Back in September, Microsoft announced that the end of Skype for Business was on the horizon, with Microsoft Teams (Teams) taking on all of Skype for Business’ current functionality and then some; exact dates are still TBC. As Teams is destined to become the new Skype for Business, we’ve put together this article to help you familiarise yourself with Teams and how it works.
What is Microsoft Teams?
At its core, Teams is a collaboration and communication application. An online space where you can engage all relevant stakeholders on a project and work with them in unison to achieve your deliverables.
Teams’ integration with Office 365 online is where the product goes above and beyond the current capabilities of Skype for Business and really comes into its own as a project manager’s dream collaboration tool. Any document, spreadsheet, presentation, briefing, requirement; any file at all that lives on a computer that is shared within Teams is automatically synced and a copy is kept in OneDrive’s cloud storage, as well as a local copy in SharePoint. This means as you work through each stage of your project, from scope to design, testing and deployment, you can be absolutely confident that every Team member is always seeing, accessing and working on the most up-to-date and relevant version of any file.
The Me in Teams
When they asked me to write an article on Teams, I went away and started pulling together all the wonderful things the application does. I wanted to make sure I covered all its features, make sure everyone knew just how easy project work could be when this application was used. I wrote a big, tech-focused piece that delved into every aspect of Teams, yet when I went to proof it, I realised I had taken the heart and soul out of the product. So rather than bore you with a product description of Teams (which you can find here), I think the best way for me to explain how Teams works – and why it’s an absolute godsend – is to share with you my experience of using Teams by focusing on a recent project I completed.
Anyone who works in HR, corporate communications or events will know that company conference day is without a doubt one of the most stressful days of the year. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an incredibly rewarding and much-needed activity, however, as many of you will know, getting the most senior executives in your organisation to send through relevant documentation, speech notes, sign awards etc. is near impossible, and rightly so, they are the busiest, most sought-after people in your organisation; everyone wants a piece of them and you’re just the next person in line.
As someone who works in communications and originally started out in HR, I’ve worked my fair share of company conferences, and the stress of delivering a company conference day that is engaging, informative, entertaining and runs on time is very real to me, so this year, when Advantage asked me to do the comms for our company conference day I took a deep breath, hunched up my shoulders and started doing my stressed-out eyebrow dance.
I was readying myself for blood, sweat and tears until my marketing director advised me to set up a project in Microsoft Teams and run everything related to company conference through there. Now, I was lucky, I work for an IT firm that specialises in Microsoft products so thankfully everyone in the organisation was already used to working with Teams.
If Teams is new to your organisation, I’ll be releasing a piece next week that takes you through how to set Teams up in your organisation and get your stakeholders on board. To be the first to receive this article, please sign up here.
Running a project with Teams
My first port of call was to set up a team in Teams that comprised all the relevant stakeholders needed to deliver company conference day. This included our managing director, our financial controller, the directors of each business unit (sales, delivery and support, and managed services) and our designer, events manager, HR manager and our marketing director. As the communications person, I was charged with drafting speeches, writing the company conference day event guide and proofing all presentations, as well as looking after the internal communications campaign that promoted the event to all employees.
One of the reasons an application like Teams works so well for a company like Advantage is that we have a very mobile and remote workforce. Justin, our Dynamics Sales Director and Dave, our Dynamics Service & Support Director, for example, not only live outside of London, they’re also constantly on the road meeting with clients and prospects. Both incredibly busy and always on the move, Teams allowed me to be in constant communication with both men. Because Teams integrates with Office 365 and has video and voice conferencing capabilities, I was able to seamlessly take briefings, share drafts and review documents with Justin and Dave, even when they were on the road and the only device they had access to was their mobile phones.
When working on a cross-functional project, such as a company-wide conference day, an application like Teams helps you break down silos by giving everyone involved an easy and intuitive way to access relevant information. Teams allows members to have private or public chats in one easy-to-find location. All communication – be it emails, videos, private chats, public chats, recordings etc. – that related to the company conference day project were stored in Teams and I was able to access each at the click of a button. Whereas before I would waste time manually digging through my emails looking for “MD FEEDBACK Version3,” with Teams I could very easily see which version of a document I was working on, who else had provided feedback, who had missed their deadline and what the next steps and action points were for that document or task.
Another benefit of working in Teams is that you don’t have to waste your time duplicating information or data. For example, traditionally I would write the copy for an event guide and then work to get sign off on the language, as well as brief design on the layout. I would go back and forth between marketing director, managing director and the design team in order to get this locked down. This process was frustrating, to say the least, and most of the time all I would be doing was translating design speak into corporate speak. With Teams, however, design, communication, marketing director and managing director were all able to work on a live document and feedback simultaneously. When design completed a task, we could all see it in real time and I was only ever required to step in when there was a ‘lost in translation’ issue between corporate or design. Not having to deal with this incredibly tedious manual process left me free to focus and perfect other more important and pressing tasks.
But did you tell them about the bots!?
Probably my favourite feature, Microsoft Teams uses artificial intelligence (AI) and bot technology to digitally assist users with a multitude of tasks. Here’s how it works, Teams allows you to very easily develop a bot that can perform certain functions, for example, for the company conference day project we created a bot that would pull various sets of data and documents based on key search terms. We needed this information at our fingertips because a big part of the company conference day was to talk about sales figures and growth projections. Instead of me having to constantly pester our financial controller for information relating to last quarter, last year or the last three years, all I would have to do was mention in one of our chats that figures ranging from December 2016 – December 2017 were needed to show how many new customer acquisitions were made in that time period and our trusty little bot would pull that information up immediately, without being formally asked to do so. Similarly, when I was chatting with various stakeholders and we discussed deadlines or follow-up meetings, the bots we’d developed would automatically pick that information up and either set the deadline to the relevant stakeholder or schedule a meeting knowing full well when we would be free next.
As we’ve seen with chatbots for customer service, bots are incredibly useful for processing large amounts of administrative tasks. Applying that same logic for internal projects can save you and your team a wealth of time.
Come together, right now, over Teams
Microsoft Teams is a project collaboration and communication tool like no other. With its ability to integrate into all of Office 365’s features, including SharePoint, OneDrive, Exchange, Excel, Word, PowerPoint and OneNote, as well as its enhanced use of AI and bot technology, Teams is well and truly the digital workspace of the future. What’s more, Teams is designed with the same security and data protection standards as Office 365, i.e. two-factor authentication and single sign-on through Active Directory (Microsoft’s Directory Server), meaning all of your work is encrypted and protected 24/7 and is GDPR compliant.
As businesses increasingly become more global and mobile, working remotely and collaboratively – be it an executive working from home or from a client’s HQ, or a freelancer coming in to deliver a critical project – is fast becoming the modus operandi of all businesses, big and small. The quicker your business embraces this new way of working and leverages technology like Microsoft Teams to make project work seamless, the better prepared you’ll be to take advantage of the opportunities this type of collaborative work can bring to your organisation: think better access to talent due to a breakdown of geographical barriers, better onboarding of temporary workers and freelancers, and quicker delivery times for projects.
If you’d like to find out how Microsoft Teams can transform the way your business manages projects, talk to Advantage today.
Words by Camilo Lascano Tribin