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 conveniently integrate with other powerful 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 – including 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 had 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
You can login to teams.microsoft.com to use Teams on the web, but 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 Teams apps for your iPhone or Android phone too. You should be prompted to download the desktop 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, department, or whatever criteria makes sense for you. 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 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. 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 else @mentions a favorited channel by name.
As an example, say my Chess Club Team has a new channel called “Chess Books” where members can review or recommend reading. I can click the star to keep the books channel in my list and see the channel name in bold when I have unread messages.
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.
Again going back to my chess books channel, if I follow the channel, I will get active notifications for any new posts or replies in that channel, even if no one @mentions me or I am not participating in the discussion thread,
- You will always get notifications if someone @mentions you or replies directly to one of your messages
- If you are interested in a team or channel and want to check in periodically, make sure to Favorite the channel, so you can see when you have unread messages
- If you want to keep up with all the conversations and messages in a channel, favorite and 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 interactive presentation Teams Top Tips.
*Featured Image Courtesy of Microsoft