The disruptive force of Microsoft Teams

It’s been barely three months since Microsoft Teams was made available in Preview, and in such a short time I have seen a considerable amount of change in both conversations around how organisations communicate as well as how IT Pros and MVPs are starting to look at the future way of working.

And it hasn’t even been made Generally Available yet – they key milestone where Microsoft releases it to the world as “ready for production use”.

While there was some general hubbub about the potential release of originally named “Skype Teams”, when Microsoft Teams was actually made available the impact to the industry and Office 365 in general was almost explosive.

For starters I don’t think a single workload or functional release of Office 365 has generated such an amazing amount of blog posts, podcasts, webinars, and general discussion. And again – all in under three months, while the product is still in Preview. While Yammer certainly created a significant amount of conversation and disruption, a large component of that was negative with many IT Pros objecting to it being thrust upon the Office 365 community and customer base. Interestingly the release of Microsoft Teams has actually brought Yammer back to the forefront with many people asking the question of where does it actually fit in with Microsoft Teams.

Historically in Office 365 we have predominantly had two communication tools: Outlook for emails, and Skype for Business (formerly known as Lync) for instant messaging, voice and video. Yammer has been part of Office 365 since 2013 and was not as revolutionary as many had hoped. This was due in part to a few reasons:

  • Many customers and users had been using Yammer before Microsoft acquired it
  • The approach to replacing email with Yammer was in some camps too forceful, and in others too confused
  • In many instances Yammer was simply “turned on” without any consideration as to its place in an organisation, and generally led by IT as a traditional technology deployment – often leaving behind a proper change management and adoption strategy
  • Being categorised as a “Facebook for work” which was misguided, because while Facebook is a common social networking platform there are others such as LinkedIn and Twitter, with which Yammer also shares similarities

The current landscape of communication options within Office 365 now looks like this:

Microsoft Teams is largely seen as a competitor and reactive response to Slack which has quite a substantial user base not just amongst developers, but business users in general. I have spoken to a number of customers who have moved away from Yammer and started using Slack as they wanted something more “live”.

Ultimately the introduction of Teams has given Office 365 customers choice: the ability to choose the right tool for communication for the right purpose, team, way of work, and user generation.

Recently I wrote a blog post for AvePoint explaining how to successfully implement both Office 365 Groups and Microsoft Teams, explaining the confusion and challenges between them.

One of the things that Microsoft Teams has done is to surface the importance and benefit of Office 365 Groups. While Groups was introduced in 2014 there was still a lot of confusion as to their place in the Office 365 world, who should use them, how to access them, and for many – what the actual point of them was.

Because Microsoft Teams requires Office 365 Groups – it has become paramount for Office 365 customers and IT Pros to understand how they work and how to use them. Before teams it was still somewhat easy to stay aligned to a specific Office 365 workload or technology such as Exchange Online or SharePoint Online, but with Groups they show the importance of both as well as introducing a number of other features such a Skype for Business meeting rooms and Connectors that bring in content from external applications and sources.

While Office 365 Groups have been there for quite some time, they lurked in the background. Microsoft Teams has now provided an easy and somewhat unified way to access the features within them (there’s still work to be done though, specifically around accessing the mailbox, Planner and existing content stored in the Group).

The big thing I have seen Microsoft Teams do is change the way customers talk about using Office 365. Historically conversations were generally workload based: migrate mailboxes, migrate files, deploy an intranet, roll out IM & conferencing, etc.

Now I am seeing customers looking at the implementation of Office 365 through a much broader lens. They are finally asking the question: “I want to transform the way we work and make us more productive, how can we use all of these technologies to do that?”.

Previously I found customer IT Pros might have been resistant to Yammer, mainly because they didn’t understand its place. And the reality is that they weren’t the audience for the product – the business was. Now I am finding they know that they are no longer the audience for Office 365 in general – they are there to enable the organisation to be better, and are asking for help about that.

Often when I speak to customers I am now hearing them say things like: “we want to look at how to use Yammer and Teams to change the way we work, Cloud PBX to improve our traditional communications and conferencing, and oh yeah I guess migrate our mailboxes”.

While many pioneers have travelled this road before – the tools simply weren’t there or as functional (or existed outside of our walled garden).

We are facing a new world thanks to Microsoft Teams – and not because it is the best tool or way of working, but because it appears to have finally shaken the tree hard enough to make people think beyond their mailboxes and file shares.

Hubs, Groups, Teams, Sites – trying to understand them all

Microsoft is releasing new features into Office 365 at an unprecedented level – and it’s taking quite a lot of effort for experts in the field to stay current on what is what, let alone customers and end users!

Historically in Office 365 we had key product workloads:

* Azure is not technically part of Office 365 but powers several of the services

Then Microsoft acquired Yammer and worked to integrate it.

Then Microsoft released Office 365 Groups (aka Outlook Groups).

Then Microsoft released Planner.

Then Microsoft released Teams.

Then Microsoft released StaffHub.

And there is more coming…

As an example, Microsoft’s latest release StaffHub utilises ALL of the above workloads, as well as the Microsoft Teams chat service (not the actual product or interface).

Where previously IT admins would need to stitch together each individual component, Office 365 Groups has surfaced as the one substrate to rule them all – and that is a very good thing which continues to improve.

While the various integrations between workloads are still being rolled out, even when they are we will be left with things like:

  • An Office 365 Group gets a SharePoint team site, BUT a SharePoint team site does not require or create an Office 365 Group
  • A Yammer group can exist on its own, BUT can also create an Office 365 Group, BUT an Office 365 Group does not create a Yammer group
  • A Microsoft Team creates its own Office 365 Group or can be connected to an existing one, BUT an Office 365 Group does not provision a Team
  • A Planner creates an Office 365 Group, BUT each channel within a Microsoft Team can have its own Planner – BUT these cannot be accessed currently from the Planner/Groups interface
  • Each Microsoft Team channel creates a new section in the OneNote within the Office 365 Group, BUT you cannot access the sections of the OneNote file that existed before the Team channel was created
  • StaffHub creates an Office 365 Group, BUT an Office 365 Group does not create a StaffHub
  • StaffHub uses the Teams chat service, BUT you cannot access the StaffHub “chat” service from the Teams interface

Clear? No? Then you’re with the rest of us. Let’s not throw in marketing spin in there like the Surface Hub – which “unlocks the power of the Group”.

The reality is that the experiences and cross-integrations are improving at a rapid pace, so while this is currently confusing it is important to remember that in the past year Office 365 has taken a huge lurch forward away from siloed product-based workloads, and towards integrated experiences and services.

It is important to remember:

  • Microsoft Teams is still in preview and is expected to move to General Availability sometime in Q1 of this calendar year (let’s assume mid/late March to be safe)
  • Yammer is currently rolling out it’s Office 365 Groups integration
  • Planner has only been available since July 2016 and is iterating rapidly
  • Office 365 Groups integration with SharePoint team sites has only just begun rolling out in production
  • StaffHub was just released to General Availability in the past week

So strap in and hold on, it’s a wild ride!

However, on a serious note: while the pace of change is fast and not everything works the way we want – in some instances we need to be patient and wait for integrations or rollouts to finish. In other instances, ensure that we wrap customers and end-users with a big blanket of change management and hand-holding to get the greatest chance of successful adoption, actual productivity improvement and ultimately user satisfaction.