Teams in the time of Covid-19
We’re all in lock-down: in a few short weeks everyone is being forced to transition into a remote workforce and you’re being forced to provide the technology and techniques to make it all work. Teams, and its friends are already having their day in the sun but how, we’re all asking, do we get the most value from these new tools in the fastest possible time but with the least risk? The perennial triangle.
But where to start?
I – and many other people – have written about adapting to a remote working culture so I’ll focus here on some tools and techniques to get you going fast.
The first step is to decide on your priorities.
At the simplest level, Teams combines three ways of working which we need to think about:
- Direct, ad-hoc conversations
- Scheduled meetings for groups
- “Teams” which persist over time and include rich collaboration tools, file sharing and channels
I’ll say up front: I suggest that for most people, the “Teams” in Microsoft Teams are NOT the place to start.
I recommend starting with something more like real life; start with conversations between people. Get people chatting, talking and meeting via Teams.
What do you need?
Teams chat – both internal and external – is built into the product right out of the box. Whether your end users are in Office 365 for any other services, by setting a few DNS entries, you can enable internal and external IM and voice calls for your team.
I’d also recommend a headset. Wireless is good but not essential, but noise cancelling can be a godsend if the family are in the wings. You might try stealing your child’s gaming headset to see how you get on before you buy one but don’t get too attached to it.
Once people have started connecting via chat, it’s easy to extend this to Teams meetings if you’ve already moved your email to Exchange Online in Office 365.
If you’re already running Exchange 2016 with CU3 or above, good news there too, we can still make it work.
But what if I haven’t?
If neither apply, you’ve come to a dead end for the time being. You can still create ad-hoc meetings and circulate the URLs for people to join via email or other means, but you can’t use the meeting functionality and in the context of business, this can be a critical blocker.
Your best option is to press on with your migration to Office 365. As always, the key is good preparation. Once the foundations are properly set up, migrating your mailboxes can be quick and easy and with very little impact on your end users wherever they’re working.
So, now what?
Up to this point, these functions don’t require a high level of governance and there are a few simple controls you can implement if you want to manage access more closely:
- White or blacklists for External Communications allow you to allow or block domains with whom you want your team to be able to communicate via IM and direct calls.
- Anonymous meeting join can be enabled or disabled to control whether you allow external parties to join your meetings.
- You can set defaults for whether people should be held in a virtual lobby before being allowed to join.
- And finally, Data retention policies can be set to enable audit and eDiscovery of conversations taking place in Teams.
The next step is the big one – and not to be taken lightly. Let me explain why:
Each Microsoft Teams “Team” you (or anyone else) create is based on an Office 365 Group.
Each Office 365 Groups is a wrapper around a raft of other objects which live in the background including:
- A shared Outlook inbox
- A shared calendar
- A SharePoint document library
- A Planner
- Power BI
- Yammer (if the group was created from Yammer)
- A Team (if the group was created from Teams)
- Roadmap (if you have Project for the web)
Each of these objects which are created automatically becomes another silo for your data to get lost in and each has governance and security considerations to consider. Therefore, I recommend all organisations start off by disabling the (default) ability for users to create Microsoft Teams and Office 365 Groups.
From that point, you can gain some level of governance around Teams. It’s still not easy and we’re already seeing a high level of chaos evolving in Teams and Groups but at least the business can start out with a plan.
I’m absolutely not saying you shouldn’t use Teams – they’re excellent and, properly planned, can add enormous value to the way your business collaborates. What I am saying is their ease of use (and by default, creation) masks a world of pain which will come back to haunt you in future if you let it grow out of control. Think of it like gardening maybe.
Detailed governance around Microsoft Teams is a subject for another day but very quickly, here are a few things to consider:
- Imagine Teams are permanent, persistent things and plan for it. Don’t plan to create them and throw them away
- The audience (membership) of a Team is set at the Team level so plan for everyone in a Team to see everything in the Team
- Channels within Teams help you organise your Teams into different topics but (as above) the audience is set at the Team level – everyone can see all Teams channels
- Do not plan to use Private Channels. There are many and varied reasons I make this recommendation but it’s a good starting point
With all these new tools comes a steep learning curve so anything you can do to help your team to navigate their way around the new tools and adapt to new working patterns is going to add real value. Everyone learns in different ways so look for training and adoption aids which can adapt to the individual and help them to engage at their own pace.
So, you have some great tools available through Teams and these can increase productivity and help to maintain connexions between your team in this new world of remote working. Teams is included in all Office 365 and Microsoft 365 subscriptions and Microsoft is offering 6 months free service during the crisis – so yes: you can use it right now. As always, if you need any further advice or guidance, we’re here to help.