Best practices for migrating to SharePoint and OneDrive

Published Mar 24 2021 09:00 AM 29.4K Views

Many organizations are coming up on their first-year anniversary of supporting a remote workforce. While some have already started transitioning people back to the office, whether in full-time or hybrid mode, others are looking to make remote work permanent. Either way, having modern collaboration tools that help people share information and work together in real time has become absolutely essential to maintaining productivity. Last year, many IT organizations found themselves scrambling to quickly get people access to tools and information they needed to work from home effectively. Now, they’re in a position to think more strategically about the best ways to support a remote workforce. For organizations who’ve deployed Microsoft 365, one of those ways is by migrating content to SharePoint and OneDrive.  


Why migrate?


Your organization may have any number of reasons for migrating to SharePoint and OneDrive. Maybe you were already planning the migration when the pandemic hit, maybe you realized that asking people to VPN in to access on-premises file shares wasn’t providing a good employee experience, or maybe your subscription to 3rd party cloud storage is expiring and you realized you can centralize administration and save costs by moving to Microsoft 365.


But the most important reason to migrate is that SharePoint and OneDrive work securely and seamlessly with Microsoft Teams, the digital hub for teamwork that over 115 million daily users rely on to connect and collaborate. And the integration between Teams, SharePoint, and OneDrive empowers you to set governance and compliance policies at an organizational level that can be extended across Teams, SharePoint, and OneDrive—something you can’t do with third-party tools.


With content stored in SharePoint and OneDrive, you can configure secure sharing policies, use Microsoft Information Protection to create policies for automatic classification of sensitive data, or implement information barriers to restrict communication and collaboration between specific business units or teams to avoid conflicts of interest from occurring or between certain people to safeguard internal information. You can also monitor shared content, adding an extra layer of security and control. Through detailed audit logs and reports available in the Microsoft 365 Security and Compliance Center, you can trace SharePoint and OneDrive activity at the folder, file, and user levels, so you can see at a glance if any unauthorized users have tried to access sensitive company or client information. Every user action, including changes and modifications made to files and folders, is recorded for a full audit trail. In addition, even remotely, you also get device visibility and control that’s especially important for thwarting breaches and ransomware attacks.


What are the critical steps for a successful migration?


No matter what your reasons for migrating to SharePoint and OneDrive, the process can seem overwhelming. You have so much to consider: What content do you have, and where is it stored? What will you move? What needs extra consideration, like regulatory compliance? How will you get data from file shares or third-party cloud apps into SharePoint and OneDrive? And those are just some of the logistical aspects—you also need to think about things like timing for the migration and how to communicate what’s happening to the rest of the organization. To help, we’ve outlined some critical steps for you to consider for a successful migration.


Consider your current environment


The first step is to understand your current environment. Many organizations have a combination of solutions: file servers with many years’ worth of data, third-party storage solutions holding archived data for legal or regulatory reasons, or third-party cloud storage apps adopted by specific business units. In considering your current environment, you’ll want to review:


  • Where your data is located, and whether you need it. As a first step you need to determine what content you have, what you need to keep, and what you want to get rid of.
  • What content people are using. You’ll also want to understand how people across the organization are using the file shares or cloud storage apps to do their daily jobs, so you can plan around the way people work to avoid disrupting productivity.
  • Who has access to what. You probably have certain groups who need to share a lot of information with external parties—clients, partners, or vendors. You’ll need to know what access has been granted so you can ensure they still have access once the content is migrated.
  • How you want to structure things going forward. Once you’ve collected that information from the business, you can reconsider your file and permissions structures for more streamlined administration and better security.
  • Whether you need help. All of this can be daunting, so consider enlisting support: Microsoft FastTrack services can help you get started by helping to assess your environment and develop a plan, If you need help with migrating your file shares, on-premises SharePoint environments, or other cloud sharing solutions to Microsoft 365.


Create a high-level timeline and outline any risks


Develop a high-level timeline for your migration based on priority and your earlier assessments. This will help you determine cutover dates for all content and users and address any risks you’ve identified, such as sites or file shares that need to be scrubbed, legal hold or eDiscovery issues, or even holidays or other important business dates or events that you need to consider.


Choose the right tool(s)


You may not want or need to migrate all your data the same way. For example, your organization may prefer to have users in some business units manually move their content to OneDrive or SharePoint from share network files or other sharing apps, while other business units with many TBs of customer content or sensitive IP may prefer that IT and security teams work together to move content to its new location. Microsoft offers a broad range of tools to help you migrate different types of content, depending on your needs:




Manual Upload. You can ask users to manually upload their files to SharePoint or OneDrive. This works best for smaller files like general Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations.
Best for: Moving small individual files


OneDrive Sync App. For individual users who have a lot of content to move, they can install the OneDrive Sync App for Windows or Mac to drag and drop files from file shares or their computer’s File Explorer to OneDrive. This app also lets users easily manage and access OneDrive files in the same way they manage and access files in File Explorer.
Best for: Moving a personal file library to the cloud


SharePoint Migration Tool. You can use the SharePoint Migration Tool (SPMT) to migrate your files from SharePoint on-premises document libraries, lists, or regular files shares.

You can also use the new PowerShell cmdlets based on the SharePoint Migration Tool (SPMT) migration engine to move files from SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013 on-premises document libraries and list items, and file shares to Microsoft 365.
Best for: Migrating SharePoint Server 2010, 2013, and 2016 environments



SharePoint Assessment Tool. You can use this simple command line executable to assess and identify issues with your on-premises SharePoint Server content prior to migration. It also includes the SharePoint Migration Identity Management Tool, that performs identity mapping by scanning SharePoint, Active Directory, and Azure Active Directory.
Best for: Assessing SharePoint Server 2010 and 2013 content prior to migration


Migration Manager. Available in the SharePoint Admin center, Migration Manager provides a centralized way of connecting servers, creating tasks, and automatically distributing your migration tasks.
Best for: Migrating network file shares


Migration manager.png


Mover. Automated cloud-to-cloud migration service for Office 365 tenant-to-tenant migrations or moving from cloud apps like Box and DropBox.
Best for: Migrating data from other cloud service providers




Azure Data Box. The Microsoft Azure Data Box is a service that lets you order a device from the Microsoft Azure portal. You can then copy TBs of data from your servers to the device, ship it back to Microsoft, and your data is copied into Azure. Once your data is in Azure, you can use SPMT to migrate content to SharePoint.
Best for: Removing the dependency on your WAN link to transfer data when migrating files


Plan your migration and communicate the plan


Depending on the tool you choose to use for your migration and your organization’s business needs, you may want to plan your migration during off-work hours or on weekends, if possible, just to avoid disrupting daily business. You may decide to move content and users in waves by business units or teams, or you may decide to move certain content types first—for example, moving smaller documents and working your way up to larger files such as video or CAD files. Whenever and however you decide to move content, you should also create a communications plan, giving people plenty of advanced notice and explaining what they should expect and when. If you have a change management team, you could also work with them on ensuring that documentation and training materials are readily available when the migration begins.


Prepare and run your migration


Before you begin your actual migration, consider running a pilot to ensure you’ve worked out most of the kinks. A successful pilot can help build confidence, especially with leadership and other key stakeholders, and can help you mitigate risks. Select people from across the organization who own data that they are sharing with each other and/or with external parties so you can test how permissions transfer. You can keep your pilot running even during the actual migration just to help minimize surprises.

On the selected migration date—one you’ve communicated ahead of time to everyone in the organization—ensure people cannot edit or add files. We also suggest leveraging the “Big Bang” approach that involves moving all your users at once providing highest concurrency, throughput and speed.

To keep key stakeholders up-to-date on the progress consider publishing a report that highlights data migrated, status and any errors which can be mostly eliminated by re-running your transfers. Once concluded, your change management team can help with user adoption and onboarding for a smooth transition to OneDrive and SharePoint.

Learn more and stay engaged..


Check out all the details on migrating to Microsoft 365 documented here


We are very thrilled to showcase the tools and best practices for migrating to Microsoft 365 . Please join us for these webinars 


Choosing the right tools for your Microsoft 365 migration on April 6, 2021 at 9:00 am PT.

Best practices for data migrations to Microsoft 365 on April 13, 2021 at 9:00 am PT.


Also, check out our latest episode of Sync Up- a OneDrive podcast to hear the experts on success factors that can help you drive an effective migration.



We continue to evolve OneDrive as a place to access, share, and collaborate on all your files in Office 365, keeping them protected and readily accessible on all your devices, anywhere.


You can stay up-to-date on all things via the OneDrive Blog and the OneDrive release notes.

Check out the new and updated OneDrive documentation.

Take advantage of end-user training resources on our Office support center.


Thank you again for your support of OneDrive. We look forward to your continued feedback on UserVoice and hope to connect with you at Ignite or another upcoming Microsoft or community-led event.


Thanks for your time reading all about OneDrive,


Ankita Kirti

OneDrive | Microsoft


Thanks for sharing such information...helps understanding OneDrive and SP in more details...

New Contributor

I am a huge fan of One Drive mainly because of its integration into the OS. However, I strongly advise against using it in a shared working environment where up to date synced data is required.

While manual upload is reliable and links can easily be shared, the syncing app simply does not work "professionally". Changing data frequently - which you do when discussing things via voice chat or screen share - will turn into painfully out of sync results on One Drive, with its single file processing and extreme long delays between checks.

Often enough data will not be synced at all, even restarting the service won't force an update, but you will not get any information about the lack of updates.

My personal experience says: never use One Drive for critical (synced) up to date information, always manually check status of files.

It is unfortunate that - except for actually "shared access" on servers using VPN or other means - even today cooperative work with data poses so much trouble. 

Occasional Visitor

I agree. Lots of good features but this is fundamental. 

Occasional Contributor

@Marc_Albrecht - Could you describe in a bit more detail what you are sharing? Is it a single person's OneDrive that everyone has been given access to or is it a SharePoint library? Or is it something else?

New Contributor



Let me repeat that I like OneDrive. The critics I have to voice are about OneDrive NOT being any choice when working in shared environments with ACTIVE (read: changing) data. It cannot do that, it is using way-too-old single-file-linear-processing, cannot prioritize, does not have a granular "warning" system and too often "forgets" data (or even deletes files when it gets one of its once-a-year hickups).


Like most people reporting these problems around the interwebs (and this for years, if I may say so), it's a common problem in OneDrive with both LOTS of files in directories (think: C++ repositories) due to the single-file-processing, large files (taking longer to sync e.g. due to network issues) and frequent changes (think: every 1-2 minutes) due to the syncing not checking frequently enough. 

In other words: It is the SYNCING that isn't working properly - you never know if a file is "in sync" or if it is not, because OneDrive won't tell you BEFORE it has checked a file (in theory it does, in reality, this isn't really working that great).


Try changing a file OFTEN. Check which revision you get on a remote computer linking to the same OneDrive share. Then do the same while syncing a secondary and a tertiary folder - something not uncommon in a real-world-situation. 


Simple, typical situation: OneDrive is still busy trying to upload a repository of, say, 5GB of data. While it is doing so (on a 100mbps line), you start working. Obviously, you don't just make one change in one file, you make several in several files. Since OneDrive is busy doing its initial upload, chances are that your changes don't get synced before everything else has been uploaded (a simple "async-sync" would do the trick, but OneDrive can't do that) or that one or more files that you changed simply gets forgotten (is never synced again - NEVER). 

You cannot "prioritize" single files. If a file gets forgotten, all you can do is copy its content over to a new file, manually. This is a frequent thing (not just for me, if it was just me I'd say it's the German who's to blame, as usual).


Try working on a share from several machines - after all, we are doing home-officing these days (well, I have been doing home-office for a living for around 35 years, but that's a different story): It is simply IMPOSSIBLE to do that using OneDrive if requirements are that your data is up-to-date anytime you access it (say: open a file). The "natural" thing to expect is that if a file is being opened and it resides on OneDrive, OneDrive FIRST checks if it has to be synced. That does not happen (reliably), you may be opening your local copy (out-of-date) or an interim version (from OneDrive's server, out-of-date as well) OR the most recent version (uploaded from third site). You don't know which one you will get, so you don't know how valid the data is.


This is not even mentioning the fact that running OneDrive someplace else isn't exactly a piece of cake (outside your user's directory on your system drive). Which would be another "natural thing" in a shared environment, obviously. Not going down that rabbit hole just now.


Marc Albrecht


Occasional Contributor

@Marc_Albrecht - Forgive the additional question, but I'm just trying to be clear about what you are doing: Your sync issues aren't about multiple users sharing files kept in one of the user's OneDrive. Your sync issues are simply about you trying to keep your own files in sync between the OneDrive location and the same files on your laptop?

New Contributor

@TLBGT  main issue: My own files aren't synced between 2 or more systems even if those are both connect to the internet (100mbps) and a LAN (1gbps).

side issue: Secondary people accessing download links only have access to the version manually uploaded, NOT to a "synced" version, since the sync is "out of sync" (upload a file, send people a link to that file, observe what I wrote earlier).

Occasional Contributor

@Marc_Albrecht There is a similar issue with shared mailboxes. We beg users to only access them via We beg users not to access shared mailboxes via their Outlook clients because MS can't seem to keep a shared mailbox in sync across multiple clients. Not only that, but in trying to do so, performance goes down the drain. Sound familiar?

New Contributor

@TLBGT I haven't noticed too much of a performance loss, actually (assuming this is because of aforementioned single-file-linear-processing). However, a "syncing" tool that does not "sync" is ... out-of-sync to me (the latter less being tongue-in-cheek but asking "ladies and gentlemen, we're in 2021 by now, not in 1981, shouldn't multi-access-sync work by now?".

Plus, coming back to issue one, if I am the only user with the only account accessing files, why would there be an issue in the first place. Don't get me wrong, I am a software dev, I know "why", but ... WHY!

Why not have an "open count" for OneDrive files? After all, it IS tightly (too tightly I say) integrated into the OS. Why not have a sub-ID per user, where each access gets its own sub-ID, so that out-of-sync-state can be one-id-multiple-sub-id? Why not have a WORKING "flag" system for files that are open across different systems? Why not ... come on, even I could probably fix a few issues and I am an old man with no clue ...


Apologies for the rant. I just wish Ankita Kirti would take notice that her over-the-top-praise of MS' tools isn't echoed quite the way she probably expected.

New Contributor

Oh yes, I was once working for a large arts organisation of about 100-150 staff, and they migrated their entire server to OneDrive... (This was before SharePoint was released) And holy moly!! Imagine 150 staff using the same server, it was insane... So slow, and constantly syncing, clogged the entire internet speed, but was insanely inaccurate with multiple different copies of files that multiple people had open. 


They decided to use it as a file storage server because it was easy to drag and drop files to upload and store etc. But the younger gen and the technologically savvy were using it more for the cloud based  and auto save functionalities. But that cause worse issues because you had 2 different groups of people using the software differently and it really couldn’t keep up. Worst year ever.

Occasional Contributor

This is a thorough guide. Thank you.


May be a checklist can be developed and included as a compressed and summarized version of the guidelines to serve as an actionable manual. It can be shared through a separate document section.

Occasional Visitor

It is good

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