By Thomas G. Stephens Jr., CPA, CGMA, CITP, K2 Enterprises

According to some studies, almost 60% of businesses are using Microsoft’s Office 365 services and products. According to Microsoft, there are more than 214 million Office 365 subscribers. However, if you have paid careful attention to how most business professionals utilize their Office 365 tools, it is fair to say that most are not taking full advantage of all they have available to them. Let’s explore a handful of the ways you can use your business-oriented Office 365 subscriptions to work more efficiently and, in turn, increase your Return-On-Investment on the platform.

Mobile Apps

In an era where most business professionals carry mobile devices, being able to access and edit data on-the-go can be an important consideration. For Office 365 subscribers, Microsoft makes available a mobile suite of apps that allow users to access and work with their data from their mobile devices. Among others, the Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote apps provide you with the ability to access documents stored in SharePoint Online or OneDrive for Business. Additionally, with the Skype for Business app, you can take advantage of the Skype platform to communicate and collaborate with others.

Co-Authoring

Those with business-oriented Office 365 subscriptions can collaborate on a document with others through a process known as co-authoring. For example, an Office 365 subscriber can store an Excel workbook in SharePoint Online or OneDrive for Business and then click Share to allow others to simultaneously access and edit the same workbook. Each user in the workbook can make changes to the workbook in real-time, and other users will be able to see changes instantaneously. If necessary, the author of the workbook can edit others’ privileges and revoke them, if necessary. This co-authoring environment facilitates quick-and-easy collaboration, without getting involved in the challenges of trying to collaborate via email and then round-up all the “stray” and duplicated copies of the workbook.

Teams

One of the best – and most overlooked – components of Office 365 is Teams. Teams is a relatively new tool that brings together components of other Office 365 tools and puts them in one location. For example:

  • Teams incorporates functionality from Exchange Online for communications and shared calendar functionality.
  • Teams utilizes cloud-based storage “borrowed” from SharePoint Online.
  • Teams takes advantage of the communication capabilities in Skype for Business.

By incorporating the three tools listed above with other tools and services, Teams creates a single location from which you can launch virtually all of your work efforts, including accessing and working on files, scheduling meetings, messaging with others – both inside and outside your organization, collaborating in real-time on documents, and participating in video conferences.

In addition, you can integrate other apps – from Microsoft and from third-party developers – into Teams for greater levels of controls, productivity and efficiency. For example, you can add Microsoft’s free Planner app into Teams so that you can schedule and assign tasks to other members of your team and receive automatic status updates and reports. For many, Teams is quickly becoming the “can’t live without” component of Office 365. If you have not yet experienced working with this tool, I suggest you try it.

Bookings

Another relatively new service available to many subscribers of business-oriented versions of Office 365 is Bookings. This tool allows customers and clients to “self-schedule” appointments from a cloud-based app that you can incorporate into your website. With Bookings, a company can show available appointment times on the web, then customers and clients can schedule when they would like to book an appointment, meeting, on-site visit, etc. Once the customer completes scheduling the appointment, Bookings adds the appointment to the service-provider’s Exchange Online-based calendar. You can customize Bookings to have the service send automated reminders to those who choose to book on-line.

Other Tools

While time and space do not allow for a full discussion of all the tools, apps, and services available with your business-oriented Office 365 subscription, other tools you should consider looking into include:

Forms, a cloud-based form/survey/testing engine

Yammer, a social-networking tool for larger organizations

Delve, a tool for providing personal insights and relevant information about the people and data you work with

Stream, an organization-based video/presentation delivery engine

Sway, an alternative to PowerPoint for creating compelling and captivating presentations

Don’t overlook the wide variety of embedded security options available in Office 365, including Data Loss Prevention, Mobile Device Management, Multi-Factor Authentication, and tools to manage and control the flow of email.

All signs point to continued development of other tools and services within the subscription-based offering of Office 365. While some users rightfully focus on the “core” products and services of Excel, Outlook and Word, others are beginning to explore the wide variety of lesser-known tools and services that can improve efficiency and teamwork.

If you have not yet ventured down this path, I encourage you to consider how these other tools can help you to improve your ROI on Office 365. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Tommy Stephens is a shareholder in K2 Enterprises, where he develops and presents continuing professional education programs to accounting, financial and other business professionals across North America. You may reach him at tommy@k2e.com.