Enabling the Microsoft Whiteboard to work with Office 365

If you’ve ever worked with the Microsoft Whiteboard on a Surface Hub with the Creators Update installed, you’ll know that the whiteboard experience is fantastic.

Where it has fallen down is that it was restricted to only being available on a Surface Hub – so normal Windows 10 users could not interact with the whiteboards. Customers would have to resort to third-party apps such as Stormboard.

Last week the Whiteboard was released into public preview, and I’ve been very much looking forward to this as have many Surface Hub customers.

To be able to store & retrieve canvasses or share them with other people you need to sign in with Office 365 credentials or a Microsoft account (formerly known as Live ID).

Unlike some previous Office 365 app releases however, the Whiteboard is turned off by default which means that users will be greeted with the warning that “Your admin has disabled sign in for Whiteboard”:

The fix is simple – enable it!

Simply go to the Office 365 admin portal, navigate to Settings and then to “Services & add-ins”, where you will see the new Whiteboard option:

You will see that it is set to Off, so slide it over to On and press save:

The effect is immediate, and you’ll then be able to log in straight away and start working on whiteboards together!

This is an all or nothing approach, and at this point there are no administrative controls to enable or disable this on a per-user level – so you will need to be wary of content being stored in yet another location.

The whiteboard is quite simple and easy enough to use, but at the end of the day it is a blank canvas. If you are looking more a more structure canvas check out www.stormboard.com as it provides a whole raft of features that enhance productivity and collaboration when whiteboarding.

The 4 things Microsoft Teams needs next

Microsoft Teams has been nothing than a multi-stage rocket booster from it’s public preview in November 2016. Every release or update has been packed with amazing features, with the release of guest access yesterday being one of the most important.

The ability to interact with external parties using a single application and platform is quite significant from a user experience perspective as currently we tend to switch modalities for information sharing, documents, conversation (text-based and audio/visual), etc.

There are some exciting announcements at Microsoft Ignite around Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams – and I’ll be part of the team of MVPs sharing those as they come to light.

Turning an eye to future steps that Microsoft Teams needs to continue its pace of ascension, here are my four top picks and priorities:

Guest access in the mobile app

Microsoft has done a great job with Teams to ensure that mobile users are not second-class citizens when it comes to experiences. Now that the desktop and web interfaces support guest access to other Microsoft Teams “tenants”, the same should be delivered quickly for mobile users so they aren’t left needing to come back to their desktops in order to switch teams.

I’m quite mobile as many people are in the modern workplace and workforce, so don’t want to be left out of the loop because of the technology they chose to use. Yammer allows for network switching in the mobile app, so hopefully this is something Teams can get done soon.

Special mention: ditch the term “tenant”

We who live in the world of Office 365 get the term “tenant” and use it as part of our vernacular, however end users don’t. They don’t care or need to know that Office 365 is a multi-tenant platform and would derive a greater level of understanding (and possibly patience) if we used terms they understand like “environment” or simply “team”.

Offline access on desktop

This challenge goes back to one of the early arguments of “Outlook vs. Yammer” in that Outlook can sync and go offline but Yammer cannot and now case is the same with Teams. The document library component of the Office 365 Group that sits underneath Teams can by synchronised locally with OneDrive however that requires a manual process as I’ve shown previously.

The challenge here is determine how and what to sync offline, and then how to handle conflicts when going back online.

My view on this would be:

  • If the Teams application is open on your desktop then it is already receiving conversation stream updates across the Teams you are currently signed into. I believe that these should be available offline similar to how Outlook can synchronise your mailbox up to a point you determine. So perhaps Teams could synchronise all conversations in the past day, or at least just the unread ones? You could then reply and when you come online this would be inserted into the conversation similar to how it works with email.
  • Files should be able to sync from within the Teams application, however using the OneDrive sync engine to power this. It would enable you to continue working from within the Teams interface and let OneDrive handle any potential conflict resolution.
  • Wiki & OneNote also synchronise locally using either the native Teams functionality or the OneNote app itself (for OneNote files).
  • All other tabs would stay unavailable as generally that content will be online information.

While you could argue there is little point in offline access due to readily available mobile and WiFi data there are still some circumstances where online access is not suitable – be it due to physical or technological restrictions, availability or stability of quality Internet connectivity (eg. regional areas, fast trains that don’t have WiFi, planes that don’t have WiFi).

As we attempt to shift away from traditional tools such as Outlook and file shares which have worked offline for many years we can’t assume that being online is always possible and therefore if I am a Teams user I don’t want to be left out because we have made the choice to use the tool, nor would I want to not use Teams because we have a need for offline access.

PSTN conferencing

Now that Outlook allows for people to send a Microsoft Teams meeting invite, I think we need to embrace those who can’t connect in using the technology – especially now that guest access is available.

I don’t feel this point needs to be made particularly strongly as the case already exists for Skype for Business, so if we are starting to lean towards Microsoft Teams as a communication tool with internal and external parties it is important to ensure that they can dial in the old-fashioned way if for some reason they need to (eg. poor mobile data, firewall restrictions, etc.)

Surface Hub & Skype Room System integration

One of the questions I get asked a lot when working with customers is whether the Surface Hub can work with Microsoft Teams. Unfortunately the answer is no, as it as the Skype Room System are built around Skype for Business. With Surface Hub this answer hurts a little on the inside as the device runs a specific operating system version known as “Windows 10 Team”.

One would hope that the Surface, Skype and Teams teams are working together to address this so that a future update of the devices (hopefully the Fall Creators Update?) will support integration with Microsoft Teams.

Stay tuned for my coverage at Microsoft Ignite for any announcements! I’ll be covering these in a number of blogs, tweets, and in a live webcast/podcast session from the studios onsite for REgarding 365 (the team formerly known as RE:Office 365).