Team Sites vs. Communication Sites in SharePoint Online

SharePoint content management: 2 paradigms

With clients, I talk about dividing SharePoint content into two categories:

  1. Bottom-up: content that’s created and shared collaboratively by many users and potentially consumed by even more users.  This can be expanded to include more tightly-governed document management paradigms as well.
  2. Top-down: content that’s curated by a select few users and consumed by many.  In legacy SharePoint, this content typically belonged in Publishing Sites.

Bottom-up: Team Sites

First out of the gate in SharePoint Online were Modern Team Sites (powered by Office Groups), which provide a great way to collaborate on “bottom-up” content with a team.

Top-down: Communication Sites

Released in June, Communication Sites are modern SharePoint’s answer to “top-down” publishing.

Team Sites vs. Communication Sites

new site

Below are the main differences between Team Sites and Communication Sites in SharePoint Online.  Keep these in mind when creating a site, and your SharePoint admin will thank you….

Communication sites aren’t connected to an Office Group

team site.pngBecause Team Sites are built with collaboration in mind, creating a Team Site in SharePoint Online automatically creates an Office Group behind the scenes.  In addition to a SharePoint site to share news and documents, you get a shared calendar and inbox in Outlook, a Planner tasks board and a OneNote notebook.

When you create a Communication Site, no Office Group is created behind the scenes.

Communication sites are private by default

Creating a new Team Site from SharePoint Home prompts you to select Privacy Settings, which are set to Public by default.

You’re then immediately prompted to add team members right on the Create Site page.

snip_20170630105629.pngContrarily, creating a Communication Site doesn’t prompt you to add members.  Instead, you’ll need to click Share site from the site’s home page; adding users assigns them read access by default.



Different default home pages

After creating a Team Site, you’re taken to a home page that’s pre-configured for collaboration, featuring a News web part and Site Activity that highlights recent documents and pages on the site.



Creating a Communication Site prompts you to select from 3 default designs: TopicShowcase or Blank.

Creating the site takes you to a home page matching your selected design:


Different navigation

Communication Sites feature Top Navigation by default rather than the Quick Launch (left) navigation that ships with Team Sites.


snip_20170630123155.pngAnd because there’s no left navigation, the Search box moves to the upper right on Communication Sites pages, beneath the new Share site button and the familiar Follow button.


Team Sites , which are connected to an Office Group, gain 3 unique navigation experiences that you won’t find on Communication sites:

Quick navigation to Office Groups features

Clicking the name of the Team Site or the site icon pops up a dialog with navigation to other Groups features like Planner, Conversations and the OneNote notebook:


Add links to Office Groups features in left navigation

You can also add links to the aforementioned Office Groups features in the Quick Launch (left) navigation while editing:


Members and Conversations

snip_20170630123305.pngFinally, Team Sites show a summary of team members and a link to team conversations in the upper right-hand corner of the site navigation.

This helps to further emphasize the collaborative, “bottom-up” nature of Team Sites, where visitors to the site are likely to want to know who else is a part of the team.

Final thoughts

Aside from these main differences, Team Sites and Communication Sites are actually very similar:

  • snip_20170630134904.pngBoth have Pages libraries to house pages and News, where you can access all of the new page layouts and web parts
  • Everything you can do with a page on a Communication site you can do with a page on a Team site, including customizing the header image (finally!)
  • Both ship with Documents and Site Asset libraries
  • Both provide the ability to publish News that appears on SharePoint Home to users who follow the site

Users still must follow a Communication Site to always see News from that site on SharePoint Home.  I had hoped that Communication Sites would provide a way to kindly *ahem* shove content down users’ throats, but it appears the News feature on SharePoint Home is strictly opt-in for now.

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