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Optimize Microsoft Teams During COVID-19

COVID-19 has not only initiated emergency remote work – it has also forced organizations to gaze into the looming economic abyss because of the pandemic lockdowns. A PwC survey published mid-May found that CFOs overwhelmingly favor a strategy of cost containment, with 81% considering it as a response to the pandemic. Moreover, 60% of finance leaders plan to defer or cancel upcoming investments.

In this climate, organizations should look in-house to see what communication and collaboration tools can be leveraged to optimize remote work. Bringing in new, flashy tools because of end-user pressure is a knee-jerk reaction that often sees organizations paying twice for the same capability they already have with an in-house tool. The most popular app is not necessarily the app of best fit for an organization.

It follows that for those organizations with Office 365 licenses, Microsoft Teams ought to be the default collaboration tool for optimizing remote work. This makes sense from both a cost-savings perspective (given one is already paying for an Office 365 license) and a capability perspective. Teams provides the range of capabilities typically sought after for remote work: from audio and videoconferencing to whiteboarding. Of course, Teams is not a best-of-breed for all collaboration capabilities – but until specific pain points are found that justify why the organization should look beyond Teams, this tool is likely to be good enough for business continuity.

However, as Info-Tech Research Group’s Microsoft Teams Cookbook points out, the problem with leveraging Teams is that IT is often unsure about best practices for governance and permissions – whether or not one is transitioning to it from Skype for Business. Indeed, Teams is not a standalone app. Successful use of Teams occurs when conceived in the broader context of how it integrates with Office 365. Understanding how information flows between Teams, SharePoint Online, and OneDrive for Business, for instance, will aid how Teams permissions and security can be optimized.

Source: Microsoft “Logical architecture for Microsoft Teams and related services.” Accessed: May 9, 2020.

Intertwined with issues of governance and permissions is ensuring end users can use Teams effectively. This includes both basic understanding of functionality and, more importantly, best practices of how to use Teams. It is one thing to create a team and channel; it is another to determine whether that creation was warranted or the best solution for the task at hand.

The team creation process brings together these above issues. No initial governance for team creation can lead to “teams sprawl.” While Microsoft built Teams to allow end users’ creativity to flow when creating teams and channels, this can create a disorganized interface and difficulty keeping track of information – which, ironically, leads to end-user dissatisfaction.

To prevent end-user dissatisfaction here, IT should paint the first picture: initial Teams rollout should offer a basic structure for end users to work with, limiting early teams sprawl. For smaller organizations that are project-driven, organize teams by projects. For larger organizations with established, siloed departments, organize by department; projects within departments can become channels.

The further issue is that poor governance of the team creation process will have ramifications across Office 365, especially SharePoint Online. Teams is not a file storage application: each team created, chat started, and file shared in Teams automatically generates a SharePoint team site behind it to store that information. Without properly tying existing SharePoint folders to new teams, information can get lost, duplicated, or cluttered through both applications. If an organization has already put work into creating their intranet through SharePoint (or at least plans to in the future), this will be an important area to monitor and maintain control over.

Use case–driven training helps socialize Teams with end users more quickly to reinforce Teams governance. By identifying archetypical use cases, IT can train end users to optimize Teams use in a relevant and engaging manner. In turn, this improves security and Teams organization. For instance, if a group of end users often need to communicate or collaborate with persons outside of their organization (or, at the very least, their Microsoft tenant), this use case provides an opportunity for IT to reinforce best practices for inviting external or guest users into their team or channel.

If end users can be shown how Teams fits their workflow, IT will face less pressure for purchasing and governing multiple communication and collaboration tools. The result of rationalizing one’s toolset in this way ensures the ability to better secure endpoints on a unified platform, improved end-user satisfaction, and lower licensing, training, and support costs.

Source: SoftwareReviews Microsoft Teams scorecard for team collaboration. Accessed: May 29, 2020.

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