Friday, June 30, 2017

Blurred Lines: Microsoft Teams

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.


  1. This was a great read, Melissa! I wasn't previously aware of Microsoft Teams, but watched the promo video you linked to as well as did some research, and it's certainly an interesting concept. The blend between social media and traditional processing tool is pretty neat. I do wonder, like you mentioned for you and your colleagues, if there would be much intrinsic value for my office, as we currently use other platforms to collaborate on work (mostly Sharepoint and/or Onedrive). But I wonder if this sort of collaboratively-focused tool is the way forward?

    1. Hi, Alexis!

      It's worth checking into if you all have projects that you're working on that involve a lot of collaboration and updating. We're all a little iffy about it mostly because of the document sharing. When a doc is updated in Teams, it doesn't update in OneDrive, which made all of us concerned about having several versions of files floating around. But I *think* using Sharepoint with Teams works a little better than OneDrive.

      If you all decide to check it out, let me know how it goes. I'd love to hear your team's response! I'll keep you updated as well. We've got a few of our summer projects moved there, so I'll be sure to let you know!

  2. That tool is really cool, and I like that you can start a video conferecne right from the app. The promo video is quite inspiring, and I think it is awesome that you are able to try out new tools like this in your job. That itself is inspiring! I want to be a part of a team that is always ready to embrace new technology, but I guess you do have a point about this being easier when you are all educational technologists. Do you have any posts or a bio that talks more about your day job? I would love to hear more!

  3. I'm intrigued, but doubt I'll ever get to give it a try (you know what it's like working with faculty ... herding cats, a miracle that we all read and respond to email).

    1. Hello!

      You know, that was one of the questions that we keep bringing up. Does this have any potential to be used with faculty or in classrooms? I don't think I have the right vision for it to have that kind of application yet. Yet...

      I've seen the Twitter posts about your concerns with Canvas. This is probably a stretch, but maybe Teams could be used to supplement the discussions feature - I'm not sure that it would be a viable option at all, but it might be worth poking around in to see if any of it could be used for class.

      It seems like it would be a bit annoying to set up on the front end, but the good part is that it's already available through 365 apps. I don't know... I'm so unsure of this tool.

      Let me know if you do decide to check it out!