Connecting people with Microsoft Teams

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen many radical changes, especially in how we work. The new work from home scenario has forced us to reconsider how we communicate with our colleagues, hold meetings and even how we maintain a healthy work-life balance. Overcoming these challenges has led us to further utilise the software available to us, in particular Microsoft Teams.

Microsoft teams is collaboration and communication tool that allows chat, live audio or video calling, scheduled group meetings with up to 250 participants, planning, notes, attachments and is closely integrated with Office 365 tools like SharePoint, OneDrive and Outlook. More professional than WhatsApp, but less formal than an email, Teams feels like a virtual office floor, allowing users to continue working together, even in isolation.

Teams focusses on the creation of, well, ‘Teams’ – groups of users who work together on an ongoing basis. Within each team, users can create ‘channels’ that create a space for members to focus on a particular topic and help organise conversations. Within the Service Management Team, the ‘Service Issues’ channel creates a space to discuss complications or changes to services, while the ‘Cabin Fever’ channel creates a space to replace verbal office banter. Having a separate ‘Cabin Fever’ channel also allows for other channels to be kept professional.

The rising popularity of Teams for home working can be seen in the change in usage before and after staff began working from home, shown in the graphs below which highlight the number of chat messages sent both privately and as part of a team chat (Graph 1) and the number of conference calls/meetings held virtually through Teams (Graph 2).

The graphs show a rise in Teams usage beginning on the 15th of March 2020, the date from which staff began to move to a work from home scenario. This increase has continued steadily since lockdown measures were introduced, with the exception of weekends (like March 21st-22nd). Despite this rapid increase in usage, however, the service has been continuously delivered successfully and has received positive feedback from users.

The new need to work from home also means there are new users that have just begun to use Teams for the first time. Fortunately, the Office 365 team in Service Management have developed a Teams guidance site, in collaboration with the Digital Skills team. This site offers detailed guidance on how to use the different features of teams, as well as hints and tips for best practice and to best develop your Teams skills. The site also includes a noticeboard, giving users regular updates about the service and any upcoming changes.

A particular focus area of Teams which has proved useful during the lockdown period has been the ability to easily schedule meetings using the Outlook calendar or the “Meet now” feature (for ad-hoc impromptu meetings), replacing in-person meetings with virtual Team meetings using both audio, video and screen sharing. For users new to holding meetings through Teams, the website offers detailed guidance on how you can set up a meeting and best practices, which can all be found here. There is even guidance on ‘Meeting Etiquette’, with useful tips such as muting your microphone when joining a meeting to limit background noise, when to use the meeting chat function and (importantly) how to blur your background to avoid showing any areas of your home you might not want colleagues to see!

Additional features for Teams are also in development, including using Teams to hold Live Events* – a broadcast feature that allows for audiences of up to 10,000 people. Use of Teams for audio conferencing is also in development, which will allow home users to ‘dial in’ to Teams meetings using a code sent to their phone. These features are being developed in partnership with the University of Edinburgh Business School, Microsoft Software Team and the Learning Spaces Technology Team as part of Learning, Teaching and Web.

For more useful hints and tips on using Teams to work from home, visit the Teams Guidance page and follow our Twitter (@UoE_ISApps), where we will be tweeting our top Teams tips over the coming weeks.

*Live Events are limited to 15 concurrent sessions across campus.  Our teams are working to develop a service model based around ‘fair use policy’ for the organisation and also training for successful delivery of ‘Special events’ using Teams.  We expect this model to be agreed in the coming weeks.

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