Microsoft Teams has quickly established itself as one of the best apps on the planet for boosting collaboration, communication, and productivity. Its collaboration capabilities know no bounds – with SharePoint and OneDrive allowing file-sharing, the video conferencing capabilities, and the fact that Teams is intricately woven into other platforms (such as Planner and Outlook) makes Microsoft Teams an excellent collaboration platform.
Many users, however, seem to glance over some of the platform’s most useful features. Let’s explore some of these so you can get more use and value over your subscription.
Instant messaging – Chat and Posts
There are two ways to conduct a discussion in Teams:
- By using the group ‘Chat’ feature, located on the left of the Teams interface.
- By posting communication under the ‘posts’ tab of a specific channel.
So, what’s the difference?
The ‘Chat’ feature is self explanatory, it is designed for an informal chat but Channels are optimized for more project-led discussions.
Channels are quieter as, by default, they don’t send notifications whereas Chat does. For example, when you send a message in your group chat, everyone will get be alerted with a notification, whereas when you want to get someone’s attention in a Channel you need to use the @mention feature which allows for conversations in Channels to be more personal. Due to this, Chats can be very distracting especially if you have the entire team in one informal chat, although, luckily, the option to mute is there if you need it.
Channels supports more app extensions than group chats. For example, you can add Planner to a Channel discussion – and you can’t pin that to a normal Chat.
- Channel discussions are far better for document sharing. Take SharePoint for example, its integration makes Channel discussions more convenient when document sharing. Sending a file in a Channel presents a link to the associated SharePoint location, whereas a group chat doesn’t have any SharePoint location associated with it.
- It can be difficult in a group chat to distinguish between multiple discussion threads, often leading to confusion and reduced productivity. With Channels you can post targeted replies to specific messages, this allows certain team members to converse without getting the entire team involved.
Pay attention to these differences because to use Teams as effectively as possible. Use ‘group chat’ for those informal ‘did you watch the game’ type chats, or in situations where you simply need a speedy un-detailed reply. With Channel posts you can cut down on email too – use ‘@mentions’ as an alternative to email ‘CC’ing – also allowing you to keep your files in sync with the conversation (thanks to SharePoint integration).
If you use Teams to its full potential, your activity tab will likely become flooded with notifications on a regular basis. To combat this, you can apply filters to your activity feed to focus on the notifications that demand your immediate attention. You can do this by navigating to the activity tab, clicking on the filter icon, and then selecting ‘@mentions’ from the ‘more options’ menu. This will display notifications where you have been tagged.
You can send emails to a Teams Channel! This little known feature lets you send and forward emails to the channel’s chat feed so that all topic-specific communication can be viewed in the same place. Email messages sent to the channel automatically can be saved in the channel’s associated SharePoint, making it easy to retrieve. Obtain a channel’s email address by navigating to the ‘more options’ menu at the top of the channel and then select ‘get email address’ from the drop-down menu.
Bookmark important messages
This simple but important feature, available in both group chats and channels, allows you to distinguish important messages and follow-up on them at a future date. Locate the ‘more options’ menu beside a message and then select ‘save this message’ from the drop-down menu.
Click on your user icon in the top right of the Teams window to return to your saved messages, then select ‘saved.’
Live document co-authoring
You and your colleagues can edit a file simultaneously in real-time (as long as a file is stored in the cloud and edit permissions are enabled) – a very useful feature! This powerful tool keeps your files securely stored in the cloud and speeds up the editing process. It also means that there doesn’t need to multiple edited versions of the same document (often causing confusion with no one knowing which is the latest version).
Teams is a great way to access this feature. Find your desired file in your SharePoint or OneDrive and choose where you want to open it from the ‘show actions’ menu indicated by three dots ‘…’
You’ll be notified throughout the presence of the user icons in the top right and the appearance of colored cursors in the document which highlight the areas where other members of the team are collaborating.
Comments, follow ups and ‘reviewing mode’ allow document changes to be suggested without the main body of the document being altered.
‘Comments’ allows you to draw attention to – and pose questions about – a certain part of a document. To post a comment simply highlight the text, right click, then select ‘new comment’ from the drop-down menu. Comments then appear on the right-hand side, left of the text or part of a document that is being queried.
‘Follow ups’ are very similar to comments, allowing sections of a document to be highlighted for editing purposes.
‘Reviewing mode’ allows users to suggest changes to a document without altering the underlying text that is already there. This can be activated by navigating to the ‘view mode’ box at the top of the window and selecting ‘reviewing’ from the available options.
Your alterations will be highlighted in red. The document owner will then review all changes and decide whether to implement or reject the suggestions by right-clicking on the selected text.
Microsoft sells Teams as a simple interface for communication, collaboration, and productivity, but there is more to it. Take your time exploring the various tools that it offers.