Maximize results with collaborative work management in Microsoft 365
Published Jun 03 2021 08:00 AM 34.7K Views

People today aren’t working so much as they are managing work. If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’re experiencing it firsthand. “Burnout” often describes what’s happening. Countless studies over the past year have found employee burnout became “rampant, seemingly overnight” in 2020. With work shifted to a remote or hybrid model, there is more information to process than ever, and digital overload is real.


Despite burnout, or the reason for it, 69% of respondents in a recent study said they’re not using a formal work management tool. Let’s face it: work management happens wherever and whenever it’s most convenient. We sock away emails in a “Follow-Up” folder, save shared files on our desktop, and manage tasks on sticky notes, spreadsheets, across multiple mobile apps—all for the same project! When it comes time to make sense of it all, it sometimes doesn’t make sense.


So, we’re stuck managing work instead of working. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In the face of a tectonic shift in information, collaborative work management (CWM) with Microsoft 365 helps you save time and maximize results. CWM is a concentrated effort to streamline work management through a set of purpose-built apps. These apps add structure to all the unseen parts of business productivity: tasks, status updates, files, and the like. With a more efficient approach to the process of work, your team gets more time to collaborate on the work itself.


The apps that comprise the Microsoft CWM offering are Microsoft Planner, Microsoft To Do, Tasks in Teams, and Microsoft Lists, which are for managing work; and, OneDrive, SharePoint, and Office, which are for collaborating on that work—all of which are brought together by Microsoft Teams, the central hub for CWM. All these apps are already included in your Microsoft 365 business and enterprise subscriptions[1], so you don’t have to worry about adding anything to get started.


Collaborative work management apps diagramCollaborative work management apps diagram


We know that a collection of apps won’t solve burnout on their own. That’s why the bulk of this blog is focused how you can use them together to address three distinct areas: organizing your work, tracking your information, and collaborating with your team. It’s also why we have created this pamphlet, which highlights CWM tips and use cases.


Organize your work: manage work more effectively


The trick to successful collaborative work management is organization. You can’t effectively run, say, this season’s store rebranding if you can’t locate the branding requirements. With all the chaos around work these days, it can be hard to keep track of tasks, important documents, information, and people if they all exist in siloes. Keeping all your work in the right place and making it easy to share is where the CWM story starts—and that story starts in Microsoft Teams.


Microsoft Teams is your hub for collaborative work. It’s where you can spin up a dedicated channel for each work effort and add all the apps you’re using as integrated channel tabs. In addition to consolidating individual and team tasks, your channels provide shared locations for your team’s files. These can live either in the channel itself as uploaded files, or as an attachment in one of the work management apps. In fact, you can add attachments, labels, and comments directly to a list item or task, so your team is looking at all relevant information for whatever they’re working on.


You can see why we call Teams the CWM “hub”: it connects all the “spokes” of your work in one place, making it efficient for your teams to get exactly what they need when they need it. Each of the apps make it easy to group, sort, and filter information. And if you still can’t find that one small, necessary detail, like an email attachment in Outlook or a specific information item in Lists, unified search across Microsoft 365 has you covered.


Getting your work organized is like keeping a tidy house: it’s easier to maintain the clean, than cleaning a dirty house. The same is true for your work: if your tasks, files, and other information are all over the place, it’s a chore to get them organized. Once they are organized, managing them is second nature.


The Recruitment Tracker template from Microsoft Lists as a tab in Microsoft TeamsThe Recruitment Tracker template from Microsoft Lists as a tab in Microsoft Teams


Track your work: stay on top of action items


Tasks can originate from anywhere. And when they come from anywhere, they can end up anywhere: a notepad, a Word doc, the back of your hand. The goal of CWM is to bring your tasks and information into the proper place, along with the right prompts and notifications to help you prioritize and stay on top of things. The enabling apps for tracking your work are Planner, To Do, Tasks in Teams, and Lists. Let’s take a moment and highlight each app’s core intent:


  • Planner is for team tasks. With a shared plan, you can monitor tasks across your team and assign different tasks to the right people. Use it to manage task-based teamwork, like planning a corporate event with HR or launching a new campaign with your sales team.
  • To Do is for individual tasks—those you’re personally responsible for. These can be tasks that only affect you, like completing an online seminar, or tasks assigned to you as part of a team. In fact, To Do integrates with Planner, so you can view assigned tasks alongside your other individual to-dos.
  • The Tasks app in Teams is for both: it brings your shared team tasks from Planner and individual tasks from To Do into a single place in Teams. If you want just one app for every task, the Tasks app is it.
  • Lists is for tracking ongoing initiatives with lots of information items. These can include tracking work progress, maintaining an onboarding list for new employees, or managing assets. Lists can be used individually or shared with your team, so everyone is up to date with the latest details. Lists can be customized and extended to support your business processes.


These apps keep you and your team on top of your workstreams by providing structure. You can even enable notifications to avoid missing upcoming deadlines—no matter where you manage that task. Once everything is prioritized, managing your responsibilities gets easier.


The Tasks app in Microsoft Teams on desktop (left) and mobile (right).The Tasks app in Microsoft Teams on desktop (left) and mobile (right).


Work management in action

Let’s consider a quick example of how you can use all the Microsoft 365 work management apps together to take control of your workday. Assume you’re in HR and are leading a regional college recruitment campaign with a couple colleagues. You kick off the campaign in Planner, creating a new plan called “Southeast Recruitment” and assigning some tasks to your team, like “Send out recruitment day sign-ups” and “Book rooms for interviews.”


As the campaign grows, so does the plan—and it now includes lots of tasks assigned to you. That’s when you start using the Tasks app in Teams. Not only does the app give you a view of the overall recruiting effort; it also lists all your personal work tasks from To Do.


The Southeast Recruitment campaign is wildly successful (of course—you ran it), and the company is receiving a ton of job applications as a result. Enter Lists. You create a list to track recruitment progress and organize information for each applicant. Every student has their own line item in the list, where you can update their status in the application process, attach their resume, assign interviewees to different colleagues, and more.


CWM guided simulation and Day in the Life guidesCWM guided simulation and Day in the Life guides

Looking for more CWM scenario resources? Check out the Collaborative Work Management guided demo (left) and Microsoft Day in the Life guides (right).


The take-away

You will notice a few things about that short scenario. First, the entire recruitment campaign—and the subsequent ongoing effort—is managed in an app designed for that kind of work. Tasks for the team get assigned from Planner, not a chat message. Your own tasks are in To Do, not on a sticky note. And the continuous stream of applicants is managed in Lists, not a spreadsheet.


Second, each app is inherently collaborative. Unlike sticky notes or a local spreadsheet, the work management apps in Microsoft 365 sit in a shared location. Everyone on your team has visibility into Planner, Tasks in Teams, and Lists.


Third, and most importantly, CWM sets you up for actual work. You know everything that’s required of you because it’s in one place, with all the relevant resources you need—attachments, comments from others, due dates, etc. You don’t need to sift through emails or local folders to find your assignments. You just saved a ton of time and headache—now you’re ready to get work done.


Work with your team: share and collaborate with others


Quality teamwork starts with efficient collaboration to chat, meet, iterate, edit, and the like. Because of this, it’s critical that you and your colleagues can work together on your deliverables in real time. Enter OneDrive and SharePoint, which power the secure file sharing across Microsoft 365. That means no matter where you’re working—in Teams, an Office doc, or a List —you can securely share a file without switching apps. You can even set access permissions as you’re sharing the file, so you can help ensure only the right people are working in your files.


The files you share are secure and collaborative - and Teams makes it all easy. Open Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files from right within Teams, and work with team chat side-by-side directly in that document. Plus, comments and @mentions give everyone necessary context and keep them on the same page. Every @mention prompts an email notification too, so no one misses important in-doc asks.


Coauthoring a Microsoft Word document in Microsoft TeamsCoauthoring a Microsoft Word document in Microsoft Teams

Just like organizing all your work assets in one place and managing your tasks in one place, CWM keeps all your collaboration in one place, too. You don’t need to send a link to an Excel spreadsheet in an email so your peers can edit —you can do that directly in Teams alongside all your other work management activities.


Getting started with CWM


There’s no need to buy an additional plan or app to get started with CWM. You already have everything you need as part of your Microsoft 365 business and enterprise subscriptions[2]. Try planning your next team campaign in Planner, replacing your notepad with To Do, or tracking a simple batch of information with Lists. Here are the direct web links for each of those, as well as instructions for adding the Tasks app to Teams.


  • Planner:
  • To Do:
  • Tasks app: select the ellipses (…) on the left-hand side of your Microsoft Teams dashboard, search for “Tasks” (or “Planner” or “To Do”) and select to add the app
  • Lists:


And don’t forget to download the pamphlet! We’ll be compiling more CWM resources throughout the year to keep you organized, on track, and back to work.




[1]Not included in Microsoft 365 Apps plans

[2] Not included in Microsoft 365 Apps plans









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