Confessions of a former Slack(er) living in a Teams world
I recently joined 2toLead as an Office 365 consultant and so far, it has been a great experience! I’ve had many opportunities to learn and challenge myself in different areas.
One of the major changes in my day-to-day was adapting to use Microsoft Teams daily to communicate to keep my team appraised of my progress in the different projects and tasks as well as holding various meetings per-day using this tool. If you haven’t tried Microsoft Teams, check out this interactive demo to get a sense of how it works.
I collected a few thoughts on this transition that I wanted to share.
Emails? What Emails?
One of the first things I noticed is that I spent way less time sorting through email. Where as previously I would get anywhere from 100 to 200 emails per day (including communications from internal clients, external partners/vendors, systems notifying me of stuff happening and other various things), most of my internal communication is now happening in Teams and keeping tabs on items that need my attention is easier. Granted, I don’t have to receive many of the system notifications I used to in a previous life, but this change also helped me avoid managing old emails and thus I feel more focused on what’s important.
More Teams than channels.
In Slack, I was a member of various channels, we had one team for the whole company and each channel related to a specific department, team or topic. This was a bit challenging as being added to so many channels created quite a bit of noise and it lacked a formal information architecture that helped sort what conversation belonged to what channel. If we needed a new channel, we just created one, so from that point of view, that contributed to channel duplication and sprawl.
Conversations in context
While Slack allows to set up a current subject or topic for the channel, I found it difficult to keep the conversations in context to what was being discussed and while you can reply to a message and keep things in context, it created a separate window to contextualize your answer, which made it a bit cumbersome to focus attention on the conversation.
In Teams, I found using the subject line very helpful to provide context and craft a message that will help the team get a good sense of the intent of the communication. It took a few tries to get used to this, but once I got it, it became second nature.
I find the reply system a more involved in Teams, which I find slows me down a bit, but in general I take that as a positive as my replies have more context and are far more valuable for the group. In Slack, the conversation flows a bit faster, but without that context, I only found this useful when the conversation was not critical, for example in channels devoted to TV shows or non-work stuff.
The power of the full Office 365 ecosystem
The killer feature in my opinion is the tight integration with the rest of the Office 365 platform. Finding documents related to the project or task is a breeze and helps me avoid navigating through sites to get to where I need to find the document I need. Sharing is also very easy and allows me to give others information in context, including documents we need to review of discuss. I’m excited about future integrations where I won’t need to switch back to the full SharePoint site or document library to perform additional tasks such as moving a document or starting a Flow.
Also, having a Planner for managing my tasks or OneNote tab is great as I don’t need to switch to the browser and work my way to find the plan or notebook relevant to the project.
Dude where’s my App?
Outside of the usual suspects, finding other apps, bots, tabs is a bit more involved. Certainly, some of the third-party extensions outside of the Microsoft realm are missing or not as mature as they are in Slack. This gap will shorten with time, but I think it is fair to say it is not where we need it.
Also, adding a new extension is not very intuitive. Take exhibit A. Adding Planner to your Teams apps. While Adding to a team is intuitive, adding “to you” shows a link that says “Available”. Took me a bit of time to realize that “Available” is actually a link, this plus the fact that Install shows grayed out doesn’t help.
Managing available or approved Apps/extensions
I used to be an admin for the Slack service in my previous company and we had a very simple process for approving apps or extensions. Whenever someone needed a new app/extension, they will “get” it from the store, and this would send a message to admins where the user needed to justify why they wanted the extension. This message also helped me as an admin to review permissions required for the app, but also to ensure we were not adding yet another app which had similar functionality. From this message, I could approve in line, (from my desktop or mobile) or decline and add a message to the requesting user on why the request was denied, usually suggesting an alternative app or providing context on why the request was not honored.
Teams, on the other hand, has no such functionality out of the box. Admins need to manage the apps available and can block new third-party apps from showing in the store. First party apps, however, will show up as soon as Microsoft adds them. This can pose a challenge and be a missing opportunity to provide employees with context and guidance on what they can do with some of these first-party integrations before they are exposed to them. It may also expose users to apps that do not add value to their needs.
Personally, I rarely used the online meeting experience in Slack. When we did, it was helpful to do screen sharing, however, meeting with external users was off the table unless they were already guests in our Slack environment and did not allow for dial in capabilities for participants.
We used Skype for Business for this, and while we were using Skype for Business Online, we constantly had challenges with online meeting quality. Sound, jitter, drop-off, audio/video off-sync were usually experienced.
I use Microsoft Teams meetings quite extensively today and I’m very happy with the audio/video quality. Also, working from home or remotely is much nicer and less distracting for others given background blur.
Joining a meeting from my mobile is also a great and seamless experience.
Another thing I love about Teams meetings is the recording capabilities. It all happens it the cloud and there’s not much work involved, you just turn it on and once your meeting is done, the recording is saved to Microsoft Stream and can be viewed by all people invited to the meeting. Sharing with everyone in the company is also just a click away.
On private Channels
For the most part, I don’t use private chats, as the interactions related to a project might be useful for others in the team to see. I can see the value of having private channels (upcoming) as there may be conversations and files around the project where not everyone needs to be involved or informed, but for the most part, for my day-to-day activities I don’t really feel I’m missing it. When it arrives, I can see a few use cases where we would a apply it.
Key Success factors for using Microsoft Teams
With Microsoft Teams, as with any collaboration tool, consistency has been key to ensure we are leveraging the tool properly. For example, making sure a new thread has a title has helped immensely to keep things organized and focused on a topic. Also, channel meetings have been helpful to keep the team informed of a meeting as it is happening and staying informed of any notes or comments related to what was discussed. I also find that good training and communication helps others in adopting the tool, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in adoption campaigns for deploying Microsoft Teams and by far the most effective way for people to start using the tool is enlisting champions within their team or department to help them through the transition.
So, what do I miss about Slack?
Not much really. Once I got used to creating threads and staying in teams/channels, I felt much more productive. Also, because we mostly coordinate and work in Teams, I don’t feel the need to move back to email for internal communication.
I miss the vast app ecosystem and the approval process for adding apps to the environment, and while Slack had a head start, I think this to be less of an issue over time as the uptake of Microsoft Teams in the enterprise has been massive and third parties are noticing.
Oh, and party parrot! 😊
Competition is heating up, and Slack’s recent jump to the stock market has risen awareness for others and that might not have been aware that Slack is in use in their company (yes, it does happen). At the same time, it is also a great time for team collaboration as both Slack and Microsoft Teams continue to improve. The transition to dispersed work teams is has never been easier and, in my opinion, Microsoft Teams has played a major role in helping me adapt to work from home. I spend most of my time communicating and collaborating there and I love it!