man wearing a virtual reality headset standing on the edge of a tennis court
PHOTO: Martin Sanchez

Microsoft unveiled SharePoint Spaces during the SharePoint Virtual Summit in May, bringing the exciting world of mixed reality into the familiar collaboration platform. The new functionality will come to Office 365 and Microsoft 365 tenants first, so as has become the norm, SharePoint on-premises owners won’t be able to use it just yet. Powered by Microsoft AI, SharePoint Spaces look like a promising way for organizations to offer mixed reality experience to both internal and external users with no need to invest in complex standalone solutions. 

However, as often happens with Microsoft’s new releases, the skeptics have already started in on SharePoint Spaces even before it becomes generally available. Obviously, without real usage scenarios, it’s hard to say whether SharePoint Spaces can bring substantial benefits to organizations. So let’s take a closer look at the feature and see how organizations can embed it into their daily collaboration processes.

Translating SharePoint Spaces Into Organizational Realities

Microsoft suggested three use cases for SharePoint Spaces upon its unveiling: onboarding, learning and product development. Every case leaves place for improvisation, so organizations can flexibly adapt the tool for various purposes.

From onboarding activities to guided company tours

SharePoint Spaces aim to help new employees merge with their organizations and teams more quickly by exploring the company and their colleagues via a virtual organizational chart. This idea has spurred on many debates, though. Navigating a virtualized organizational structure looks like an over-complication of a basic procedure. SharePoint Spaces would be more effective if companies used them to demonstrate their infrastructure, activities and achievements to employees, customers and partners.

For example, 3-D office maps can help newcomers get used to the new environment faster. It’s also a way for multinational companies to potentially let their employees travel across countries and continents and visit remote offices. Companies can organize virtual demonstrations for their customers as well. From guided tours across offices to the engaging presentation of the available infrastructure, equipment or teams, organizations can show off their assets and staff, whatever their physical location is.

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From data visualization to immersive learning

Data visualization is a simpler scenario for SharePoint Spaces. Transforming flat Excel data into 3-D charts can become the icing on the cake during meetings and presentations. However, as in the case with the organizational chart, this capability can seem unessential to organizations that will hardly use it on a daily basis.

But using SharePoint Spaces for learning activities can become one of the most beneficial use-case scenarios for the feature. SharePoint Spaces can host various learning programs and serve as a corporate medium for immersive learning. Corporate training, learning sessions, life-like simulations, and tests are just a few examples of activities that can be organized within SharePoint Spaces to make the learning process more engaging.

From product development to active sales

Finally, the third scenario offered by Microsoft for the future SharePoint Spaces is product development. Indeed, Spaces can be a great enabler for organizations that focus on product management, innovations and design. Still, innovation-centric organizations use dedicated software, so it’s hard to expect them to switch to SharePoint Spaces to manage the product development cycle. Where Spaces could add value here is in presenting ready-made concepts to third parties in a compelling manner through a familiar SharePoint environment.

Spaces can be a suitable tool for organizations to support sales and make their classic catalogs more attractive for end customers. Be it a manufacturer, or an exporter of construction tools, or a real estate agency, they will be able to showcase their offering, thus enabling customers to explore their goods or services in details. SharePoint Spaces can empower every company that doesn’t plan to implement a fully functional ecommerce site, AR-powered stores or showrooms.

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Bringing SharePoint Spaces to Other Domains

Office 365 and Microsoft 365 owners should consider other possible applications beyond the use cases above. Office 365 and SharePoint consultants can help organizations analyze their existing implementation and select the most relevant domain to supplement with Spaces.

Organization-wide activities

To return to the onboarding activities, you'll find once newcomers learn their surrounding well, they will no longer have a compelling reason to enter a SharePoint space. Expanding SharePoint Spaces use to support ongoing activities is one way to continue engagement. For example, SharePoint Spaces can become the platform for organization-wide announcements and news, videos and photos from important events, recognition and awards that employees can check on at any time.

Team performance

Employees need to follow their working progress. With this in mind, it would be great to organize personal development Spaces for employees to see their achievements. Creating such a space for every employee would be near impossible for larger organizations, as the overall solution would become enormous. That’s why organizations can organize SharePoint Spaces for teams to visualize their evolution and mark out important accomplishments. This can also be a meeting place for team members to watch videos, study reports or listen to a manager’s recorded feedback.

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Knowledge management

Organizations can turn to SharePoint Spaces if they want to diversify their knowledge management activities and make knowledge acquisition more interactive. Located in SharePoint Spaces, knowledge bases can serve as virtual corporate libraries enabling employees to dive into a new knowledge domain, explore success stories, customers’ history, or research on a selected topic. It can be organized as a real library with multiple sections and thematic domains where employees can find a document, a file with the necessary info, or a person with relevant knowledge and skills.

Entertainment and recreation

SharePoint Spaces can help organizations diversify the way their employees rest. Think dedicated rooms with relaxing sounds for employees to sit at the edge of the Grand Canyon and contemplate the scenery. Or minimalistic games for employees to play with headsets and stretch their legs if they mostly sit during their working time. It’s also possible to complement informal community sites with SharePoint Spaces, thus allowing employees to interact with the community content (for example, photos and videos) within a customized 3-D environment.

What’s Next for Spaces?

Organizations have many areas where they can explore the potential of SharePoint Spaces. The first version of SharePoint Spaces will likely come with moderate capabilities, so organizations will only be able to apply them in specific areas. Hopefully, the feature will become more sophisticated with time, as Microsoft puts more effort into making mixed reality available for a large audience.

At the moment, we can only imagine how far the SharePoint capabilities can go, as the platform will absorb more augmented reality and artificial intelligence-enabled features. It will be logical to expect that at the next stage, SharePoint Spaces will not only let users interact with ready-made data and content sets but will allow employees to collaborate in mixed reality. It’s also possible that other Office 365 collaboration tools will be integrated with SharePoint Spaces, thus offering users an even wider virtual collaboration experience.

What is your opinion about SharePoint Spaces? Have you already planned how your organization will use them? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.