IT as an Enabler (really!) – use Office Group Policy

This article is for IT professionals only. The language is technical. As a user it is not relevant to you.

IT presentations say “IT is an enabler”. But ask any user – they will tell you that the primary job of IT seems to be “disabling” things. From Start Menu, IE settings, USB Ports, Web sites, network settings, ability to install new software, everything seems to be deactivated by IT. It is frustrating. But everyone knows that it is required for security, compliance and privacy reasons.

As an IT professional, here is your chance of ENABLING things which users will really thank you for. This opportunity comes from a seemingly unlikely place – Microsoft Office. Read on to find out how you transform your users lives using Office Group Policy.


Photo credit: Stuck in Customs / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Please Note: Group Policy works with on-premise Active Directory only. If you are using Azure AD services, group policy cannot be used.

Open Secret

Group Policy is known and used by IT for decades now. Its primary use is to enforce organization-wide policies related to safety, security, application and desktop hardening, and so on.

What has been almost completely missed by the entire IT community is that Microsoft Office also comes with an extensive set of group policy options. This is NOT new. GP settings are available since Office 2003.

Unfortunately,  I don’t know of a single organization which has used Office Group Policy to their advantage in a proactive manner.

There are 800 to 2000+ Group Policy settings available – depending upon the version of Office being used. Download links are given at the end of this article. Those are not important.

What is important is to understand how these settings can be used to EMPOWER rather than RESTRICT users.

Empowerment using Office Group Policy: Examples

  1. In Excel, File New – Blank Workbook usually creates three sheets. Mostly Sheet2 and Sheet3 remain blank. They don’t occupy space but it creates confusion. Nobody remembers whether sheet2 and sheet3 have any data. The simplest answer is to use the Group Policy to change the new sheets to ONE. Problem solved – without even informing the users!
  2. When a Word attachment opens in Outlook, it goes into Reading View. Although it is a great way to read and review documents, most users hate it. To get back into regular Page Layout mode, you must press Escape. Using Group Policy you can change the default view of Word attachments to Page Layout. Problem solved without any user education.
  3. This is a special one for IT folks who like to DISABLE things. Want to disable any button or menu option? Don’t write code. Use Group Policy. I want you to figure out how to do it. Install and browse through the settings and find it yourself. Once you find that setting, all that you have to do is enter the command ID for the menu to be disabled. Each menu item has a unique command ID. The Command ID for Reply All, for example, is 355. List of command IDs for all applications is downloadable from here (2013, 2010)
  4. Stored document templates in a SharePoint document library? Great. Now map the Document Library as a Drive in the login script and use Group Policy Setting called Shared Paths – Enterprise Templates Path to specify that drive. That is how easy it is to share templates across the organization.
  5. Similar approach can be used for sharing Building Blocks in Word.
  6. Your intranet has a specific brand name (not SharePoint)? No problem, that name can be set globally using a policy -Office 2013 – Misc – SharePoint Product Name
  7. Let all users reuse customized Chart Templates using Excel GP setting – Graph Gallery Path
  8. Speed up Office performance on slower machines by disabling Live Preview, Menu Animations and Contextual Spelling Errors and similar processor and memory intensive features.

The list is endless… you have to use it to believe it!

Recommendations on effective implementation of
Office Group Policy

  1. Install the ADMX templates on a pilot machine
  2. Go through ALL options and understand their relevance as well as context
  3. Shortlist ones which are useful for your environment
  4. Some policies may be globally applicable while some may be specific to roles (which usually map to AD groups)
  5. Try the policies in a test environment
  6. Classify each policy setting as User Transparent (users will not notice it but will benefit from it) or User Noticeable (requires user education)
  7. For user Noticeable type of policy settings, inform the users about the setting, the logic behind it and the potential benefit
  8. Be patient. There are 2000+ settings. It takes time to go through all of them. But DO NOT split the work between multiple persons. Let ONE person do it. Many settings are repetitive across products. If ONE person is scanning all settings, she can finish the work faster and in a more informed manner.

Download links and Resources

  1. Download Administrative Templates for Office 2016, 2013, 2010, 2007, 2003.
  2. Detailed article for 2013.
  3. Downloadable book for 2010
    (I could not find for newer versions. but concepts and many settings remain the same. If you find a new version book, please post the URL as comment).

What Next

Download the relevant templates. Try out in a small pilot group. Shortlist the ones which are relevant to your business and users and apply them. Wherever required, provide short and precise documentation or information for users to understand what happened and its benefit.


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