Microsoft Teams usage has now reached 145 million daily active users, highlighting its rising popularity in the collaboration space. However, technology is only as good as its users. If you want Teams to be a complete business collaboration platform, it requires more than just the installation process. Building processes, taking advantage of the features at your disposal and integrating Teams into your wider operation and toolset are all critical to effective workflows. You need to:
- Develop a plan for adoption
- Have a detailed understanding of functionality
- Support wider integration
Although this article will aid users, our goal is to explain best practices to Teams Administrators and help your entire organisation get more out of Teams and collaborate better, smarter and faster. Some of these are simple changes, others are larger in scope. If done right, Teams can even become a hub for external communication.
1. Integrate telephony with Teams
The inability to place a simple phone call is a significant weakness of Teams — and all business collaboration tools. Although you can easily jump on an audio or video call with other Teams users, Teams falls down as a platform for external communication.
Resolving this issue is more complicated than some of the other tips on this list. But it’s also the linchpin for transforming Teams into a complete business collaboration platform. By adding the ability to place and receive calls within Teams, you make it possible to centralise your entire business communication system. Users can always access the information they need and switch between channels at will.
How this is done:
You have two basic options to integrate calling capabilities with Teams. The size of your business, the level of sophistication you need, and your existing infrastructure all impact the right choice. Check out our blog Phone Calls With Microsoft Teams if you want all the details. The short version is:
Make Microsoft your phone carrier: Microsoft is willing to take over your telephony needs via a number of different packages. These basically all boil down to the Microsoft Phone System and Microsoft Calling Plan. Phone System is Microsoft’s version of a PBX, and Calling Plan hooks Phone Systems to PSTN. Priced independently, Phone System is £6 per user/per month, and Calling Plan is £9 per user/per month — although that jumps to £18.10 for international plans.
This solution will let you place calls with Teams. But it doesn’t provide the fully functional control most users would expect from a PBX. For example, the queue control is limited and there are no reporting functions. As a result, businesses often end up maintaining telephony infrastructure in parallel to Teams — preventing the broader goal of centralising your business communication. There are also endpoint and handset compatibility issues with Calling Plan.
Direct Routing with third-parties: With a Phone System licence, businesses can sidestep Microsoft Calling Plan and connect Teams directly to a real PBX, SBC (Session Border Controller) and PSTN. Ultimately, there is a lot of variability with Direct Routing. The pricing and capabilities will vary based on the third-party carrier.
Making the right choices can deliver cheaper solutions, faster — and let you simplify broader organisational infrastructure by unifying your telephony within Teams.
Callroute delivers a number of unique benefits that build on the utility of other Direct Routing providers. We offer per-channel pricing. This is different from per-user pricing that is standard among other third-party Direct Routing providers. You only pay for the capacity your business needs rather than every user, offering cost savings of up to 60%. You can also sign up and get started for free with our free channel for life. Simply sign up and integrate in minutes, no card required. If you are interested in integrating Teams with telephony, this is a great place to get started.
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2. Forward emails to Teams users and channels
Email still plays an important role in both internal and external communications. Integrating emails with Teams is another critical step to creating a fully-functional collaboration and communication platform. Keeping your information access centralised improves workflows and ensures nothing is ever missed. Luckily, bringing email functionality to Teams is simpler than adding true calling capabilities.
How this is done:
The answer depends on your email provider. For Microsoft Outlook users, there is a lot of native functionality. If you use Gmail, or another provider, you are going to need to use an integration tool.
With Microsoft Outlook: Microsoft has looked to leverage their ecosystem in order to differentiate Teams from competitors like Slack. Making it easy to share information between Outlook and Teams is one of those benefits.
You can set up Teams meetings from Outlook, and since early 2020, you will have been able to access a “Share to Teams” button that lets you forward emails directly to a channel.
Conversely, you can generate a channel-specific Outlook email address within Teams. This lets users forward any information they’ve received via email to that address, surfacing it within the relevant Teams channel.
With Gmail: If you don’t want to use Outlook, you won’t be able to get as tight an integration between Teams and email, but you can get quite a lot of functionality. For Gmail, Zapier should be your go-to integration tool. Zapier is free to try, but you are limited to 100 tasks per month, and can only have five “Zaps” (automated tasks) active at any given time. Paid accounts start at £15 per month.
Using Zapier, you will be able to create triggers within Teams based on a large number of preset commands including:
- New emails
- New attachments
- New labelled emails
- New threads
You will then be able to set up actions, as well as reverse the integration — receiving email notifications based on things that have occurred in Teams.
Overall, using Outlook with Teams will improve integration and information sharing — we’ll get back to doubling down on the Microsoft ecosystem. But, like with phone calls, this does force your hand when it comes to compatibility. However, unlike phone calls, using the Microsoft answer will be cheaper in this case.
3. Add guest users
A central goal of this article is to explain how to expand your application of Teams to wider business processes. Teams does not need to be limited to internal communication. Bringing in outside users is a great way to fully collaborate and make sure information is shared regularly.
Guest users might be freelancers or contractors, or they could be clients. B2B businesses benefit from quick stakeholder communication with existing customers, and keeping that fully within Teams can improve collaboration, speed and transparency.
How this is done:
In order to add guests, you will need to make sure that is enabled within the Microsoft 365 Admin Center. This will then enable all users to invite guests. Within the Teams Admin Centre, you can then expand what Guests are able to do by enabling Guest access within Team.
Once you’ve enabled these settings, users can simply add guests to individual channels by inviting them. Guests need a corporate or personal email address, and a Microsoft 365 work or school account. If they don’t have an account, they will be directed to create one for free.
4. Ensure robust user training
You need a set of training protocols in place to make sure users actually use Teams to its full potential. This isn’t a technical tip, but it might be more important than anything else on this list. Without guidance, Teams is likely to become just one of several tools used for communication — damaging collaboration and reducing the return on investment.
Organisations need to take steps to ensure that any technical investment is adequately introduced to users. Everyone needs to understand best practices and have access to training resources. A few great Microsoft Teams tips include:
- How to place phone calls with teams:
If you invest in calling capabilities, you need to make sure that Teams actually ends up being used as a hub of external communication.
- Mobile access:
Teams is easily used on a number of devices. Make sure that users can log in via a mobile to dramatically increase the flexibility of the system
Teams users can accelerate their workflows with a number of different keyboard shortcuts. Training resources can make teams far faster to use.
- Meeting roles:
Users can pick between three different meeting roles (organiser, presenter and attendee), help speed up meetings and control permission access.
- Using SharePoint:
Teams integrates directly with Microsoft’s SharePoint, making it easy to share large files and collaboration using Office Online or Office desktop applications.
How this is done:
Training hinges on sitting down and creating onboarding documents. You can look for online resources — Microsoft has a large repository of technical documentation online. But this material is challenging to navigate. Creating your own, simplified documents that highlight key use cases for your business is a far more effective way to ensure basic understanding. You can then rely on Microsoft resources for more advanced problem solving.
You should also take into account the demographics of your users. Younger users are likely to have a better basic understanding of how a platform like Teams works. However, younger users are also less likely to take training material seriously — creating a different barrier to orchestrating the “right” kind of adoption.
Lastly, it’s worth monitoring how your users interact with Teams. You could invest in third-party tools. However, Teams offers basic activity monitoring tools that will tell you how frequently users are engaging with different types of collaboration and communication functions.
5. Invest in the Microsoft ecosystem
Microsoft definitely designed Teams to work best within their ecosystem. This not only helps Microsoft upsell and cross-sell products, but is also a point of differentiation. Independent collaboration platforms can’t provide the native integration with a wide range of business applications that Microsoft has to offer.
This doesn’t mean that you have to only use Microsoft products. For example, with calling capabilities and endpoint handsets, looking beyond Microsoft can both be cheaper and more effective. However, if you’re using Teams, but also using G-suite applications like Google Docs, you’re missing out on functionality.
How this is done:
Every business should regularly review their IT and application infrastructure, and consider what’s redundant, what’s legacy, and what’s critical. As a Teams user, it makes sense to prioritise Microsoft applications within that process.
With that said, using Teams does not mean you are fully restricted to the Microsoft environment. It’s important to weigh up the pros and cons of change. Negatives could even include the challenge of retraining users with a new application.
Again, calling functionality is one category where you get wider compatibility, cheaper plans and faster integration with third-party suppliers. Don’t “put on blinders”, but do consider the benefits of investing more heavily in the Microsoft ecosystem.
Use Teams your way
No matter how you organise your use of Teams, make sure that it aligns with your business needs. Don’t purchase licences or capabilities that you won’t use, and prioritise investments that are critical to your operation.
Our central piece of advice is striving to centralise and unify communication within Teams. Keeping your chat, file sharing and calling capabilities in one tool (for both external and internal communication), will improve collaboration and simplify information exchange. Teams is a flexible platform. Understanding those intricacies is key to making Teams work for you. Direct Routing is a great place to start. If you’re interested in seeing how it works for your your business, start free with our free channel for life, no card required.