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Modern Workplace Sep 18, 2019

Microsoft Teams: the future is now.

Microsoft has announced it will be pulling the plug on Skype for Business, its popular real-time online collaboration service, at the end of July 2021. This announcement marks the beginning of the end for the service as Skype for Business will no longer be available to new cloud subscribers starting in September 2019. But there’s no need to panic. Microsoft has plans to revolutionise in-house and external collaboration, having laid the foundation for this back in 2011 with the introduction of Microsoft Teams.

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Skype and Skype for Business – A journey back in time.

In the early 2000s, promising communications companies began popping up everywhere. Even then, the world was busy finding ways to make everything faster, more direct and more coherent—and not just in the workplace. Two Swedish entrepreneurs recognised the trend and, in July 2003, founded Skype Technologies. The concept of peer-to-peer communication took hold and has been steadily expanded ever since. Early on, Google, Facebook and Microsoft showed interest in the Swedes’ product and success. In 2010, Microsoft came out with Microsoft Lync and Windows Live Messenger, two instant messaging and peer-to-peer communication programs. Then Microsoft surprised everyone by acquiring Skype in 2011, incorporating it as a wholly-owned subsidiary. The software giant’s goal was to integrate the two existing services into the popular platform and make it appealing to business users. With “for Business” added to its name, the service was ready to change how we communicate. It became a true success story, albeit one with an expiration date.

 

The birth of Microsoft Teams.

Skype transformed how we work in today’s day and age. Smartphones and mobile Internet conquered the market. Agile meetings, which you can attend even when you’re stuck in a hotel lobby or airport terminal, became not only possible, but easy and essential. Then came cloud storage, collaborative document and file editing, and dynamic projects. This constant stream of developments brought the Skype-for-Business era ever closer to its end, with features such as persistent chat simply delaying the inevitable. Microsoft could not longer keep up with software competitors such as SLACK, which were quicker to recognise the trend. But Bill Gates personally spoke out against acquiring SLACK, arguing that his company would instead take Skype for Business to the next level. That’s when everything took off. The term “MS Teams” first began turning up on the web in 2016. Then in September 2017, Microsoft used its Ignite conference to announce that Skype for Business would be replaced by Microsoft Teams within the next five years. Just a few weeks later, Teams appeared as an official Office 365 service that subscribers could already use.

 

 

How Microsoft Teams works.

Microsoft Teams takes what companies and customers want most out of the modern workplace and offers it in a single application. The true appeal of individual features becomes apparent in how they work together. Microsoft itself considers Teams to be a “one-client wonder”. As the one-stop application for everything, Teams lets you edit, share, comment and structure documents into projects. It also enables telephony, VoIP and chat—not to mention collaborative brainstorming, large-scale meetings and live events. All these developments serve one purpose: a Microsoft Teams user should be able to work on and finish all their tasks in one single application.

 

Teams isn’t an upgrade or new feature of Skype for Business. It’s the future. So let’s take a closer look. To explain how it works, Teams is often compared to a house, which I find very fitting.

 

  • Microsoft Teams users work together in teams, each of which can be seen as a household. Each household member has access to all information in the house and can participate in any activity going on. In principle, users can live in as many houses as they want, but this would quickly lead to confusion, which may lower productivity. Your company should have as few houses (i.e. teams) as possible without restricting creativity and growth. In addition, each house should be assigned a specific topic, project or group of people. Depending on your structure, it may be a good idea to develop a policy for creating houses, i.e. teams.

 

  • Each house has a main living space. In real life, this is usually the living room; Teams refers to it as the “General channel”. Anyone in the house can see and track everything that goes on in the living room through so-called “conversations”. Conversations can consist of announcements, appointments, last-minute meetings or ideas. There are no limits placed on the conversations in the living room. Microsoft was keen to make text-based communication as comprehensive as possible to prevent misunderstandings, so GIFs, likes and other social-media features are an integral component. This promotes a pleasant, constructive work environment that connects people even if they’re in different corners of the globe. Back to our analogy. Living rooms are where everyone can congregate anytime they want. While working on a project, however, it may be useful to have separate spaces dedicated to specific topics that should be discussed outside the general area. This is like adding rooms onto your house, which grows and encourages new lines of thinking.

 

  • Each house has a hallway connecting these rooms, and any household members can walk down it to check out what other rooms are up to. You can see what’s going on in all rooms without ever having to actually leave the hallway. Within the Teams environment, “opening” the door to a room is done by activating channel notifications (“channel” being the term Microsoft uses for the rooms). But even you choose not to enter a room (i.e. join a channel), you’ll still be up to date on the most important happenings as your activity feed will immediately highlight anything posted that pertains to you.

 

  • Sometimes you’ll want to discuss things outside of the actual house, similar to stepping out on the patio for an informal chat with one or more people. In Teams, you do this by starting a chat or call. Anything discussed there stays there, although once it becomes relevant to the rest of the household, the conversation should be taken back inside, i.e. discussed within the channel. Otherwise, key information that others need to know may slip through the cracks.

 

  • Each room in the house also has a bulletin board on which to post things, thereby helping to sharpen focus while structuring and/or planning the individual steps of an activity. In Teams, these bulletin boards are referred to as Tabs. They can contain web pages, Excel tables, PowerPoint slides, Yammer or Twitter feeds, Microsoft project plans, shared OneNotes or central wikis. One section of each room’s bulletin board serves as a central repository for pertinent files and documents. (These files are stored on a related SharePoint page that everyone in the team has access to.) By focusing the activity within a room, the bulletin board helps realize the full potential of the entire household.

 

If I've sparked your interest in trialling Teams or developing a shared strategy for getting the most out of your company’s Teams environment, please don’t hesitate to contact one of our collaboration experts. We’ll also be happy to share our experiences, discuss how Teams can help with phone systems and set up training for your users and employees. Because communication is the foundation of the modern digital workplace.

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Florian Vees
Junior Consultant