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Accelerating Collaboration with Teams

Productivity tools are everywhere, many different tools do many different things. It is difficult to find one tool that can do them all or at the very least bring all the information together in one place. When you take a second to consider the amount of applications needed for teams to collaborate effectively you might wonder how anything actually gets done.

Office 365 alone has numerous collaboration tools, each tool has been tailored to specific use cases. Email, a tool that has been and will continue to be ubiquitous in organizations, really only fits one particular use case which is that it provides a messaging platform where we can send messages back and forth. Email is not real-time, information can become difficult to find, and sometimes the right people are not on the email thread making it difficult to ensure the information is being shared with the experts. SharePoint and OneDrive provide document sharing capabilities and co-collaboration, meaning more than one-person can edit a document at once. So now we have two or three different tools. Then add on project and task tracking tools such as Microsoft Project or Jira, or Team Foundation Server, and now we have made updates even more complex. Reporting tools are typically found in those tools as well meaning that a separate license may be needed to show reports that management may want easy visibility into. With multiple tools users are constantly switching between applications which can have an effect on performance as one task is being disrupted by switching to another.

Microsoft Teams is the newest collaboration tool in the Office 365 stack and is considered Microsoft's next evolution in how teams work together. The tool takes several of the Office 365 services and makes them accessible in one application that can ease the need for users to have to move between tasks. Teams is available in browsers, as a standalone client for Windows and Mac and as a mobile application for Android and iOS.

So lets take a look at what Teams brings together.

Persistent Chat

Persistent chat can help in many ways a standard chat session using Skype for Business cannot. Persistent chat allows you to easily maintain history, it reaches a larger audience, it can be easily monitored and easily searchable. While Skype for Business can be searched, its limited to those who partook in the conversation, and that's only if history is logged. Teams offers a threaded chat experience that can revolve around normal conversations or documents, notes, etc.

File Sharing

File storage and collaboration is one of Office 365's most used features, mostly powered by SharePoint. The storage mechanism for Teams depends on where you are. If you are just in a single or group chat, not a Team, you would be using your OneDrive for Business account to share files. If you are in a Team a SharePoint Modern Team site is used (as they are created per team). These files are surfaced inside of Teams, so no need to jump out to the SharePoint site to access the documents. Security is managed at the team level or automatically assigned if you are in a separate chat. Documents can also be pinned as tabs within channels.

Ad-hoc/Meet Now Video

Teams supports the ability to do voice and video chat with an individual or create a meeting inline in a Team thread that anyone that is part of the team can join, even if the meeting is already in session. If needed you can also schedule meetings to show in the thread ahead of time.

Task Tracking

Microsoft provides many tools that can assist in tracking tasks. The newest entry into this space was Planner towards the later part of last year. Within Teams you can add multiple plans per Team channel. This makes it easy to add and assign tasks and have those tasks rollup to a user dashboard (currently outside of Teams, but easy to access). Plans provide the ability to easily move tasks between users and stages in a project. If you are familiar with Trello, Planner is very similar.

Connectors

Connectors were first introduced in Office 365 Groups, they provide the ability to bring other tools, including third party, into Teams. Again this allows users to streamline their work by bringing notifications into a central location, inside the thread. Examples of additional connectors are Visual Studio Team Services, JIRA, Twitter, Yammer, Trello, Google Analytics, Dynamics, Salesforce, Webhooks, and UserVoice, to name a few.

Notes

OneNote has become the note taking tool of choice in Office 365. It is a part of OneDrive, SharePoint Team Sites, Office Online, etc. Notes are available by default in a Team channel. This is great for dropping in meeting notes or requirements. You can create additional tabs for more Notes you can have conversations around Notes. Not only that but you can also sync these Notes with your OneNote client.

Tabs

I have mentioned tabs numerous times in this post. Tabs are a way of pinning important information for Team members within their channels. Microsoft has been adding multiple tab capabilities even while in preview. This again comes back to making the application a one-stop shop or that single pane of glass. Tabs available at the writing of this post include Excel, Microsoft Stream, OneNote, PDF, Planner, PowerPoint, SharePoint (for libraries), Visual Studio Team Services, Website (must be https), Word, and last but certainly not least PowerBI. Think about being able to have your PowerBI reports posted to your team without them ever having to leave the Teams application. Developers can of course work on building their own tabs. Find out more.

Bots

Bots are still in the early stages for Teams but the potential is great. Bots enable us the ability to ask a question and get an automated response from within our tools. Out of the box Teams comes with T-Bot, basically Teams virtual assistant. Ask it questions about how to use Teams and it will provide you with what it may determine as the best response. However what if you wanted to ask questions like "What were our sales for last quarter" well develop a bot and you just might find out. 

Read more information about Microsoft bot framework and Bots capabilities in Teams. Cardinal is also hosting a free webinar on how to ad intelligence to your apps using Microsoft's Cognitive Series and Bot Framework on March 23, 2017 for those who are interested.

Your Launchpad

The last bit to cover is that you can leverage Teams as your Launchpad. You can open recent documents you have been working on, no matter if they reside in SharePoint, OneDrive, or Teams. You can quickly view your daily schedule at a glance and can even jump into Skype meetings directly from the Meetings tab.

That's a wrap

As you can see Microsoft Teams has a lot to offer. If you are like me you can see the benefits that this tool will provide for your productivity and how you will be able to take your team to the next level. Best of all is that it is built on top of the Office 365 platform, a platform that is always evolving and improving the way we work. While still in preview at the writing of this post it is expected that Teams will be generally available in the first half of 2017. 

For more information on how Teams or any Office 365 services can help you succeed please send us a note. You can also email info@cardinalsolutions.com to request a recording of my recent webinar where I discuss use cases and demo the functionality of Microsoft Teams.

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About The Author

Business Productivity Practice Manager

Cory is the Business Productivity Practice Manager in Cardinal Solutions Charlotte office working with various Microsoft Collaboration Technologies. He has been working with SharePoint since 2004 and is now splitting time between SharePoint, Office 365, Yammer and Teams. He is also a Productivity MCSE, Office 365 MCSA and Yammer/Teams guru. Collaboration is his thing.