Best Practice Collaboration Content management Intranet Microsoft 365

OneDrive for Business – Why and How

As the Microsoft 365 (M365) suite gets inexorably broader and more capable there are increasing amounts of overlap between some elements, such as file storage and collaboration. This article discusses where and how to use OneDrive for Business in the mix.

As the Microsoft 365 (M365) suite gets inexorably broader and more capable there are increasing amounts of overlap between some elements, such as file storage and collaboration, with multiple products able to do somewhat similar things.

The built in breadth and power have consequences; in the words of that information guru, Spiderman “With great flexibility comes great complexity” (at least, that’s what he meant to say).

M365 Elements and business functions
M365 Elements

I developed this ‘M365 Elements’ slide to help clarify where all the parts of the suite sit within the ’competencies’ a business needs to develop. It may be complex, but it needn’t be complicated.

Having said that, it’s still a bit much to bite off all at once. Instead, I want to start with Content (and collaboration on content) and then focus on OneDrive for Business. Why you should use it, what you should use it for and how to set it up to stop your users creating the same sort of unregulated information architecture disaster that you probably have on your file server (and possibly SharePoint. «Shudder»!).

Why are there so many content tools?

It’s a fair point; there are a lot, even if some of them are really collaboration tools used (often unwisely) and content stores.

Collaboration landscape - M365 tools and duration of activity
Collaboration landscape – M365 tools and duration of activity

This diagram looks at just one aspect, content collaboration. At first glance it would appear that all we need is Teams and possibly SharePoint. However, those tools require some set up to be effective, possibly a little training and do clever things with content and collaboration rather than doing simple things. Sometimes, especially for short term activities, people and organisations just need somewhere quick and easy to put things. Perhaps I just need somewhere to save a report or article I found while I think about how to write an article on the same subject; maybe I need somewhere to save some pictures before adding them to a report or I need to prototype an Excel model before sharing my ideas with the wider team. For these things there probably isn’t anywhere specifically built within SharePoint and there isn’t a Microsoft Teams Area since it isn’t a collaborative activity yet.

Can’t I just save them locally?

In the old days, these are the kind of things I’d have saved to the My Documents folder on my hard drive or  a network share (or even on your desktop. «Shudder»!). In the modern world, each of those are terrible ideas. In the modern world we need to work across multiple devices and locations, we need to protect, restore, share and control our documents; we need to get at them whenever and wherever we are from our PC, laptop or phone.

Some people insist on keeping their files in Outlook. This also ranks amongst the worst ideas of all time (as far as file management and content storage is concerned). Finding, editing and organising files this way is horrible; though made slightly better by the ability of Microsoft 365 to surface email attachments outside Outlook, I suppose. Even worse for this people who insist on keeping thousands of emails (often in their Inbox), but that’s another article for another day.

I suppose you have a better idea

OneDrive for Business (OD4B) has a stack of useful capabilities. Amongst them are a terabyte of storage per person, class leading security and protection, powerful yet simple sharing. Even more important, it has a synchronisation client (which a lot of people think is OneDrive rather than OneDrive sync) that lets you work on everything on your desktop almost exactly as if they were in the My Documents folder. The clever thing is that they are also stored and protected in the cloud and are available on you other devices via the sync’ client. Staff can continue to work in the ways they are familiar with, but get all the benefits. As long as they understand which things they are and are not allowed to put there then there aren’t any downsides.

This is what I recommend.

  1. Allow everyone to use OneDrive for Business
  2. Create a guidance document/policy on what to use it for
  3. Tell them to add a standard set of folders to their OneDrive and to store files within that folder structure
  4. Make sure they understand the rules, which are:
    1. They are responsible for their OneDrive
    1. If they leave, everything their will be made available to their manager, unless it is in the Private folder
    1. Nothing should be stored on their C: drive, network drive, USB stick or desktop.
    1. Files should be removed when they are no longer needed, or moved to a company store, such as a SharePoint library or Teams Area whenever possible.
End result - structured folders in OneDrive
End result – structured folders in OneDrive

These are the folders you need and what they are for:

  • Shared Externally. This is for files you need to send to people outside the organisation or even share, via the cloud, with them. Create sub-folders for each person or organisation they are shared with and share those folders, not the top level folder. Add a Public folder in there for things that are shared with anyone and everyone.
    • Why: it helps staff think about who they are giving access to, reduces accidental over sharing (and data loss) and is easy to review and clear up when needed. The public folder is great when you just want to let anyone access something from a simple URL link (you can add a password and set a time limit on the sharing if you need to)
    • Examples: PowerPoint slide deck for training you are working up for a potential client. A draft funding application you are working on with a partner at another organisation.
  • Shared with Team. This is handy when you have something you want to show your teammates or get ready for a meeting. Add sub-folders for each team and share them with the group or team. We find this folder rarely gets used, but is useful sometimes
    • Why: Sometimes you don’t want to add something to your team shared area, at least not yet. Perhaps you don’t have a shared area in SharePoint, Teams etc. yet.
    • Examples: An agenda for a ‘Bring the family to work’ day that you are developing with your department manager. A paper you need to prepare for a meeting, which your colleagues need to review.
  • Shared with Everyone. This folder is for personal files that anyone in the organisation is allowed to access.
    • Why: As with the Shared with Team folder, this frequently ends of storing documents in sub-folders that don’t have an equivalent place on the intranet, Teams, SharePoint etc. or access to those areas is restricted. The difference is that the owner can safely open in here up to anyone or everyone.
    • Examples: A folder containing your blogs and articles, before they are published. A regularly updated table of data you have created for use by colleagues as they prepare a report.
  • Private. The Private folder is for private and confidential company files. These documents will not be shared and apart from legal or regulatory investigations, they will not be examined by admin users (who could have access to anyone’s files) or by a designated manager (who will have access if someone leaves the organisation)
    • Why: In general, all files are company files. When a member of staff leaves a manager or colleague may be given access their files in OneDrive. This folder should be deleted by an admin prior to that, without reviewing the contents, unless there is cause to conduct a file review.
    • Examples: Personnel reviews. Salary and promotion correspondence. Complaints and whistleblowing information.
  • Temp. This is probably the single most important and useful folder. Staff can save files here which are only needed in the immediate future. It is a useful policy that anyone should be allowed to tell you to empty your Temp folder (expect , perhaps, today’s files); doing so should not cause you to lose anything important. Things in the Temp folder can easily be accessed on other devices with OneDrive access, so it is useful for transferring things between computers.
    • Why: we frequently need somewhere to quickly save a file, before doing something else with it. Often, it’s because we don’t want to alter the original. Sometimes we need to upload the file to a system that can’t access a SharePoint library etc. Frequently it’s just convenient or quick to use these locally held files to complete a task.
    • Examples: images for adding to a PowerPoint presentation or a Tweet. A copy of a proposal that you are anonymising before sending to someone else. A downloaded document from the internet
Decision tree for where to put your stuff in OneDrive
Where to put your stuff

What else?

Other applications will add their own folders to OD4B. It’s common to find the following appear:

  • Attachments
  • Microsoft Teams Chat Files and Microsoft Teams Data
  • Office Lens

Users may add folders of their own. A common one is a pictures and logos folder

Advanced users may create template folders (Custom Office Templates and Personal Document Templates) and set Microsoft Office to use these for as the default template location.

Setting default template locations via the Options dialog
Setting default template locations


Although some organisations are hesitant about allowing use of OD4B, if used correctly it is a key component in the information and file storage strategy.

OD4B is easy for users to understand, yet gives them instant access to ‘their stuff’ on all their devices and via a browser if they haven’t got a device of their own to hand. It lets them be more productive, while allowing sharing and collaboration.

Meanwhile, it provides the company with control and governance, the ability to meet their regulatory and legal obligations whilst keeping the central systems for their preferred purpose. It can offload clutter and unfinished documents from the primary corporate stores, cleans up search results and helps keep semi-structured file stores (in libraries and in Teams) free from rubbish and encroaching chaos!

With a well thought through file structure, as described and user guidance and policy, OD4B is a hugely powerful part of the M365 suite and neither complicated nor dysfunctional compared with the file server days of old.

By Simon

Simon Hudson is an entrepreneur, health sector specialist and founder of Cloud2 Ltd. and Kinata Ltd. and, most recently, Novia Works Ltd. He has an abiding, evangelical interest in information, knowledge management and has a lot to say on best practice use of Microsoft Teams, SharePoint and cloud technologies, the health sector, sustainability and more. He has had articles and editorials published in a variety of knowledge management, clinical benchmarking and health journals. He is a co-facilitator of the M365 North User Group Leeds and is Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Hull.

Simon is passionate about rather too many things, including science, music (he writes and plays guitar & mandola), skiing, classic cars, technology and, by no means least, his family.


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