What is Microsoft Teams? 

Microsoft Teams is a component of Office 365. It acts as a hub to bring together all the stuff that a team needs – a place to chat, a place to store the team’s documents, a planner for a project and much, much more.

Power your teams with Microsoft Teams 

When you think of teams, you might think of your organisation chart, with a finance team, a sales team and so on. But you also have other sorts of team – here are a few examples: 

  • A team working on your next marketing event that involves technical staff as well as marketing people. 
  • A team developing a new product or service. It requires input from marketing, sales, finance and technical people. 
  • A project team or a client team working together on a specific task. 

Microsoft calls these “high-velocity” teams. There is time pressure, lots of communications and they need to make decisions quickly. This is where Microsoft Teams can really help.  Your team members might also be in different places. One example is construction, where you run a head office and have a number of different site teams. It’s easy to see how you would benefit from an online place where all team members can collaborate easily and quickly. 

You might be thinking that Microsoft Teams is yet another bright idea that makes IT even more complicated. Wrong. What it does is bring together the tools and the files you are already using and puts them in one place where your team can see them, update them and discuss them. Wrapped around this core is a collection of additional features that you can add as you want. At the time of writing there are 55 of these, covering aspects as diverse as including your Dropbox account or a OneNote notebook to capture great ideas. 

How Teams works 

In Teams your top level is, naturally, the Team. Suppose you are using Teams for your new product development team. Within each Team is a series of Channels. For your product development team, each new product could be a channel. Within each channel you see a series of Tabs. This is where your product development team will work on their new product and build out all the tabs they need to complete the task.

One of the busiest areas is likely to be the Files tab. This is where Microsoft has added some very nice features. Open a Word document in Teams and your team can update the document together. You can see where someone else is working on the document and see their changes as they type.

Because Teams works with SharePoint in the background you get the powerful features of SharePoint, including version control. You can easily roll back to an earlier version if you need to.  
You can even work on Teams documents without working in Teams. Suppose your finance director wants to keep control of all the project finance spreadsheets that are now held in Teams. By linking Windows Explorer to the Teams documents in SharePoint, they can continue to work in their familiar way with files and folders.

Did you notice the other tabs, ‘Conversations’ and ‘Wiki’ that Teams creates by default? The Conversations tab is the chat area. The good news is that the chat is automatically saved so you can scroll back to revisit an earlier conversation or something you missed at the time.

The Wiki tab is less obvious, but Microsoft should perhaps have called it ‘Knowledge base’. It’s ideal to build your own encyclopaedia of knowledge relevant to your project. Use it to hold structured information such as:

  • ‘Local suppliers’, with links to their web sites. 
  • ‘Tech support’, with brief instructions or links to useful technical guides. 
  • ‘Tips & tricks’ for dealing with small complicated tasks.

The final item on the line of tabs is the + sign. This is where you can add your own tabs. Here are a few that I have found useful: 

  • Add a OneNote tab to provide a jotting area for anything and everything. It could be notes that you take during a project meeting or that good idea you need to write down before you forget. The key to OneNote is that it helps you manage unstructured information, using its search capability to find that needle in a haystack.
  • Is there a spreadsheet that the team will need to use frequently? If so, add an Excel tab and link it to that spreadsheet. It’s right there in front of you whenever you need it.
  • Create a planner for the project to show time lines, milestones and deadlines.  

Development of Teams 

Microsoft Teams is very much work in progress. It was launched in mid-2017 and continues to be a focus of development for Microsoft. This means that in a few places you need to take extra care. For example, there are three ways to edit a Word document: in the Teams application, in Word Online via a browser and in the Word application on your PC. The features vary between these three implementations, so take care when features apparently move or disappear.

On the up side, Teams will be improving and getting additional features. Expect developments in terms of integration of Skype for Business and integration of telephone services.  Because Teams is part of your Office 365 subscription, you will automatically get these new features when new versions of the software are released. 

Next steps 

If you would like to explore how you could make a success of using Microsoft Teams for your teams, call us on 01235 426700 or e-mail enquiries@riverbank.co.uk.