Microsoft Teams has established itself as the business collaboration platform of choice. Our research of over 700 businesses shows that adoption rates are above 70% in larger organisations. Overall, more than 60% of businesses use the system.
But simply providing users with a Teams log-in isn’t enough to take full advantage of what the platform has to offer. A lot of organisations limp along using a range of competing and legacy communication tools, creating disjointed workflows that damage collaboration. There are more collaboration tools available than ever before. But the goal should be to centralise communication within a single platform.
Teams has the potential to be that central communication hub. But getting there requires some strategic decision-making. Here, you’ll learn:
- The benefits of centralising collaboration
- The basics of Microsoft Teams
- How to use Teams for internal and external communication
- How to integrate Teams with your phone system
- How to manage and structure your teams within Teams
Teams has a lot of unique and sophisticated capabilities. Native integration into the entire Microsoft ecosystem is just the start. Effective collaboration has the potential to be a strategic and competitive differentiator. Let’s get started building a more collaborative future.
What Teams can do out-of-the-box
Meetings and online collaborations require a tool with features that deliver convenience, optimal control, and effortless experience. Users should easily understand and use its capabilities while staying organised and connected to accomplish more.
Out-of-the-box, Teams brings a lot of features to the table. The free version might even be enough to manage the internal communications of a small business. You simply need to download the app, create an account, set up virtual teams, and invite other people to join. However, understanding all of these capabilities and making sure all of your users have a mastery of the basics is the first step in getting more out of Teams.
Using just the free version of Teams you can:
- Make and receive video and audio calls
- Screen share
- Schedule meetings
- Create individual and team channels
Upgrade to the Basic plan (Microsoft 365 Business Basic) for £3.80 per-user and add to the mix:
- File sharing
- 1 TB of personal file storage with OneDrive
- Integration with SharePoint, Yammer, Planner and Stream
- Multi-factor authentication and single sign-on
- Call recording
- Administration tools for managing users and apps
- Usage reports
- Support and uptime guarantees
From there, the upgrades start to get more specific. For example, adding the Microsoft Phone System and Calling Plan. We will come back to these in greater detail where applicable. However, it is worth noting that some of these upgrade features for Teams come standard with other Microsoft Office licences.
Teams and channels
With Teams, you can directly message or call any Teams user within your organisation, and add outside guests (as long as they have Teams) — more on that later. However, the core strength of a business collaboration platform is to create structured group communication. With Teams, that framework is primarily provided by “teams” and “channels” — note the lowercase “t” in this instance.
In Microsoft Teams, a “team” is a group of people brought together for a project, work, or other specific objectives. Channels are collaborative spaces within a team. Together, teams and channels let you group users together and focus communication around certain goals, topics and objectives.
Only the admin is capable of creating new teams or channels. Teams and channels can be public and private. Public channels are accessible by anyone on your team, while those that are private are accessible to invited members only. You can also have an org-wide team, which allows anyone in your organisation to join.
Using teams and channels, you can send messages to relevant groups of people, tag specific people within those messages so that they are notified, and keep everyone up to date within a streamlined system.
Meetings with Teams
Although you can simply call a person or a whole channel, you can also use Teams to schedule specific meetings. This can be done on a channel-basis or with an individual. Once you have logged into your account, you can navigate to the menu options on the left side of your screen. Click the “Meetings” tab to open the meetings area.
Here, you have two options for scheduling your next meeting:
- Meet now: Select this option if you want to begin the meeting immediately. You can name your meeting and check your video/audio settings before getting started.
- Schedule a meeting: This option lets you set the meeting for later. When you select this option, you’ll set the time and date for the meeting as well as give it a title. You can copy the invitation link for emailing or share it via Outlook.
During a meeting, you’ll be able to see the names of the participants on the right side of your screen in the “People” sidebar. If you haven’t enabled the sidebar, you will get notifications at the bottom of the screen just above the “Show participants” button, alerting you of new participants.
The meeting feature helps you to manage the entire life cycle of meetings, allowing you to focus on collaborating or communicating with your teams. Here is what you can do during the life cycle of any meeting:
Keep in mind that only people in your organisation’s team can start or access meeting notes. Meeting notes are also only available in meetings with up to 100 participants. Also, keep in mind that only participants who are invited to a meeting before notes are created will access them initially. Other participants can request access, which is granted by the notes’ owner.
Integrated apps and workflows help to boost productivity by simplifying your work. Teams supports over 600 apps to help you complete different tasks and stay connected with your teams. You can check out the latest updates from Microsoft here.
You can integrate bots, automated workflows, dashboards, and custom or partner apps with your Teams account. However, the two big integration options that come standard link Teams to the two other Microsoft communication tools: Outlook and SharePoint.
Using Microsoft Teams, it’s possible to share information in chat or channel conversations via email with Outlook integrations — and vice versa. This function is handy in sharing information with users outside your team or even organisation.
To share information via Outlook, select the conversation you want to share. At the top of it, choose “More Options (...)”, and click “Share to Outlook”. Your Outlook on the web must be turned on for you to use this feature. Otherwise, you won’t be able to see the “Share to Outlook” option.
When integrated, activity notifications are sent to the user’s email, and they’re able to reply to conversations directly from Outlook. You can also turn off this function if needed.
By default, every Teams account has a SharePoint team site, which is used to store channel documents. Each channel you create has a unique folder in the SharePoint library. If files are shared outside a team’s channel, they’re stored in the sender’s OneDrive for Business folder.
SharePoint supports previews for over 3000 file types, which can be viewed via the Team’s file tab. You don’t have to leave Teams to access or work on your files. You simply need to click the “More options (...)” icon in the file you want to open and select “Open in SharePoint.”
You can also add SharePoint pages as tabs in your Teams account. This allows your team members to access the pages whenever they need them. Alternatively, you can add them to your channel, too.
External collaboration with Teams
Teams excels at facilitating internal collaboration. But it also provides the foundations required for external communication. Understanding these, and then improving on them, is the real key to unlocking Teams' true potential as a complete collaboration tool.
There are three main ways to use Teams as an external collaboration tool:
- Use the email and files sharing integrations already explained
- Add external collaborators as guests
- Integrate Teams with your phone system
How to add external guests
It’s easy to add external users or guests to your existing channels and teams. Any guest with a consumer or business email address can be added to your team and get full access to your files, meetings, and chats. However, the account admin can control features that a guest can access.
How to turn it on
By default, the guest access feature is turned off. So, if you want to turn it on, you’ll need to sign in to your “Microsoft Teams admin centre”. Then go to “Org-wide settings” and click “Guest access”. You’ll then need to set “Allow guest access in Microsoft Teams” to “On”.
Once you set “Guest access” to on, you can control the capabilities that guests can access. The settings will appear within the same window. You can control their Messaging, Calling, and Meeting capabilities.
How guests join
Once you add a guest to your team, they receive a welcome email, with information about the team and what they should expect. They will need to download Teams, but can opt for the free version. After they accept the invitation, they can receive and send messages, participate in channels and teams, join meetings, access your channel’s files and more.
Keep in mind that guests are clearly identified in Teams. The names of guests have the label (Guest), while the channel where you’ve added guests has an icon to indicate that there are guests on the team.
Licensing for guest access
No additional Microsoft 365 license is needed to use guest access. All subscriptions, including Microsoft 365 Enterprise, Business Standard, and Education support this feature. Also, Teams doesn’t limit the number of guests you can add to your team or channel.
However, the guest access feature is subject to Azure AD and Office 365 or Microsoft 365 service limits. The guest experience also has limitations by design, and you can’t change this. For example, they can’t add tabs, create meetings, create a team, access OneDrive for Business, among other functions.
Creating a secure guest sharing experience
Meeting the compliance and security needs of your organisation is essential, particularly when you have added guests to your team. There are several things you can do, including:
- Reviewing guest accesses periodically
- Classifying content using sensitivity labels
- Configuring multi-factor authentication for guests
- Automatically removing guests from highly sensitive files
- Setting up a session timeout function for guests
- Limiting guests to web-only access when they use unmanaged devices
Bear in mind that some of the capabilities highlighted above are only available when guests have an account in Azure Active Directory. Using OneDrive and SharePoint integration with Azure AD B2B helps you to add guests to your directory automatically.
How to make a phone call with Teams
Guest settings can help you collaborate with regular external stakeholders or contributors. However, it’s unsuited for less structured communication. Sales teams, field teams, or any other individual who routinely needs to communicate with people outside of your organisation need a better solution.
A stark weakness of Teams (and really every business collaboration platform) is the inability to place a simple phone call. The regularity with which people need to change device, pick up a phone and make a call is so common we don’t even notice. However, it creates several distinct challenges that are exacerbated by new demands for remote working.
- Multiple access points: Without the ability to place an external call with Teams, users need to sign into multiple devices and systems in order to access a full suite of business communication tools. This creates security, administration and workflow challenges.
- Hardware duplication: Requiring a dedicated device for phone calls means investing in unnecessary devices, and duplicating infrastructure at extra cost.
- Decentralised information: Call records, contacts, message histories and more get diluted. Users don't get a global active directory and are forced to hunt for the information they need across multiple systems.
- Inconsistent workflows: Having to switch between devices and interfaces creates challenges to efficiency. It’s harder to know what to do and the right system to use.
- No federated presence: Status notifications are an important part of how business collaboration tools improve communication. Using multiple devices and platforms dislocates the ability of users to update their stats, and traditional phone systems don’t have presence notifications at all.
Both Microsoft and third-parties can let you place calls with Teams just like you would using a standard phone. This is done by integrating Teams with the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) — the standard phone network — and providing PBX (Private Branch Exchange) controls — standard corporate telephony infrastructure. Solving this problem is the linchpin to establishing Teams as your collaboration platform, unifying your entire communication and collaboration system.
With that said, there is a short-cut option we should discuss first.
Option 1: Cross-launch overlays
Applications like RingCentral, Cisco Jabber, and Zoom (among others) all enable PSTN (or similar) calling with certain plans. Some of these apps (including the ones mentioned) provide software overlays to quick-launch their products from Teams.
At first glance, this is a simple short-cut to providing PSTN call capabilities with Teams. There are no additional fees levied by Microsoft. If you already have one of these other calling apps, you can make it slightly more convenient to access with Teams.
Is this a good choice? No.
The problem with this solution is that it’s not integrated and solves very few of the problems of not being able to place a call with Teams. You may be able to initiate a call from Teams, but it’s made by another application. Incoming calls won’t ring the Teams client, they will ring the third-party app. The outcome is:
- Decentralisation of data access
- The need to use multiple applications
- The need to use multiple devices
- An inconsistent experience
- No federated presence
These solutions can also be relatively expensive. However, that will vary dramatically on the specific third-party applications.
Option 2: Hand your phone system to Microsoft
The gateway to real integration between Teams and the PSTN is Microsoft Phone System. Phone System is included with Microsoft/Office 365 E5, but otherwise needs to be purchased as an add-on.
With Microsoft/Office 365 E1 and E3 plans, a Phone System license can be purchased independently for £6 per-user/per-month. With Microsoft/Office 365 Basic, Standard, and Premium Business plans, Phone System needs to be purchased as part of the Microsoft 365 Business Voice package. As standard, this bundles Phone System with Calling Plan for £12.00 per-user/per-month. However, you can also purchase Business Voice from a partner reseller from £7.50 per-user/per-month without Calling Plan. In both cases, Business Voice limits you to 300 users.
If you have Phone System, users will see a “Dial a number” option and number pad in the Teams “Calls” tab, but you won’t actually be able to place a call. Phone System is basically Microsoft’s answer to a PBX (Private Branch Exchange), and it can be configured to provide some PBX functionality to Microsoft phones. However, it’s really just a prerequisite for Microsoft Calling Plan, or third-party options.
Microsoft Calling Plan
Microsoft Calling Plan is the Microsoft option for placing PSTN calls with Teams. You need a Phone System licence to activate Calling Plan. However, depending on your other Microsoft licences and business size — there may be ways to bundle this purchase. The diagram below visualises your options.
Is this a good choice? Maybe.
Microsoft Calling Plan can easily end up being more expensive than some of the third-party options. As you can see in the diagram above, the international Calling Plan is £18.10 per-user/per-month. Add that to the £6.00 per-user/per-month for Phone System and you’re paying £24.10 per-user/per month on top of the licence cost. There are also hand-set and end-point compatibility problems — forcing you to choose from a limited number of compatible devices.
However, the real weakness of this option is Microsoft Phone System. Calling Plan doesn’t augment any of the PBX capabilities of Phone System, and Phone System simply is not a very sophisticated solution. For example:
- No call recording: Phone System and Calling Plan don’t provide you with standard call recording, creating compliance and quality control issues.
- No call reporting: Phone System and Calling Plan don’t have standard reporting features. There is no way to look at per-user use rates or control costs on a user-specific level.
- Poor call queue management: Phone System will let you set up call queues, but the queue is limited to 200 people and a wait time of 45 min. There are no customised or skills-based routing options, or the ability to link queue management to automated IVR (interactive voice response) menus.
Fundamentally, Calling Plan does not provide you with the tools needed to manage a high-volume environment. It can help individual users place PSTN calls using Teams, but it likely won’t be a replacement for your existing corporate telephony system. The outcome is duplicated infrastructure, more complex workflows, and a disjointed and partially functional system.
Option 3: Phone System with Direct Routing
If you want to integrate Teams with PSTN calling and provide a fully-functional telephony system accessible straight out of Teams, you need to look beyond Microsoft and invest in a “Direct Routing” system.
Is this a good choice? Yes.
Like with the first option, what Direct Routing specifically entails depends on the provider. However, unlike the first option, Direct Routing enables the kind of seamless and sophisticated outcomes your users need to fully centralise all communication directly through Teams. In general, Direct Routing will deliver:
- Complete PBX control: Direct Routing connects Teams to a real PBX and Session Border Controller (SBC). That means you can manage Teams calling like a standard phone system. You get the reporting, cost control and queue management tools required to handle any calling environment.
- Endpoint and handset flexibility: Direct Routing removes the compatibility limitations required to use Microsoft Calling Plan. You can keep your existing hardware, easily embrace BYOD and invest in the right tools for the job.
- Unified communication: Direct Routing enables you to centralise all of your communication with Teams. That means complete access to call records and contacts, a single sign-in point for all communication, and federated presence across all devices and channels.
- Reduced costs: The right provider can deliver Direct Routing at a fraction of the cost of Microsoft Calling Plan, providing access to a more sophisticated solution for less.
How to set up Direct Routing with Teams
To enable Direct Routing, you still need Microsoft Phone System. But you don’t need to worry about Calling Plan, or any other Microsoft Licences. The simplicity, cost and convenience of this solution depend greatly on the specific provider.
Direct Routing can be delivered by a third-party that will integrate Teams with your existing PSTN carrier, or one that will integrate and provide the PSTN connection themselves. The second solution is generally simpler — but specifics will vary.
Full disclosure, we provide one of these “third-party” solutions — Callroute. We can’t look at the details of every option on the market, but we can explain what makes Callroute stand out compared to the other options on this list, and help you understand why Direct Routing is the best way to place a phone call with Teams.
- Get started for free: Sign up and get one free channel for life. Try it for as long as you like without even entering billing information to make sure it’s a solution that works for you.
- Fast: We do all the integration and provide the PSTN service. That means we can get you up and running in literally minutes. Most other Direct Routing options can take up to seven days to install.
- Managed: We will port numbers (even international numbers), get you set up, provide 24/7 support, and help you make the most of your system — all as an inclusive service.
- Flexible and affordable: We charge per-channel, not per-user. That means you can add multiple users to a single channel and only pay for what you actually use. Auto-scaling will increase capacity to meet demand, guaranteeing that no one ever hears a busy tone.
- Global: We have over 10 million global phone numbers available, and provide international calling calling options.
- Unified and complete: We connect Teams to a fully-functional telecommunications network. You get all the reporting, security and calling features you need to unify communication with teams, simplify infrastructure and optimise collaboration.
Callroute isn’t the only option on the market. However, if you want to unify your communication with Teams, it's a great place to start. Get started in minutes with a free channel and explore the possibilities.
Managing your team with Teams
Successful and productive use of Microsoft Teams as a collaboration hub for your organisation depends on how well you manage your teams. Teams comes with an admin centre that allows you to review your organisation setup, assign roles, and perform other remediation actions.
As an IT professional or administrator, effective management of team collaboration, communication, and compliance requires adherence to the best practices. This includes determining roles, defining access levels, and creating communication policies.
Most importantly, you need to ensure all team members know and understand the different features and capabilities of Teams. This calls for proper training of all members. Collaboration becomes easier when users know how to use Teams well.
Training your team members
It’s vital to acknowledge that not all members of your organisation are tech-savvy; some will be slow in understanding and using Team’s capabilities, including shortcuts and mobile access. So, it’s vital to provide ongoing training options, which are essential in ensuring seamless adoption.
Training can be in the form of videos or web files and pages. You can also host webinars to cover different topics, and then repurpose these as on-demand material. Whenever there are new features, you also need to create assets for them or share information provided by Microsoft.
Training can be user-specific, and here are three user groups you should target:
- IT and Teams Admins: These people need to understand the technical in-and-outs of how Teams operates and how it’s functioning within your technology stack. Assets like the one we’ve provided here can help — particularly with telephony integration — however, they will need additional technical admin support from Microsoft and other third-parties.
- Team managers: Managers are responsible for everyday use of Teams, so they need to have a strong understanding of the workflows within Teams. Training this group is essential in ensuring better coordination and collaboration.
- End users/Team members: Individual users are the ones doing most of the actual engagement with the platform. They need to understand the features and tools they’ll be using every day in work. For example, if you set up a fully integrated telephony solution, but users still use their mobile phones to place business calls, there is little reason for the upgrade. They need to know and understand every tool at their disposal.
- Leadership: This group is responsible for signing off investments. It’s less important for leadership to really understand how the technology works. The focus here is on understanding why it’s important to make sure that the right investments are made.
Every user in your organisation must use Teams to ensure optimal adoption. Deployment and training can be difficult, particularly if leadership isn’t using the software that they want managers and employees to use.
Creating an effective training plan
Quality and professional training must be guided to ensure organisational success when using Teams. You must assess your needs before designing your training programme, and this is where skills gap analysis is quite handy.
Step 1: Define your goals
Every training programme needs specific and defined goals. That might be an update on a new feature, general training on the basics, or advanced tips to drive efficiency. You should consider who you are training and what you want them to achieve.
Step 2: Pick a medium
Use your goals to figure out the best way to deliver your training programme. For example, it’s great to produce “back-to-basics” material to provide on-demand. Certain types of lessons are better delivered with video or visual aids, while others (for example PowerShell commands for Admins) will be better suited to text. Think about your audience and your outcomes.
Step 3: Assessment and review
You need to provide ways for learners to demonstrate their improvements. It’s also generally accepted that spending time both learning and explaining what has been learned are both critical components of retaining information. Make sure to make time for training, assessment and review.
How to set up channels and teams
Users should feel free to request that an admin sets up new channels or Teams to align with priorities. However, how you set up your teams and channels to start with will impact how effective your system is. The best configuration will depend on your specifics — there are a number of rules that will help you align with best practices.
- Set up teams with a goal: Your teams are the highest level of subdivision. Each team should be created for a specific reason. That might be a specific project, function within your organisation or for specific external communication.
- Use channels, but not too many: It’s great to subdivide teams into multiple channels. However, you don’t want to spread out communication so much that it’s hard to notify the right people. Remember, only people who are tagged within a message will actually receive a notification. This allows you to have specific conversations within a channel while also making it easy for others to get the full context if their input is needed later.
- Keep everyone informed: Remember, individual users can be in as many teams and channels as necessary. It’s better to be in more channels that are necessary than to be left out of vital information.
- Use private and public channels: You can set up channels as public or invite only. This is a great way to make conversations discrete when necessary. For example, setting up private learnership channels within every team.
- Use clear naming conventions: Make sure to use intuitive and consistent naming conventions (particularly for public channels) so that people can join the right channel. This also makes it easier to search for channels when needed.
- Designate team roles: People can be administrators or users, and users can be owners or members. A team owner is a person who creates the team, while a member is anyone invited by the owner. There are also different administrator roles, including communications specialist, service administrator, communications administrator, and communications support engineer. You need to assign users appropriate roles in Azure AD to ensure seamless collaboration in your team.
- Use the “general” channel: Wherever you create a team in Teams, a general channel is automatically created. This channel is vital for sharing the overview and objective of the team. You can also use it for onboarding new members and sharing announcements.
- Separate work from play: By creating dedicated teams or channels for non-work related conversations, you create a natural outlet for that type of banter. This lets people chat, but also prevents that from clogging up work-related channels.
Moderate and manage messaging
It’s vital to control channel and chat messaging features that are available to users. While Teams automatically creates a messaging policy for your organisation, you can create a custom one, too. After creating one, you can assign it to one or several users.
You should also moderate Teams messages in alignment with your HR policy and make sure that the platform is being used for the right reasons. Teams makes this easy with a number of tracking and analytics tools.
Tracking users and teams
An essential part of the proper management of teams and users within Teams is data. It helps you understand the patterns and activities of your teams. This allows you to determine whether to add or remove members and assign new roles.
With Microsoft Teams, you get easy access to your analytics data about your teams. It shows you the number of active users and guests in your team. You can also view the total number of messages sent in your team in any given period.
You can view analytics for individual teams, specific channels or across all your teams. For a single view of all teams’ analytics, access your teams’ list, and select “Manage teams” at the bottom. When the “Manage teams” window opens, select “Analytics”. You can choose a date range to view data of a specific period.
Analysing and leveraging your Teams analytics helps you ensure operational efficiency, improve results, and make better decisions.
Completing your business collaboration platform
Microsoft Teams was a latecomer to business collaboration. Released five years after Slack, and competing against Microsoft’s own Skype for Business, Teams has emerged as an upstart leader in collaboration. But this shouldn’t actually be a surprise.
Teams is a powerful choice for collaboration, able to pull on the resources of the entire Microsoft ecosystem. What’s more, with only a few tweaks, Teams has the potential to become a centralised hub for internal and external communication and collaboration.
Unified communication can transform how you collaborate and do business. Particularly during the era of remote working, providing full access to all communication tools through a single platform greatly simplifies collaboration and management. Centralisation can:
- Improve productivity: With easy access and familiar interfaces, people can simply get on with their work. Keeping contact lists, call logs and chat in one place makes sure everyone has access to the information they need, when it’s needed.
- Simplify infrastructure: Reducing the number of tools you use simplifies the management and growth of the networks required to support that communication.
- Enable flexibility: Easy access to tools and information makes it far simpler to flexibly respond to change. Provide remote access, collaborate with outside contractors, and improve visibility.
- Grow your business: New ways of working, better collaboration and more agile decision-making will enable your business to find ways to improve productivity, deliver more value and grow.
We believe that the linchpin for completing Teams is integrating real telephony. On its own, Teams provides all of the channels you need for internal communication and collaboration — chat, video and audio calls, file sharing, company-wide announcements and personal messages. Where it falls down is facilitating external communication.
There are a number of options available to augment your ability to use Teams for external communication. Adding guest users, integrations with Microsoft Outlook, and the ability to share files via SharePoint all help. But users will still stumble if they simply want to pick up the phone and make a call. By solving this problem you can use fewer tools, increase adoption and collaborate better.
If you want to centralise and unify your communication with Teams, you need to bring calling on board. The best way to do that is with Direct Routing to PSTN. As we said, Callroute can get you up and running in minutes, providing you with a free channel for life and automatic scaling. Get started with a free channel for life and start making external calls today.
Published: 21 October 2020