SharePoint Online is a powerful collaboration platform that empowers organizations to manage and share information effectively. However, when it comes to structuring your SharePoint Online environment, there’s an ongoing debate about whether to use subsites or not. In this article, I’ll explain why you might want to think twice before creating subsites in SharePoint Online.
One of the most significant drawbacks of subsites is that they can make your SharePoint environment overly complex. Each subsite adds an additional layer to your site hierarchy, making it challenging for users to navigate. This complexity can lead to confusion, with users struggling to find the information they need. A cluttered, convoluted structure can hinder productivity and user adoption.
Managing permissions within SharePoint can already be a challenging task. Subsites exacerbate this issue. Each subsite has its own permission settings, potentially requiring administrators to configure permissions multiple times. This not only increases the administrative workload but also raises the risk of security misconfigurations, such as unintended data exposure or overly restrictive access.
Subsites are often created to mimic the structure of a traditional file server or to separate content by department or project. However, as your organization grows and changes, these subsites can become rigid and difficult to adapt. Reorganizing or restructuring subsites can be a time-consuming and complicated process, leading to resistance from users who have become accustomed to the existing structure.
The same argument applies to using folders in document libraries instead of the modern approach, which uses metadata. I’ll save that for another day.
Subsites can inadvertently encourage content isolation, where teams or departments work in silos. This isolation can hinder collaboration and knowledge sharing across the organization. Ideally, SharePoint should facilitate a more integrated and cohesive approach to information sharing, breaking down silos rather than reinforcing them.
While SharePoint Online is designed to handle large amounts of data (and I mean tens of millions of items per list/library), subsites can affect performance if not managed properly. Each subsite contributes to the overall storage usage, and excessive subsites can lead to increased storage costs. Additionally, if subsites are created without considering their impact on performance, it can lead to slower load times and decreased user satisfaction.
Fortunately, SharePoint Online offers alternatives to subsites that can help you achieve your collaboration goals more effectively. Hub sites, for instance, provide a way to organize and connect related sites without the hierarchical structure of subsites. This approach promotes a more flexible and scalable information architecture.
The Bottom Line
In conclusion, while subsites can serve a purpose in certain situations, it’s essential to carefully consider the implications of their use in SharePoint Online. In many cases, a flat, hub-based site structure and careful planning of permissions can provide a more straightforward, user-friendly, and adaptable SharePoint experience. By avoiding the pitfalls of subsites, you can make the most of SharePoint Online’s capabilities and enhance collaboration within your organization.