For the last several years, businesses have been flocking to team collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams to deal with work-from-anywhere communications requirements — and this move has only accelerated during the current coronavirus crisis. Without the ability to connect in person, work teams have turned to virtual spaces for their collaboration needs.
Use of Teams, already the most quickly adopted application in Microsoft’s history, has skyrocketed during this period, to 75 million daily active users as of April 29. This is an increase of 70% in just over a month, Microsoft reported
Although this is impressive growth, from my perspective as someone who has been all in with Teams for over a year, I can say the operational efficiencies gained in using Teams long term will significantly eclipse this statistic.
When our organization went all in on Teams over a year ago, we weren’t prepared for the impact it would have on us. Teams became the center of our operations and significantly changed the way we worked. (As an aside, when we moved to working at home on March 13, to protect our staff, the transition was seamless.)
Teams extended collaboration capabilities include:
- Text chat — great for collaborating asynchronously
- Voice calling internally, with extended dial plans available for making or receiving calls to/from any number
- Video meetings with screen sharing (my personal favorite)
Teams also provides a simplified front end for SharePoint document management, an under-appreciated feature. Although SharePoint has been around for almost two decades, it has required a significant investment in setup and training. Teams eases this requirement, giving work teams a robust and easy-to-access document management system, with an often overlooked benefit — version control.
Version control, historically a manual process, has long been a challenge for collaborative organizations. SharePoint provides version control automatically, behind the scenes. But the even bigger operational benefit is that team members can post rich, contextually relevant messages with links to SharePoint Teams files within a project or collaboration group. This makes it easier for colleagues to find the right file and enable the entire team to work collaboratively on the right version of a file with context-oriented messaging. This can save everybody countless hours.
The holistic use of Teams for document management, collaboration, messaging, video, and voice has created a variety of new opportunities for and enhancements to our operations.
Teams isn’t a perfect solution, and many argue that individual features of Teams aren’t best of breed. But that doesn’t matter, since the benefit isn’t in the individual features, but rather the integration of collaboration capabilities in one place. The integration creates a great user experience — one of my favorite things that Teams allows is the ability to begin collaborating on a document via asynchronous chat, then move from the chat to a voice call, and then to a video call with screen sharing — seamlessly, never changing applications or disrupting the discussion. The workflow changes may take some time to adjust to, but ultimately employees will appreciate the simplified experience.
A feature that has been particularly beneficial to our company is the ability to extend this functionality to guests — partners, suppliers, and customers. Guests can be easily set up to collaborate on files, join videoconferences, and participate in text chats. This has significantly improved the customer experience.
By bringing all of these features and functions together into one interface, our teams have been able to get the job done sooner with better results. On top of that, the ability to run Teams on a mobile device means employees can use their smartphones to collaborate from anywhere (airport, taxi, parking lot — or anyplace they might escape to establish physical distancing). This can help projects stay on pace, if not finish ahead of schedule.
Additionally, availability of a mobile client reduces the number of devices employees need down to two — typically a laptop and a smartphone. Once they begin using Teams, the idea of picking up a desk phone handset will seem awkward and intrusive to many employees.
Adopting Teams in a holistic way as described, can also be augmented with other tools. Some examples would be adding corporate applications such as CRM, workflow tools, and project management right within the Teams applications to further enhance user productivity.
Teams can be an operational game changer for many organizations. But recognize that maximizing its effectiveness does take some planning, as it will touch most operational processes in the business. Even during the rush to virtual collaboration brought on by the pandemic, be sure to take the time to look at your business workflows and identify the ones that will be the most impactful to integrating communications and collaboration.
In part two, I’ll share practical tips for making Teams part of the connected work experience.