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).

Mixed Office apps experience on the Surface Hub

While the Surface Hub is a great group device – it’s not specifically designed for individuals to access their content as easily as they would from their own computer.

This poses somewhat of a challenge as the intent of the Surface Hub is for people to stand near and work with the device, not stay seated at their computers.

Pre-installed on the Surface Hub are both the Office apps (eg. the “mobile” touch-friendly versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint) as well as OneDrive for Business.

All of the apps allow users to sign in which then provides access to their recently accessed content. However, what I’ve found is that the sign-in experience does not appear to be consistent between them.

As you can see from the Sway below I was able to sign in to some apps while others still required me to log in. In some instances, there was a delay between it realising that I was already signed in and then bringing up the history in the second app, whereas in other instances it simply required me to sign in again.

When signing in to the Office apps or OneDrive for Business app the user is prompted to add the account to Windows or skip the step. This is core Windows 10 functionality that is designed to simplify the sign-in experience for other Azure Active Directory / Office 365 aware applications. In my tests, I tried both options – signing in as well as skipping the step. As the Surface Hub allows you to scrub the session when you press “I’m done” I could test out both scenarios without any interference.

In both scenarios, the experience was a mixed bag which means that the average user might potentially get frustrated with either having to wait for their file history to appear in the app, or worse still having to sign in again. This can potentially lead to a negative experience which may impact their desire to use the Surface Hub in the future – therefore it is important to call this out as part of end user training as a “quirk” to be aware of. The hope is that in future updates of either the Windows 10 Team version that runs on Surface Hub (ie. the soon-to-be-released Anniversary Update) or the Office apps themselves the experience will be improved.