Opting out of Microsoft Office 365 changes aka off by default

I love Office 365. I want to put that right out there, because I mean it. The innovation that Microsoft keeps on pumping into the service continues to raise the bar for enabling collaboration. At my last company we were years away from moving to Office 365 and now that I’m at Slalom, we’re all in! It’s fantastic!

However, I do not like how new features & functions are being introduced to organizations – and by that I mean “on by default”. Case in point, there’s been a bit of noise on Twitter for the past two days about a change rolling in that will automatically provision an O365 Group for a manager and their direct reports: https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Automatic-creation-of-Direct-Reports-groups-in-Outlook-f43455ed-81a6-4588-8299-08caa62abedd?ui=en-US&rs=en-US&ad=UShttps://support.office.com/en-us/article/Automatic-creation-of-Direct-Reports-groups-in-Outlook-f43455ed-81a6-4588-8299-08caa62abedd?ui=en-US&rs=en-US&ad=US

Example of Twitter madness: (I blame Joanne Klein! LOL!)
2017-03-21_19-03-37

On the surface that might sound like a decent idea for some organizations – take my own team for instance. When my role changed and I became a supervisor I created a private Office 365 group for my team to collaborate. However, it was a conscience decision to meet a need that I had to collaborate with my team. I’m the only supervisor in our office that has their own Office 365 Group as the others aren’t quite ready to move there yet. I am picking on groups but there has been a lot of new features that are automatically added to tenants. I will concede that there certainly is the ability with a PowerShell command to disable that feature, but is that really the best user experience?

I’m a firm believer that the real value of Office 365 is realized with planning, communications, a bit of hand holding, and then some more communications. The “on by default” certainly presents opportunities where one could get “slipped by the goalie” and then there’s the apologizing as you have to back out that change and communicate to your customers that it’s just Microsoft being Microsoft and rolling stuff out. It’s not a good user experience, it’s uncomfortable to roll back changes that organizations are not prepared to support, and it leaves a bad impression of how Microsoft is managing the service. The reality too is what’s a good idea and right timing for an organization might not be applicable to another.

I think the counter-argument to rolling in new features as off by default is that there are some corporations that will “never” turn on the new stuff. The reality is, those could very well be the same organizations that immediately turn off the new functionality already. I would also say that shame on the admin that doesn’t enable Teams in their tenant, or whatever new service gets developed over the next 6 months.

My compromise would be this – why not set your preference at the tenant level?

I did a nice little mock-up to help show where that setting might go.

features

Again, I’m not knocking this particular change but I do believe it’s not a one size fits all.

I think enabling administrators to set their environment in a way that best meets the needs of their organization is the best approach for introducing new change. Happy collaborating!

UPDATE:

I submitted a user voice based on this blog post to help get the right attention:

https://office365.uservoice.com/forums/273493-office-365-admin/suggestions/18730039-allow-tenant-admins-to-control-new-features-being

  1. Jared, I couldn’t agree more. I manage SharePoint for a large organization and we’re constantly running into issues that would be solved by a master “off by default” switch.

    Microsoft is getting better about this (Sway’s rollout a few years ago was really bad, especially when compared to Teams), but they still need to understand why customers don’t want all of these options on by default.

    One of the criteria that we use to evaluate new services is whether it is HIPAA compliant (we’re a healthcare organization). Even though Office 365 is HIPAA compliant, not all of the services included in it are. For example, PowerApps/Flow was GA last November, yet it isn’t actually HIPAA compliant. Until it is, I need to disable it for our organization.

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  2. Curious question but what’s your recommendation for using First Release in a PROD network. Based on the mockup image, I’m guessing that you’re showing what it would look like for a development tenant.

    If you’re exposing your organization’s PROD tenant to First Release for all individuals, I think I would argue that is the issue at hand. Typically my recommendation for most PROD environments is to leave it the regular release cycle so that there’s time to plan the communications and such.

    The caveat to that is when features are interesting “value adds” like the one first mentioned in your article. In those cases, I agree that it’s something that might be nice for a small organization, and it’s a nicety that it’s setup for you by default, but not too helpful when like yourself I’ve already got a Group setup and operating.

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