Microsoft announces Teams, an app for collaboration

Productivity software has been making use of the rise of cloud technology to put collaborative functionality front and center. G Suite was one of the first avenues for editing documents in real time across different devices, Facebook launched a team communication variant, and Office 365 has included the Yammer platform in its service for more than four years now. But somehow neither of them seemed to fully satisfy the needs of their clients.

Slack is little more than an instant messaging platform, but it still managed to storm onto the business collaboration stage. But its success poses a problem for the likes of Microsoft and its users. The more windows you need to have open to get work done, the less efficient your work is. That’s why, with far less fanfare than it deserved, Microsoft Teams is here to save the day.

Core functions

The best place to start is by recognising that at its most basic, Microsoft Teams does parallel Slack. Both utilise chat features to bring teams together. Where Teams sets itself apart is in how it consolidates various O365 features under one roof. The teams within the app can be created and organised manually, or set to automatically follow your organisation’s O365 Groups structure. Either way, team “rooms” display a group feed that includes everything from plain text messages to file attachments and video conference feeds.

Slack might allow you to upload files, and G Suite includes a function for leaving comments and tagging users in a team document, but Teams grants you the opportunity to do pretty much anything Office 365 does — in one virtual sandbox.

Like most Microsoft applications, there is a sidebar on the left-hand side with tabs for private chats, team channels, calendar functions, and a notification center. When viewing a team channel, you’ll see chats, uploads, and calendar items listed in chronological order, updated in real time. That’s closer to the newsfeeds of social networks than the plain text of instant messaging platforms.

More than just a team chat

In this vein, Teams sets itself apart by “threading” the posts in a team channel. In a chat-only environment, users are forced to reply to comments one after the other, with no way to address earlier conversations without adding information to explain which topic you’re addressing. Within a Teams feed, employees can scroll to an item from earlier in the conversation and click “reply”;, from then on, only users involved in that conversation or with keyword alerts will get notifications.

There’s no limit to how far back you can go, and if it’s too long ago to scroll manually, Microsoft’s intelligent search function is sure to help you find what you’re looking for. Regardless of when or where posts are located, users can like, save for later, or mark posts as high priority.

In-app document editing

Although all these are decisive upgrades, better-structured group and one-on-one chat features isn’t all Teams has to offer. When users post Office 365 documents into a team conversation, teammates can edit those documents without ever leaving the chat window. When opening a document, an integrated editor will expand and automatically aggregate all the relevant comments and conversations in the right-hand side of the screen so you can review the full edit and revision history.

Every shared file is stored on a SharePoint site that was automatically created the moment the team was set up. Without any burdensome SharePoint management, these documents are accessible from the Files tab sitting along the top of any team’s activity feed.

Other Integrations

Teams is amazing, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t admit that Microsoft already had a strong suite of communication platforms. Skype and Yammer, still a part of the O365 lineup, are integrated directly into Teams. If you’re holding a video-conference, just pin an invitation to the feed of all the relevant teams, and employees can click Join whenever they’re ready to participate.

Microsoft has included some new and original integrations to Teams, including a polling chatbot for making group decisions, and a support chatbot for tracking down information. Both allow you to make statements or ask questions in plain language so you don’t need to fuss around with technical syntax. “Poll the graphics design team where we should have lunch,” and “What is John Doe’s personal email?” will gather all the pertinent information you need.

Third-party apps

Other enterprise communication platforms, a bit limited in their ability to add functionality, often rely on third-party integrations to get more out of overly simplistic interfaces. Nearly everything you might need to do can be accomplished through one of the Office 365 applications, but that didn’t stop Microsoft from including functionality for third-party services such as Asana, Hootsuite, and Zendesk.

Most of these integrations have the option to be accessed via a tab nestled atop your team page. Alternatively, they can be set up to automatically post in the team’s activity feed. For example, if your department has a public Twitter account, tweets can be automatically posted so everyone sees them the moment they go live.

Mobility and security

And because it’s 2016, you can’t release a platform without a mobile version. Employees may not find themselves checking Teams as often as they check Facebook, but the look and feel of both platforms aren’t all that dissimilar. There is a feed that aggregates all the information from Teams and, like the desktop version, threads everything so you’re not buried in unnecessary details. As an added bonus, if mobile users have Microsoft’s Office suite installed, they can continue to participate in document editing.

And if there’s one thing we can always count on from Microsoft, it’s security. Like everything in Office 365, Teams achieves a broad range of data compliance, including EUMC and HIPAA. Data stored within Teams is always encrypted, both at rest and in transit, and administrators have the option of requiring multi-factor authentication to increase the security of identity management.

Microsoft released Teams for all 365 Enterprise and Business level plans, with general plan availability coming in early 2017. If you’re currently enrolled in the former, ready to make the upgrade, or have non-Teams related questions about Office 365, we’re the ones to call. If you do so today, we can have Teams up and running before the sun goes down.