In November 2015, Microsoft gave the world a glimpse of Office 365 Connectors at the the Connect() 2015 developer conference. The utility was in limited preview for a while, and then only available for early release adopters. Just last week, however, Microsoft officially opened Office 365 Connectors to all users which means that you can access it now within Office 365. If you’ve just gotten access to this powerful new feature, here’s what you need to know about using Connectors.
What are Office 365 Connectors?
Connectors allow you to receive emails, updates, and other interactive third-party content directly inside Office 365 shared Group Inboxes. Users sharing an inbox can now collaborate using the shared information received in Office 365, instead of having to switch back and forth between tools or browser windows to review information across channels.
Connector messages come in the form of cards that can be viewed in Outlook (on the web or on Windows) and in the Groups iOS and Android app. Messages can be forwarded, deleted, and otherwise acted upon quickly using embedded buttons.
Microsoft hopes that Connectors will allow teams to be more productive by staying inside Outlook yet receiving information from other utilities. This utility certainly offers Microsoft a way to bring fans of similar services, like Slack, into Microsoft for complex teamwork and communications.
There are more than 50 Connectors available, which include some of the most popular and widely used resources for development, marketing, sales, and project management. Popular Connectors that can be enabled at present include:
- Stack Overflow
Adding new Connectors is as easy as clicking the Connectors button in the Navigation bar, searching for the specific Connector you would like to add, clicking the Add button, and working through the system prompts. As new Connectors are developed, you can search and add them in the same way to keep your Connectors up to date and reflect the tools your team relies on.
Any Group member can add or delete a Connector; however, only the member who adds the Connector in the first place can customize its settings or determine how often to fetch content. This may irritate some users, who prefer to get their content on their own schedule, but it will help keep everyone on the same page.
What are the Benefits of Using Office 365 Connectors?
Early adopters enjoy using Connectors to track tweets by hashtag, get instant updates when Trello boards have been updated, or access the latest email campaign data from MailChimp, among other functions. Members can click to navigate to the third-party tool, to view and respond directly, or share the data with their Group to discuss and act. Fans of Connectors enjoy the enhanced communication, streamlined productivity, and improved accountability offered.
Having all team communication in one centralized place that’s easily searchable is one of the major benefits teams will realize when they adopt Connectors. Imagine you remember a cool idea someone had, but do not remember whether they emailed it to you, said it in a meeting, tweeted it at you, or something else. Now you do not have to comb through each channel individually to find that idea you remember, you can search email and connected channels from within your Groups inbox.
Connectors allow teams to work together seamlessly by facilitating information sharing and establishing a unique team identity and permissions within Office 365. Users within an Office 365 Group can access a shared calendar, notebook, inbox, and files. Any Group member can add Connectors with a few clicks, and the Connection is available for all.
Connectors put all the information that teams need to make decisions in front of team members, increasing transparency and accountability among team members. Now teams can get instant feedback, or see events unfold in real time. Because Connectors push data to the inbox, team members can make data-driven decisions with less stress and never get left out of the loop.
For time-sensitive information, such as event promotion or marketing campaign launch, the ability to see and act on real-time data is highly important. With a simple click to share, team members can share created content via email or social channels while monitoring the conversation via Connector card notification.
Higher team productivity
It is much easier to collaborate when everyone has access to the same information in one shared, convenient place. As a result, productivity will remain high across teams. Add in the existing ability to automatically configure Groups when users move among projects or departments, and Groups accommodate the flexible workplace environment seamlessly.
What’s Ahead for Office 365 Connectors?
Expect Connectors to continue to evolve in functionality and usefulness as new channels are added. Users can tailor Connectors by their job, from development to marketing, or enable general news Connectors to stay abreast of current events. Flexibility inherent in the system means that teams and departments can easily adapt the tool to reflect their workflow and change things as needed.
Since Connectors work with the Office 365 Groups shared inbox, you will need to have either an Office 365 work or school account to take advantage of them. Down the road, however, Microsoft plans to bring Connectors to Outlook for individual use. This could be a game-changer for small businesses, individuals, and others who do not presently use Office 365 at present. Stay tuned for updates about this productivity enhancing expansion of Connectors.
While Connectors are an exciting way to streamline group work, some think the new tool is too similar to Slack Integrations. If your team already collaborates in Slack Channels, it may not make sense to spend much time setting up Connectors. Yet if you don’t use Slack for teamwork, and you do have Office 365, Connectors may allow you to improve teamwork without turning to a new tech tool to do so.
Have you tried Office 365 Connectors yet? What do you think?