Microsoft Teams – Some advice on how to use it

Even before the emergence of COVID-19 and its massive impact on businesses across the world, the shift away from office-based work to the utilisation of remote teams and home working had started.

According to figures gathered by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of people working from home before the onset of the crisis was already 1.54 million, which had risen from just 884,000 a decade previously.

The lockdown, introduced in the UK in the last week of March, has merely accelerated this process, with an estimated 60% of the working population now working from home where possible.

Among the advantages offered by remote and home working, the most obvious from an employer’s point of view is a reduction in overheads, accompanied by an increase in productivity.

For employees, apart from the better work-life balance, the current crisis has led to 89% of homeworkers reporting an average reduction in personal expenditure of £44.78 per person per week – mainly commuting and buying lunch costs.

A time to shine for technology

Successful remote working on the current scale is only possible because the right technology is readily available, to individuals and organisations of any size, or complexity, starting with high-speed fibre broadband.

The factor which has helped to ensure that remote working is deliverable, efficient and productive rather than simply being possible, however, is the provision of collaboration and communication platforms like Microsoft Teams.

Microsoft Teams, a relatively recent addition to the Office 365 suite, enables colleagues to collaborate on projects as easily as if they were in the same office, using the chat, messaging, video conferencing, and file exchange abilities of Teams.

They can also use the power of bots to support the provision of daily tasks and activities, as well as creating their documents and integrating external content or tools using a range of tabs. With the right administration, Teams can be set up to work within a specific department of an organization, or with reference to the delivery of an individual project.

The collaborative nature of Teams is one of its most valuable assets, but it also demands a degree of oversight from an organisation’s IT department, allied to planning if chaos is to be avoided.

The risk of this happening derives from the fact that by default, every user within Office 365 can create a Microsoft Team, and every time this happens a new Office 365 Group springs into being.

The risk of this is that multiple groups end up being created but nobody is certain which ones are being used. The best way of avoiding this scenario is to turn off the self-service team creation feature for all users and instead create a security group made up of a list of names of people with permission to create teams.

When this is allied to the creation of a SharePoint list enabling users to request a new team, it should create a scenario which maximises collaboration and individual initiative but avoids the risk of chaos.

Get used to Teams

As soon as your employees start working via Teams they begin exploring the many features and tools it offers and experimenting with ways and means of maximising the efficiency embedded within the platform.

There are probably hundreds of these tips and tricks, and experience will make it plain which are the most applicable to any particular organisation, but here are a few of the better ones:

Conversations Need a Subject

A channel, which is part of a team, by default shows the public conversations relating to that channel. On anything other than a very small or time-limited project the chances are that these conversations can run into the many hundreds.

This means that a valuable source of information for every member of a team becomes an imposing stack of data which is time-consuming and difficult to work through in search of one particular snippet.

The solution is to add a subject to each conversation you start, which ensures a member of the team working on –for example – the Spring Sales Drive will be able to quickly search for ‘Spring Sales Drive – Advertising Budget’ and find the details they need.

Choose a Name for Group Chats

Microsoft Teams has a chat panel which enables members to have private conversations with people above and beyond the formal team structure.

But because these chats can involve multiple participants, the chat panel can quickly become too cluttered to manage efficiently, particularly as each chat session is labelled by default with the names of the participants.

When you’re working on a project at a later date and want to access the details of an earlier conversation, this can make things difficult, which is why it makes sense to change the title to something that explains what the conversation is about.

You can do this by simply clicking on the pencil icon next to the list of participants names. You can then enter and save a new name, and every team member who took part in the original chat will henceforth see that name, making it far easier to pick up on existing conversations.

Blurred Background

With so many video conference meetings taking place in people’s homes during the crisis, you may feel somewhat embarrassed by your old fashioned wallpaper, or the fact that other members of your family on lockdown keep wandering into the shot.

Microsoft Teams has a self-explanatory ‘Blur My Background’ feature, located via the ellipsis (three dots) button on the toolbar, or you can initiate it via the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Shift + P.

External Apps

Although the communication tools included in Teams are effective, efficient and versatile, you may wish to continue using external tools already embedded within the working culture of your organisation.

Platforms such as WebEx and Zoom can be connected directly to Teams simply by clicking on the Apps button at the foot of the navigation page and searching for your app either from scratch or filtered via the category list. Apps which can be added include MailChimp, SurveyMonkey and Wikipedia Search.

Keyboard Shortcuts

Almost all of the functions within Teams can be performed more quickly and simply using keyboard shortcuts. By saving multiple team members fractions of a second when performing repeated tasks, shortcuts of this kind can help create much larger long term savings in time and resources:

  • Pressing the ‘R’ key to reply to a thread from within Teams
  • Pressing ‘Alt’ and ‘A’ to attach a file to a thread or message
  • Pressing ‘C’ to call up the ‘compose a message’ box
  • Pressing the ‘Alt’ and ‘/’ key to bring up a full list of Microsoft Teams commands
  • Pressing ‘Ctrl’ and 2 to open Chat
  • Pressing ‘Ctrl’ and 4 to open meetings

Finally

Microsoft Teams has a lot to offer and like all technology, it seems a little daunting, to begin with, but as your people become more familiar with it, acceptance and productivity will increase.

Plenty of anecdotal evidence is surfacing that employees are enjoying this new way of working, recognising work is something we do, not somewhere we go. If employees have a well-managed task list and are trusted to perform, does it matter when most do the work?

If they change their working day a little to suit childcare needs or their sleep patterns, their desire for an early start and an early finish or a team chat in the evening to catch up with colleagues, does that affect performance? Probably only for the better.

This new approach to work will require businesses to be flexible and to trust their people to perform if we are not to slip back into the old ways of 2-hour daily commutes, 9-5 in the office and management by floor-walking. Teams can set your business free. Try it.