Earlier this week, Microsoft announced a new tool as part of the Office365 suite: Microsoft Teams. Here’s the promotional video to get the general idea:

Lots of Communication Options

Admittedly, the number of different options for communicating in Office365 can be pretty confusing. Prior to Teams, we had:

  • Skype for Business: instant messaging, audio calls, and video calls for one-to-one conversations or small impromptu groups. Still the best when you need a quick answer or an actual conversation.
  • Yammer: Microsoft is now referring to this as a “bulletin board” which seems like a bit of a downgrade from “enterprise social network.” Basically, Yammer is still good for all-staff or group communications.
  • Planner: task management that includes conversation threaded to each task.
  • SharePoint News webpart (just released): one-way communication on a page of a SharePoint site. Could be useful for things like announcements.
  • SharePoint Newsfeed: This still exists, but if you’re building a new site, I would not recommend using it. Use either Yammer or the new SharePoint News webpart.
  • Email: Of course email is still always there, although really, 90% of internal communications can probably be done more efficiently using other options.

There’s two main ways this gets confusing: which do you use, and how do you switch a conversation mid-stream if you realize a better option is available. Suppose a coworker starts a conversation about a project in Planner but then needs an answer right away about a task they were working on. They switch to Skype for Business to get a quick answer. The recipient is busy and misses the message, so it ends up archived in their Conversation History of their email. If you want to respond in the same place that you’re seeing the history, you need to respond to the email, but if the original sender is still online, you probably want to go back to Skype for Business. There’s some promise in the next Windows 10 update unifying message experiences by person, but right now, this can get confusing. Here’s another example on that idea with Sharegate breaking down the relationship between Teams and Yammer. And here’s another great post expressing confusion at the number of offerings. I would love to see a simple resource from Microsoft with what to use for what scenarios, but this is oddly something they have never really provided, instead saying that choice is good and leaving us to figure it out on our own.

Teams

But let’s get back to Teams. Confusion about how they all fit together aside, Teams is a great product. If you’ve used Slack, there’s a clear comparison and everybody is referring to this as a Slack competitor. Slack even took out a full page ad disguised as a patronizing letter to Microsoft on the day of the launch. It is a persistent chat client that brings in a lot of resources from other areas, including other Office365 but also extensible to lots of other third-party tools. Unlike Slack, conversations can be threaded, and if you are already using Office365, this is free, uses a login that you already have, and deeply connects to services you already use. If you’re not already using Office365, it could be a toss-up between Slack and Teams, but if you already pay for Office, there’s little motivation to pay for Slack.

If you open up the Teams app (I’ve tried with the web version at teams.microsoft.com and with the desktop app, but there are mobile apps, too), you get six main tabs along the left of the screen, as well as the typical Feedback and Settings:

Microsoft Teams, Chat tab, talking to a help bot

The Chat tab, talking to a bot, with the dark theme.

  1. Your profile picture with your presence: your saved and recent conversations.
  2. Activity: notifications and recent conversations.
  3. Chat: active chat windows, which includes conversations with bots.
  4. Teams: your list of Teams (linked with Office365 Groups) and the conversation threads for each.
  5. Meetings: scheduled meetings, presumably pulling from your calendar.
  6. Files: including your Teams shared files and your OneDrive for Business

It’s clean. It’s the same experience on any platform, other than some inevitable cases where some platforms will get new features before others, as Microsoft does with all their Office apps. And most importantly, it has a nice set of features.