth) that is unfortunately about as dry as a textbook, never using one word where a dozen will do. The author seems to want to be sure that every single obvious point is covered in dreary detail. I don’t think I will be alone in reading paragraph after paragraph and wishing he’d get on with it already.
Collaboration in Office
The first chapter that actually talks about collaboration with Office describes using SharePoint in detail. Using SharePoint requires a subscription to Office 365 Small Business Premium or a higher level. Much of the SharePoint section is designed for people who administer SharePoint sites, and the author agrees that non-administrator users might find the information interesting but they won’t be able to do much with it. There is no doubt that SharePoint is a wonderfully full-featured service, and if a business already has an Office 365 Small Business Premium subscription, SharePoint is built right in. The description of how to fully configure SharePoint to suit the team’s particular needs is thorough and well illustrated.
However, the cost of the subscription may well be prohibitive for a lot of businesses. And the focus on administering SharePoint sites wastes a lot of space. A business that has gotten into SharePoint will almost certainly have its own trained administrators and its own policies. The next section describes teamwork through Outlook, but again, the focus, in the beginning, is on linking Outlook to a company SharePoint site. Once the book starts describing collaboration through OneNote, it becomes more valuable for the average user.
The book describes how to link Outlook to OneNote and how to make sure that team schedules, messages, and calendars are synced to shared notebooks. The calendar feature should be especially useful to keep track of various projects and ensure there are no scheduling conflicts.
There is a section describing team collaboration with Lync, but this would be of interest only to people whose businesses use Lync Server and have licensed it for use by their employees.
Sync and collaboration
The chapter called “Keeping track of discussions and ideas” brings together instructions for team use of OneNote and Lync. The focus is on OneNote, and it explains how to share documents via Outlook and other Office apps, and how to create shared folders and lists. This is where Team Collaboration, Using Microsoft Office for More Effective Teamwork finally gets down to being useful for most people—halfway through the book. Besides the most common collaborative tasks, this section also includes a description of templates, references, sharing pages via email, and using backups. There’s a brief mention that people don’t necessarily have to have Outlook to receive shared items.
There are chapters devoted to working collaboratively with Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The book implies that this kind of collaboration can only be done with Office 2010 or newer versions, which isn’t quite true. The newer versions allow multiple people to work on the same file at the same time. But if that simultaneous use isn’t necessary, I have found that Office 2007 (which is what I use) will do just as well. The author assumes that these shared documents will be made available via SharePoint or SkyDrive/OneDrive. The tools available on SharePoint are much more extensive and versatile than those in OneDrive. Tracking changes has been available in Word for a very long time. Many people who have collaborated on documents before will know how it’s done. Still, the description in the book will be useful for newcomers and a good reminder for more experienced collaborators. The same goes for annotations in Excel and shared use of PowerPoint.
The final chapter explains how collaboration can be done on SkyDrive (now named OneDrive). Since this is the most practical method for so many people, I think it should have been featured first. Here at 7 Tutorials the editorial staff collaborates via OneDrive and Google Drive, so we know how valuable connections with OneDrive can be. The book discusses the Office Web Apps (now called Office Online) and notes the apps’ features and limitations. This book was copyright 2012, before Office Online was renamed and updated.
Team Collaboration, Using Microsoft Office for More Effective Teamwork is designed for business users and IT administrators that need to set up Sharepoint. Much of it will be irrelevant for people who don’t have access to corporate SharePoint or Lync servers and who don’t administer SharePoint sites. The writing style is dry, wordy and dull, and the material itself is a bit out of date. Even people who are in the target audience might not be that pleased with it. This book just isn’t designed for the average reader and its tone doesn’t invite people to read it. There are other, better books that explain document sharing and collaboration, which have the added advantage of serving as much better, much more detailed references to Office in general. There’s no need to spend so much time on SharePoint, which isn’t really about collaborating but about administering Microsoft’s collaboration platform for businesses. Before you buy it, we recommend that you take a look at its table of contents and its free sample chapter and double check if it truly shares what you need to learn. Otherwise, it is best to stay away from this book.