Microsoft Teams: More than just a 'chat-based workspace'

You’ll have gathered from my previous blogs that, in my considered opinion and with the benefit of many years of experience, Microsoft Office 365 is the standard by which all other productivity suites should be measured. Sure, there is competition from Google Apps and the like (by all means argue their case if you wish), but they all play second fiddle to Office 365.

However, I was starting to get the feeling that my colleagues were getting a bit sick of me droning on about ‘Office 365 this…’, ‘SharePoint that…..’ and ‘Skype the other….’

My new puppy, Willow

That led me to think I needed something new in my life, which came in the shape of Willow, the miniature Dachshund we bought as a companion for our family dog, Sadie. If you thought I could rattle on about Office 365, Willow is off the scale as a topic of conversation, and regular ‘pupdates’ are thrust on colleagues whether they like it or not (I’m fairly certain they do!)

But then all hell breaks loose, although thankfully not on the dog behaviour front. We’re back to Office 365, which has more new releases than Justin Bieber – Planner, Flow, PowerApps, Bookings. AND NOW…the big one!

Microsoft Teams.

I have to admit this wave of new applications has caused some confusion and plenty of questions, such as “do I use Yammer or Teams?” or “do I need to build my company department/team structure in SharePoint, or do I use Office 365 Group Team Sites or Teams?”

To fully understand the benefits that these Office 365 innovations will bring, it’s worth looking at how we used to set up collaborative environments when we only had SharePoint. I’d also be the first to acknowledge that SharePoint has had as many detractors as advocates.

In simple terms (although not always simple to do in practice) we would start by designing our SharePoint structure with sites and sub-sites, and then manage the numerous groups and permissions that would control and restrict access to specific areas.

This all required pretty high level SharePoint and Active Directory skills, especially once you’d added forms and workflows into the mix for holiday requests, incident management, etc. If I’m honest, the end result could be a complex beast and the whole process is probably what put some people off SharePoint and why, without the input of experienced experts, some projects stalled before they really got started.

Office 365 has simplified the process dramatically with set-up, management and ongoing development all driven from Office 365 Groups, making both design and administration far easier. In essence, it’s possible to effectively evolve an intranet by defining Office 365 groups rather than undertaking a complex design and planning project in SharePoint.

The interesting thing, at least from the perspective of a dyed-in-the-wool SharePoint aficionado, is that SharePoint still plays a key role, although it’s far less visible. Because Planner, Teams and Office 365 Groups all effectively use SharePoint as their core platform.

So what does a typical Teams implementation look like in this wonderful new world?

  • Determine the organisation’s Location/Department/Team structures
  • From the above, create the required Office 365 Groups and Group Team Sites (these new Group Team Sites effectively evolve into the ‘Intranet’ providing the platform for Teams and Groups to share information with the wider company)
  • Use Microsoft Teams to create your Teams (effectively sub-groups), using the option to link to the relevant Office 365 Groups
  • For each Team, create a link to the associated Group Team Site

So what does that give us?

For each Office 365 Group we now have a Microsoft Team environment providing:

  • Channels to organise the Team’s functions 
  • Multi-Team chat
  • Individual Team/Channel conversations
  • Team/Channel document management (shared and private via SharePoint)
  • Online telephone and video meetings 
  • Activity views
  • Meetings views (with integration to Office 365 Calendar)
  • Files view (access to OneDrive, SharePoint and most recent documents)

See an example of how you can use Teams.

There’s no denying that it still requires a degree of planning, and people will need to get into new habits and shake off some old ways of working. That said, it’s worth putting the effort in as it will help teams to work more effectively, reduce unnecessary email traffic and duplicate documents, and ensure the right level of controlled transparency both within departments and across the business.

What people will also start to realise is that Teams and Groups are integrated in all of the Microsoft Office 365 applications they use – particularly Outlook. In fact, there’s even an Outlook Group app for smartphone or tablet.

So far from just being ‘the chat-based workspace’, it looks to me like Microsoft Teams and Office 365 cloud will be No.1 in the charts for some time to come.

PS. I think my next blog might be nothing to do with technology – it’ll just be a ‘pupdate’.