I wrote a few months ago that Microsoft Teams was going to be a big deal, and a key part of Microsoft's Modern Workplace strategy around Office 365. That was only a few weeks after the initial preview release. Now that it has launched in general release, I thought I’d share some observations gleaned from our company’s use of Teams for the past four months.
Still using Email for your internal communications?
Some sort of instant messaging/chat application has been part of our company’s culture for many years. If your company has never tried one, you owe it to yourself to give it a shot. Email is still the best method for some types of messages, especially to customers, but most internal conversations are handled much better as chats. It may take some adjustment at first, but you will soon wonder how you did without. Quite frankly, there is no way we could go back to email as a primary means of internal communication – I think we’d have a staff mutiny on our hands!
So we've fully embraced Teams at Castema, and here are some ways we’ve found Teams helps us on a day-to-day basis.
How do you define a Team?
Teams is organized, as you might expect, around the concept of a Team, which could be a project-oriented cross-functional team, or a department within your organization, or a combination of both. Teams can even include contributors outside your organization, whether partners, vendors, or customers. Getting the right layout and organization that reflects how your company works is important to make sure people see it as part of their workflow.
Within each team, you can create multiple channels to organize your conversation threads. We use these to make announcements, ask questions, and provide updates about projects or things we’re working on. Examples of teams in our office are Tech Team, Quotes and Orders, Executive, and Companywide. Within the Tech Team, there are channels for Project Status Updates, Links to Technology Articles, Training, and General discussion. Team members can choose to see updates only when they look for them, or to subscribe to notifications for important channels. If you want to make sure someone sees something you’re posting, just @-mention the person or the team, and they will receive a notification. Key lessons here are to start slow, experiment a little, and don’t be afraid to make adjustments to the structure if tweaks are needed.
Deep Office 365 integration brings everything together
As a communications platform, Teams works well, but its real value becomes apparent in the deep integration with Office 365, as well as the available extensions. If any of your staff works remotely, even some of the time, Teams helps bring the staff together, whether they’re in the office or not.
Let’s say I’m text chatting in a team channel with a coworker, and we want to go over a document or spreadsheet. Either of us can attach the file to a chat message, and it automatically gets saved to a team-specific SharePoint site just for our team. From there, we can both click on the file and open it in an editor to review and simultaneously edit the file, all the while chatting about the document in a Teams window pane right alongside the file. If we want to go beyond that, a voice or video call with the teammate is just a click away (Skype technology is embedded in Teams), including the ability to share our screens with each other. All this time, we haven’t left Teams.
If we need to schedule some future time to continue working together, the meetings tab lets us schedule a Teams meeting, showing both of our availability, and automatically adding the meeting to our Outlook calendars. The calendar appointment automatically includes a link to get us right into the meeting in Teams.
Customize and make it your own
If there are web-based applications, document libraries, or partner sites we frequently use, Teams lets us create custom tabs in each channel so we can access those with a click. This saves time and helps ensure people are using Teams as their workspace, as it helps them get what they need quickly with no need to hunt around outside the application. This includes links to other Office 365 apps, like Planner and Power BI, or even a tab for an individual file, like a pinned document, or frequently used templates. We can also link to outside addresses, like a vendor’s portal to get pricing information or place orders, for example.
Vendors are also releasing custom tabs and pages you can add into Teams as extensions, and I haven't even touched on the Bots, which offer lots of automation possibilities, some very useful and some just for fun.
While I’ve focused on Teams for its productivity benefits, there are some fun aspects too, and those are often just as important to team morale. The ability to respond to teammates with something goofy like an animated gif, sticker, meme, or emoji have led to the team laughing more and keeping momentum together as a group.
Is it right for you?
As you might expect for a technology company, we’re constantly trying out innovative solutions that we think our customers (and we!) could benefit from. Over the years, we’ve used many different chat applications: Skype (pre-Microsoft), Lync, HipChat, Skype for Business, Glip, Groups, and now Teams, as our communications platforms. Teams is easily the most comprehensive of these applications; calling it just a chat client would be like taking a smartphone and only talking about its ability to make phone calls. While not without its flaws (and some early-release growing pains), Teams so far has earned a well-deserved thumbs-up from our crew.