Now available on most Office 365 plans, Microsoft Teams is a chat based collaboration tool based in Office 365 but can be accessed using Windows desktop or mobile apps. It allows you to communicate and share information, files and content in a focused interface. Microsoft call it their ‘chat based workspace’.
A hub for teamwork
Give your team instant access to everything they need right in Office 365.
– All your content, tools, people, and conversations are available in the team workspace
– Enjoy built-in access to SharePoint, OneNote, and Skype for Business
– Work on documents right in the app
– Get rich scheduling features inside Microsoft Teams, plus ad-hoc 1-1 and group calling
Right, what’s so great about Microsoft Teams?
- Unified user interface
At last we have an interface from Microsoft that doesn’t have the user doing mouse clicking contortions around their screen trying to figure out where everything is. We have teams which breaks down into channels and then breaks down in tabs. Nicely simply, very clean and a lot easier to navigate than SharePoint and Office 365 Groups. Remember having a SharePoint team site? That most people couldn’t use properly and ended up as a mess? Yes that one.
Now we have a more advanced and frankly very useful version of a SharePoint team site. Yes SharePoint is still there but it’s for storage of files. There are lots of ways to use Teams. Have a look here at this blog post for some ideas and you will the possibilities. That is what Teams give us. Possibilities and lots of them.
- Manage channels and tabs
Each Team can have multiple different channels. So for example a project team could either have an individual Team for each project with channels for various project stages. Or they could have a channel for each project and use tabs for stages. It all depends. The tabs allow you to add content such as an Office document, a YouTube videos or even some 3rd party tools.
- Manage people easily
Giving access to a Team and removing a person is pretty straightforward. Yes it ties into your Azure Active Directory. It’s all relatively simple compared to say, managing permissions in SharePoint.
- Connect to Apps
As mentioned already, the tabs allow you to add content. There are lots of other apps you can add and more are being added all the time.
- Connect to Planner, OneNote and Files
A key element of Teams is the integration with Planner, OneNote and SharePoint. SharePoint is site collection used to store your Files (see?). Planner is there for task management and OneNote is a nice simple clean view of a normal OneNote notebook. You can open it of course in One Note itself and have all the features available from there. Planner connects to your own Planner hub but only shows your own tasks and not an overall view.
- Collaborate and co-author on documents
You can add an Office document as a tab. You can have conversations or chats about this document in Teams as it’s worked on. The file remains in SharePoint (Files), has the normal versioning working away in the background and you get to co-author and collaborate on a document. Honestly it’s too cool.
- App & bot development (3rd party app connections)
There is a lot happening in this area. Already 3rd party tools from the likes of Wrike, Smartsheet, Hootsuite, Asana and Zendesk are offering connectors to Teams.
- Useful help system
Using the aforementioned bots, Teams has a nice built in help system. Ask the bot a question and it will provide a mostly useful answer. There is also a nicely written help tab, FAQ and video section to provide clever support. It can only help improve user adoption.
- Mobile & desktop apps
There is a Windows desktop version, an iOS and Android versions for mobile. But of course there is no Windows mobile version, sadly. I use the Windows desktop version a lot and it more or less identical to the browser version.
- Setting up meetings with Skype
You can have meetings via Skype directly in Teams which is innovative. It’s still a little flakey at times but its potential is huge.
Now then, what is not so great?
- No external users (coming in June 2017)
We have been told that external user/guest access is coming in June 2017. So how that works and how it is managed will be a challenge to Admins everywhere. But it will open up Teams in a huge way for collaboration with partners, suppliers and customers.
- Silofication – creates standalone SharePoint site collections
As mentioned when you create a new Team, it gets its own little SharePoint site collection. I call it SharePoint Lite as it’s not a fully featured site collection in the normal way. It also doesn’t appear in the admin site so these sites are not easily visible. So if you have 50 Teams you have 50 more or less hidden and unconnected SharePoint site collections. That means there is a lot of content that is not readily available, searchable (well if you have access) or findable. Not good for knowledge sharing, future learning or even governance. Instead of opening up the company silos it seems to lock them back down again.
If you have an intranet and have invested in team or project sites then these have to be added as tabs to a Team or a channel. But you still have the separate SharePoint site collection (Files) for that Team. It just adds an unnecessary and somewhat inaccessible place to store files. Fine for the team itself but what about others and the future management of that content?
- Harder to see existing teams (improving)
If you create a team, you will see suggestions for public teams. But you of course won’t see private teams. So how do you know if there is duplicate Team? You don’t. And that’s a sticking point. Will it change? Yes more than likely as Microsoft continually make changes and improve Office 365.
- Admin and governance of multiple teams (and their spin off tools)
Now for an Admin person, PowerShell is great. Even I can use it. But it’s only for tenant admins and can’t be used by the business for obvious reasons. So there is no Admin user interface as such. There are scripts out there and new ones coming all the time but it means a reliance on IT which can be restrictive in some organisations especially in small business who won’t have the resources for that.
Like all things in Office 365 this will change in due course but for now, take care in there.
And a summary?
Microsoft Teams has been seen as facing up to a chat based team collaboration competitor product called Slack. And that is true to a point. But it is so much more than that. Teams offers a far more useful and usable front face to the multiple elements and tools within Office 365 including SharePoint. Not only from Office 365 but from other organisations as well. You can use Teams to access a lot of the collaborative material you use on a regular basis. No, it’s not perfect but it is changing all the time and new features are being planned and added. It has a bright future in this ever challenging collaborative world.
Microsoft Teams is the digital equivalent of an open-space office environment. It is an entirely new experience which brings together people, conversations, and content. Through easy connections and conversations, Microsoft Teams builds relationships and drives collaboration seamlessly, and opens up opportunities to take your organizational goals to the next level.