Microsoft 365 First Steps: Microsoft Teams

Posted on September 22, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft 365 with 9 Comments

Note: This would normally be a Premium post, but thanks to Microsoft, we are able to offer it to all readers without any roadblocks. –Paul

While most small businesses have adapted to remote work 6 months into the pandemic, it’s time to get more out of the tools for which we’re already paying. And the key Microsoft 365 tool that’s emerged during this pandemic, of course, is Microsoft Teams.

And yes, it’s a complex application, in part because of Microsoft’s platform aspirations. But as with so many things, taking the time to understand what’s available is worth the effort. And you may be surprised by how much functionality that Microsoft—and now, thanks to the app’s extensibility capabilities—third parties have stuffed into Teams.

We successfully made the transition to Teams and, more broadly, to Microsoft 365 here at BWW Media Group this past year after a previous attempt a year or so earlier didn’t pan out. The issue, at the time, was that Teams just wasn’t mature enough yet to accommodate our needs. But that changed over time. And then some: Today, Teams is bursting with functionality, most of which didn’t even exist a few months ago, let alone a year or more.

But that functional overload can come with a cost of its own, of course. We at BWW, like many other small businesses, originally sought to simply duplicate what we had been doing before in Skype or Skype for Business. And even that mindset can come with some risks or at least lead to some mistakes.

Looking at the stock Teams user interface, for example, we duplicated the Skype groups we had used previously as teams inside the Teams app. That seemed like the right thing to do, but it ended up adding an extra step to the most common way that we as a (very small) business communicate internally. In Teams, each team has multiple channels, any one of which can contain chats and other bookmarked information. So we were constantly moving in and out of a hierarchy of team views, trying to keep up with conversations that were spread across our different internal groups.

Very quickly, we had had enough, and after discussing it with Brad, we moved all of this over to the Chat view instead. In Teams, Chat works like the Chats view in Skype, and we simply duplicated those groups all over again, and now all is well.

Well, except for another Teams UI weirdism: When someone responds in a chat with a reaction—a smiley, heart, or similar emoji—the notification for that response goes in a different view called Activity. For some reason. So to clear out the notification, you need to manually switch to Activity. You can put a stop to this aggravation by opening Teams settings and navigating to Notifications > Messages > Likes and reactions and disabling it.

Moving beyond the basics, Teams has evolved in ways that are both obvious and unexpected but almost always useful.

On desktop, for example, you can now display chats in pop-up windows that allow you to have multiple views on-screen at once. And even better, Teams will now prompt you to display a video meeting in its own window, freeing up the main Teams window for chats and other functions. Both significantly improve the experience.

Teams also integrates with other Microsoft 365 apps and services and aside, perhaps, from email, you should be able to find anything you need from elsewhere in the service right there in Teams. You and your team’s calendar is right there in the Calendar view, for example, leading to one less time you need to open Outlook. And all of your OneDrive- and SharePoint-based files are available from the Files views, making it easier than ever to collaborate with others. Trust me: Not having to ever open SharePoint again is a good thing.

That left rail—where you typically see icons for Activity, Chat, Teams, and so on—can also be configured so that it shows you only those views you need most often. If you select the “More added apps” (“…”) button, you can add views for OneNote, Planner, Stream, and many others. And if you don’t want a certain view, right-click it and select “Unpin.”

Teams is also extensible with Microsoft and third-party apps, allowing you to further integrate with the online services you rely on, all from within Teams. Open the Apps views in the left rail to browse the store or search for a specific solution. For example, you can add YouTube if you publish videos to that service instead of Microsoft’s Stream or add Cisco WebEx Meetings if you need to schedule a Webex meeting and still have it work internally like a Teams-based meeting.

Speaking of Stream, another great Microsoft 365 feature, one of the most useful Teams features I’ve found is its audio and recording functionality: You can record any meeting and Teams will save it to Stream automatically, giving all (internal) attendees or invitees access to the meeting afterward, and you can even autogenerate captions.

We don’t use that Teams view, as noted, but with bigger organizations, it can be used to help separate the workplace into logical teams or even sub-teams. You can also create private channels inside of a team to help segregate further as needed.

You should also consider taking the time to research and understand / (“slash”) commands and @ (“at”) mentions, the latter of which you may have experienced previously in Outlook. Slash commands work like a command line, allowing you to quickly launch Teams functions directly from a chat or anywhere else in Teams; type “/” (no quotes) in the search box to see a list of available commands. At mentions, meanwhile, help you get someone’s attention in a group chat: Just type “@” (again, no quotes) before their name and that person will receive a Teams notification.

Hopefully, this gave you a few ideas for taking Teams to the next level. But Teams is one of those solutions that rewards a bit of exploration and research, and with Microsoft adding new features every month, it’s only going to get better going forward. So there will always be more to learn.

If you’re not yet using a commercial version of Microsoft 365, please try a free month of Microsoft 365 Business Standard, which includes access to the Microsoft 365 desktop, mobile, and web apps, and 1 TB of cloud storage per user, and can be accessed by up to 25 users during the trial.

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