Microsoft Teams cheat sheet
Microsoft's answer to Slack, Teams provides group messaging, voice and video calls, and useful integrations with other Office 365 apps. Here's how to get set up in Teams and find your way around.
Email is everywhere, and it has been around seemingly forever. But is it really the most effective way for groups of people to collaborate on work and advance business objectives? Several newish team messaging products, most notably Slack
, wager that the answer is indeed no. Slack and its rivals try to remove threaded email conversations as a common platform of communication in organizations and replace it with instant message-like short bursts organized into channels based on the context or subject of the conversation.
Microsoft Teams is the Redmond behemoth’s suggested alternative to Slack. Teams, which is included with Office 365 business and enterprise subscriptions and is also available as a free product, is essentially group chat software with some interesting features thrown in around working with documents and spreadsheets, especially those stored in SharePoint and OneDrive for Business. It also incorporates videoconferencing capabilities, which taking on increasing importance as the spread of the novel coronavirus (a.k.a. COVID-19) prompts more companies to encourage telecommuting.
Why would you want to use Teams over email?
- Everyone in a discussion stays on topic. Conversations happen in channels that are dedicated to certain topics. While email messages and threads make it easy to say, “oh, while we’re here” and divert the discussion onto an entirely different topic, conversations in channels are more likely to stay on topic, and thus the friction of getting information you need is reduced.
- You will get less email. As more and more team members log on to Teams and move their work-related conversations to the platform, it is inevitable that short conversations that would have happened over email naturally find themselves happening in a channel where everyone can see and respond.
- All resources are right there in front of you. Documents and conversations can all be found in one place, even if physically the objects are stored in different parts of Office 365. For instance, documents and shared files live in SharePoint but magically appear in relevant conversations in Teams.
- Teams has a real-time feel to it, making collaboration “in the moment” easier than trying to trade emails with colleagues.
What follows is a cheat sheet — a head-start guide to using Teams to more efficiently work with your colleagues and save time.
Microsoft offers a web interface
for Teams, as well as mobile apps for iOS
so you can stay connected from anywhere. But the best experience is offered by the desktop client
. Available for Windows (versions 7 and up), macOS (10.10 and up) and Linux (in .deb and .rpm formats), it’s a rich, full-featured application that lets you keep meetings, chats and notes all together in one place. This story will focus on getting you acquainted with the desktop app.
As the name suggests, Teams organises itself around the concept of teams, which can be small groups you’re working with on specific projects, your whole department or, in some cases, even the entire company. When you launch Teams, you’ll be taken to the Teams view. The first time you launch Microsoft Teams, you’ll likely be enrolled in one or more teams.
Creating or joining a team
To create a new team, which you might need to do when you start a new project, for instance, select Join or create a team
at the bottom left of the Teams window. On the screen that appears, hover over the “Create a team” area and click the Create team
You need to then choose whether to create a team from scratch or create a team based on an Office 365 group (if you choose the latter, then you need to specify the group on the next screen), choose whether the team is private (only you and other owners of the team can decide which participants to include) or public (anyone who has access to Office 365 in your organization can join), and then give your team a name and a friendly description so others can make sense of its purpose.
After that, you’ll be prompted to add any relevant people, distribution groups and security groups that might exist inside the Global Address List for Office 365 in your organization. Here, think of distribution groups that get memos for your department, any particular employees, and even other email lists that might have members that would find the content of your discussions relevant. You can also designate them as members or owners of the team.
If Office 365 is configured appropriately in your company, you can even invite guests from outside your organisation, such as vendors and contractors, simply by typing their email addresses into the team-picking screen. Their “guest” status will be clearly denoted in all of their actions. (If you don’t have permission from your administrator to do this, Teams will report back that you are not authorized.)
When you create a team, Teams automatically sets up certain elements of Office 365 to support the team. Specifically, it creates a SharePoint team site and grants access to the members of the team you added, an Office 365 Group
(think of it as an Exchange or Outlook distribution list on steroids) comprising the team members, a shared OneNote notebook hosted in the cloud, and a shared Plan, something that’s part of the Microsoft Planner
tool in Office 365, which is beyond the scope of this article.
To manage your team at any time, click the three-dot icon next to its name in the navigator bar on the left. You’ll see a pop-up menu where you can add or remove members, create channels for the team (more on that below), change the team name or description, and more.
If you’d like to join an existing team rather than create a new one, select Join or create a team
at the bottom left of the Teams window. On the screen that appears, you’ll see a list of available teams. Hover over any public team and click its Join team
button to join instantly. If the team is private, you’ll need to request approval from its administrator.
Once a team is created, you’ll notice a few things in the Teams window.
For one, a General channel has been created for the team. Channels are where you converse and collaborate. The General channel is meant to be a catch-all place where you go to start conversations when you first begin using the Teams product; usually more specific topic-related channels will spring from there.
You can create multiple channels for any given team — the Widget Launch team might want to have sales, production and marketing channels, for example. To add a channel, click the three-dot icon to the right of the team’s name in the left navigation pane, and from the menu that pops up, select Add channel
. On the screen that appears, type in a name and a description for the channel and click the Add
button. All the channels for a team appear underneath the name of the team in the left pane.
New to Teams is the private channel capability, which lets you set up channels that only certain folks can read and respond to — this could be useful for sensitive issues within a larger team. To create one of these channels, follow the steps above, and on the “Create a channel” screen, make sure Private
is selected at the bottom of the window. Click the Next
button; you’ll then add members as normal.
Each channel has tabs that show up in the upper portion of the main area of the Teams screen, including tabs for posts (like conversations), files, notes and related services. When someone does something new in a channel, such as adding a file or starting or continuing a conversation, that channel’s name will become bold in the left pane.
The Posts tab kind of works like Facebook or LinkedIn in that you can comment to your teammates in an ongoing conversation. Composing messages is straightforward: Just start typing in the “Start a new conversation” text box, or click Reply
below an existing conversation and start typing.
You can call teammates’ attention to certain parts of the conversation by tagging them with an @ sign when typing, like this: @Susan have you seen the latest projections?
Users who have been tagged will see, in their own copies of the Teams clients, those tagged parts of the conversation highlighted in bright red so they can easily see and respond to messages. You can use emoticons, emojis and GIFs as well — that’s what I mean by thinking of this area like Facebook.
Other activities such as shared calls or shared files appear in a timeline fashion in the Posts tab. These can be accessed elsewhere, but they are populated and referenced in the Posts area as well, much like a news feed on a social site works. And anyone who is currently available on Teams will have a green circle with a white checkmark on their profile picture in the Posts area.
You are probably beginning to get the idea that Teams is in many ways an overlay to Office 365 services. This is very clear in the Files tab, which populates a list of files on the shared SharePoint team site right in your window, saving you the trouble of loading it up in your browser and clicking around. You can upload, open, edit, copy, move, download and delete files, or get links to those documents to share with others.
Another nice feature is that, right in the Files tab, you can start a group chat about a document, and that group chat will be documented in the Posts tab as well for future reference.
If you click on a file name, the online version of Word, Excel, and so on will open right in the Teams window, allowing you to perform lightweight edits or create simple documents from scratch without leaving the Teams client.
Adding more tabs
The tab area is basically where all of the exciting integration action happens with Teams. Functionality from other Office 365 services as well as third parties surfaces as new tabs.
For example, you can add Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, OneNote notebooks, Power BI dashboards, Planner plans, and more directly as tabs in the Teams client. Just click the plus button (+) at the far right of the tabs layout to add a new tab. There are also available integrations with third-party cloud services like GitHub, Cisco Webex, Smartsheet, and so on.
Searching through any content within Teams is simple — just type a command or search keywords into the search bar at the top of the Teams client window.
The navigator bar
On the far left side of the Teams window, you will find a navigation bar with a menu that contains several potential places for things to surface in Teams:
As with the “Notifications” area of Facebook, @ mentions, replies, and other notifications sent specifically to you will be highlighted here. Click the funnel icon to see filtering options.
To start a private conversation, click a team member’s name and start chatting in the main area of the screen to the right. In Teams releases later in 2020 and beyond, you will be able to remove chats into separate windows so that you can manage multiple chats at one time across your monitors.
This area lets you see all of the teams of which you are a member, and will let you add more people, create more channels, or start conversations in channels within each of those teams. You’ll spend a lot of time here, as it is the default place the software takes you when you start it up.
This part of the client essentially surfaces your Office 365/Exchange calendar. You can also schedule meetings with all of the members of the team through this tab using the “New meeting” button, or start a video meeting immediately with the “Meet now” button.
You may know that Microsoft has rolled up Lync and Skype for Business (at least the cloud-hosted versions) into the Teams client, so all of your communications can happen from one client. On the Calls tab, you can initiate calls, add contacts to speed dials, check your voicemail, look at your calls history, and start video chats as well.
The key buttons here are on the bottom left — type in who you want to call in the “Make a call” box in the left pane, and then click the phone button or the camera button below to start an audio or video call. (You might have to click a Make a call
button in the lower left pane first, depending on what build of the Teams client is installed on your machine.) You can also add individuals or groups to “speed dial” for one-click calling.
This tab grabs files from SharePoint, OneDrive and OneNote, and helpfully surfaces what you’ve used most recently in the Recent view. You can also go right over to your personal OneDrive from within the client to find other files and monitor the progress of larger file downloads to your local computer.
The … icon:
Here is another place where you can add additional applications to the Teams client, including Planner data, OneNote, live streaming, and more.
You can also use the search box or click the More apps
link within the three-dot icon pop-up — or click the Apps
button at the bottom of the nav bar — to add third-party apps like Zoom into all areas of Teams (for instance, in right-click context menus) and not just within added tabs. When you add an app this way, its icon will appear in the navigator bar.
While this hasn’t rolled out completely as of this writing, the Tasks view is coming, and it will be very useful when it does arrive — it will surface tasks assigned to you from Microsoft Planner, To-Do and Outlook. You will also be able to see how many tasks you have outstanding, how many completed and what their individual status is.
What not to do with Teams
Teams is definitely a big step up over endless email chains, but that doesn’t mean it’s suitable for everything. Here are some things to avoid:
Trying to replace all emails with Teams conversations and links.
Sometimes we humans have a tendency to gravitate to whatever new features and tools there are, proclaiming them the “killer” of whatever came before and trying to force old square pegs into shiny new round holes. Teams is no different, and for that matter, neither is Slack.
Trying to send emails to external folks.
Unfortunately there is no way for Teams to send email out to the internet, so unless you want to invite external users as guests into your team, assuming you have permission to do that, you will need to handle some subjects that involve people outside of your organization via old-fashioned email messages. That, of course, limits the utility of using Teams in projects or environments with a lot of collaboration with external users.
With that said, there is a new feature coming some time during 2020 that will allow you to move conversations from email in Outlook into Teams conversations or channels just by clicking a button — and vice versa. However, your organization may restrict how external users can interact with this content via data loss prevention policies and prohibitions on folks outside your organization accessing Teams chats and channels. Ask your IT department if you have questions.
Trying to use Teams for anything other than back-and-forth quick hits.
Think of Teams this way: If you are on IM, that’s an ideal Teams conversation. If your message is longer than a paragraph, chances are, it should go back to email. Longer conversations, project planning, longer term development, all of those types of deep thinking and analysis are best suited for email.
For one, it’s easier to search email than Teams. Second, in email, you can sort, filter, set up rules, and do other automated things to manage how you see and find information. Email is now generally available offline as well, whereas Teams is not. And finally, the Teams client is a not currently set up with rich editing features for conversations, such as enhanced cutting and pasting, serious spellchecking abilities, or undoing or moving conversations from one channel to another.
The last word
Once you get to know it, Microsoft Teams is a genuinely helpful tool for teams in companies that use Office 365, since it brings together a bunch of different Office 365 components and surfaces them in one convenient place.