Email is Dead – Long Live Teams

If you haven’t discovered Microsoft Teams yet, then you are missing a serious trick in communicating effectively within your business. Teams integrate the features of Email, Instant Messaging, Cloud Storage, and Microsoft Office, but with many of their disadvantages removed. It took me a while to understand why Teams is the best thing since sliced bread, and it took a couple of attempts at working out how to organise it – but now I know - I promise you it is worth a little bit of effort in changing your way of working, and then reap a whole lot of advantages for both you and your colleagues.

(Disclaimer: This article is about Microsoft Teams. I know nothing about competitors such as “Slack”, but I guess they may have similar features and benefits.)

So, what’s wrong with email? Well, they get lost for one thing. My email archive is currently 27G in size, and it’s not very clever having to search for some critical message in that lot! But secondly, people are lazy at defining a good subject line for their email messages. They just pick up the last email they received from you and reply to it, starting a whole new thread of discussion – which grows forever longer and difficult to unpick the key facts. How many emails do you have with a blank or completely irrelevant subject line?

As a result of these inadequacies we have all learned simple tactics such as: including the client name in the subject line; deleting the bottom 15 pages of early discussions; ignoring any email where you are only in the “Copy to” address, or having rules to archive the email into some meaningful folder. (And I won’t mention all the unwanted external “spam” emails that clutter my inbox.)

In Teams however, the burden (and benefit) of deciding where and how to file a message is placed on the sender of the message. You see, in Teams, you first of all create a number of top-level “Team” folders (which determine the group of people who are interested in that subject area), and then beneath that you have a number of “Channels” which hold various “Conversations”.

So, right from the start of a communication you must think carefully about your audience, where that message should be filed, and giving it a useful subject line. You now write your message, and you can tag people (e.g. @Martin) which you want to take notice. You click send. And now for the clever stuff…

Firstly, you can come back to your message and edit it any number of times. Others can reply to your message – and the discussion is instantly shared with the team – without having to copy/reply the email to more and more recipients and versions. And finally, you can acknowledge “message received” by simply clicking on the “thumbs up” or other symbol.

And what’s so wrong with Skype? Most of us use a messenger application to interrupt a co-worker to ask a quick question. The trouble with these chats is that the discussion is linear in time, and thoughts get rapidly lost in other personal chit-chat and other subjects. There is no structure, just a stream of thoughts, which unless you make the effort are not shared with others.

Microsoft Teams gives you the ability to have discussions with your co-workers (instant or otherwise), but in the most relevant place.

So, for example at Business Net Solutions we have a discussion channel for developers to debate the latest technology; there are channels for individual client projects; areas for discussing product features; departmental areas for (say) Marketing and Finance; an “Off line” area where we share holiday snaps and jokes; and most useful for us, our “Team Meeting” area.

We hold our Team Meetings three times a week. We can see each other, or just talk without video. The meeting can be recorded for absentees to later review on their mobile phones. A chat area, for those wanting to share their thoughts during one of my visionary talks 😉, and a separate area for meeting notes – i.e. actions to be reviewed at the next meeting.

Teams allows Excel spreadsheets, One Note documents, and Web pages to be embedded at appropriate locations, and similarly there is a shared file area where you can easily swap files with your colleagues.

There are other worthy security features, masses of storage, and bolt-on functionality from Microsoft and other vendors. For example, we access our company management portal and Azure DevOps from within Teams.

Best of all – you can start using it for free! I suggest you follow our example: Start with the free version and use it to learn what its all about. Hint: You must get everyone in your team “on board” otherwise you are wasting your time talking to yourself. Then start again, maybe with the premium version once you realise the best way to organise yourself.

I cannot recommend Microsoft Teams highly enough. Give it a go!