As more of us are forced to work from home due to the coronavirus outbreak, the need to find ways to do our jobs virtually has never been greater. In the face of the isolation and social distancing now required, we must find alternative ways to collaborate and communicate with other people, both inside and outside our organizations. A variety of tools are accessible that allow us to chat, run audio and video calls, and share files with others. One tool that can help is Microsoft Teams.

SEE: Microsoft Teams: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Designed for businesses, schools, and other organizations, Microsoft Teams provides most of the features required to work with other people remotely. You can form virtual teams and then invite other people to join them. You can chat and exchange messages with other members of your team, either as a group or individually. You can speak with others individually or as a group via audio or video calls. You can even create individual channels for a single team to better organize your chats, calls, and other content.

You can share files with others and then edit and collaborate on those files collectively. Microsoft Teams works smoothly with the Office 365 web apps, so you can view and edit Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, and OneNote files. You can also integrate a range of other Microsoft apps and third-party apps into Teams, which you can then use to incorporate specific data into your chats or meetings.

SEE: Comparison chart: Enterprise collaboration tools (TechRepublic Premium)

Microsoft Teams is available for several different platforms, including the web, Windows, macOS, iOS, iPadOS, and Android. There are some differences among the web app, the desktop apps, and the mobile apps. The desktop apps support all the features built into Teams. The web app fully supports calls and meetings, but only through Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge. Neither the web app nor the mobile apps fully support screen sharing. If you plan to use all or most of the features in Teams, your best bet is to install the desktop app for your specific operating system.

You can tap into Microsoft Teams a few different ways. If your organization has a Microsoft 365 (formerly Microsoft Office 365) business or educational subscription, Teams is part of the package and freely accessible. In this case, you should contact your IT staff or other party to find out how to access the service.

As of March 2020, Microsoft is offering a free 6-month Office 365 E1 Trial that includes Microsoft Teams. The company is providing this free trial due to the increase in the number of people forced to work from home due to the coronavirus.

If your organization doesn’t formally use Teams, you can still grab it for free by setting up access on your own and then creating teams of people. The free version of Teams doesn’t require a Microsoft 365 subscription. You can even use any third-party email address, such as a Gmail address, and it will be set up as a required Microsoft Account.

There are differences between using Teams through a Microsoft 365 business or educational account and using it on your own behalf with your own created team.

Going through a Microsoft 365 account, you can add an unlimited number of users from your organization. Each team can have up to 5,000 members with 1TB of file storage per organization and 10GB per license. This type of account gives you access to such services as SharePoint and OneDrive for cloud storage and synchronization and Exchange for email hosting and custom email domains. You can also schedule and record meetings and conduct audio conferences. This plan gives you dedicated administrative tools to manage users, apps, and features. Microsoft Teams for Education serves up features aimed at teachers, such as integrated OneNote class notebooks and assignment management tools.

The free version of Teams that you’d set up on your own restricts you to 300 people per organization and limits file storage to 10GB for the entire team and 2GB per person. You can’t schedule or record meetings. This version doesn’t integrate with SharePoint, OneDrive for Business, or other Microsoft 365 services.

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic Premium)

How to set up Microsoft Teams access

If you don’t have the necessary Office 365 business or educational account, you can easily set up Teams access for free.

  1. Browse to the Microsoft Teams website.
  2. Click the appropriate button–For Business or For Education.
  3. Enter your email address.
  4. Select how you want to use Teams–for school, for friends and family, or for work.
  5. Enter your password, then enter or confirm your name, company name, and other details.

The next screen asks if you want to use the Windows (or macOS) app or the web app. For the initial setup process, either one will suffice, though at some point you’ll want to install the desktop app for screen sharing and certain other features. You’re then brought to the main screen for Teams (Figure A).

Figure A

How to create teams and invite people

The first task you may need to tackle is to invite people to your organization. This step would be helpful if the members joining your team aren’t already listed or accessible as part of your organization, or if you plan to use your company name as your overall team. To do this, follow these steps.

  1. Click the link in the lower part of the left sidebar to Invite people.
  2. Choose one of the three options: Copy Link, Invite Your Contacts, or Invite By Email (Figure B).
  3. If you go with the third option for Invite By Email, enter the names and email addresses of the people you want to invite to your organization, and send the invitation.

Figure B

If your organization is large or you want to establish multiple teams for different projects, then you’d want to create individual teams rather than use your own company as the overall team. In this case, click the link to Join Or Create A Team, and select the button to Create A Team (Figure C).

Figure C

If you’re using Teams as part of a Microsoft 365 subscription, you can create your team from an existing group. Otherwise, you’ll need to build a team from scratch. In that event, you’ll have two or three options. You can make the team Private, meaning people need your permission to join. You can make it Public, meaning anyone can join. In some cases, you may see a third option to create an Org-wide team in which everyone in your company is automatically a member. To exert control over your team membership, choose the option for Private (Figure D).

Figure D

Create a name and description for your team. For example, if this team will be devoted to a specific project, give it the name of that project. Your next step is to invite people to the team. In the appropriate fields, type the name or email address of each person you want to invite. With members of your organization, you only need to start typing their name. For people outside your organization, you’ll need to enter their full email address. After you’ve set up your first team, you can create additional teams as needed and invite people to each one.

How to chat with people

Once your teams are established, you may want to send a message to all of the members as a first step. Type your message in the chat field at the bottom of the screen. You can spruce up your text by adding special formatting, emoji, GIFs, stickers, and more (Figure E). After you send your message, your fellow team members can reply to kick off a conversation.

Figure E

You can also chat with someone individually. To do this, click on the New Chat icon at the top. Type the name of the person with whom you want to chat, then type your message.

How to call other people

You may want to set up a video or audio conference call with your team members. To do this, follow these steps.

  1. Click the Meet Now icon at the bottom.
  2. Type a subject for the meeting, if necessary.
  3. Click the Off switch to make it an audio-only call. Otherwise, leave the switch alone, and click the Camera icon to activate your own camera.
  4. Click the Meet Now button.
  5. At the meeting window, right-click the name of each person you want to participate, and ask each one to join (Figure F).

Figure F

After all the participants have joined, you can chat with the entire group or individual participants and share your screen–either the entire screen or specific windows. Just make sure you’re using the desktop app to take full advantage of screen sharing. You can also see a list of all participants in the right pane where you can mute their audio or remove them from the meeting.

You can easily and quickly contact individual members.

  1. Click the icon for Calls on the left sidebar, and select the option for Contacts.
  2. Click the button to Add Contact, and start typing the name of one of your team members. After that person has been added, you can now chat, email, place a video call, or place an audio call to that person (Figure G).

Figure G

How to create channels

At this point, you may decide you want to divide your team’s work into individual sections or channels. This may be helpful if you’re working on multi-layered or staged projects and you want to keep track of each stage separately.

  1. Click the More Options icon next to the name of your team, and select the option to Add Channel.
  2. Create a name and other details for the channel, and add it.
  3. Repeat these steps for each channel you want to add.
  4. If you want to chat, speak, or share content specific to a certain channel, click the name of the channel and use the Teams interface as you normally would (Figure H).

Figure H

How to share files

You may want to share files with team members, either with the entire group or a specific person.

  1. At the bottom chat field, click the paper clip icon. You can attach a file from your computer or your shared OneDrive storage.
  2. Select the file you want to share, such as an Excel spreadsheet.
  3. Send it to the recipients. All of you can now click the file to open it in Excel’s web app. You and the other members can edit the file in real-time with any edits pointing to the name of the person who made the change (Figure I).
  4. Close the file when done. Any files attached this way are saved in Teams and are accessible through the file attachment location for Teams and Channels.

Figure I

How to work with files

You can also work with files another way. Click the Files icon on the left sidebar, and you’ll see all attached files. Here, you can also upload files to your team’s OneDrive storage space for access. You can then work with those files through the file attachment location for OneDrive.

How to integrate other apps

You can increase the functionality of Teams by integrating other Microsoft apps and a variety of third-party apps. These include productivity apps, project management apps, news apps, educational and informational apps, communication apps, and more.

  1. Click the Apps icon on the left sidebar. You can now browse or search for specific apps.
  2. Select an app, and add it. Depending on the app you chose, you can now access information or content from that app directly in Teams. For example, you can connect to Salesforce to access your CRM data, to SurveyMonkey to create polls, and to YouTube to share videos (Figure J).

Figure J

Tips for experienced users

So far we’ve covered the basics for Microsoft Teams, but there’s much more to the service than meets the eye. You’ll certainly pick up on some of the more advanced features as you use Teams, but to get you started, here are some tips for experienced users.

  • Review the settings. You can control and tweak certain features in Teams via the Settings panel. To get there, click your profile icon in the upper right, and select Settings. Here, you can choose how and when the Teams app launches, control the Do Not Disturb option and other privacy settings, manage your notifications, test your audio and video, and control incoming calls and voice mail.
  • Manage members. The free version of Teams doesn’t offer a dedicated management tool, but you can still manage permissions and other features for those on your team. Click the More Options button for your team, and select the option to Manage Team. At the Team Management screen, go to Settings. Select Member Permissions to control what members can do. Select Fun Stuff to restrict the ability of members to add emoji, GIFs, and stickers.
  • Tag team members. You can assign tags to individual members of a team, and communicate to them all at once by including the tag in your mention. Click the More Options button for your team, and select the option to Manage Tags. Create your tag name, and assign members to it. In the chat window, type @ followed by the tag name to reach out to all people assigned that tag.
  • Use the command line. The command line at the top of the screen offers a handy way to access key features and functions. Simply type a forward slash followed by the command you want, such as /activity to see someone’s activity, /call to call someone, or /dnd to set your status to Do Not Disturb. To see a list of all commands, just type the forward slash by itself.
  • Blur your video background. If you’re working from home and don’t want other people to see your messy room during a video call, you can blur your background. To do this during a call, click the More Actions button, and select the option for Blur Background. To turn it off, click the same button, and select the option for Don’t Blur Background.
  • Take meeting notes. During a conference call, you can easily take notes about the meeting. During the call, click the More Actions button, and select the option to Show Meeting Notes. Give a name to your notes, and type them as the meeting progresses. You can format your notes, divide them into different sections, and copy a link to the finished notes to share them with others.
  • Listen to a message. If you have trouble reading the screen or just like to hear messages read aloud, you can enable the Immersive Reader for team and individual messages. Click the More Options button next to the message, and select the option for Immersive Reader. The Reader screen displays the message in a large clear font. Click the Play button to hear it read aloud.
  • Add a subject to a chat. Randomly chatting with other team members can be confusing, especially if the conversations are out of context. To remedy this, you can add a subject to a message. Click the Format icon on the toolbar below the chat window. In the formatting window, type a subject in the field that says Add A Subject. Type your message and send it, and the subject will appear in a larger font above the message.
  • Create a private channel. Sometimes you may want a channel that’s private for which you invite only certain people. Such a channel is only visible to those people. To set this up, click the More Options button for your team, and select the option to Add Channel. Name the channel. Under Privacy, change the setting to Private, and invite the members.
  • Link to a channel. Some team members may work only with a specific channel or two. In that case, they may want to go directly to that channel each time they use Teams. To help, you can create and share a link to a channel. Click the More Options button next to a channel, and select the option to Get Link To Channel. Copy and share the link with the people who use that channel.
  • Add tabs. Keeping track of all the apps and files for your team can be difficult. One way to make them easier to access is by adding them as tabs. In the Activity, Chat, or Teams window, click the + icon. At the next window, select a specific app that you frequently use. You may also need to select a specific file for that app. Go through the rest of the steps. At the end, a tab for that app or file appears next to the other tabs for quick access.
  • Pin apps. The more apps you add to your team, the more challenging it can be for people to access them, and some team members may use only certain apps. In this case, they can pin a favorite app for quick access. Click the Extensions button on the toolbar at the bottom of the screen. Right-click an app you want to pin, and select the Pin command. That app then appears on the toolbar.
  • Create and manage files. Teams provides a few different ways to work with files. Here’s one handy option. In a particular channel, click the Files tab at the top. From here, you can create a new Office file, upload a file from your computer, sync a file via OneDrive, create a link to a file, and download a file to your computer. By selecting a file, you can also delete it, rename it, pin it, move it, and check it out so no one else can modify it.
  • Add cloud storage. Beyond using OneDrive or SharePoint, you can access other online storage sites to share and sync files. Click the Files icon on the left sidebar, and click the button to Add Cloud Storage. Choose the service you want to add, such as Dropbox, Box, ShareFile, or Google Drive. Sign into the site, and you can access any stored files.
  • Add the How-To app. Learning how to use all the features in Teams can be tricky and time-consuming. You can give yourself and your team members a helping hand through the right app. CoreView’s How-To app offers a range of instructional videos with helpful information on using Teams. To add this, click the Apps button on the left sidebar. Look for and add the How-to app from the Productivity section.

Image: CNET

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