As Microsoft continues to develop and improve Office 365, a wide suite of tools have emerged in recent years. But one area stands out as their current priority, and it's all about team collaboration.
It is well known that Microsoft is evolving Office 365 at a tremendous pace, with new features and updates arriving every month. While many of these are minor changes, there are some key themes that are coming through.
There are three main developments from Microsoft:
- The progression of workplace communication (voice services especially, but video too)
- The use of advanced analytics and AI
- Further enhancements to workplace collaboration
Many of these changes are underpinned by improved collaboration between the various tools in Office 365, and all three are very visible in what’s arguably been one of the biggest areas of focus for Microsoft in recent months: Microsoft Teams.
Microsoft Teams is a platform that combines workplace chat, meetings, notes, and attachments. The service integrates with Office 365 tools and can also integrate with non-Microsoft products.
It is clear that Microsoft sees this tool as the central hub in which we spend most of our time – the central point for collaboration, communication, and access to projects, documents, and other work.
Whilst the platform is now included in most Office 365 and Microsoft 365 bundles, Microsoft has recently announced that there is now a free version which includes most of the main features.
Teams was first launched in 2016, and before it was even a year old Microsoft announced that the platform would be replacing Skype for Business. With this in mind, it makes sense that the best of the Skype for Business functionality that we all know and love would be migrating into Microsoft Teams.
Furthermore, Teams has been the focus for all new development for quite a while now. All the developments in AI, machine learning, and cognitive and collaborative services are going into Teams, not Skype. The intent couldn’t be clearer.
In late August, it was announced that the migration of Skype for Business features to Teams has now been completed, meaning that Microsoft believes there is no reason not to go straight to Teams, or for existing Skype for Businesses users to not start looking at migrating. To check out the latest developments, have a look at the roadmap:
Key recent releases include:
- Federated chat between Teams and Skype for Business allow a Teams user to chat with users in other organisations using Teams.
- Large meeting support (~250).
- Skype Room systems support for Teams Meetings enable Skype Room Systems to natively join Teams meetings.
- Outlook scheduling add-in makes it possible to add a Microsoft Teams meeting in Outlook so that users can schedule Microsoft Teams meetings from within Outlook.
- External access means users can now add a guest to a Team from outside the organisation
- Command box app integrations enables users to easily add apps to their new personal space.
- There is no denying the investment and focus Microsoft is putting into Teams.
- If you’re a Skype for Business user, it’s a question of when, not if you’ll be moving to Teams
- Plenty more developments are set to come down the line over the coming months.
The features being developed will enable Teams to become an even more powerful hub for teamwork, allowing users to work in new and innovative ways. Using the new command box features, Teams lets you include interactive cards in conversations and bring in important information from third-party sources.
Features are only half the battle. One of the key challenges for Microsoft is encouraging its users to use Teams on a daily basis. The migration of Skype to Teams will assist in forcing Skype users to move over, although Microsoft still has a way to go if they want widespread adoption of Teams in favour of other chat-based workspace applications.
To help with the migration, Microsoft has created a fast-track site. See here for more details.
The interoperability of business analytics throughout the Office 365 toolset
One of Microsoft’s latest, and I believe more exciting, updates are the enhancements in AI and usage analytics to enable additional capabilities in Office 365.
Microsoft has some big plans for how their Cloud platforms can help automate many day-to-day tasks, helping users find and display data, set up meetings, and many more. One of the first and more basic things to come from this is the Office 365 usage analytics. This will allow administrators to visualise and analyse their organisation’s Office 365 usage data, create custom reports, and share the insights – pivoting by attributes available in Azure Active Directory, such as location and department.
The benefits of something like this could enable the user to track productivity and efficiency, and then map it over time based on different activities.
MyAnalytics, a handy little feature designed to help employees and their managers gain insight into how workers spend their time - with the goal of optimising tasks and making them more efficient - is continuing to improve as well. This is not only to provide data about how we work and who we meet with (although the platform will soon be able to analyse who users speak to over Skype) but it will also be introducing a “nudge” feature to encourage users to set time aside in the week to keep “focus hours” if it finds their calendar is starting to fill up with meetings. The end goal of this service is to assist users to build better work habits. I like it, but I suspect some will find it rather ‘big brother’!
What will be particularly helpful is using these new features to drive more targeted end-user training and communication that will help them transform how their organisation communicates and collaborates. This is where a truly modern workplace comes into play.
Another exciting area of development is around communication. Microsoft have based Teams on a totally new network for voice and video data, and the improvements in call quality over Skype is considerable.
What's more, with the new Direct Routing capability, there is the potential to connect Teams to your corporate phone system. This is something we are looking at very closely now, so more soon.