In an interesting turn of events I have moved on from a Senior SharePoint Consultant who would be visiting clients to help support user adoption, dealing with users who did not like change, while in fact never being able to recommend the Modern Experience SharePoint (a bit hypocritical I know!).
I am now a consultant who would not look back, and aim to fully engage with the features and functionality of the Modern Experience, having already delivered intranets using this feature set.
There is loads to talk about within the Modern Experience (and this blog is far from being an exhaustive list), but the focus of this blog was to discuss 10 features that I feel make Intranets great when built within Modern Experience SharePoint.
So let’s begin . . .
1. Save some space with the new Compact Headers
So lots of people have asked for it, and it has been visible within the Ignite Look Book for a few months. The use of compact headers allows for a slight increase of space on the page (although not a massive amount), as opposed to the Standard Headers.
A number of my clients have asked to remove or minimise the header section, and although possible with some bespoke code it is not advised due to changes from Microsoft potentially impacting this.
In my opinion, the navigation that is provided within this header is also confusing to the end user, if utilising the Global Navigation provided by setting a site as a Hub. So during my builds, this tends to be left empty, leading to a further reason as to why using so much space with the Standard Header style is not appropriate.
2. A love-hate relationship with the Hero Banner
It seems as if the SharePoint Population are divided when it comes to the use of the Full-Width Hero Banner. Like Marmite; some people love it and some people hate it. I firmly sit within the “love it” camp, although I can understand reasons to not make use of this feature and I would certainly not want to overuse it!
A Hero Banner/Image is a web design trend that is seen quite frequently, in that a large full-width image is used for a majority of a website’s landing page – although these are starting to be modernised even further with videos.
Another web design trope is talk of “below the fold” or “below the scroll” which both refer to the content that cannot be seen when a website is first loaded, as it would appear below your screen and would only be accessible by scrolling.
The main reason that some users dislike the use of the SharePoint Hero Banner, is due to the amount of space that it takes up on a page. Although I do agree with this, I feel that it creates an attractive Intranet Landing page design with minimal configuration, as well as, being able to link users to core areas of the SharePoint Environment quickly and easily. Personally, I like these to be styled within the 5 tile layout using a mix of imagery, GIFs and colour blocks, but there are many options available to trial.
Within additional pages of the Intranet, I would also utilise the Full-Width Hero Banner, using the Layers style. This provides a set of scrollable text and image sections which alternate. Creating a page in the site, with only this web part, can actually create some unique digital content. As an example I have experimented with this being used for a Locations Page, providing a city image, some description about the location and a call to action to delve further into the SharePoint Environment.
Whether you love it, hate it or have never even tried it I feel that it should be experimented with and should be an option when building your SharePoint Intranet. Don’t forget you can always give it a go and “discard your changes” if you really aren’t happy!
3. Easily share public-facing news articles via the News Link functionality
A common feature of all my Intranet deliveries has been the ability to showcase news from a public website, normally the organisations own. I am always hearing the statement that employees are unlikely to visit their own website when then work for the company, however, this does mean that they may miss out on news articles which do not want to be duplicated for internal use.
Microsoft have now updated their Modern News Web Part to provide the ability to input a “News Link” as opposed to creating a “News Page”. Adding a News Link provides the ability to take any URL from a websites news section and input it into your site – Microsoft will then also be clever in selecting a headline, summary and image for you – but this can all be updated if required.
This action creates a page type of “Repost Page” which is actually a form that can be modified. Currently, this News will appear alongside all other News, unless you configure a site to only host News Links and allow a News Web Part to point at that.
To provide external News we would usually spend time creating an RSS Feed, or try to automate the process of writing News into a SharePoint List to be styled and displayed. Although we are still asked to do this, there is no actual requirement if the Website Team are happy to spend an extra 5 minutes (max!) to copy the URL of their item of news into the relevant SharePoint Site.
Please note that this is not just for your own news, so can be a clever feature for teams if they wish to share articles that they have located of relevance to their projects or department.
4. The simplicity of Team Site Templates and their Navigation
Although this is not a super interesting feature and has been available from the launch of Modern Experience, I still feel it is important to mention for certain elements of an Intranet. The reason for this is due to the availability of the left-hand navigation menu that is utilised throughout the site and its pages.
Think about the creation of a Project Site that may have multiple libraries or a Staff Handbook where users want to easily flick between pages – the left-hand menu is perfect for this, without offering any confusion of utilising 2 navigation bars when using a Communication Site as a Hub.
I believe that both Communication and Team Sites have their place within the Intranet, and mix and match of these will deliver the best user experience.
5. Use the Office Fabric User Interface (UI) to define the branding
Although not a developer, I really appreciate the launch of the Office Fabric User Interface (UI) design guides available at the following site https://developer.microsoft.com/en-us/fabric
As a consultant, this provides me with an interface that can be shared with my clients and helps provide a story behind the selected branding – specifically when it comes to creating custom web parts.
This site also becomes part of a SharePoint Consultancy Tool Kit providing the ability to select from a number of icons and theming options when face to face with a client.
6. Apply Custom Themes to inject your colours and images into the site
Leading on from the Office Fabric UI Website the themes that are trialled within the site can be packaged up and deployed to your SharePoint Environment, making an Intranet with your defined look & feel; be it the corporate colours or a new internal design.
If switching to the Classic “Change the Look” options you are able to also trial the addition of a background image for your site, although do bear in mind that a light or dark overlay (depending on your theming choices for background colour) can impact the image.
All pages, web parts and features where colour is utilised will inherit from your defined branding.
7. Improve branding with the use of Section Colours and Header Styling
Continuing with the theme (pun intended!) of selecting colours is the introduction of Section Colours and Header Styles.
Section Colours enables an additional background colour to be added to one of the sections on your page. A section may be a column, 2 columns, 3 columns or a 1/3 – 2/3 column width design. This means that the colour selected will extend from the far left of the page to the right horizontally as a background to all web parts on the page. Therefore, you may wish to use two separate 3 column sections if you wanted a different section colour to be applied to each.
Header styling now allows for the selection of a Compact style as discussed earlier in the blog, but also allows for the colour to be defined in a similar approach to Section Colours.
SharePoint will provide you with 4 colours options for both sections and headers, based on your overall colour theme. These will be made up of the standard default background colour (either light or dark themed), a light grey, a light version of your define colour scheme and a matching version of your defined colour theme. This provides the option for your sites to be a mix of both bold and subtle elements, depending on your preference.
My preference is to use a dark coloured header and footer section, with white moving through grey to get there, with some occasions requiring a bold section in the middle of the page to split up content if there was to be a lot of scrolling through content. Once again with this being so quick to change, it is worth trialling different design styles until you find the one you like best, you can always discard changes or return to earlier page versions if required throughout this.
8. Use the SharePoint Hub Sites to share branding, navigation and news
If you have read or worked with Modern Experience SharePoint then you are sure to know about the ability to create a Hub Site. A Hub Site allows branding and global navigation to be shared across multiple Site Collections which are built as associated sites. Content on the individual sites can also be configured to be shown within the Hub if required, for example, all departmental sites can post their own news with the latest articles appearing on your main Intranet Landing page, hosted on your Hub Site.
Originally Hub Sites could be generated with some PowerShell, but now it is as simple as pushing a button within the Modern Experience SharePoint Admin Centre. Associating sites can then be simply configured through the “Site Information” panel or will be associated by default if the “New Site” creation process begins from within the Hub Site itself.
In some organisations, multiple Hub Sites may be utilised to represent areas of a business or locations etc… This would allow for each Hub to have a different set of themes, and associated sites could be switched between them due to organisational restructure or projects being moved locations. This is a really useful feature to ensure that full site rebuild or site theming does not need to take place again, saving time, effort and money.
9. Extend your Intranet with Page Copying and/or Site Provisioning
When pressing “New” on a SharePoint Modern Page that you have built, the option of “Copy of this Page” appears, this is a really useful feature to quickly roll out a number of similar pages to ensure a consistent styling is present. For example, if generating an online version of your Staff Handbook in which you are keeping the same page design and layout then creating a copy for each page, and slightly tweaking the configuration options and text saves a large amount of delivery/build time. This feature also ensures that pages remain the same even if built by differing resources within the organisation.
Taking the process of copying even further is the ability to utilise Patterns and Practices (PNP) Site Provisioning, which is a set of development features to allows for the rollout of a Site Design (branding and theming) as well as building an entire replication of an existing Site Collection as a new one. Luckily I work in a team of talented developers who are able to roll this out for me, as it is not a simple configuration option provided by SharePoint.
Once Site Provisioning is made available, it becomes easy to generate core elements of your Intranet with minor configuration options needed. For example, the creation of Project Sites, Departmental Sites and Location Sites becomes less of an administration overhead and allows for the Site Collections to all be built with the same structure, same branding and be attached to the relevant Hub Site for sharing and roll-up of information.
10. Utilise SharePoint Framework (SPFX) to build custom web parts
As mentioned previously having a team of talented developers within AMT Evolve allows for a near-endless approach to creating modules and solutions.
The release of the SharePoint Framework (SPFX) provided the team with the ability to create web parts that matched the look and feel of the items that you get Out-of-the-Box. These are easily deployed through your App Catalog Site and can then be added and configured as if they were a part of your standard SharePoint environment, the majority of users would not even know that they were custom.
In a matter of months, AMT Evolve has already been able to roll out a large number of custom parts such as; Tiles, Organisation Charts, RSS Feeds, World Clocks, Weather Feeds, Carousels, Alerts and many more. Each of these web parts are improved and developed to give the end user a large amount of customisation options to create their Intranet without needing to spend too much time utilising bespoke code.
Please note that Microsoft are currently extending the SharePoint Framework solution to allow for applications to also be built within Microsoft Word and Microsoft Teams. This means that the framework will be going through a name change as it is becoming larger than just SharePoint, so for the time being, it may be seen as XFX until this has been fully defined.
In summary, there are a number of great features in SharePoint Modern Experience and not all have been covered within this blog post. The main lesson to take away is that if you are looking to develop an Intranet via digital transformation then the SharePoint Modern Experience is certainly worth consideration;