The 4 things Microsoft Teams needs next

Microsoft Teams has been nothing than a multi-stage rocket booster from it’s public preview in November 2016. Every release or update has been packed with amazing features, with the release of guest access yesterday being one of the most important.

The ability to interact with external parties using a single application and platform is quite significant from a user experience perspective as currently we tend to switch modalities for information sharing, documents, conversation (text-based and audio/visual), etc.

There are some exciting announcements at Microsoft Ignite around Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams – and I’ll be part of the team of MVPs sharing those as they come to light.

Turning an eye to future steps that Microsoft Teams needs to continue its pace of ascension, here are my four top picks and priorities:

Guest access in the mobile app

Microsoft has done a great job with Teams to ensure that mobile users are not second-class citizens when it comes to experiences. Now that the desktop and web interfaces support guest access to other Microsoft Teams “tenants”, the same should be delivered quickly for mobile users so they aren’t left needing to come back to their desktops in order to switch teams.

I’m quite mobile as many people are in the modern workplace and workforce, so don’t want to be left out of the loop because of the technology they chose to use. Yammer allows for network switching in the mobile app, so hopefully this is something Teams can get done soon.

Special mention: ditch the term “tenant”

We who live in the world of Office 365 get the term “tenant” and use it as part of our vernacular, however end users don’t. They don’t care or need to know that Office 365 is a multi-tenant platform and would derive a greater level of understanding (and possibly patience) if we used terms they understand like “environment” or simply “team”.

Offline access on desktop

This challenge goes back to one of the early arguments of “Outlook vs. Yammer” in that Outlook can sync and go offline but Yammer cannot and now case is the same with Teams. The document library component of the Office 365 Group that sits underneath Teams can by synchronised locally with OneDrive however that requires a manual process as I’ve shown previously.

The challenge here is determine how and what to sync offline, and then how to handle conflicts when going back online.

My view on this would be:

  • If the Teams application is open on your desktop then it is already receiving conversation stream updates across the Teams you are currently signed into. I believe that these should be available offline similar to how Outlook can synchronise your mailbox up to a point you determine. So perhaps Teams could synchronise all conversations in the past day, or at least just the unread ones? You could then reply and when you come online this would be inserted into the conversation similar to how it works with email.
  • Files should be able to sync from within the Teams application, however using the OneDrive sync engine to power this. It would enable you to continue working from within the Teams interface and let OneDrive handle any potential conflict resolution.
  • Wiki & OneNote also synchronise locally using either the native Teams functionality or the OneNote app itself (for OneNote files).
  • All other tabs would stay unavailable as generally that content will be online information.

While you could argue there is little point in offline access due to readily available mobile and WiFi data there are still some circumstances where online access is not suitable – be it due to physical or technological restrictions, availability or stability of quality Internet connectivity (eg. regional areas, fast trains that don’t have WiFi, planes that don’t have WiFi).

As we attempt to shift away from traditional tools such as Outlook and file shares which have worked offline for many years we can’t assume that being online is always possible and therefore if I am a Teams user I don’t want to be left out because we have made the choice to use the tool, nor would I want to not use Teams because we have a need for offline access.

PSTN conferencing

Now that Outlook allows for people to send a Microsoft Teams meeting invite, I think we need to embrace those who can’t connect in using the technology – especially now that guest access is available.

I don’t feel this point needs to be made particularly strongly as the case already exists for Skype for Business, so if we are starting to lean towards Microsoft Teams as a communication tool with internal and external parties it is important to ensure that they can dial in the old-fashioned way if for some reason they need to (eg. poor mobile data, firewall restrictions, etc.)

Surface Hub & Skype Room System integration

One of the questions I get asked a lot when working with customers is whether the Surface Hub can work with Microsoft Teams. Unfortunately the answer is no, as it as the Skype Room System are built around Skype for Business. With Surface Hub this answer hurts a little on the inside as the device runs a specific operating system version known as “Windows 10 Team”.

One would hope that the Surface, Skype and Teams teams are working together to address this so that a future update of the devices (hopefully the Fall Creators Update?) will support integration with Microsoft Teams.

Stay tuned for my coverage at Microsoft Ignite for any announcements! I’ll be covering these in a number of blogs, tweets, and in a live webcast/podcast session from the studios onsite for REgarding 365 (the team formerly known as RE:Office 365).

Guest access arrives for Microsoft Teams!

One of the most keenly anticipated features in Office 365 has finally arrived – guest access in Microsoft Teams.

This has been the most requested feature since it’s release and was originally promised in June, then slipped to July, followed by radio silence.

I was lucky enough to have lunch with the Microsoft Teams engineering team leads when they visited Australia back in early June where guest access was discussed. At that lunch they talked about the challenges around licensing models and administrative controls – not an easy thing to address in such a short period of time.

At release, Teams will rely on guests being existing users of Azure Active Directory. This effectively means that anyone who uses Office 365 can be an external guest of a Microsoft Teams team. Later Microsoft will enable external guests to use Microsoft Accounts (formerly known as a Live ID) which already allows users to bring their own email address be it a work account or consumer account. This is a step up from Yammer which doesn’t allow consumer email addresses to be participants in external groups or networks.

This requirement to use an Office 365 or Microsoft Account is already used in SharePoint Online and so therefore won’t be anything new for customers.

You can read more about the announcement here:

And how to use the feature and a very useful FAQ here:

As an independent consultant who works with a lot of organisations I regularly converse with them via email, Yammer external groups, or Skype for Business. As Teams offers the ability to interact with multiple systems using a singular interface I very much look forward to using it myself as an external user with my clients!

Now a brief word of caution: this feature has just come out of the oven, so don’t expect it to work flawless for everyone straight away. While writing this post I tested the functionality with fellow MVP Darrell Webster – he wasn’t able to add one of my email addresses into a team. I however was able to invite him directly into a new team, however upon receiving the invite it asked him to switch tenants, re-authenticate and still didn’t work.

So I’m sure lots of people will run out and test it straight away, and it will work for some and not for others. Be patient, give it some time to finish deploying globally and for any bugs in this brand new feature to be ironed out (which I hope will be very quick).


UPDATE 1: It appears that once you enable guest access in the Office 365 tenant it may take an hour or so to fully flow through to the clients, so don’t expect it to work immediately.

UPDATE 2: Not long after this post went live, myself and fellow MVPs Darrell Webster and Matt Landis were live on Periscope discussing and demonstrating Microsoft Teams guest access in the real world.