The millions of businesses that rely on Office 365 recently received access to a new collaboration service called Microsoft Teams that is natively integrated into the suite and comes at no additional charge. It’s designed to provide an easy-to-use chat environment for employee communications, but also includes several advanced management features that can help streamline HR operations.
Much like Slack and other competing messaging services, Microsoft Teams provides the ability to organize communications according to a company’s corporate structure. Workers can be assigned to groups based on their role in the business, while each team may have multiple channels dedicated to different activities. One of the features that sets the service apart is support for public groups which any employee can join without an invite.
This feature makes it possible to easily create a central channel for communicating HR policy changes and other company news. Instead of having to individually post an update in every chat room, a manager can simply share their message to the designated public group with the knowledge that all employees will be able to see it. Longer announcements, in turn, may be distributed through Outlook thanks to an integration that lets users send emails to a Microsoft Teams channel as seen below.
Similarly to the public groups feature, this capability is designed to reduce the number of steps involved in communicating information across a company. Posting a message from Outlook only requires copying a channel’s address from a drop-down menu at the bottom left and pasting it into the recipient field. Microsoft Teams can handle attachments just as well as regular text, which makes it relatively straightforward to share longer documents like an updated employee handbook.
Besides broadcasting announcements, managers also require the ability to handle confidential communications that fall into the opposite camp and must be kept private. Microsoft Teams makes it possible to address this requirement through the Security and Compliance Center in the Office 365 administration console. The menu includes a search function for tracking messages, files and other content shared by employees. If, for example, a manager wants to prevent personnel data from getting misplaced, they can use the feature to find worker records that have been posted somewhere other than the HR department’s chat room.
The native feature set of Microsoft Teams is complemented by a variety of third party extensions that are available through a built-in catalog. They fall into three main categories: Tabs that show an embedded page from an external service, Connectors for performing basic tasks like syncing data to a file locker and, last but not least, Bots. These are AI assistants similar to those in Slack that can automate various day-to-day tasks. The Polly bot in the screenshot below, for example, provides the ability to centrally poll employees about their job satisfaction and other internal matters.
Polly is one of about a dozen bots that are available for Microsoft Teams on launch. It’s not a lot, certainly not compared to the selection offered by Slack, but the number can be grow to increase as Redmond works to increase the appeal of the service. A recent survey from IT network Spiceworks claims that Microsoft Teams could surpass Slack as the top business messaging tool on the market within two years. While certainly optimistic, this prediction isn’t too far fetched considering that Office 365 has some 85 million active monthly users according to Microsoft’s internal figures. About 50,000 organizations have already signed up for the chat service.
Microsoft Team is available immediately as part of Office 365 business subscriptions.