Why you should disable shared notes in Microsoft Teams meetings

Let me start this by saying that I’m not a fan of the wiki feature in Teams. In fact, I abhor it, and I’m not alone in that.

There are many people who remove it immediately when creating a Team, and others who have used custom provisioning solutions to avoid its creation in the first place.

When Microsoft Teams was in beta and first launched, there was no wiki tab. Instead, there was a OneNote tab. However, as OneNote is an ecosystem unto itself, and Microsoft product teams are made up for regular human folks that want to get the job done and have valid reasons for doing things – the Microsoft Teams product team opted to remove the default OneNote tab and opted for their own native solution.

The problem with the wiki functionality is that it exists in the Team only. Any content you create cannot be accessed anywhere outside of that Team’s channel.

Behind the scenes the wiki functionality uses a .mhtml file that exists in the SharePoint document library connected to the Team which unfortunately cannot simply be accessed or imported anywhere else. At best you can open up the file and copy the contents.

Now that we’ve covered the backstory, how does this relate to shared notes in meetings?

Because it’s powered by the same wiki functionality, and similarly is only accessible by going back to the actual meeting space in your Teams meeting or chat history. That may be fine for a recent meeting or one that you’ve pinned as the space is still active with chats, files, or other apps. But for the average user who sits through countless meetings every week it’s simply not practical from an access perspective.

Disabling the shared notes feature completely

It’s one thing to not use the feature, it’s another to make it simply unavailable for end users to help them avoid the pitfalls of using it.

Don’t get me wrong, the shared notes feature actually has some good Teams-specific benefits but falls drastically short when you realise that despite their best efforts – you don’t work exclusively in the Microsoft Teams application.

So how do we “fix” this?

Simple. Head to the Microsoft Teams admin center at https://admin.teams.microsoft.com.

Navigate to the Meetings heading, then Meeting policies.

Depending on how you’ve set up your environment you may need to repeat this multiple times, however for the average organisation that has a single policy – click on the Global (Org-wide default) policy:

Navigate to the Content sharing section of the page, and there you will find the slider for Allow shared notes. Set it to off and hit save.

While you should give yourself a pat on the back for doing a good thing, your job isn’t over yet.

Using OneNote instead of shared notes

Unfortunately, there’s no simple way to substitute OneNote instead of shared notes, however if you’ve done your adoption job well, then your users should already be familiar with OneNote and hopefully be daily users of it.

(Let’s assume that’s actually the case, shall we? And not the reality that many IT pros and decision makers don’t know about, use or care about OneNote, and therefore don’t invest in helping their end users become proficient in its use.)

Linked a OneNote page to an existing meeting

Firstly, in OneNote we have the ability to link a page to a meeting in Outlook, which passes across a variety of details.

Create a new page, and then in the Home tab of OneNote (the one that ships with Office, not the inferior Windows 10 version) find the Meeting Details button, press it, and then find the meeting you want to link to:

What you’ll now see is the page is converted to a place for meeting notes:

Any details from the meeting are carried over such as attendees, date & time, the invitation message, and any attachments. There’s even a link to the original Outlook meeting invite.

This is wonderful, however only works in one direction.

Linking OneNote to a meeting

The better way to do this, is actually from within the meeting invite itself.

Either from a new invite or even an existing one, you’ll see the Meeting Notes button:

If you don’t, you may need to expand the meeting window as sometimes the button disappears from view when the window is too small.

You’ll then see the option to either share notes with the meeting or take notes for yourself:

Whichever one you choose, you’re then presented with an option to select from your notebooks, sections, and even pages:

Depending on the purpose and operation of the meeting you should choose which one is most relevant. If you’re sharing notes with the meeting, then choose a notebook that others have access to.

For a singular meeting on a particular topic, if with my fellow team members, I will opt for a page. For a recurring series I will generally select a section, as we will use multiple pages within it.

When you’ve made your selection, a link to the relevant OneNote area will now be added to your Teams meeting:

What’s great about doing it this way, is that it will automatically create a page in OneNote for the specific meeting, much like in the previous method:

So now it’s linked from both OneNote, as well as Outlook.

Using this in the real world

This will only work if people in your organisation are on the same page (pun intended) of OneNote. If some team members use OneNote and others don’t – it will fail. The same applies if some people know how to only take notes and create pages, whereas others know how to use other functionality in the product. Because OneNote is considerably more than a simple text storage app to replace paper notebooks.

You can’t just flick the switch to disable shared notes in Teams meetings and tell everyone to use OneNote instead. It’s important to invest in OneNote training because it is an incredibly powerful tool that can genuinely transform how people and teams work – without even bringing Microsoft Teams into the picture!

Also published on Medium.

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