In his latest book, "Re-Imagining Productive Work with Microsoft Office 365," author Michael Sampson focuses on how businesses can best use Office 365 capabilities to support common digital workplace needs.

Sampson is well-established as an author who tackles the business side of collaboration. Covering both the IBM and Microsoft worlds, he has managed to steer a line that shows deep technology understanding without losing sight of why companies acquire these technologies in the first place.

Needs-Driven, not Tool-Driven Approach

Sampson tackles the diversity of Office 365 by guiding us through eight "core opportunities": 

  1. Embracing Hands-Off IT
  2. Storing and Sharing Files
  3. Profiling Employee Expertise
  4. Co-Authoring Documents
  5. Managing Meetings
  6. Holding Discussions
  7. Running Team Projects
  8. Thinking Productively

I really like the "opportunities" approach. Countless blogs and articles on Office 365 tend to focus on specific tool capabilities or are written for an IT audience. Sampson’s book therefore fills a much-needed gap because it looks at how the tools might be used together, and the trade-off between using one tool or another when features overlap. 

The format means that some tools, such as OneDrive, end up being visited in multiple chapters. This is appropriate for the stated aim of the book, but relies on the reader having a reasonable familiarity with the individual tools.

A good example of the opportunities-driven approach is the "Managing Meetings" section, where Sampson addresses the often-asked question about where to store documents and reference material, comparing the pros and cons of OneDrive for Business, SharePoint Sites, Office 365 Groups and Yammer. As Sampson points out, 

"Having multiple options isn’t necessarily bad — Office 365 has to appeal to everyone in every situation — but it does require that everyone make a simple and consistent choice about where and how they store documents and reference materials for the meetings they are involved in.”

Connecting Office 365 to Digital Workplace Trends

Most of the chapters follow a common pattern of introducing the "Big Idea" and then supporting it with research findings. The findings may not necessarily be specific to Office 365, but are relevant to how the digital workplace is evolving. Sampson then outlines the Office 365 capabilities, Microsoft’s roadmap intent and offers his evaluation. 

The tone of the writing is conversational but well structured. An advantage of being independent is that Sampson isn’t afraid to highlight ambiguities or shortcomings in the Office 365 offering. He is clear on the unresolved questions around Yammer, for example, and shares some interesting ideas about how Delve could evolve. 

What also elevates the book above other sources is that the author is strong on backing up his explanations with data and practical evidence. For example, he makes a compelling case for co-authoring documents by modeling time-savings. Most sections have a round-up of “What firms are doing” that serves as a useful pointer to case studies too.

Learning Opportunities

I was least sure about the final “Thinking Productively” chapter. It’s not that there is anything wrong with the content per-se, only that when you get onto topics like personal time management and productivity, the issues feel relatively tool-independent. I wasn’t convinced that they needed to be covered in an Office 365 book.

Keeping Up with a Moving Target

The book is self-published and available as a PDF-download. This makes it easy to obtain but I would have liked to have seen other ereader formats supported. 

My biggest gripe about the book is that it is in landscape format. I can understand that this helps when showing some of the screenshots, but otherwise it makes for an uncomfortable read, especially on a Kindle. There is a detailed Table of Contents at the end, but I would have liked to have seen an index too. Credit is due for it being well-edited and formatted though. 

Sampson’s biggest challenge is the pace at which Office 365 is evolving. Published in the middle of 2016, the book comprehensively details the state of the art when it comes to differences between, say iPad, Android and Windows versions of the same tool. However, Microsoft's continued enhancements to the product means the answer is always changing. 

The book was published in time to incorporate Office 365 Groups and Planner well, but Flow and Teams came after its release. This doesn’t undermine the book's tremendous relevance, nor change the underlying principles. It’s more to express my hope that Sampson can find a way to keep it updated.

A Taste of What's Inside

Potential buyers can download a chapter for free. I also recommend taking a look at the presentation Taking a Strategic Approach to Office 365, as this will give you a good sense of Sampson’s way of thinking. However, at just $19 and 240 pages, investing in this book should be a no-brainer for anyone using Office 365.

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