Yesterday we had a team meeting about Microsoft Teams. We use Office 365 at work, and as a part of Academic Innovation, it makes sense that we are the early adopters of some of the tools. Under the the larger Innovation umbrella, I am part of a group that focuses on faculty development, and since we are a small group of four, we often try out new products before we talk about them with the whole crew.
We use a lot of what 365 offers, OneDrive, Tasks, Planner, Mail, and of course all the standard Word, Powerpoint, and Excel products. But we've gone back and forth with Teams. I don't think any of us are completely sold on it yet, but we're giving it a little more time. With my group, because I work remotely, we are always on Skype or Polycom and using OneDrive's share system to work collaboratively on live documents - a method that works really well for us. For detailed project management we use Smartsheet, and for just sharing our overall project plans, we tend to use Tasks. We use a lot of tools, and that's intentional. If we are going to tout the functionality of something, it stands to reason that we test it out first.
With all of these tools, we are still so undecided about Teams, which, at this point, we have yet to really see the value in. Most of the functions are easily managed using the other apps, so why add one more? Sure, we could argue that it's because it keeps our projects well organized, but we'd probably just link our Smartsheets. Maybe it's because it can house all the files we're working on? Ehhh, OneDrive does that and makes editing and updating easier. So what is it?
There is one feature of Teams, though, that none of those others have, and perhaps it's why we're so determined to find a use for this somewhat clunky tool. In a lot of ways, it's like social media. It has a newsfeed, we can tag each other, share gifs, even upload videos. And when I was trying to see what all Teams offered, I came across the promotional video and was struck by this line: "What if people from different cultures and generations could come together in a more purposeful way?" Honestly, the advertisement is nothing short of moving. At its heart it's a business tool, but the experience Microsoft is selling is rooted solidly in collaborative social networking.
Because we are all in education technology, we know the value of social media and learning. And we often place open collaboration and communication at the core of what we do. But I think there's more to it than that. I think there's an organic desire to connect on a more personal level. Being able to see each other's posts, to watch real-time updates, and to comment on links and "like" our conversations - even if they are all about work - are things that feel very natural to the people on our team. They make us feel more connected, less isolated as we are working from different zip codes - the same things we've said about social media all along.
The lines between productivity tools and social media are blurring, and it seems like a lot of good can come from this. For now, we're trying to get used to Teams to see what kind of functionality it can offer and how to use it in the most efficient way, but even if it isn't this magical tool, there's something about it that seems to be creating a stronger sense of community. And that's something I'll always support.
For anyone who hasn't used Teams, consider watching the promo video.