There’s still a lot of confusion in the marketplace about what exactly Microsoft OneDrive for Business is, with just as many people asking “How do I use OneDrive for Business?”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I think Microsoft’s branding strategy on this has been extremely confusing for a lot of people. For starters they’re using the “Office 365” brand to cover a vast range of products and services, and then they decide to use the “OneDrive” name for a range of different products and services. Very confusing to say the least.
In short, OneDrive for Business is a tool that lets you store your files in the cloud, access them from any device, and share them with others. There’s a lot more to it than that though.
OneDrive for Business is not the same as OneDrive
A very important thing to realise is that there are actually two entirely different products from Microsoft both bearing the ‘OneDrive’ name.
First of all there’s plain old “OneDrive”. This is a consumer focussed product, which can be thought of as a direct alternative to other consumer products such as Dropbox. Although it has some sharing features, it is very much intended to be used for personal content only, and is not designed for team use.
Second we have “OneDrive for Business”. Now again note that this is an entirely different product to plain old “OneDrive”. Confused yet? This one is built from the ground up to be used by teams for document sharing and collaboration, and works tightly with Microsoft SharePoint.
This is the one that you get with Microsoft 365 business (previously Office 365 for Business) subscriptions, and the one that we’re going to concern ourselves with in this article.
OneDrive for Business stores your files in SharePoint
This is a really important point to understand, because basically what this means is that when you are working with OneDrive for Business (we’ll call it ODFB for short) you are actually working with SharePoint, and more specifically with SharePoint Document Libraries.
This means that there are some restrictions to work with, but more importantly there are extra features that SharePoint brings to the table, such as metadata and document version controls. In a way, you can think of ODFB as a shortcut into your SharePoint document libraries.
It also means that if you are looking to simply dump a large volume of files into ODFB, as a simplistic replacement for either an old file server, or a consumer focussed product such as Dropbox, not only will you be missing out on some great features, but you’re likely to become a bit frustrated with the product, as that’s not really what it’s designed for.
Use SharePoint Document Libraries to organise your content
A far better approach is to consider your requirements with SharePoint in mind, and build out from there. This approach might look a bit like this.
- Consider your files from the perspective of functional areas (eg: Admin, Finance, etc) but also with a thought to which people in your team need access to each set of documents (eg: Executive Committee).
- Create a new SharePoint document library in your team site for each of these areas. By taking this approach you will be able to set custom sharing permissions, version control settings, and so on, on each document library.
- Synchronise each of these document libraries to your computer using the ODFB app.
Here’s a snapshot of what this looks like on my computer. As you can see I’ve used ODFB to synchronise four document libraries from SharePoint to my computer. We have more document libraries than this in our SharePoint, but these are the ones that I use regularly, particularly for collaborative work with others in my team.
Use your personal OneDrive library for personal files
Using your SharePoint team site document libraries will likely account for the bulk of your business documents, however you may still find a need for ‘personal’ file storage, such as personal working documents, or perhaps confidential files. The sort of stuff that you may have traditionally kept in your ‘My Documents’ folder, or on your desktop, rather than on the company file server.
Each user in your SharePoint environment already has their own private ‘OneDrive’ document library for exactly that purpose. This area is designed to store files just for individual use, and does a great job of it.
Here’s a snapshot of what my personal OneDrive space looks like. As you can see, it’s under its own “OneDrive for Business” section on my computer, and I’m using it to hold files that I don’t need, or want to share with others.
If you do want to look at using OneDrive for Business, I would encourage you to take a little time to learn about SharePoint as well, particularly SharePoint Document Libraries. Everything will make a lot more sense if you do that first.
OneDrive for Business is a fantastic, handy tool which I personally use every day for my work. I’m sure if you take a couple of minutes to learn more about it, you will also find it invaluable.
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