Remote working has now become commonplace to keep staff, families, customers, and communities safe during this challenging time, in London and across the UK.
As such, businesses need to ensure their staff have the right tools in place to work efficiently, securely and confidently from home.
Being able to work as normally as possible, albeit from home, will not only help protect your business but will also provide stability and reassurance for your employees. This is particularly important at a time when they may need additional emotional support, as well as practical help.
There are lots of strategies you can put in place to help your teams work productively from home. Things to consider include:
- How to provide supervision to staff
- How you will allocate tasks
- How to set clear goals, expectations and deadlines
- How staff can access all the information and documents they need
- How to provide a support network so staff don’t feel isolated
- How to continue running meetings, briefings and catch-ups
- How to keep confidential data secure
One system that can help you achieve all the above is Microsoft Teams. While many businesses have been using Teams within the office environment for years, the platform also offers major benefits when staff are working remotely.
In this article, we’ll explain what Microsoft Teams is and examine the advantages it offers to businesses who find themselves managing a remote workforce.
What is Microsoft Teams?
Launched in 2017, Microsoft Teams is a productivity, collaboration and messaging platform with over 20 million users worldwide.
The aim of the platform is to improve teamwork and collaboration within the workplace.
Microsoft Teams features file sharing, task organisation and real-time collaboration on documents, spreadsheets and presentations. It is ideal for both office-based staff and staff who work remotely. It’s a cloud-based platform and is supported on Windows, Mac and iOS and Android devices, so it can be accessed from anywhere, providing there is internet access. It’s also easy to integrate Teams with third-party services such as MailChimp, Facebook Pages and Twitter.
The real beauty of Microsoft Teams is that it brings together many daily activities and processes in one place. All documents connected to a project can be securely stored, making everything accessible to team members who need them. The syncing capabilities within Teams means colleagues can work on the same document, at the same time – with no worries about overwriting work. Staff can simply log into this one platform to access and edit documents, message colleagues, host audio or video calls and meetings, and much more.
If your employees are already familiar with Word, Excel and other Office 365 products, these can all be used within Teams. The platform also offers third-party integration with popular apps, so your staff can readily access everything they need.
From late 2020 to spring 2021, Microsoft are rolling out their new features for Microsoft Teams. These features are designed to improve remote working practices, based on the premise that working from home is here to stay. They, therefore, aim to boost employee productivity and wellbeing, preventing employees from ‘burning out’ due to long term remote working practices.
Here are some of the new features being introduced:
- Virtual commutes – Microsoft Teams will now give you the option to schedule in virtual commutes. Nobody misses traffic or public transport during rush hour, but studies show that reflection done during this time can significantly boost productivity. Therefore, Teams will offer you the opportunity to schedule a virtual commute into your calendar, whereby you replace the time usually spent commuting something more mindful, such as a walk or meditation.
- Partnership with Headspace – Microsoft have partnered with wellbeing brand Headspace to offer science-supported mindfulness experiences and meditations via Teams. This is aimed to help employees focus or de-stress, either in preparation for an important meeting or at the end of the day.
- Productivity insights – powered by My Analytics and Workplace Analytics, Teams will use data to provide specialised recommendations to all employees on how to improve their working days (in terms of both productivity and wellbeing).
- Manager insights – manager insights will allow managers to access data on the working practices of their teams, including after-hours collaboration, focus time, cross-company connections etc. This information will help managers to identify areas of improvement within their team and gain an understanding of the productivity and wellbeing of individuals.
- Virtual breakout rooms – Microsoft launched virtual breakout rooms in December 2020. This enables meeting organisers to divide attendees into smaller groups during a video call, enabling them to discuss and brainstorm with each other. Organisers can join breakout rooms or end the breakout discussions and bring everyone back to the main meeting whenever they want.
How Microsoft Teams helps staff work remotely
Here are some of the features that Microsoft Teams offers to help your staff work remotely:
1. Document collaboration
Within Microsoft Teams, staff can access all their Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and PDF documents. They can edit them in real-time and when changes are made by several users, the updates are automatically synced, so you don’t have to worry about over-writing information, or version control.
Once documents are complete, you can then move them into your primary file sharing application or system to ensure they are secure.
2. Instant messaging
The messaging system within Teams is a great way for staff to communicate with managers and one another throughout the day. Many businesses have been able to replace internal email completely with Teams messaging functions. For staff who are working remotely, this is a valuable feature, allowing them to get answers to questions quickly and stay connected to colleagues.
3. Screen sharing
When working together, side by side in the office, it’s easy for staff to look at the same screen to discuss a topic. With Teams, this is still possible remotely, even if colleagues are miles apart, using the screen sharing features. You can share your screen in a meeting with many participants – or share just between two people on a call. When one person shares their screen, the other sees the same information in real-time, just as though they were sitting together.
4. Video chat and conference calling
It’s easy to host meetings with Microsoft Teams and you can choose to make these audio only, or video calls, depending on your preferences. You can host meetings with several participants and the platform comes with many different tools to make online meetings easy and productive. For example, you can record a meeting (so anyone who can’t participate can replay the meeting later). There are messaging options so people can ask questions without interrupting the speaker. You can also share your screen during a meeting – ideal if you want participants to see a particular document while you are chatting.
How teams, channels and tabs work in Microsoft Teams
Like any new platform, it can take a little while to get used to using Microsoft Teams. However, the system is incredibly intuitive and after using it for a day or so, most staff find it very easy and enjoyable to use.
The hierarchy within Teams is organised into three main features: Teams, Channels and Tabs. Here is a quick explanation of each of these.
Teams brings together people, content, and tools in one place, allowing them to focus on particular projects or goals within an organisation. For example, you could have a ‘marketing team’, or a ‘new product launch team’, or a ‘productivity team’.
The purpose of a team is to bring together people who will work closely on a project or outcome.
When you create a team, you can choose to make it private and only invite certain users. Alternatively, you can create a public team which anyone within the organisation can join (up to 5,000 members).
The cornerstone of Microsoft Teams is its channels feature. Channels are sections within a team where conversations can be organised. You can share documents within a channel and have conversations between team members.
This space is then where activities relating to a project take place. You can host meetings within a channel, store documents, or collaborate with others.
Within channels, you can create multiple tabs to organise information. Tabs makes it easy for users to find the information they need quickly. The key is to only create the tabs you really need so that you don’t clutter a channel with unnecessary information. Examples of useful tabs include:
Files tab – a space where users can easily access all the files stored within a certain channel. Make sure you create a folder structure before uploading files to keep everything organised and easy to find.
Web page tab – if there are web pages that your team visit frequently, you can put these in one place, using a web page tab. This also means you can encourage staff to use the same external websites to keep activities consistent across all your team members.
Individual file tab – if there is a document that your staff refer to throughout the day, you can create its own tab, making it quicker to access.
Best-practice tips for using Microsoft Teams effectively with a remote workforce
Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of Microsoft Teams while helping staff work productively from home:
Creating an effective team and channel structure
- Only create teams when you need to. Speak with the team members first to agree a new team is the best approach for the collaboration needed. A channel within an existing team could be enough
- Encourage staff to leave teams they no longer need to be in, after checking with the team owner
- Keep things simple; only add channels if necessary
- Hide channels you are no longer interested in. You will no longer get updates on that channel, but you can refer to it later
- Use the ‘general’ channel for discussion that does not belong in other channels within the team. Use it as a miscellaneous space for team discussions
- Create separate channels for social or fun items to prevent work channels being crowded
- When replying to a discussion, use the reply feature. Remember that adding to the base of a discussion will start a new conversation
- Use the @ mention feature to direct a message to someone. This helps ensure important messages are not missed
- Do not @ mention an entire team or channel unless necessary
- Use subject lines in conversations to make it easier to find content later
- When a channel is marked in bold, it indicates that there is an unread post in the channel for you to read
How to organise files and documents
- Keep file sizes to less than 15GB
- Send links to documents rather than attachments
- When creating a folder structure in the files tab do not create too many levels. This reduces complexity and prevents total file and folder size exceeding limits
- Talk to Netstar about best practices with your other specific file, sync and share tools alongside Teams
- We recommend using Teams as a collaboration area but once files are complete, they should be moved into your organisation’s main file sharing system for ease of access and document management
How much does Microsoft Teams cost?
The standard version of Microsoft Teams is free and for most businesses, provides everything you would need. For larger organisations, more advanced plans are available.
With the free version of Microsoft Teams, you gain the following (for up to 300 people in your organisation):
- Unlimited chat messages
- Built-in audio and video calling for individuals, groups and full team meet-ups
- 10GB of team file storage, plus an additional 2GB per person for personal storage
- The ability to integrate real-time content creation with Office Online, including built-in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and One Note
- Unlimited application integration with 140+ business apps, including Adobe, Evernote and Trello
- The ability to communication and collaborate with anyone inside or outside your organisation
Is Microsoft Teams Secure?
Microsoft Teams has several in-built security features to keep your data secure. These include:
- Multi-factor authentication (at Netstar we use the Duo security platform for this)
- Single sign-on via Active Directory
- Secure guest access
- Auto encryption of data and transit and at-rest
How to Get Microsoft Teams
To get started with Microsoft Teams, you’ll need a Microsoft Office 365 account with the appropriate licence plan. Talk to your IT manager or IT support company and they will be able to set everything up for you.
If you need help downloading Microsoft Teams or integrating Teams into your organisation for remote working, get in touch with Netstar and we’ll be happy to help.
- Learn more about Microsoft Teams here.
- Learn more about how Microsoft 365 (including Microsoft Teams) can help you to modernise your workplace here
- If you’re thinking about switching from your current IT support provider get in touch here, or give us a call on 020 7101 0544.
- Discover more about our London-based IT support services
- Want to learn more about what the right IT support looks like? Check out this article on how to choose the best IT Support provider for your business.