By Andy Jonak
Back in October of 2019, I wrote an article titled Microsoft Teams: A Solution in Search of a Problem? where I discuss Microsoft Teams and my opinion of how it's a great solution, but is there a need for it? Does it really bring value? Hence its title. Well, I figured ten months and a pandemic later, it would be time to revisit what I wrote and provide a current update.
I feel that Microsoft Teams is an exceptional solution. Does it have issues and need some feature enhancements? Sure, but many look like they are in the works of being addressed. So what has changed my mind? That one's easy: the lockdown and everyone working from home. I've always done remote meetings, but with the pandemic, it was all remote meetings—as was the case with all of us. At times I certainly feel that I am "meeting'd" out. Don't you? That said, Teams has been invaluable to me in my work environment. This month let's discuss (or revisit since I wrote about it ten months ago) what I like and what I feel can be better in Teams, especially in how I use it.
What I Like
First of all, I like how Teams integrates with the other Microsoft services. You can easily schedule meetings within Outlook; they make it very simple. You can also see the status of people within your organization, so you know if they are available with a status of green, red, orange, or out of office—something that's extremely useful.
The chat component is stellar as well. It's so easy to connect with people for a quick touch base via chat. I've used it for years, but it seems to take on a new significance lately. I love how a quick question can be answered in a few brief words or a short sentence. That keeps productivity going instead of hindering it. That really works for me. What also works is how you can use Teams to connect with people outside of your domain/organization. You used to have to invite them to be able to federate with your Teams company install, but not the case. As long as they have a Microsoft account (personal or work), it works—and it works seamlessly.
The calling features (video and audio) are top-notch. I've found it so much easier to call my colleagues through Teams rather than picking up the phone since Teams is part of my typical workflow. Calling through Teams has just become the norm; it feels right and works.
Scheduling and attending or hosting meetings is so simple, especially in Outlook. Just set up your invite and click Teams Meeting, and it adds all of your meeting details. The meetings with Teams work seamlessly for people outside of the organization, whether they join via their computer using audio/video or dialing in using the call-in numbers. The features within a meeting to mute, turn the camera on and off, share a screen, etc. work and work well.
I also use the full calling features of Teams where I have the calling module enabled with a separate POTS phone number. I use it a lot, and, as I mentioned before, it is part of my regular workflow. When I have to make a call to a phone number, I do it through Teams, and not have to pick up the phone. It makes me more productive. You can use a headset (which I do), or the built-in speakers and mic from your computer. It works just as well, but I definitely prefer a headset.
It works so well that I'm considering using my Teams phone number as my main business number from now on, so calls can forward to me wherever I am, no matter the device – computer, phone, or tablet. Voice mail works well too, and it even attaches an mp3 of your VM and transcription that it sends to you via email. I use an outside service for VM's and transcriptions for my cell and office phone that costs me around $70 per year, so this being integrated is valuable to me.
Teams also works just as well on your mobile devices as it does on your notebook/pc. I have Teams on my iPhone and iPad—in addition to my Win 10 notebook—and it works well on all. When I get pinged, or someone calls me, it comes through on all of them (based on my notification preferences), which I like. I also see it's value when people call my Teams phone number in how it rings on all devices. It has the ability to round-robin or ring multiple people at the same time (again, if you have the calling moule enabled), though I don't need for that.
There is a lot I like about Teams, in terms of how the solution functions and how I use it. I rely on it much more now, and I think I like it more as time goes on. That said, there are a few things that it needs to do better, from my perspective.
What needs to Improve
One of the reasons that people like Zoom (and full disclosure, I do have Zoom and WebEx accounts) is the ability to put up to 49 people on the screen at once. That's a big value that Teams doesn't have yet, but is coming in the fall of 2020. The only reason I use Zoom (and maintain a paid account) is when we host large meetings with a lot of people, and we want to see them all on the screen. Microsoft is fixing that, but it can't come soon enough.
A big challenge in Teams is you can't create registration pages for webinar type events. This is sorely needed. We do webinars all the time where we invite people and need to have them register, and Teams can do this yet. Teams has an Events module, which is supposed to emulate how you would do a webinar with a group of external people (similar to WebEx Events), but there is no registration capability. They have some workaround where you create a Microsoft Form and then have to connect to Teams via Flow (which they now call Power Automate) but kludgy and not a real solution. This is where WebEx outshines Teams and is the reason I have to (and will continue) to use WebEx Events for our webinars. I've read that this is in Microsoft's roadmap, but we'll see. But if you don't do webinars and need registration pages, this might not matter.
When you schedule meetings in Teams, you have to create a new meeting number each time, unlike in Zoom and WebEx, where you have the concept of a personal room, which is always the same. It seems like a small thing, but to me (and many others), it's a big deal. The only workaround is if you do a recurring meeting that is scheduled in your Outlook calendar, it can be the same meeting number or link, but not for single meetings. For example, what I like to do in my email signature is to have my WebEx Personal Room as a permanent link so people can just click on it to start a meeting. That way, I can just tell people to click on the link in my signature to join a meeting. Simple and easy, and doesn't have to be done with an invitation. Microsoft says they are working on this and that they didn't allow this due to security, so not allowing this was considered a feature versus a limitation. They will probably figure this one out in the future, and it would be beneficial.
If you have the calling module enabled that gives you a real POTS number, you don't have that ability to define your caller ID name, at least as of this writing. This one boggles the mind a bit. So if I call from Teams, the person receiving the phone call doesn't see that Andy Jonak is calling, but only sees a region along with the phone number (such as Orient, NY), but not my name. The workaround is if someone has my Teams number in their address book, but that's not a solution since we call a lot of people that are not in our address book. Our admin says that this is coming, but this is something that should be here now.
The other thing to discuss is the concept of using the teams concept within Teams, where you would use it as a collaboration feature similar to Slack. This is not something I dislike, but for what we do, I don't have much of a use for it. Setting up a Team and using it for a lot of people to collaborate and share files, resources, tasks, etc. is certainly something that has value, but for the right organization and right need. I don't see it benefiting me in how I use it as this point. Functionally it works great; it just doesn't fulfill a need for how I use it. This one is still for me a solution in search of a problem. But perhaps I'll find it, but this is not Microsoft's fault, it's mine.
That's my revisit and updated rundown on Microsoft Teams. The bottom line is that I've seen a significant uptick of its value for me in what I do. So much so that there is only one item on my list that is something that is not really of value to me. Sure, there need to be improvements—they will come—but the good news is that the items I list in my post here that are challenges for me all seem to be on the roadmap for Microsoft to address in some way. The question is when. For me, it can't be soon enough, as these challenges cause me to maintain, pay for, and use other platforms for specific use cases until they do.
I am a big fan of Teams and what Microsoft is doing and continues to do in improving their solutions—all solutions, and not just Teams. I look forward to seeing what they do with their current and new solutions, and I will continue to use and love Teams, as I imagine most will as well.