Office Online Chat—Easily the Best New Office 365 Feature this Year!

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Office Online Chat—Easily the Best New Office 365 Feature this Year!

Despite Google’s best efforts and some back-and-forth, Microsoft Office has remained the most popular choice for business document creation. Practically every young man or woman entering the workforce will have at least a basic proficiency with the application suite.

The introduction of Office Online, the SaaS version of Office (aka Office 365 Online), has only increased Microsoft’s edge. The power and flexibility of Word, Excel, OneNote, and PowerPoint have always been greater than their Google Apps counterparts; and power and flexibility are what businesses of all sizes need.

Although Microsoft is constantly updating Office Online with new features and fixes, there is one area in which Google has historically held the advantage. Built from the ground up as a cloud-based application suite, the collaboration and sharing features of Google Apps have outshined those of Microsoft Office.

At least, they did until recently. Leveraging their proven Skype for Business technology, Microsoft has at last added a key feature to Office Online that Google users have enjoyed for years. Years in the making, it is finally possible for document editors to chat with each other while editing a document, right from within the application window.

Perhaps is doesn’t sound like an amazing accomplishment. However, it’s exactly the key feature Microsoft needed to place Office Online as the unequivocal best choice in collaborative document creation.

Getting Started with Office Online Chat

Word Online Chat

As a cloud-based feature, Office Online chat requires that documents be stored in the cloud. Either OneDrive or SharePoint Online may be used for this purpose, and the feature works with all existing Office Online applications.

If your documents are not currently stored online, simply click File, then Save As. Select your company OneDrive or SharePoint Online space as the location. If you are not already using this type of cloud storage, you may need to first click Add a Place.

After saving the document to the cloud, click File, then Share, and then Share with people. Type in the email addresses of your coworkers who should have access to the document, or their names if they are listed in your contacts.

If you are migrating multiple documents to the new service, it may be easier to share from the OneDrive or SharePoint Online interface. This allows you to share more than one document at the same time.


After sharing, and once your collaborators are logged in and viewing the document with you, you should see their names at the top right of the browser window. To the right of the list of editors is the new Chat feature, represented by a blue “speech bubble” icon.

Clicking the speech bubble causes the new chat pane to pop up on the right side of the screen. Other document editors will see that you have initiated a chat session, and can open up their own chat windows. Messaging is very fast and easy, feels very snappy, and is generally a pleasure to use. In a nice touch, Microsoft even implemented their standard Skype emoticons.

Making the Most of Office Online Chat

Collaboration and geographical disparity are two realities of the modern workplace. Even as companies learn the value of teamwork and allowing their employees to work in tight-knit units, they are also learning the benefits of remote work and telecommuting.

The result is that employees are effectively asked to work closer together while remaining physically further apart. This is where collaboration software shines, and why the technology has advanced so far, so quickly. Microsoft Office Online allows people halfway across the world to work on the same document at the same time, to much the same effect as if they were sitting at the same desk.

The new chat feature is not the first step Office Online has taken towards optimizing collaboration. In fact, chat is not the be-all, end-all of collaborating with Office Online. Rather, it complements the existing document markup features, like comments and suggestions.

To make the most of Office Online chat, employees should be trained in the appropriate use of each feature. Chat is quick and easy, is not saved after the document is closed, and cannot be attached to individual pieces of the document. It exists separately from the document, but attached to it.

Document markups are slower to use, because they convey more information. They can be used to offer concrete suggestions on document content, or to tag text for later reference.

  • Do use chat to ask quick questions about the document as a whole
  • Don’t use chat to point out specific aspects of the document, like a paragraph of text or a particular formula
  • Do use chat to keep up a running dialog as editing progresses, keeping all team members in sync
  • Do not use chat to keep a record of changes or make notes of tasks yet to be completed

[Image 3 source:]

Even before chat was implemented, Office Online offered a very complete set of document markup features. These allow users to highlight or comment on text, as well as propose changes that can be accepted or rejected. Document markups still have important uses.

  • Do use markups to draw collaborators’ attention to specific pieces of a document
  • Don’t use markups to converse about the general direction of the document, identify its audience, or announce that you are going to lunch
  • Do use markups to offer specific advice. A markup can be used to make a suggested change to the document, which the editor in charge of that section can accept as-is, modify, or reject entirely
  • Don’t leave markups in the document after the team has finished work. Unlike chat, markups remain until deleted/marked complete or the file is saved to another format (such as PDF).

In essence, chat replaces a verbal conversation. It carries information in an ephemeral way, and is meant to facilitate communication during editing. Document markups replace an editor’s red pen. They are meant to represent concrete changes to be made to the document. Both features have their place, and they combine to make Office Online a truly excellent tool for collaborative document creatin