Store files in the right place with Office 365

This may seem like a simple question. But it is not. After 3 decades of IT, we are still debating and are confused. This article is about where to store files in Office 365.  This simple poster became popular on LinkedIn. Here are the details… based upon the interaction on the post and what I have seen at hundreds of customers.

Where to store files - poster - showing OneDrive, Teams, SharePoint and Yammer

Where to store files (Office 365)

All customers are faced with this question. Each one finds their own answers. That is NOT right. The usage is not based upon personal or organizational preference. It is based upon the fundamental use cases for which these tools were created.

The problem is that of overlapping functionality. Many tools allow storing files. Therefore, on the fact of it, things are confusing. When you are confused, you use the method which you are most comfortable with. Whatever that method is, the way you are using things becomes sub-optimal. Why so? Because you cannot use the same method (storage option) for all scenarios.

So the first thing to understand is that the answer is
– depends upon the context.

Where not to store files

Nobody asks this question. But you should. Let us eliminate the most problematic place of all – Local Drive. No more storing files on local drive, desktop, C: or My Documents.

Of course, OneDrive has Known Folder Move which automatically uploads and synchronizes files from Desktop, My Documents and My Pictures. If you already have this, the problem is solved.

But even then, sometimes you have a temptation to create a local folder and store files. Avoid that temptation.

With Office 365 available, there is really no need to create local-only files. The only reason is that you want to do something temporarily and the files are large. Till you finalize the files, you don’t want to synchronize them.

One example is while working on large videos. Final rendered video you want to upload to Stream but the intermediate and raw files are large. You don’t want to sync them. But even here, remember that your local files are unprotected from accidental loss or ransomware.

How to decide where to store files

This is simpler than you think. Remember these simple reasons why each product was created. Once this is ingrained in your mind, you can decide for yourself.

OneDrive was created to manage ONE person’s files.

SharePoint was designed to make sharing of files (and other things) simpler and safer. It is also designed for managing complex and hierarchical security and access control.

Teams was designed to help multiple work on a common goal. Teams uses a simplified version of SharePoint and hides all the complexity.

Stream is designed for storing and streaming videos. It also creates a transcript automatically and allows you to attach evaluation quiz to a video.

So we have a choice between OneDrive, Teams, SharePoint and Stream.

Where NOT to store files

It also means one very important thing. You should NOT store files anywhere else – even if it is technically possible to do so.

For example, DO NOT post files directly into Yammer. Post a read-only link in Yammer. DO NOT attach files to mails. Share a link.

My files go to OneDrive

  • All new files should go to OneDrive for sure
  • DO NOT put all existing files from local drive to OneDrive
    This may take a lot of time.
  • It is better to remember to save only ACTIVE files and folders to OneDrive.
  • What is an Active file? Any file you open from local drive is an active file. Why did you open it? Because you need it. That means it is being used actively. Such files you should save to OneDrive. Ideally do not make a copy. Move them to OneDrive.
  • While doing this, think whether you want only that file or the folder containing that file to be on OneDrive. This would be an ACTIVE folder.
  • Make sure OneDrive app is available on your mobile as well.

Files shared on chat automatically go to OneDrive

You may not have noticed this. But when you share a file during Teams chat, the file is automatically saved to your OneDrive – in a folder called Microsoft Teams Chat Files. The file is automatically shared with whoever you are chatting with.

Project specific files go to Teams

Files which are supposed to be visible and editable for a team members SHOULD NOT be stored in OneDrive. Why? Because, if you store such files in OneDrive, you will have to manually share it with team members. Instead, store it in the correct team in Teams directly.

For new files, in the File Save As dialog you will see the Sites option. Remember, Sites means Teams.

Choose the correct Team, click on documents, choose the correct Channel, specify the file name and then Save.

If you already have a file on local drive or on OneDrive, go to the correct Teams channel Files area and upload the file. Remember that this is a copy of the file. It will not be synchronized with the original. Therefore, consider if you want to MOVE it to Teams instead of copying it.

Best Practice:
Avoid keeping duplicate copies of files

For example, if you have a file on OneDrive and now you need it in a project, MOVE it to the Teams team.

If you have a local file and now you want to put it in OneDrive or Teams, MOVE it. Don’t copy it.

More copies means more confusion. Avoid it at all costs.

The only reason you may want to keep a particular copy is if you need a snapshot of the file for legal or compliance reasons.

Departmental files should go to Teams

Everyone still has server based departmental file shares. These files are traditionally moved to SharePoint sites. Usually, all users from the department have access to these files.

Even thought, moving these shares to SharePoint is technically possible, I recommend moving these shares to Teams. Create one Team for each department and move all the files there. Make all users in that department members of that Team.

Now files can be synchronized locally, just like OneDrive. DO NOT worry about local file storage getting full. All synchronization is in Files-on-Demand mode. That means, only the folder and file names will be visible. Files will not occupy any space on the local disk by default. Only when you need a file, double-click on it. Now it downloads and then you can edit it locally. Best of both worlds!

Moving to Teams has many benefits (instead of moving to SharePoint)

  1. On mobile, the files are available on Teams app. For SharePoint files you need the SharePoint app.
  2. All the benefits of Teams are available in addition to sharing the files. Tasks, Meeting notes, conversations, etc are extra benefits.
  3. Teams is easier to use and manage compared to SharePoint

The only reason you may want to use SharePoint is if:

  1. You want hierarchical and complex access control
  2. You want more automation and customization which is not possible with Teams
  3. You have already moved to SharePoint and everyone is already used to this setup

Videos must go to Stream

This is a no-brainer. But still, almost every customer I meet has many videos stored in some kind of file system – File Share, SharePoint, Teams or OneDrive. That is absolutely the wrong way to store videos.

Why videos require a special server?

Videos are special files. A regular file stored on a server has to download locally before it can be opened. If you store videos on a file server, it behaves exactly the same way. This leads to wastage of bandwidth. Videos are not seen in a linear manner. You may jump to any point in video. Only the required part of the video should be downloaded. This is called streaming. File servers cannot perform streaming. Only streaming servers can do this – which is Stream.

Stream works on Azure Streaming Services. You don’ have to pay for it. It is a part of Office 365 subscription. There is a certain quota for the organization and per user. Once uploaded, you can still control who can see which video.

Just move existing videos to Stream and you get lot of additional benefits. These benefits are automatic. No additional effort is required.

  1. Any common video type is supported.
  2. Viewers of the videos do not need special software or codec to view the video.
  3. Stream app is also available for mobile phones (Android and iOS)
  4. While uploading the video, remember to set the language. Now Stream will automatically create the transcript.
  5. Transcript will covert all spoken words to text. The transcript is searchable. This way, you can jump to any part of the video by searching for keywords. Very useful for long videos.
  6. All meeting recordings in Teams channels are automatically uploaded to Stream. This way, an automatic minutes of meetings is also created for future reference. Just make sure the video language is set.
  7. For learning videos, you can also attach a Forms based quiz to the video. This way, teaching and evaluation, can happen in one place.
  8. You can even have multiple quiz items linked to specific time in the video – in case you want to evaluate the learning for each subtopic.
  9. Finally, if you have videos with people’s faces, it creates a very useful People Timeline. Videos containing interviews, trainer webcam headshot, panel discussions or video calls, all are covered.
  10. Using the people timeline, you can see who spoke when and jump directly to listen to them – without trial and error.

In short, start using Stream.

Further reading

Here are more articles I have written about Office 365.

OneDrive articles (10 articles)

Teams articles (13 articles)

Office 365 articles (143 articles)

Your feedback is valuable

Do post your feedback and comments about where you store files. I will be happy to incorporate your learnings into the blog, with your permission (and with due credit given to you).

End of the Where to Store Files article - an  image showing a physical file folder -

Comments? Suggestions? Wish list?