Collaboration tools like Slack and Teams have become key to remote work, offering shared spaces for working on specific projects, hanging out with co-workers, and taking part in voice and video meetings. They’re powerful platforms, with APIs that allow you to build and deploy apps and services right alongside chats.
SEE: Office 365: A guide for tech and business leaders (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
Teams for the frontline
There’s been something of a sea change at Microsoft over the past few years. It used to be a company focused on skilled ‘knowledge workers’, with the slogan ‘A computer on every desk and in every home’. The mission statement is now ‘to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more’. With the change of emphasis from computers to people, there’s a shift to supporting firstline workers, who often work shifts and are usually paid by the hour.
It’s a move that has put less focus on the PC, and more on mobile devices. Staff working in a coffee shop, say, need access to shared notices and shift-booking tools rather than copies of Word and PowerPoint. Microsoft offers its Microsoft 365 F3 plans, which come with web and mobile device support for the Office apps, including the mobile version of Teams and the services needed to support it.
Teams on iOS and Android
If there’s one thing that the Teams mobile app isn’t, it’s a clone of the desktop Teams experience. While that would be easy for Microsoft to deliver, it wouldn’t be the easy-to-use, easy-to-learn application that a firstline worker needs. They need to be able to pick it up and get to work, with minimal training. So the mobile Teams needs to be designed to work like any other iPhone or Android app, with a familiar look-and-feel and support for native mobile features.
There are Teams features that make more sense on mobile, while others are there to help you manage your work/life balance more effectively. That can be as simple as setting quiet times to block out calls and messages when you don’t want to be disturbed. Unlike Windows’ Focus Assist tools, Teams goes further and offers an option of Quiet Days, which allow you to block out whole days — stopping notifications at weekends or on shift rest days, for example.
Walking and talking
One important feature in the mobile version of Teams is Walkie Talkie, launching on Android devices in July. Like the old press-to-talk phones, it’s a way to quickly put staff in touch with each other. Using either Wi-Fi or cellular data, it provides a secure voice communications channel for individuals and groups. Walkie Talkie is part of Microsoft’s partnership with Samsung’s mobile phone group, with the new Galaxy XCover Pro rugged phone offering a hardware ‘talk’ button that activates the feature.
Walkie Talkie is like any Teams app, and needs to be installed from the Teams admin centre. Once it’s installed and deployed to devices, you’ll need to set up dedicated teams and channels for Walkie Talkie, to segment groups of users and avoid cross-talk and confusion. Users will connect to a channel when they come on-shift and disconnect when they leave.
SEE: Microsoft 365: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
For staff on a factory floor, issuing a corporate-managed smartphone with hardware support for tools like Teams makes a big difference. The learning curve is shorter, and you’re able to use Microsoft 365’s InTune device management service to control the software on devices and how they’re used. Walkie Talkie is still in private preview, but should launch soon.
If a Walkie Talkie isn’t what you need, Teams still offers useful audio features in its chat tools. Where you might type a message on a PC, Teams has the option of using your phone to record a message that’s dropped in-line in the chat. There’s often very little time to compose a message on a phone screen, so quickly dictating a message lets you stay in touch with team members without having to give your phone all your attention.
From desk to hand: making Teams mobile
Closely related is an easy way of sharing your location, hooking into your device’s existing GPS and mapping tools. Tap on the ‘…’ in a chat, where you normally chose emoji or link to video streams, and Teams will insert a map snippet and an address. It’s a useful way for field service engineers or other mobile workers to quickly let others know where they are in relation to current calls, making it easier to quickly allocate tasks to the worker nearest a call.
Microsoft is clearly aware of the differences between desktop and mobile use. Some of the mobile Teams features are there to make sure that using Teams doesn’t detract from your device’s look and feel. That includes support for a dark mode, which can be useful in low-light conditions or where you don’t want to disturb the people around you. Other options make it easier to customise the buttons and menus, so you can have the tools and apps you use inside in Teams right where you need them.
Modern mobile devices are more than portable computers; they’re powerful cameras as well. Microsoft’s ML-powered Office Lens is a tool for taking and sharing images of documents and screens, automatically trimming unwanted borders and adjusting perspective. It turns a phone into a portable scanner, and by integrating Office Lens into the mobile Teams app you can quickly share paper documents with colleagues without leaving the app.
Tools like Teams are going to be an important part of the work experience for most of us, so it’s good to see the mobile version of the app now offering mobile-specific features that differentiate it from the desktop. The way we work on mobile is evolving, and the rapid evolution of apps like Teams shows that they are keeping pace, supporting and guiding these developments. It will be very interesting to see what the mobile version of Teams looks like in a year or even five years’ time.