ShareKnowledge Blog

Breaking Down Internal Communication Methods Using SharePoint

Amber Rasmussen November, 2017

Internal communications is a very important part of your business and for many years SharePoint has played a big role in achieving a centralized, cohesive way to communicate to employees. This is a direct result of its ability to offer scalability, flexibility and high availability in the business world. But, with every new SharePoint release there are new features that require a little understanding of what is possible in order to unlock some great benefits for your communication strategy.

In years past, we relied solely on HR portals for training and other employee business. These self-service portals helped to manage employee services such as onboarding, benefits and enrollment, time, attendance, travel, expenses, timesheets, training and development, performance and more.

Now, there are more SharePoint options than the basic portal including team sites, communication sites and hubs. But, which one is most appropriate for training and development? In this blog, we’ll take a look at each communication feature and give suggestions on when it is most useful to use.

Team Site, Communication Site, Hub or Portal?

SharePoint helps your organization adapt, by connecting your workplace with intelligent content management and intranets that give you the tools to share and work together, and to inform and engage people across the organization. And now it gets easier to organize your intranet dynamically.

Traditionally, in previous on-premise SharePoint versions, portals were used for HR and Training. A portal is just that, a portal. It’s a gateway to other sites and information and is geared toward large audiences and static content.

A portal works perfectly well, but SharePoint has added new ways to communicate and collaborate starting with latest versions.

Communication Sites

For Office 365 users, there is an option to utilize communication sites. As of now, it is not available to SharePoint 2016 on-premises. It is not clear, but experts are guessing that communications sites will be appear on-premise in SharePoint 2019.

What is so great about communication sites? A SharePoint communication site is a great place to share information with others. You can share news, reports, statuses, and other information in a visually compelling format. They also look great on the web, in the SharePoint mobile app, on PC and on Mac. These sites were created to be more interactive and engaging than traditional portals.

Communications sites are focused on communicating a message to a wide audience where typically there is a small number of users and a large number of readers. The human resources department would be a prime example of who would use a communications site. Or, some companies could use it as a general intranet for the entire organization. Even if you have collaborative parts of the intranet, the primary purpose of your intranet is to communicate a story such as corporate news or showcase services and information such as your benefits and policies.

Here are some good examples of communication site scenarios:

  • Governance and training for your intranet
  • Travel team publishing guidelines about corporate travel
  • Policies and procedures
  • Micro-site for a new corporate initiative
  • Resources for the sales team for a product or service
  • Organizational achievements—summary or report of key business metrics to highlight for the rest of the organization

Q: How do communication sites compare to intranet sites based on the classic SharePoint publishing infrastructure?

Communication sites are complimentary to the sites and portals you’ve built using the SharePoint publishing infrastructure. The publishing infrastructure continues to be supported both on-premises and online. Communication sites are out-of-box sites you can use for internal campaigns, reports, product launches, and other scenarios that address broad audiences across the organization. Communication sites are easy to create: they require no code or design expertise. Simply point-and-click to add pages and parts. Communication sites are mobile-ready by default, looking great across browsers and devices, and in the SharePoint mobile app.

Team sites

For those using SharePoint 2013, SharePoint 2016 or Office 365, team sites are an option that have been utilized for communication and collaboration.

When you want to create a place where the members of a work group or project team can collaborate on project deliverables, plan an event, track status, or exchange ideas, you want a Team Site. For example, let’s say that after an eLearning course you assign a team project. A team site can be created to direct the students to where they can collaboratively work on deliverables, assign and manage tasks, and have conversations about the work. Even though everyone has individual assignments, you are collectively collaborating to create one or more assets.

Examples of Team Site scenarios:

  • Project team working together to complete deliverables and manage tasks.
  • Holiday party planning committee planning the annual get-together. If you have work locations in multiple geographies, you may have many holiday party committees, and each party committee team site might be in a different language.
  • Human Resources team members—everyone who works in HR.
  • Executive Committee—different leadership groups within the organization.
  • Extranet site to work with Partner A.

What is the difference between a communication site vs. a team site?

Here’s a way to think about the difference between a Team Site and a Communication Site. A Team Site is where the product is made—it’s behind the counter and typically private. A Communication Site is where the product is sold—where it’s visible to all our “customers” and where they come to buy our product. Typically, our customers don’t want to know how we make the product. They just want to get the finished product.

Hub Sites

The latest offering for Office 365 users is the addition of Hub sites which allow you to create a family of site collections (communication sites or team sites) that share common branding, navigation and search scope.

A hub brings together related sites to roll up news and activity, to simplify search and to create cohesion with shared navigation and look and feel.

Throughout the lifecycle of your projects, your launches, your internal campaigns, it is important to increase visibility, awareness and discoverability beyond the core day-to-day people, and not expect everyone to have to drill into the various related sites, but more represent a clear, broad picture of what’s happening across sites, aka, what’s happening across projects and initiatives. Team sites and communication sites push content and information up to the hub site level with:

  • News aggregation –After you create and publish a news article on an associated site, the news article surfaces on SharePoint home, in the SharePoint mobile apps, and now on the hub site’s home page.
  • Combined site activities – It’s important to know what is happening within sites, so you can prioritize your focus and your time. Site activities are visible on a team site’s home page, and on the site’s card on SharePoint home. Now, site activities will roll up from each associated sites so that they are visible on the hub site’s home page, so you can see what happening across related sites, instead of having to view activity site by site.
  • Scoped search – When you search for content from a hub site, results include content from all associated sites. Because associated sites are related, search from the hub site home page increases relevance, and enhances content discovery.

Q: Can a hub site replace my current organizational portal?

Hub sites are designed to let you dynamically organize closely related sites, bringing together similar projects, and binding related assets, and presenting common activity. Customers with portals that include customization beyond the web parts and extensions that SharePoint Framework currently supports are likely to continue using the SharePoint publishing infrastructure, which continues to be fully supported both in SharePoint Server on-premises and SharePoint Online.

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