Faster Access to Office Files in Microsoft Teams

While we were answering (or more appropriately, attempting to answer) questions on this week’s webcast of the Microsoft Community Office Hours, one particular question popped-up that got me thinking and playing around a bit. The question was from David Cummings, and here was what David submitted in its entirety:

with the new teams meeting experience, not seeing Teams under Browse for PowerPoint, I’m aware that they are constantly changing the file sharing experience, it seems only way to do it is open sharepoint ,then sync to onedrive and always use upload from computer and select the location,but by this method we will have to sync for most of our users that use primarily teams at our office

Reading David’s question/request, I thought I understood the situation he was struggling with. There didn’t seem to be a way to add an arbitrary location to the list of OneDrive for Business locations and SharePoint sites that he had Office accounts signed into … and that was causing him some pain and (seemingly) unnecessary work steps.

What I’m about to present isn’t groundbreaking information, but it is something I’d forgotten about until recently (when prompted by David’s post) and was happy to still find present in some of the Office product dialogs.

Can't Get There From Here

I opened-up PowerPoint and started poking around the initial page that had options to open, save,  export, etc.,for PowerPoint presentations. Selecting the Open option on the far left yielded an “Open” column like the one seen on the left.

The “Open” column provided me with the option to save/load/etc. from a OneDrive location or the any of the SharePoint sites associated with an account that had been added/attached to Office, but not an arbitrary Microsoft Teams or SharePoint site.

SharePoint and OneDrive weren’t the only locations from which files could be saved or loaded. There were also a handful of other locations types that could be integrated, and the options to add those locations appeared below the “Open” column: This PC, Add a Place, and Browse.

Selecting This PC swapped-out the column of documents to the right of the “Open” column with what I regarded as a less-functional local file system browser. Selecting Add a Place showed some potential promise, but upon further investigation I realized it was a glorified OneDrive browser: 

But selecting Browse gave me what appeared to be a Windows common file dialog. As I suspected, though, there were actually some special things that could be done with the dialog that went beyond the local file system:

It was readily apparent upon opening the Browse file dialog that I could access local and mapped drives to save, load, or perform other operations with PowerPoint presentations, and this was consistent across Microsoft Office. What wasn’t immediately obvious, though, was that the file dialog had unadvertised goodies.

Dialog on Steroids

What wasn’t readily apparent from the dialog’s appearance and labels was that it had the ability to open SharePoint-resident files directly. It could also be used to browse SharePoint site structures and document libraries to find a file (or file location) I wished to work with.

Why should I care (or more appropriately, why should David care) that this can be done? Because SharePoint is the underlying storage location for a lot of the data -including files – that exist and are surfaced in Microsoft Teams.

Don’t believe me? Follow along as I run a scenario that highlights the SharePoint functionality in-action through a recent need of my own.

Accounts Accounts Everywhere

As someone who works with quite a few different organizations and IT shops, it probably comes as no real surprise for me to share that I have a couple dozen sets of Microsoft 365 credentials (i.e., usernames and associated passwords). I’m willing to bet that many of you are in a similar situation and wish there were a faster way to switch between accounts since it seems like everything we need to work with is protected by a different login.

Office doesn’t allow me to add every Microsoft 365 account and credential set to the “quick access” list that appears in Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc. I have about five different accounts and associated locations that I added to my Office quick access location list. This covers me in the majority of daily circumstances, but there are times when I want to work with a Teams site or other repository that isn’t on my quick access list and/or is associated with a seldom-used credential set.

A Personal Example

Not too long ago, I had the privilege of delivering a SharePoint Online performance troubleshooting session at our recent M365 Cincinnati & Tri-State Virtual Friday event. Fellow MVP Stacy Deere-Strole and her team over at Focal Point Solutions have been organizing these sorts of events for the Cincinnati area for the last bunch of years, but the pandemic affecting everyone necessitated some changes this year. So this year, Stacy and team spun up a Microsoft Team in the Microsoft Community Teams environment to coordinate sessions and speaker activities (among other things).

Like a lot of speakers who present on Microsoft 365 topics, I have a set of credentials in the msftcommunity.com domain, and those are what I used to access the Teams team associated with M365 Cincinnati virtual event:

When I was getting my presentation ready for the event, I needed access to a couple of PowerPoint presentations that were stored in the Teams file area (aka, the associated SharePoint Online document library). These PowerPoint files contained slides about the event, the sponsors, and other important information that needed to be included with my presentation:

At the point when I located the files in the Teams environment, I could have downloaded them to my local system for reference and usage. If I did that, though, I wouldn’t have seen any late-breaking changes that might have been introduced to the slides just prior to the virtual event.

So, I decided to get a SharePoint link to each PowerPoint file through the ellipses that appeared after each file like this:

Choosing Copy Link from the context-sensitive menu popped-up another dialog that allowed me to choose either a Microsoft Teams link or a SharePoint file link. In my case, I wanted the SharePoint file link specifically:

Going back to PowerPoint, choosing Open, selecting Browse, and supplying the link I just copied from Teams …

… got me this dialog:

Well that wasn’t what I was hoping to see at the time.

I remembered the immortal words of Douglas Adams, “Don’t Panic” and reviewed the link more closely. I realized that the “can’t open” dialog was actually expected behavior, and it served to remind me that there was just a bit of cleanup I needed to do before the link could be used.

Reviewing the SharePoint link in its entirety, this is what I saw:

https://msftcommunity.sharepoint.com/sites/M365CincinnatiTriStateUserGroup-Speakers/_layouts/15/Doc.aspx?OR=teams&action=edit&sourcedoc={C8FF1D53-3238-44EA-8ECF-AD1914ECF6FA}

Breaking down this link, I had a reference to a SharePoint site’s Doc.aspx page in the site’s _LAYOUTS special folder. That was obviously not the PowerPoint presentation of interest. I actually only cared about the site portion of the link, so I modified the link by truncating everything from /_layouts to the end. That left me with:

https://msftcommunity.sharepoint.com/sites/M365CincinnatiTriStateUserGroup-Speakers

I went back into PowerPoint with the modified site link and dropped it in the File name: textbox (it could be placed in either the File name: textbox or the path textbox at the top of the dialog; i.e., either of the two areas boxed in red below):

When I clicked the Open button after copying in the modified link, I experienced some pauses and prompts to login. When I supplied the right credentials for the login prompt(s) (in my case, my @msftcommunity.com credentials), I eventually saw the SharePoint virtual file system of the associated Microsoft Team:

The PowerPoint files of interest to me were going to be in the Documents library. When I drilled into Documents, I was aware that I would encounter a layer of folders: one folder for each Channel in the Team that had files associated with it (i.e., for each channel that has files on its Files tab).  It turns out that only the Speakers channel had files, so I saw: 

Drilling into the Speakers folder revealed the two PowerPoint presentations I was interested in:

And when I selected the desired file (boxed above) and clicked the Open button, I was presented with what I wanted to see in PowerPoint:

Getting Back

At this point, you might be thinking, “That seems like a lot of work to get to a PowerPoint file in SharePoint.” And honestly, I couldn’t argue with that line of reasoning. 

Where this approach starts to pay dividends, though, is when we want to get back to that SharePoint document library to work with additional files – like the other PowerPoint file I didn’t open when I initially went in to the document library.

Upon closing the original PowerPoint file containing the slides I needed to integrate, PowerPoint was kind enough to place a file reference in the Presentations area/list of the Open page:

That file reference would hang around for quite some time depending on how many different files I would open over time. If I wanted the file I just worked with to hang around longer, I always had the option of pinning it to list.

But if I was done with that specific file, what do I care? Well, you may recall that there’s still another file I needed to work with in that resides in the same SharePoint location … so while the previous file reference wasn’t of any more use to me, the location where it was stored was something I had an interest in.

Fun fact: each entry in the Presentations tab has a context-sensitive menu associated with it. When I right-clicked the highlighted filename/entry, I saw:

And when I clicked the Open file location menu selection, I was taken back to the document library where both of the PowerPoint files resided:

Re-opening the SharePoint document library may necessitate re-authenticating a time or two along the way … but if I’m still within the same PowerPoint session and authenticated to the SharePoint site housing the files at the time, I won’t be prompted.

Either way, I find this “repeat experience” more streamlined than making lots of local file copies, remembering specific locations where files are stored, etc.

Conclusion

This particular post didn’t really break any new ground and may be common information to many of you. My memory isn’t what it once was, though, and I’d forgotten about the “file dialogs on steroids” when I stopped working regularly with SharePoint Designer a number of years back. I was glad to be reminded thanks to David.

If nothing else, I hope this post served as a reminder to some that there’s more than one way to solve common problems and address recurring needs. Sometimes all that is required is a bit of experimentation.

References and Resources

My Foray Into Office Feng Shui

Sometimes reorganizing a space, like a home office, generates greater benefits than just a more organized space.

Just to level-set at the start: this is not a technical post, and I’m talking about my personal office – not Microsoft Office. Now, with those disclaimers out of the way …

What Exactly Am I Writing About?

When we moved into our current home six or seven years ago, one thing I felt I needed was a proper office. In our old house, I worked out of our unfinished basement, and I’ll be honest: it was depressing. Despite my attempts to “liven up the place” with things like Christmas lights, the only natural light I received while working was provided by three small glass block windows.

And when I say the basement was “unfinished,” I really mean it. Through sheer dumb luck, the table I worked at was also the location of some sort of recessed drain access in the cement floor. I managed to get my office chair wheels stuck in that recess about half a dozen times a day. My chair would nearly tip over whenever that happened.

I think the image I’m painting is bleak enough. I’ll spare you from additional details, like when our sewer line collapsed and the resulting back-up invaded my “workplace.”

I Needed A Proper Office

Hopefully that point is obvious.

The criteria I had when we were looking for a new house six or seven years ago was an office that (a) was at ground level (or higher), and (b) had a proper window. Nothing too excessive, and easily met by my current office.

Below are some images of how my office was set up when we first moved in. Many people say it kind of looks like a college dorm room with the Christmas lighting – a point I can’t argue against.

This configuration worked well enough for a while, but over time I grew more and more dissatisfied with it for the following reasons:

  1. I didn’t make particularly good use of the space I had … and over time, piles grew on every exposed surface.
  2. I used the filing cabinet (it came with the house), but I hated the filing cabinet and the way it jutted out into the room.
  3. My wife regularly registered grievances with the one-off, mismatched furniture. And she hated all the cords everywhere. And the fact that my lighting choices were circa 1995.

Why Did I Do It That Way In The First Place?

If you’re asking that question, it’s a good one. The reason, quite simply, was time. The week that we moved into our home was also the week my wife went in for breast cancer surgery. After the surgery came chemotherapy and then radiation treatments. If you’ve never been with someone going through cancer treatment, then I’ll give you the short version: it knocks them on their ass.

Brendan and Sabrina: Easter 2012

Our children were only about five at the time, and they were still in daycare on the west side of Cincinnati – a good 30-40 minutes away. So, with my wife out of commission, I’d have to run them to daycare in the morning, come back, and then do the reverse in the evening. Between taking care of the family and trying to find time to work, reorganizing my office was the last thing I had on my mind.

But redoing my office was a topic that kept coming up again and again. And so at the start of 2019, with encouragement from my wife, I decided it was finally time to do something.

Office 2.0: The Plan

About the only aspect of my office that I really liked and wanted to keep was the Ikea furniture that I purchased and put together just before we moved in (a desk and a corner table).

Step one of “my plan” was to start getting rid of a lot of old books and associated materials. Technology consulting is a brutal field to be in from the perspective of trying to stay up-to-date on changes and new trends. Most of the books on my shelves weren’t just old, they were ancient.

For example, as much as I loved Practical Standards for Microsoft Visual Basic, it was published about 20 years ago. The things I learned from reading it are still applicable today in slightly modified form (lots of good information/guidance on code readability, documentation, etc), but extended support on VB6 ended in 2008 – over ten years ago.

I ended up getting rid of most of the books I’d bought and inherited over the years. Any that other authors and friends had signed were spared (couldn’t let those go!), as were copies of books that John Ferringer and I co-authored. Other than those that met the narrow range of criteria, any books that were clearly out-of-date were expunged.

With the books gone, I was able to start removing the ugly bookshelves. In truth, it wasn’t a seamless process by any stretch. I had to stage a lot of my office content in the entryway and living room just so I had room to maneuver and manipulate the office space.

Rebuilding from the Ashes

No fires were set; I’m speaking metaphorically when I say “ashes.”

With the old bookshelves gone, I was able to put in new ones that did a much better job utilizing my limited office space. And I was also able to address one of my wife’s standing grievances; i.e., that nothing (or very little) in my office matched.

I again decided to look for bookshelves on Ikea’s site (since my computer desk and corner table were of Ikea design), and I landed on the Brimnes Bookcase. By my rough math, I could get four of them in the office, they were available in black, and I thought they’d work equally well for both books and storage.

When my wife and I got to the Ikea store in West Chester, though, Ikea only had two of the four bookcases in stock that I had come to pick up (despite me doing an inventory check before coming up and successfully purchasing four for pickup). So the remaining two bookshelves were delivered about a week after I got the first two, and I got to work on the two bookcases I had once we got home:

Below is a comparison of the front of my office both with and without the new Brimnes bookcases. I could have used a little more clearance on the sides of the bookcases nearest the office doors, but things went in pretty well.

Let There Be Light!

There were two more things I was hoping to achieve with my office reorg. One of them was being able to finally have some clear desk space, because I always had junk galore on every surface. I didn’t want to keep things that way indefinitely, but I simply had no place to put everything with the old office.

Once I had a place for everything in my office (and quite a bit of extra space, actually), then I should be able to adhere to a “clean desk policy” – or as close as I could get to it – with a little discipline. And I’m happy to report that I’ve largely been able to do that.

The other thing I wanted to do was “grow up” a little bit – at least with my lighting. I am in my mid-to-late 40’s, so I figured it was high time I upped my lighting game.

The immediate problem was that I really still loved multicolor lighting! With some hunting, I managed to find something that nailed my needs straightaway in a very adult/grown-up fashion: Philips Hue Lighting.

Hue Lighting is incredibly flexible. I opted for the bulbs and system that supports changing colors, and it’s wonderful. Let me be clear about an important fact, though: Hue is NOT cheap. It seemed that the cheapest way to buy a bunch of bulbs was to buy a few starter kits, so I have a couple of extra lighting bridges (to tie the lighting into the home wifi) I’m not currently using. If my existing Hue bridge ever goes south, I have a couple of backups.

Since Hue ties into Alexa, I control everything from the Amazon Echo devices we have in nearly every room. And the Hue App for smartphones makes editing lighting configurations easy – and comes with some defaults that produce nice results regardless of the number of Hue bulbs you might have active in the room.

The Results

Below are some office shots with all the bookshelves in place and nearly everything the way I wanted it. Even though I’ve got my lights turned on, these were taken during the day.

To see the true effects of the Hue colored lights, I had to take some night shots:

The last three shots in the series immediately above are of the same office corner; the only real difference is the Hue lighting preset I activated in the system before taking the shots.

Conclusions

In addition to now having an office that fits me better, I discovered a thing or two I really wasn’t expecting as I undertook the overhauling and process:

  1. For me, a cluttered office contributes strongly to my feeling of being unorganized. When I started clearing my desk off and putting things away more regularly, I felt much more “with it.” The effect was almost tangible in a way I never would have expected.
  2. Having room to actually put things away is important to maintaining control over your office environment. Heck, I would argue that addage is true in most rooms and environment. The saying “out of sight, out of mind” holds its weight for me.

Now that I’ve had my office squared away for a few months, I’ve begun the process of organizing the unfinished part of the basement which acts as my server room and hardware workshop. That area needs organization probably worse than my office ever did … but I’ll save that for another time and another post.

References and Resources

  1. Book: Practical Standards for Microsoft Visual Basic
  2. Microsoft: Search Product Lifecycle
  3. LinkedIn: John Ferringer
  4. Ikea: Brimnes Bookcase
  5. Product: Philips Hue Lighting
  6. Amazon: Philips Hue Starter Kit