Microsoft recently announced that Skype for Business is going out of business. In its place comes Microsoft Teams, a teamwork app contained within the Office 365 software bundle. Walking away from an established and successful product may seem dramatic, but this move is nothing but good news for the general public. I’ve been using Teams in an enterprise context since April 2017, and I am thrilled about its potential to help people and businesses work better, faster, and smarter.
The Three Cs of Microsoft Teams
1) Chat. Teams can do everything that Skype can do, right from install. Chat, voice calls, video calls, presenting a desktop, and everything else you use Skype for are all still there and ready to rock. Teams also improves on Skype’s user interface by grouping communication streams in different ways; you have chats, teams, and meetings all neatly arrayed for you on the left of the window. Organizing chat streams within channels is extremely intuitive, and helps keep different conversation threads separate. Why is this exciting? Everything Skype did is still there; just better.
2) Channels. Teams lets you have many different communication streams, called channels, grouped under one team. Each channel is displayed with a “tabs” structure within the main window that always starts with an activity log/chat tab, a Files tab, and a Wiki (notes) tab. Users can add more tabs that can directly host key documents, show useful web links, and connect to intranet Sharepoint pages. Even better, Teams integrates with a variety of useful web apps like Trello, Asana, Hootsuite, and Zendesk, that can all be added as tabs within the channel interface. All you have to do is hit the “+” button next to your tabs, and you’re in business. Why is this exciting? The channels and tabs let you keep all collateral for a project in one central place that everyone on the Team can access.
3) Cloud. In the digital age, it’s not reasonable to expect people to limit their work to a single location, or a single device. Teams can accommodate the needs of a diffuse enterprise because it’s backed up by Microsoft Azure cloud infrastructure. As long as your tablet or phone has the Teams app and the apps for any tab integrations (such as Trello), you can work with your team from anywhere. Even better, Teams updates chat streams, stored documents, and other activity in real time. It’s possible to stay on top of a high priority deliverable or managing a crisis situation from across a city or around the world. Why is this exciting? With Teams, you can go anywhere and work anywhere.
I would be remiss if I spent all this time talking about Teams and I didn’t mention its largest competitor: Slack. How does it stack up? Not well. Slack has great chat functions and uses the same channel groupings. However, there are two missing pieces that make Slack an inferior choice for businesses (as of this writing): integrations and cloud storage.
Trello, a kanban webapp, illustrates the ways Slack and Teams are different. Trello integrates with Slack in the sense that Trello will send updates to a channel when there’s activity on Trello cards. You still have to be logged into Trello on your web browser and use it separately to move the cards around and generate notifications. With Teams, you can see the Trello board inside the Teams window as an integrated tab. No changing apps or internet tabs; it’s all contained within Teams.
In regards to cloud storage, Slack integrates with Google Drive. That’s great, if you want to require everyone who needs to edit a document to have a Google account (they probably already do anyway). The bigger issues is that Slack only integrates to the extent that you can make a Google Doc available to the entire channel by pasting the Doc link into the chat window. You still need to click on the link, open up Google drive in your web browser, and then find your file. It’s a clunky, multi-step process that is spread out across multiple apps and services. Contrast all of that to Teams: upload a file into the “Files” tab of a channel, and then anyone in the channel can see it, access it, and makes edits from the same window.
Slack offers a setup where a diverse suite of apps can all communicate and send notifications through the Slack platform. Teams keeps everything contained within it, acting as a central hub for a project or group. Ultimately, Teams solves my problem and Slack does not. It’ll be up to you to decide that for yourself.
Teams in Action
in 2017, I used Teams to manage a group of interns at my firm. Before they arrived, I set up a “2017 Summer Internship” team for them and pre-loaded a couple of channels with a FAQs document tab, a Trello board containing their day-to-day workflow, and a tab with their Sharepoint internship calendar loaded with special events. I assigned the interns their tasks in Trello, and they uploaded deliverables in the Files tab for me to review. Keeping the entire internship experience contained within Teams offered both myself and the interns a central hub for all work, which let all of us maximize our productivity and our results.
As a final disclaimer, I feel compelled to say that I am not being compensated in any way to evangelize for Teams or any other Microsoft product. I’m passionate about Teams because it solved my problem and I think it can probably solve your problem too.