Microsoft Teams has come to the University of Portland campus. Teams is similar to the mega-popular work-based chat app Slack, in that it provides a new way to collaborate and communicate via an interactive chat-based workspace, and that can integrate with common productivity tools. The idea is to provide 21st-century knowledge workers with a flexible and fun way to stay in sync while cutting down on email overload and never-ending meetings. While this new breed of chat app caught on first in the offices of cool start-ups in San Francisco and New York, it’s being popularized in many fields as all types of workers become more mobile and more collaborative. Chat has many applications to enhance collaboration in higher education. Colleagues who need to work in close cooperation across departments and disciplines, students who participate in clubs and projects, and even teachers and learners in an academic course can all use Teams to enhance collaboration and engagement.
My colleagues in ATSI and I have been using Slack for quite some time and recently switched to Teams. In this brief guide, I want to share some tips and best practices for those who are new to this novel way to communicate professionally.
Download the Apps
For the best experience download the Teams app to your PC or Mac. Running an app version means you don’t need to remember to log in and check Teams for new messages or put your password in every time you want to use Teams. If you’re on the go, there are very useful apps for your iPhone or Android phone too. There’s even an iPad version if you’re into that kind of thing. You should be prompted to download the apps when you log in to the Teams web experience. You’ll also find download links by clicking on your profile picture from within Teams.
Teams and Channels
The basic structure of your Team will consist of “Channels,” which are essentially spaces dedicated to discussing a topic or for a subset of members. When a Team is created, it comes with a single channel called “General.” The General channel is a great space for all-purpose communication, IE “I have a doctor’s appointment and will be in later this morning” or “Happy Friday, everybody!” What other channels you create to organize communication is up to you; you can organize by project, by department, or whatever makes sense for your team. Put some thought into this before you start creating channels, but feel free to experiment. You can always delete channels or add additional channels later.
As chat-based alternative or supplement to email, Teams adopts an “opt-in” philosophy when it comes to notifications. It’s clear that the makers of Teams don’t want chat to become a new source of distraction to you when you are trying to focus on other work. This is a smart design choice, especially for large organizations when everyone starts using Teams at once. One can imagine Teams being rolled out to thousands of employees, and the aggravation of being bombarded with notifications anytime anyone had anything at all to say. It would be tantamount to a never-ending group-email thread. So, out of the box, Teams will only send notifications when someone on your Team “@mentions” you or replies directly to a comment you added.
That said, it’s easy to opt-in to notifications for the conversations that are important to you. The first step is to “Favorite” channels you want to stay on top of by clicking the star icon next to the channel name. Favorited channels will be“stickied” to the top of your list, and channels with new comments will appear in bold. You will also get notifications if someone @mentions the channel.
If you want to go a step further, you can “Follow” channels by clicking the ellipses next to the channel name and choosing the Follow option. When you follow channels, you will get notifications for any new activity on the channel.
So, if you are interested in a team or channel and want to check in periodically, make sure to Favorite the channel so you can check in and catch up on what you missed and be notified of important messages.
If you want to keep up with all the conversations and messages in a channel, follow that channel so that you can be notified and respond to messages in real-time.
I primarily use Teams with a small cohort and many channels, so I have favorited all channels and followed the ones I want to stay up-to-the-minute with. Your situation might be different. Either way, understanding how to make notifications work for you is key.
Teams is available for anyone at UP to try. If you’d like more information, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ready to dive a bit deeper? Check out my Teams Pro Tips. You can scroll through the interactive presentation below.
*Featured Image Courtesy of Microsoft