The global workforce underwent a shocking and rapid switch to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic. But that shift was never going to be completely temporary. The pandemic only accelerated a trend towards flex working that was well underway in 2019.
More and more businesses will reopen as the pandemic winds down, but the way they work will be completely different. A survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers ↗ shows many organizations want to keep a portion of their workforce remote. Others will shift workers to hybrid schedules, where workers change between on-premise and remote work.
This expected change poses a question: How will workers collaborate when they’re dispersed and constantly moving? What about connecting multiple, new low-density offices or working with sales and service staff in the field?
An assortment of video, voice and workspace apps have all tried to fill this void until now. But as the post-pandemic normal mode of working takes hold, many businesses will need to find a new solution, yet again, that suits all of their employees’ diverse needs. The best answer for many companies will be a unified collaboration platform, the most effective of which is arguably Microsoft Teams.
What is Microsoft Teams?
Microsoft Teams launched in November 2016 as part of the Office 365 productivity suite. Teams is a collaboration platform that unifies chat, voice, video and file sharing. It’s designed to be used by local, remote and distributed work groups—anyone in any company, really!
Microsoft has steadily updated Teams since its initial launch. A host of new features have been added throughout 2020 and into 2021 as demand for comprehensive collaboration tools has exploded. Its key features include:
Teams offers both one-on-one and group chats. Both types are persistent, so users don’t need to search conversation histories as they did in Skype for Business.
Teams chat includes a host of modern messaging features, including text formatting, emoji and priority flagging. Users can also share files directly through chat sessions.
The true power of Teams lies in users’ ability to collaborate through multiple different channels. Channels can be either Standard—public and open to everyone who wants to join—or private and focused on specific topics or activities. Channel owners must authorize new users to join their channel.
Teams offers videoconferencing for up to 250 users per session. Due to popular request, Microsoft is actively working on increasing that limit.
Video meetings can be scheduled on a channel’s calendar, or users can create them on the fly. Teams offers meeting broadcasts for up to 10,000 simultaneous viewers using the Microsoft Stream integration.
One of the most overlooked features in Teams is its ability to offer outbound calling right from the client. It is an excellent way for remote or mobile users to stay connected through one single, reliable connection.
7 things you should know about Microsoft Teams
No matter whether you’re at a business researching how to manage your new, hybrid workforce, or you’re at a seasoned managed service provider brushing up on the latest offerings for your customers, we think these are the seven most important things you should know about Microsoft Teams.
1. Teams offers secure collaboration, both internally and externally
Teams provides all of the security features of the broader Microsoft 365 suite. That includes two-factor authentication as well as encryption in transit and at rest in the cloud. Data in Teams meets ISO 27001 as well as SOC 1 and SOC 2 compliance ↗. It can be provisioned to meet many strict industry data security standards, such as HIPAA patient data restrictions in healthcare, for example.
Teams may be locked down and secure, but it doesn’t prevent you from easily working with internal and external collaborators. Your administrator can generate guest accounts for Teams within the Microsoft 365 Admin Center, which is an excellent way to collaborate on calls on channels with clients, business partners, contractors, or any other external stakeholders you want to involve.
2. Greater data visibility and better governance
Teams offers business leaders excellent visibility and insight into work carried out within their organization. Because all conversations within Teams are persistent, conversations become valuable information assets available to Microsoft 365’s governance and management tools.
For example, files and conversations in Teams channels are all saved in the Microsoft 365 cloud, making that data available to Microsoft Graph ↗—Microsoft 365’s data intelligence console. You can see which channels users are working in, how they’re conversing, see when work speeds up or slows down, among many, many other things.
Teams also has valuable data governance tools. Most data and metadata in Teams channels is journaled and available to Microsoft 365 eDiscovery tools ↗. When you use Teams to manage all of your work conversations, it’s easy to comply with any legal or regulatory requests.
3. Teams has powerful Microsoft Office integration options
Teams is, of course, tightly integrated with the rest of Microsoft 365. Users can create and manage Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote files within their channels and work with other content in their team’s SharePoint sites. Calendaring connects right into Outlook.
Teams is also tightly integrated with Microsoft Power Apps. Microsoft Power Apps allows any user to create a low-code app and share it with their team. For example, they can script entire workflows to launch when a salesperson tells their ops channel in Teams that they’re onboarding a new customer.
4. Comprehensive third-party integrations
Last year Microsoft opened up Teams to third-party integrations ↗. Many providers quickly jumped in, including ZenDesk, Asana, Polly and CalendarHero. Teams users can use these apps right in their channels, calendars and most importantly, during live meetings.
5. Powerful audio and video calling options
Teams is a robust video conferencing tool, but its calling capabilities don’t end there. Because it allows outbound calling from PCs and mobile devices, Teams is a great way to offer consistent communication and collaboration options to hybrid users who shift from the office, to home, to on the road, and back again on an unpredictable schedule. It can even integrate with your on-premise PBX system.
6. Support for education, healthcare and emergency services
Teams now offers some powerful industry-specific features for healthcare, emergency services and education. An education Group Policy wizard allows teachers and administrators to quickly provision new channel “classrooms” which are appropriately secured for students and educators. Teachers can distribute class Notebooks via Teams and send an automated alert to every student in the class.
Teams now also supports virtual breakout rooms. These are great tools for teachers asking students to work on group assignments.
For healthcare, Teams now has an EHR connector ↗, which allows healthcare providers to launch a secure video call with a patient or colleague right inside a supported electronic health record system. They can also schedule visits on a Teams calendar right in their EHR portal.
7. Bots and other tools for many needs
Teams boasts a variety of different bots to automate time-consuming tasks. Statsbot pulls together reports from sources such as Salesforce or Google Analytics and drops them right in channels. Polly Bot can poll coworkers for more streamlined and automated feedback. T-Bot answers many common questions about Teams, which lowers the support burden for service providers.
Teams has fully arrived
For organizations looking for a cloud-based collaborative workspace for their distributed users, Microsoft Teams has arrived as the leading solution. Its rich mix of communication, collaboration and automation tools can bring together working groups in even the most challenging circumstances.