As a project lead, most of my time is spent communicating with my team, sponsors, and various stakeholders through reports, presentations, ad-hoc updates and other artifacts. A few years back this was done quite easily because there was one main medium of communication – email. Anything and everything got sent over emails regardless of the type of content, security level, size, or audience. Good or bad, it worked.

With Office 365 staying informed became a bit more complex. I’m now using a number tools on a daily basis such as Outlook, Project Online, Office Groups, OneDrive for Business, Skype for Business, Sites, and Yammer to name a few. All of those tools, although nicely integrated, have different purposes and work in different ways. This article will discuss ways to stay informed about what’s happening in your projects and what others are doing in Office 365.

Active vs. Passive Information Discovery

Before we look at the best ways to stay informed, I will quickly discuss two modes of information discovery – active and passive.   In an active mode, users employ search technologies such as Bing or Siri to perform keyword searches on large amounts of data. The search results can then be refined based on the various metadata to get the specific results the user is searching for.

Another active way for users to find the information they are looking for is by browsing through the content repositories. Such repositories could be a website, shoes in a department store, cars in a magazine, or any other information stored in an organized fashion.

In Passive information discovery, a user is notified of various events such as content creation or modification or being referred to in a discussion. Passive information discovery is based on actions the user has performed in the past such as subscribing to a service for updates. In other scenarios, passive information discovery takes place involuntarily by browsing a website where the user’s interests are captured through cookies or other similar mechanisms.

Not all notifications were made the same

As mentioned earlier on, the de facto method of communication in the past was emailed. It continues to remain a key medium of communication when it comes to being notified. Think of opening a new account or purchasing a new item. In most cases, it is your email address that is being requested to keep you informed. Other modes of communication that have gained popularity include Short Message Service (SMS), voice mail, and service-specific apps to deliver targeted notifications to you. Such notifications may include personal information about you and your requests. Other notification methods used to deliver information based on specific triggers such as keywords or events are the Really Simple Syndication (RSS) and cookies. Recently, Microsoft released Office Delve, which uses machine learning to determine your relationship to other individuals within your organization and provides you with updates on their activities. Co-authoring can also be seen as a form of notifications as you find about abut changes others are making while you’re working on a piece of information. For those who require additional flexibility in interacting with the data in Office 365, Microsoft is continuously adding new development interfaces that can be used to create, query, or delete content.
So with all these communication methods, which should you be using in Office 365? Read on.

Notifications in Office 365

Office 365 was created from numerous products and continues to grow organically through technology mergers, acquisitions, and new product developments. Thus, it is to no surprise that there is no unified way to consume information and receive communications on what matters to you most. Microsoft is working hard to create a consistent user experience to make the products seem more integrated, but there’s still room for improvements.

Throughout the rest of this article, I’ll review the various Office 365 apps and how you be notified about what matters to you. The specific notification mechanisms reviewed are the Office 365 Suite bar, email, SMS, RSS, custom development, and co-authoring.

A word about the Office 365 Suite Bar

Recently Microsoft introduced the Notification Pane, indicated by a bell, to notify users of important information regardless of what app you’re currently working in. Currently, you can use it to get notifications on new emails, task deadlines, and upcoming calendar events.