Cloud

Microsoft Teams: The smart person's guide

This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about the chat-based communication and collaboration platform Microsoft Teams.

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Microsoft Teams is available to most Office 365 customers.

Image: Microsoft

Microsoft's chat and collaboration platform Teams may be arriving some time after Slack but thanks to its integration with Office 365, has a few tricks of its own up its sleeve.

TechRepublic's smart person's guide to Microsoft Teams is a quick introduction, as well as a "living" guide that will be revised periodically as new updates are released.

SEE: Check out all of TechRepublic's smart person's guides

Executive summary

  • What is Microsoft Teams? A chat and collaboration platform for Microsoft Office 365 customers designed to simplify group work.
  • Why does Microsoft Teams matter? As well as the chat-based comms, Teams' integration with other Microsoft services allows for shared files and calendars, collaborative editing, and easy switching between voice, video and text chat. The main weakness, at present, is it can't be used to collaborate with anyone outside of an organization.
  • Who does Microsoft Teams affect? The service is available to most subscribers to Microsoft cloud-based Office 365 suite.
  • When is Microsoft Teams happening? Teams is available to Office 365 customers across 181 markets worldwide and in 19 languages as of the 14 March, 2017.
  • How do I get Microsoft Teams? Enable it in the Office 365 admin center, following the instructions here.

What is Microsoft Teams?

Teams is Microsoft's take on chat-based communication for business, its answer to competing platforms such as Slack and Atlassian's HipChat.

In its simplest form the service allows users to set up Teams, each of which is essentially a hub for group chat rooms, which are called channels.

Multiple chat rooms or channels can be created within a Team and to help keep chats easy to follow, conversations are threaded, flow from top to bottom and notify users of updates. If users need face-to-face conversation, they can jump straight into Skype voice or video chats with other channel participants with a single click.

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However, Microsoft is pushing the platform as being more than just a chat hub. Teams is integrated with Microsoft's online office suite Office 365, which means it is tied to other Microsoft Office services, such as Word and Excel, as well as its cloud storage and sharing services such as SharePoint. PowerPoint, OneNote, Planner, Power BI and Delve are also integrated with Teams.

Consequently any documents, spreadsheets, presentations and the like that are shared within a Team are synced with a copy stored in Microsoft's OneDrive cloud storage and a local SharePoint environment, so every Team member always has access to the latest version. Collaborative editing of this shared content is also possible, with each user's changes reflected in the Office software in real time.

Even if someone doesn't like using Teams, the service's integration with Office 365 means that important updates or content generated within the collaboration platform can be flagged up outside of Teams, for instance Microsoft Delve might highlight an update to an important shared file.

Team channels can also communicate with outside services via Connectors. Connectors already exist to push updates from GitHub, Zendesk, MailChimp, SAP SuccessFactors and Salesforce to Teams' channels and an API framework is available to allow more to be built. On launch, Teams shipped with over 70 Connectors and 85 Bots, which can participate in conversations. From within Chat, every Team channel will have access to T-Bot, a bot that can answer simple questions users have about Teams.

Access to files, internal sites and dashboards is automatically controlled by Office 365 Groups and SharePoint, with users able to create a new Group or attach the Team to an existing Group when creating the Team.

Teams is designed to meet the same security and data protection standards as Office 365 and is Office 365 Tier C compliant. The service enforces two-factor authentication, single sign on through Active Directory and encryption of data in transit and at rest.

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Why does Microsoft Teams matter?

Teams is designed to provide an easier way for small groups of people to communicate and collaborate.

The defacto approach of communicating via group emails and sharing files via a patchwork of different services is difficult—or so goes Microsoft's rationale—with the potential for missed messages and files. This is the problem Teams is designed to solve.

Microsoft argues that Teams' trump card is its tight integration with Office services and Groups, which allows users to seamlessly and securely switch between editing documents, shared dashboards and planners, and group chat, video and voice calls. That simplicity of just setting up a Team and having access to all these shared services—without the need to spend hours configuring them—is part of what Microsoft sees as Teams' selling point. Teams integration with email also allows messages sent to a designated Team address to be copied to a conversation in Teams.

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Who are Microsoft Teams' competitors?

Teams' main challengers are the chat and collaboration services Slack and Atlassian's HipChat.

Slack released before Teams, and speaking from personal experience, using a mix of Slack and Google Apps for Work provides a relatively straightforward way of collaborating and communicating with colleagues. Slack also recently released its Enterprise Grid service, targeted at serving the needs of organizations with between 500 and 500,000 users.

Teams also has limitations not found in Slack. Teams also has limitations not found in Slack. Teams can't be used to communicate and collaborate with people outside of an organization at present—but Microsoft has said it will add a guest access feature by June 2017.

Slack is also available as a Freemium product, whereas Teams requires an Office 365 subscription, costing a minimum of $60 per year and rising to $240 per year for the full suite of Office desktop apps—comparable to the price of running Slack alongside Google Apps for Work according to this ZDNet article.

Also a Freemium offering, HipChat charges $2 per user, per month for its Plus service, which includes group video chat, group screen sharing, unlimited file sharing and storage and unlimited message history.

Similar to Teams, Atlassian's HipChat has built-in support for one-click group video chat, for up to 20 users, but also offers integration with Amazon's voice-controlled personal assistant Alexa.

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Who does Microsoft Teams affect?

The service is available to subscribers to Microsoft's cloud-based Office 365 suite. Microsoft says it is available to "most" Office 365 commercial customers — with Teams being enabled for Business Essentials, Business Premium, E1, E3, and E5 plan subscribers. Teams is also be available to firms that purchased E4 prior to its retirement.

Teams is cross platform, with clients for Windows, macOS, Android, iOS and the web.

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When is Microsoft Teams happening?

Teams is available to Office 365 customers across 181 markets worldwide and in 19 languages as of the 14 March, 2017.

Additional resources

How do I get Microsoft Teams?

To turn on Microsoft Teams for your organization you will need to enable it in the Office 365 admin center, following the instructions here.

Additional resources

About Nick Heath

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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