It’s been a while since my last blog and seeing the whole buzz around the latest release from Microsoft with their Teams offering, I felt it was time for me to join the debate. Microsoft Teams is currently in preview but as a Silver Partner we get access to it as part of our competency entitlements. After having tried it for the last few weeks, I am eager to share my thoughts on it.
What is Microsoft Teams?
Good question. One I asked myself when I first heard about this. But personally, I think the question is why? I must admit once you play with the product you start to see that this is Microsoft’s answer to the widely popular Slack collaboration tool. Microsoft is borrowing a lot from Slack in terms of functionality and cleverly plugging in the other Office 365 offerings like SharePoint, OneDrive and Skype for Business (SfB) in the back end to create a new modern collaboration experience.
Teams comes with its own client and works within an organisation only, meaning inviting people outside of your Office 365 tenancy is not possible. If you think of normal collaboration within a company, you have people sending emails back and forth, sharing files in SharePoint, creating meetings and doing instant messaging chat with peer to peer audio/video to move along their colleagues towards their end goal. Teams (like Slack) says, hey why not have a work space for your team, where everyone can come in and share the files (no need to share links to SharePoint with each other), message each other and hold Audio and Video Conferences with individuals or as a team (No need to have the SfB Client fired up for this), use OneNote to track all important information or tasks through the project., all of which persists over time so you can go through your teams conversation history and get closure on who said what where and when (Persistent chat anyone).
Another way to look at this is that it takes all the previously mentioned Office 365 products, wraps elements of their functionality into a new user interface to create a new work space and environment where teams can collaborate, be productive, and have a little bit of fun while doing so.
How does it Work
Getting it up and running was quite simple. Once you assign people the rights to create teams, people can go about the process of creating their own teams for their projects. The hierarchy in Microsoft teams is as follows.
You can create multiple teams and each team has many members and one or more channels that you can create which broadly categorise the various work streams in your project. People can go about their conversations, and content sharing at a team level, channel level or even an individual one to one level.
How is data partitioned?
This piece I liked. It turns out that you can share data at 3 different levels as part of any project collaboration. You can obviously have it available at the Team level for all members to see. Then you can have data at the channel level again, for everyone on the project to see. Finally, at the one to one level such that only you and the person you are trying to work with directly can share data. This layering approach seems quite intuitive.
What about meetings and audio video calls?
Don’t fret. That is there too but with subtle nuances. Let’s start with a meeting. When you click the meetings tab you are presented with all your meetings for the day from your calendar. You can join your regular SfB meetings ‘Join, in the teams client, which will automatically start up SfB. If you want to schedule a meeting, then click schedule meetings and setup invites and times as normal. Meetings created with the teams client can be joined by everyone using the teams client itself
Just one little caveat. This meeting is visible at the team level, so if you are the type that likes to play office politics and exclude people sneakily then this is not the place for you. All team members can see scheduled meetings even if they are not invited to it.
In the back ground this application is no doubt leveraging part of the SfB capabilities to deliver the Audio Video calling experience, however this client is not the same as your SfB client. Your presence status and availability in Teams is separate from SfB. Also, just like in a SfB client you can do a peer to peer audio or video call to a colleague on demand.
What else can it do?
Conversations are more decorated as you can reply to or like messages from others and even put in animated gifs, memes and other content from a variety of sources.
You can target your queries to individuals by starting your comment using @<userhandle>. In other words if someone typed “@Wajahat Where is the blog you promised”, it will appear on the conversation wall where it is posted but I will get a notification informing me that there is a direct query for me which I need to address.
Finally, you have the option of adding connectors to a team or channel such that the conversation wall will automatically get contents and updates of interest from other services like Twitter, Jira and Asana to name but a few, appearing for everyone in the team to see and take possible actions against.
You know what, I think that about covers it. If I missed anything then I think I will be back here updating this article but that is about as much I have to say for now.
I must admit I can see where Microsoft is going with this and given their unique Office 365 portfolio, I would think that this reimagining of a collaboration experience was inevitable, albeit heavily borrowed from people like slack and no doubt other tools out there. As much as I appreciate the idea behind it, I must admit, this mode of collaboration is a little new and probably will need some getting used to. We haven’t started using it properly in our organisation and are looking at possible scenarios where we could adopt this but I can’t help but feel this is a little cluttered and confusing in places despite all its best intentions. Let me just finish with what I liked and what I didn’t like and leave it to you to make your own interpretations.
What I liked
- Leverages your Office 365 subscription in the background (OneDrive, SharePoint, Skype for Business)
- Not as rigid and formal way of communicating as SfB, more gifs and emoticons yay!!
- Layered hierarchy of data
- Targeted messages via @
- Ability to see all your meetings in one place and join from the App
What I didn’t like
- Not open to external parties or contractors to join the team
- Another application to keep open in the background while working Aaaaaargh!!!
- Why couldn’t the SfB client be extended or better still, the full capabilities of SfB added to this so that we didn’t need them both.
- Muddies the water between SfB. You now have 2 separate presence statuses which don’t carry across between applications. Why?
- This is purely personal but I think this way of collaboration is going to take a little getting used to for someone like me, because on some level, despite liking the hierarchy of how data is stored, I can’t help but feel things will get cluttered very easily.
Microsoft Teams is in Preview now. Go ahead and try it. Let me know what you think.
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