Whenever I mention Teams, I get chuckles — “that’s a joke, right? Who wants to use some clunky enterprise product from Microsoft?” I know, I know. I am not about that corporate, stodgy life, and I am well aware that the Microsoft Suite gives boring & antiquated, especially to people who are used to using trendier products.
But, even though I say it in as though in jest, I’m not really joking.
I believe that the value that Teams (if used properly) provides is vastly underrated and hugely lacking from the wide array of tools and apps on the market today. There’s a lot of talk these days about the “future of work”. The type of functionality that Microsoft Teams provides is the workplace of the future. It’s an actual place to go to work, one which happens to reside in the virtual realm.
What’s so great about Teams?
When the company I worked at previously moved from using Skype to Teams, I first thought of the switch as an upgrade. A transition to a chat and video application that looked a little more modern, that had an interface more similar to Slack or Discord. Nice.
Soon I started to realize that Teams wasn’t just my new chat application. It was my new place for all communication AND collaboration. Not just “sending you the link, let’s both open it up in application XYZ” but “let’s work on this together right here.”
I could create documents and spreadsheets within different Teams, powered by the underlying Sharepoint sites and other Microsoft Suite products. I could control sharing and access straight from the same desktop app. And — key point — any and all collaboration features related to these working documents were tracked alongside my other chats and threads, with notifications being delivered to one central place.
I started spending more and more of my day on Teams, which was only reduced when my team started using Confluence & Jira to track our work, instead of Microsoft Planner and OneNote. While the Atlassian suite is far superior in its micro-level features for planning and tracking, my productivity took a hit with the back-and-forth of copying links into a chat, toggling between new browser tabs and the Teams desktop app.
A report from Pega found that across a group of 5 million people in operational support roles, the average employee switched between 35 job-critical applications 1,100+ times every day. Even if you interact with less than 35 applications on a regular basis, the burden of time spent application-switching is something almost everyone can relate to.
Let me be clear — I do not think that Microsoft Teams provides the ideal experience, nor that it is the ideal tool for the job:
Is the conference call quality superb? No. Is it the best chat application on the market? Definitely not. Is Sharepoint the best file storage solution for teams? I don’t think so. Are the other Microsoft products accessible through Teams the most cutting-edge (including word processing and spreadsheets, cough cough)? No way!
The fact is, no single feature of Microsoft Teams is mind-blowing. But the capability to bring all these different, commonly-used applications together to create a single, online “workplace” is a game-changer. There is no frantic switching between Slack and Zoom, Gmail and Coda (or your spreadsheet & word processing software of choice). There’s just one place to go to work and do your work. Teams. The mobile application is very decent, and the API provides access to some pretty powerful integrations.
If it’s unclear what makes this so great, let me provide a few examples.
At Coda, we talk a lot about how standup-type meetings can be improved by having a running doc with interactive features like a . While Teams does not provide a great landing page for tracking those activities in a structured and user-friendly way, it does provide a persistent chat, automatically created with the meeting. You can then add tabs to that chat with a whiteboard, working documents, external resources and more. On my previous team, I added a tab with a PowerBI dashboard that gave us real-time insights on our sales data from Salesforce so we could review it during our regular meetings.
The meeting chat in Teams adds a real place to the meeting, more than a doc alone can. Why? Because the chat is stored amidst all the other chats that drive your daily workflow. The end result is similar to a team chat in Slack, but connected to an actual calendar event and with more opportunity to see related working docs and content right there alongside the messages.
Sometimes while explaining how to do something simple over chat, I’d click one button to start a screenshare without audio to quickly demonstrate what I was talking about.
This allowed me to communicate more effectively, without having to commit to the additional clicks nor chit-chat that a scheduled video call requires. For something simple like an IT request, this cut out the extra time and energy required to talk to someone and allowed me to easily return to my workflow afterwards, and I could even grant access for the other person to control my screen to help me.
Record of decision-making
The actual “team” functionality of Teams is separate from chat, and although adoption from team members isn’t always the best, the forum itself is really valuable. Unlike Slack, which reads like a large group text, posts and their resulting threads in a MS Teams team channel are immediately available to get a quick understanding of how decisions came about.
With a central forum for decision-making, collaboration can be both asynchronous & easy to reference later on.
Integrated video conferencing
Though Zoom has had a hold on the market since the pandemic, I’m just going to say it: Teams has a way better UI for calls. To me, Zoom is clunky and inconvenient. It took me weeks to notice the minuscule button that shows what meeting I’m in! (Prior to that I would hang up and rejoin from the link to make sure I was in the right place.) Teams also makes use of the space on the screen to show everyone & the content that’s being shared in the most effective way, instead of grouping videos together in a static grid, and leaving lots of black space on the screen like Zoom does, not to mention the feature which allow everyone to interact in a manner that’s more similar to an in-person gathering.
I used to host workshops with different leadership teams at my previous company, and using a Teams call allowed me to send out polls to the meeting chat to find out whether people cared about the material being shared, add our ideas jointly to a whiteboard for brainstorming, and automatically send out the recording to the participants — all the in the same place, without switching applications or windows. Note that I don’t normally work with these different groups of people, so this isn’t something I could have used a usual group chat and usual working documents for.
It’s also worth calling out the persistent chat again. There was no pasting the link 10 times in a row every time someone new joins the call. There was no taking screenshots of the chat so they didn’t have to go back into the recording to find out what was said. And any relevant info from the chat or working documents could be resurfaced later on when using the Teams search bar to look for related terms.
Why is Teams is underrated?
I’ve had a hard time understanding why people aren’t demanding a product like Microsoft Teams. Working at Coda, I’ve seen firsthand what an “all-in-one doc” can do for an organization or an individual. Why not an “all-in-one everything”? I’m not proposing that one company should have a monopoly on all workplace software, I just think that it’s high time we have an interface that connects all the cool tools we use.
So I decided to take a stab at figuring out why this type of tool isn’t that hot right now. Here are some reasons that I came up with:
Teams is the first major player in this space, but isn’t really known for it.
Just take a look at the type of competitors listed for Teams. They’re all focused on one or two functionalities, mostly related to video conferencing and chat.
Even the URL for the Teams sales site is https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-teams/group-chat-software.
Whether or not Microsoft realizes it, Teams is a lot more than that — but it’s not being sold as such.
Teams isn’t always used to its full capacity.
Likely caused by Reason #1, people who do use Teams might not even be using the features to their full extent.
When I used Teams, I always struggled to get collaboration happening more “publicly” in the actual Teams channels that you can set up. Conversation tended to flow better in the chat feature.
A lot of people also don’t take advantage of the integrated features such as using MS Whiteboard during meetings or assigning people to tasks on MS Planner. Given that Teams was billed as the new chat and video conferencing tool for the company, it’s not surprising that some people didn’t move other parts of their daily workflow there.
There isn’t an equivalent tool.
Moving from a large corporation that didn’t care too much on the whole for productivity, to a productivity-focused startup, I was surprised and disconcerted to find myself spending a lot of time switching between applications.
Even just the disconnect between Zoom and Slack, despite some level of integration, still catches me off-guard. When I’m chatting with someone, and we want to get on a call, the number of options and potential click paths sends me reeling: Do I open up the note where I copied the link to my personal Zoom room and copy it back into the chat? Do I navigate to my Google calendar to create a meeting and hit the “add zoom meeting”, then send the invitation so the other party can accept it through Gmail? Do I use the new Slack call functionality? I’m in a decision paralysis.
The typical startup business application stack is pretty large, and seems to me to be growing instead of shrinking, despite the numerous benefits of consolidating & integrating.
It’s important to note that this is a hard problem to solve. Microsoft can do it because it has a vast suite of products that are widely used and frequently updated, and Teams is their attempt at putting everything together. But I’m convinced that there could be another solution out there that puts together best-in-class products from different companies in one unified interface.
Pls make a new Teams 🙏
I’d like to put out a wish to the tech universe to deliver a better version of Microsoft Teams. There are so many awesome applications that are building up their capabilities on one side or the other — communication or docs, but I’m not seeing any investment in bringing together both to create THE recognizable online workplace of the future. Will it start with Coda? Slack? What about a CRM tool like Salesforce? I’m not sure. All I know is that bringing docs & chat/video together could be the key 🔑 to the virtual office 🏢 of the future.