Teams is Microsoft’s collaboration hub within Office 365. Teams was originally introduced as a direct answer to Slack, but it’s become a much bigger solution than that over the last two years it has been publicly available within Office 365.
According to recent numbers from Microsoft, Teams is now in use at more than 500,000 organizations across the world. With a new service of this scope there is going to be a long adoption period, while organizations wrap their collective heads around how to use a service like this. Hopefully this blog post will start that education and adoption process for a few more Office 365 customers.
In this blog post I’ll give a quick introduction to what Teams is, and then I’ll cover some of the new features now available and coming soon to Teams.
What Teams Isn’t
I think the best place to start a discussion about what Teams can do for your organization is by talking about what Teams isn’t. Teams is not a replacement for email.
Slack, Yammer, and several other enterprise collaboration solutions have tried to market themselves as replacements for email time and time again. These solutions are generally good at providing the type of messaging services that email does within their own user communities. The problem with their proprietary solutions is that they are not open to any sort of communication outside their platform. If your organization uses Slack you can collaborate very well with others inside your organization, and maybe even with users in other organizations that use Slack too. However, no Slack user can message me in anyway because I’ve never logged into Slack. In the grand scheme of things, very few people have.
This limitation also holds true for Teams. If you’re not a Teams user, you can’t collaborate with Teams users (except for joining meetings, and even that isn’t always a great experience). Teams does support Instant Messaging and Persistent Chat, as well as some integration with standard email, but Teams is not a solution for collaborating outside of Teams.
What Teams Is
Explaining what Teams is can be a difficult task. Teams includes a lot of features, and a lot of integration to other Office 365 services. Teams will eventually replace Skype for Business as the service for Instant Messaging, Meetings, Voice, and Video within Office 365. Teams includes integration to SharePoint document libraries. Teams includes Calendaring from Exchange, as well as some limited messaging that works more like Persistent Chat than email. Teams is also extensible to work with a great many other applications both inside and outside of Office 365.
Most people will be introduced to Teams as an online meeting platform like WebEx, or Skype for Business.
New Teams Features
Like all the services within Office 365, Teams is an ever-evolving product. Microsoft is very heavily focused on Teams, so maybe it evolves faster than some of the other services. Here are some of the new features in Teams.
Send audio messages from mobile devices
The mobile clients for iOS and Android have recently added the ability to send audio messages to your Teams chat channels. Just tap and hold the microphone button on your mobile Teams client and you can record up to 15 minutes of audio that will be posted to the chat channel in your currently open Team.
I often use Teams for project-based communications. Most of the Teams I create have the same basic structure. Teams now has the ability to create a new Team based on the template of an existing Team, or even some Teams templates you can download from Microsoft.
Teams has been able to blur your background in video meetings for a while now, but now Microsoft has announced that they will soon be able to completely replace your background with a still image. If you work and want to make sure whatever is behind you doesn’t show up in your meeting (Do kids have any idea what a closed office door means?) this will come in handy.
Just like in Skype for Business, Teams now can support huge broadcast meetings. You can have up to 10,000 attendees in a single Teams broadcast meeting now. These large meetings are not fully interactive like the smaller meetings, but they are great for a “townhall meeting” type situation where a single speaker needs to address a huge audience.
One of the main reasons for a face to face meeting is the ability to get everyone in the same room around a white board. Many working groups like to be able to freehand draw on that whiteboard while working.
Microsoft plans to have an awesome new whiteboard feature in Teams that will allow you to point a camera at a white board and have that shown to everyone in the Team meeting. The physical whiteboard will be translated into a virtual whiteboard in the Teams meeting. This feature isn’t going to require any sort of special camera hardware. I haven’t been able to test this out yet, but it looks nifty.
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Nathan O'Bryan MCSM
Nathan is a five time former Microsoft MVP and he specializes in Exchange, Microsoft 365, Active Directory, and cloud identity and security.