Microsoft Teams is the new hot tool that everyone is saying is the new standard of productivity. It provides a range of features that are very powerful but unfortunately it can also be difficult to understand what it does. Is it a chat tool? Is it a collaboration tool? Who are Teams made of?
In this article, I give an explanation of Microsoft Teams that you can hand to anyone in your organization and have them understand it. It will help you explain what Microsoft Teams is in a way that it resonates with anyone you speak to – from your very technical friends all the way to your grandma when she asks you what you do for a living. 

What is Microsoft Teams? 

Microsoft Teams helps organizations collaborate more efficiently by allowing them to do a number of different activities in a single tool. This includes meetings, chat, calling and collaboration. Collaboration basically means that you work with a group of people. These people can be from your department, organization or even outside your organization. When you collaborate what exactly are you doing? Well, you are creating documents, managing tasks, discussing ideas, calling people and having meetings. You do a lot and normally you use different tools for different collaboration activities. Microsoft Teams brings this all together in one place for you. Whatever type of collaboration you are doing, with whoever you are doing it with,Teams helps you do that! 

What does Microsoft Teams do? 

Well, a lot! But you do have the option both as an IT organization and on a user level to decide what you use and when. Here is a high-level overview of the powerful feature that MS Teams provides. 

Microsoft Teams 

This gets confusing but Microsoft Teams (the piece of software) allows you to create Teams (a collaboration space for people who work closely together). Often made up of people who are invested in a common outcome: full or part-time employees, vendors, or guests of the organization. Teams are made up of Channels that allow you to group conversations, files, tabs, and applications together in a logical way. 

The power of these Teams is that they provide a full rich collaboration experience in a single interface for users. Teams are a great way to collaborate together as everything you need to collaborate is right there: Files, Conversations, Meetings, Tasks, etc, all with the added security and scalability that Office 365 provides. MS Teams really is the new way of working and is making a huge impact on how organizations collaborate both internally and externally. 

Teams allow you to collaborate together with others in a rich, chat based workspace.

MS Teams Calendar and Meetings 

Meetings are a vital part of collaboration. Teams has a number of different features in this area. Your calendar is available directly in Teams so you don’t need to go to Outlook. You can instantly launch a virtual meeting from Teams that allows you to have audio and video. It makes the sharing of content quick and easy.
Teams also has many other great virtual meeting capabilities such as real-time captions, translations and a whiteboard for easy exchange for ideas. Meetings can be planned and sent out in advance or you can quickly meet with anyone at any time for a quick chat. 

Teams meeting desktop and application sharing
Teams provides a range of very powerful meeting capabilities such as video, voice and content sharing

Microsoft Teams Chat 

MS Teams allows you to have private conversations with one or many people, as well as public conversations with a Team that you are a member of. Chat tools like Slack have become extremely popular because it’s a better way to communicate compared to email. The chat in teams allows for responses, replies, reactions, sharing of files and links and other features. That makes it a richer, more real-time experience than using email. 

Chat between a Teams and a Skype for Business user
Teams provides one to one, one to many and many to many chat experiences.

Microsoft Teams Calls and Telephony 

The Teams application also allows you to make telephone calls and can replacement for a physical phone. You can do common things like answering, call holding, ringing phone numbers through the integrated dial pad making MS Teams extremely useful as an all in one communication and collaboration solution. 

Teams provides calling functionality that can replace your phone system.

Microsoft Files 

There are a number of ways that you can also use Teams to interact with files that you have. Teams offers a number of options to edit files also. You can open them in the desktop applications or directly within Teams, which is very useful. What this means is that you can create, edit and interact with any files that you have directly from within Teams. Instead of having to navigate to SharePoint sites or Onedrive, you have a simple editing experience directly from the Teams interface and you can also see all the files that you have recently edited in a single location!

Seeing all your files in one place is a great feature of Microsoft Teams!

You can edit files stored within the Teams that you are a member of, as well those stored in OneDrive. But there is more! Even if you use third-party file storage such as Box, Google Drive or DropBox, you can also edit these files. 

Content that you store outside of Office 365 can be edited in Teams. Great for organizations that use more than a single tool.

Microsoft Teams Integrations 

Most organizations use a number of different tools as part of their digital workplace in addition to Office 365. Teams allows you to integrate those tools directly into the Teams experience. This lets you work with them alongside everything else that Office 365 offers. There are many integrations for popular tools and lots of different ways that they are integrated so you have a lot of choice. This makes Teams a hub for collaboration and simplifies the entire experience for users. 

Teams allows you to integrate with many other apps outside of the Office 365 ecosystme

Why was it created? 

Teams was Microsoft’s response to new ways of working and to compete with hugely popular tools like Slack. Honestly, the first version of Teams wasn’t very good and was quite limited. But like most of the tools that Microsoft makes, over time it has gotten better. Now Teams is extremely appealing with a range of capabilities that put it in a category all of its own. 

Who can I ‘Team’ with? 

Ok, so who can I actually collaborate with using Microsoft Teams? Now this does depend on how you have set Microsoft Teams up (ask the good folks at IT about that) but the answer is really with anyone: 

  1. People that I work with closely. For people that I need to be in constant contact with, I can use Teams for one to one chat, quick virtual meetings, and share documents. 
  2. People within my organization. Projects, topic-based stuff, or cross-functional people I can collaborate with by creating a Team and doing all my activities within that. 
  3. People outside my organization. Partners, consultants or external parties can be invited to join my Teams and collaborate.

The nice thing with teams is that physical location doesn’t matter and time doesn’t matter either. I can collaborate with anyone at any time using Teams. 

Why is Microsoft Teams so popular? 

MS Teams is popular for users at the moment for a number of reasons: 

  1. It’s the default tool: Teams is becoming the default tool when collaborating with others on Office 365 so really users are compelled to use it. It’s not a bad thing honestly since its a far better experience than Office 365 through the browser. 
  2. It’s the replacement to Skype for Business: Instant messaging is a godsend in many organizations. The tool that you used was probably Skype for Business. Well, Microsoft is replacing this with Teams so you don’t really have a choice. Don’t worry, it isn’t happening until 2021, but you will probably see your organization making the switch soon. 
  3. Chat-based tools are all the rage: Your organization probably uses Slack or something else in your company. You probably use Office 365 for your emails and file storage through OneDrive and SharePoint. Well, now you can have it all in one tool!

Microsoft Teams: Final Thoughts

It’s a simpler way to use Office 365. What to use in Office 365 is always problematic. There are a lot of tools that do similar things in slightly different ways. Teams gives a lot of these tools a more consistent interface and places them in a single application. While it took Microsoft a little time to get Teams to where it is today, I think it’s now one of the most helpful productivity tools out there. I hope this post helped explain Teams in an easy-to-understand way. Let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Further Reading

Should Teams and Outlook Join Forces?

Teams Channel Moderation Tips and Tricks

Microsoft Teams Cheat Sheet – TechRepublic

A Beginners Guide to Microsoft Teams – Chorus

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