At July’s Inspire conference, Microsoft reported that the Teams platform had reached “feature parity” with Skype for Business Online—in other words, the former is ready to replace the latter. The announcement brought Microsoft one step closer to achieving its goal of folding Skype for Business into its Teams platform.
Skype for Business will not be disappearing anytime soon, but the announcement nevertheless increases the urgency for organizations and business users who rely on Skype to get work done. It’s time to get up to speed with Teams.
Teams is a relatively new platform—Microsoft released it in March 2017—that combines workplace chat (voice, video and text), meetings, notes, and attachments into one hub. It enables collaborative editing and seamless sharing of applications like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, plus calendars, files and email. Teams “Channels” can use artificial intelligence applications (“Bots”) to complete tasks with chat-based commands, as well as integrations (“Connectors”) to communicate with third-party apps like Salesforce and Evernote.
Although Teams is designed to simplify group work, it does have a learning curve. The platform requires users to adopt a new approach to work—from siloed and isolated to visible, integrated and accessible. It also requires users to learn their way around a slightly unfamiliar landscape.
In addition to the training and support your company provides, you can give yourself a head start by becoming familiar with a few key areas:
1. Learn the basics: Teams isn’t a radical rework of Office, nor is it a brand new tool. It’s more like a smart workshop—it collects all the existing tools that people need and are already using, integrates them, and adds capabilities like chat, artificial intelligence, and more. It’s a hub that connects people, conversations and content.
For example, consider the difference between hosting a meeting in Skype and hosting one in Teams. In a Skype meeting, you can chat, create shared meeting notes, share screens, share files, and co-author documents—but some of those options require you to switch back and forth between Skype and another application. Teams offers the same functionality, but with less app-switching—the options are easy to find, accessible with just a click or two, and many don’t require you to toggle back and forth between windows. For example, you can dock shared notes on the right side of the meeting window with just one click and easily find the notes later in your Teams Channel notes tab.
2. Familiarize yourself with the framework: Teams, Channels, Tabs, Bots, Connectors, and more.
Teams: Collections of people, content, and tools created for project-based or ongoing collaborative work. Teams can be public or private, small or large.
Channels: Dedicated sections within a team to keep conversations organized by specific topics, projects or departments.
Tabs: Dedicated “canvases” within Channels where members can work directly with tools and data and have conversations about them within the Channel’s context. Examples include a Power BI report, a dashboard, a website, a PowerPoint presentation, and more.
Connectors: Enable third-party software and services—such as Twitter, Trello, Salesforce, Google Analytics, Facebook Pages, and more—to post content inside a Channel.
Bots: Built-in or custom automated programs that respond to questions or provide updates and notifications. Examples include a calendar bot that can provide the best meeting time for all team members, a polling bot, a bot that delivers regular reports and Google Analytics data, and a travel bot that books flights and hotel reservations.
3. Gain a thorough understanding of notifications: Notifications can be public or private and are key to Teams—if they aren’t set up correctly, or if you don’t know where to look or how/when to respond to them, your productivity will plummet. In addition, be sure to learn best practices for notifying others. Learn how to use messages for private conversations, and @mentions to get the attention of one person, an entire team, or everyone who has favorited a channel.
4. Master the art of the meeting: Winging it may work in some situations, but never during meetings. Be sure to learn how to use audio conferencing for when you are on the road without internet access, how to invite people outside of your organizations to meetings, how to mute noisy participants, how to view meeting analytics, how to join a meeting in a web browser, the basics of application sharing in a meeting, and more.
By investing a little time in advance to learn the basics of Teams, you will ensure a quicker, less frustrating transition to the new world of work.
Jen is an award-winning journalist who writes about workplace productivity and technology for Vitalyst. She believes in the power of using plain language, especially when writing about technology, and lists “achieving and enabling clarity” among her life goals.