Online team collaboration with Microsoft Teams

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This year we have seen the rise of Microsoft Teams for business collaboration. Team communication apps such as WhatsApp and Slack have been popular for a while now, and Teams is Microsoft’s answer to the growing need of easy to use, nice looking apps to get work done. Teams allows for remote-working (with the ability to start and join a Skype meeting right from your team), is great for sharing ideas and files and makes open communication within a team easy.

I read this interesting blog by harmon.ie ‘Do team communication apps enhance or inhibit productivity?’ and wanted to share my thoughts.

Research shows increased need for social communication tools

The chat-style conversation is how people want to communicate these days. 49% of millennials (those born between 1980 and the early 2000s) want to use social tools at work, and are even willing to pay for it out of their own pocket! Add to that, that by 2020 Millenials will make up 46% of the workforce! But also Generation X (1960 – early 1980’s) and Baby Boomers (1940’s – early 1960’s) support social tools for collaboration (40% and 31%). 73% of business leaders feel soft skills (communication, creativity, critical thinking and collaboration) are more important than job-specific skills. But 44% percent say soft skills are the biggest skills gap. Even though nearly 3 in 4 employers rate teamwork and collaboration as “very important’, 39% of employees worldwide say people in their organization don’t collaborate enough.

Even though Microsoft Teams seems to hit the spot, there are some challenges as well for collaboration in teams. I think particularly for Generation X and Baby Boomers.

Overcome communication challenges in Microsoft Teams

Chat-based apps like Teams can be addictive or people may feel pressured to be online and available all the time. Team communication may also be a bit distracting and confusing. It can be hard to get the bigger picture in a conversation (especially with a lot of one-liners and emoji’s), and people feel overwhelmed by the noise and notifications. Also Teams is often one more communication channel, on top of Email which is still used for external, more formal, and private communication a lot. Context-switching between Teams and Email makes people lose context.

My assumption is that particularly Millenials are prone to the addiction, and Generation X and Baby Boomers tend to find Teams more distracting and confusing, and find switching from Email more difficult.

A central team collaboration platform

Microsoft Teams is becoming more and more your central point to get all team work done:

  • All your Teams in one place centralising group chat and file sharing (and possibly other apps you add through Tabs, such as Planner)
  • Personal communication through Chat (integrated Skype for Business)
  • All your Files accessible (OneDrive and Team’s Files), searchable, shareable and editable. So team document collaboration is easy to do.
  • All your appointments and meetings for today (from Outlook and Teams meetings) in one view
  • Search anything within any of your teams, being able to find conversations, files or people.
    After doing a search you can even filter down further by using the Filter icon:
  • Add other productivity apps through Tabs or Connectors

 

New communication skills needed

Staying up-to-date with all the increased communication these days requires a new skill. People need to learn how to read through new posts. Don’t try to follow everything, all the time. The key is to follow the channels you must know about, and set up notifications for that. Take 5 minutes every morning, and in the afternoon to read through the Activity feed quickly (I call this vertical reading), and check the badges for @mentions as they likely require your attention more. The information is there to stay. It is not like your email where you strive to get your Inbox empty. That will never happen with a conversation feed. It is there, and you can search for information when you need it.

Make sure you add the right – and not too many –  channels. Channels are topics, and you can have specific conversation threads and share files around that topic. Topics can function as filters as well. Not everybody may need to follow all topics. I could be interested in only some topics.

When you post or share something, make it clear what it is you want from your colleagues. Is it just sharing information, or does it require action (from particular people)? Use @mentions when you need someone’s attention specifically, or use Channel mentions if you want to get a sub-group’s attention.

 

Tips to overcome challenges for collaboration in Teams

  • Use Email only for external and very formal communication. Use Teams for all internal communication within specific groups, and for 1-1 chat.
  • Let Microsoft Teams start up automatically when you start your laptop (Settings- General – Auto-start application).
  • Have conversation around very specific topics (such as customer, processes, projects, etc.) in separate channels to give it more structure. Use the Reply function when replying to someone’s post, instead of starting a new post. One of the newest updates in Teams also allows you to add a Subject to a post, which will help people to read conversations a little more structured around a subject.
  • Share all your files in OneDrive or in Teams Files, never on your hard-disk or shared network drives. This way you can search for and find all your files from the Teams app under Files.
  • Check your upcoming appointments in Meetings. No need to switch to your Outlook Calendar to see what’s on today’s schedule.
  • Follow the channels you need to stay up-to-date for (Click the . . . and choose to Follow this Channel) and set notifications to be sent by email daily (Settings – Notifications).
  • Stay informed by browsing through:
    • Notifications in your email (Set your notifications as you want for all kinds of messages and conversations, i.e.
    • Your Team’s badges: every channel that has new conversations will appear bold, and @mentions to you will display red numbered badges on teams, channels and chats.
    • The Activity feed to see new messages from all your Teams and Channels. You can even filter your feed to show all – My team or My activity, or filter to show Unread, Mention, Replies or Likes only.
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