The launch of Microsoft Teams, your digital workspace

Last Tuesday was a great day for the Office 365 geeks amongst us, as Microsoft Teams was launched publicly. The tool is now widely available to Office 365 users, and you’ll have access to it in your online portal, as well as the option to download the desktop app.

We’ve spoken many times about the innovative tools that Microsoft continues to churn out as part of Office 365. Teams has been in the works for a long time, and we’ve had access to a preview version of it since late last year. You can read my colleague Tony Hughes’ blog on the preview, complete with some quick tips on getting Teams set up.

We couldn’t wait to get started when it was officially launched. In fact, I even spent most of my evenings last week on it, combining it with Champions League football and one or two pretentiously-labelled craft beers.

I’ve already set up Teams for a number of different functions. In my first excursion, I created a staggering 18 channels across 8 different teams. This is useful because I manage a number of different teams of application specialists, including – but not limited to – Sage, Pegasus, Dynamics NAV, Dynamics 365, Office 365 and SharePoint. If this continues to grow and it becomes difficult to sort my Teams, the powerful search function – similar to Delve – allows me to search for specific teams, channels, conversations and people. Since last week, it has taken on a life of its own within TSG, with people using it in ways I hadn’t even considered.

Prior to the public launch of Teams, there was a prevailing opinion that it was just a glorified chat function. And it’s true that it’s largely based around conversations – or channels. I like to think of it as a work-based WhatsApp with tons of additional functionality. It’s fun to use without being ‘fluffy’ – I can like posts or, for added fun, create memes or react with GIFs. But this in no way detracts from the significant benefits of the tool – I find that people are more inclined to use a platform they enjoy using. And we definitely enjoy using Teams.

Within each team, you can create channels, which make up the conversation element of the tool. This blows using email out of the water – you’re not limited to the amount of channels in your Teams, and you can keep the conversations really focused. Say goodbye to awkward, clunky team-wide emails where people either ‘reply all’ too often or not enough.

For example, within my Pegasus Team, I’ve got channels for new announcements so our specialists can keep each other up-to-date, an Opera channel for focused discussions around Pegasus Opera II and 3 and an XRL channel. This means the conversations aren’t over-complicated. I’ve already found that my colleagues are more likely to reply within Teams than to team-wide emails, as there’s no fear of clogging up everyone’s inbox – they’re just contributing to a relevant discussion in a natural way. It’s a way to structure your unstructured conversations. Think reduced chain emails, conference calls, meetings – that’s a hat-trick in my book!

I’m also looking to use Teams to speed up one of our key processes. For customers that have unique requests or requirements, we need to complete a due diligence process with our consultants to ensure we can accurately estimate the time needed for the project. It’s one of our ISO processes, and requires sign-off from multiple stakeholders. Thanks to Teams, we can enlist the help of the entire specialist and consultant team, allowing everyone to contribute quickly and easily, without emails flying around with out-of-date documents. It’s a process that I’ve seen an immediate improvement on. These can also be sensitive documents, and Teams is a safe collaborative environment wrapped up in Microsoft’s extensive security protocols.

Of course, there’s more to Teams than just conversations – although that’s really the selling point for me. I can set up alerts for the Teams I’m most involved in, which can trigger an email or a push notification on the desktop or mobile app. You can reply to your teammates or just contribute to the stream. As Tony mentioned in his blog, SharePoint operates quietly in the background of Teams, which allows for the Files tab. This works in a similar way to shared files in SharePoint or Planner, and means your team can share files safe in the knowledge that you’ll all be working on the latest version of the document. The Wiki tab allows you to create articles and notes and collaborate on a document – I see it as similar to the Notebook function in Planner. It’s not a significant tool at the moment, but Microsoft could well evolve this.

Those are the three main tabs in each of your Teams, but you’ll see a little ‘+’ symbol that allows you to tailor your add-ons for the team by adding the tabs and apps you need. You can create a Planner for your team, work on a specific Excel, Word or PowerPoint document, or add a Power BI report, a regularly-used website link or a YouTube video. Like many of its flagship products including Office 365, Dynamics NAV and Dynamics 365, Teams integrates with a number of external apps and services. You can manage your social media marketing through a Hootsuite tab (useful if you have more than one member of your team managing social), build micro-apps with Sapho, manage HR functions with Zenefits and much more.

Teams is a unique, forward-thinking way to bring together some of the best Office 365 applications. Within your team, you can utilise Skype for Business and initiate a conference call with your team if everyone is available; that includes video conferencing and screen-sharing. You can also schedule meetings and see your calendar and your Team’s calendar, all within Teams – it’ll instantly show slots when you’re all free. This doesn’t sound like much, but all of these functions brought together means Teams becomes your central hub for collaboration. You don’t need to go from your Outlook, to your Calendar, then to your Planner and SharePoint sites all separately; it’s all accessible in one place. It’s like an advanced Yammer – a tool with significant benefits, but also limitations.

Teams is the digital workspace we’ve been crying out for. It’s the next step in Microsoft’s digital transformation journey, and it fits into Office 365 fantastically. Microsoft works hard to integrate and, where possible, embed the functions of some applications in others – like embedding Power BI dashboards within Dynamics NAV and SharePoint. Teams can be your central hub for collaboration, bringing together SharePoint, Calendars, Planner and Skype in one place as a functional toolkit. No more app hopping. If I had been asked to create something like this for a customer even 6 months ago, I would have been estimating a bespoke project far in excess of £30,000 – and it still wouldn’t have all of the functionality that Teams delivers out of the box. Microsoft is giving you access to this as part of Office 365 – don’t let it go to waste.