Microsoft Teams Is Not A Chainsaw!

OK, so you’re probably wondering what the title is all about? I do have a point let me explain…

Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Teams. It seems that Microsoft Teams is everywhere at the moment, in all internet literature. Look how productive I am with Microsoft Teams, Look how I only look at my email twice a day since using Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Teams is the replacement to Yammer, to Outlook, Microsoft Teams is the answer to world hunger…

OK, funny sarcastic rant over..

Now let me state off the bat, Microsoft Teams deserves the publicity it is getting. It is changing the enterprise workplace for the better and I am genuinely excited by the possibilities Teams can introduce to an organization.

However, we need to be careful about how Teams is positioned. We all have a responsibility to ensure that this product is a success. Publishing articles, comments, podcasts etc. about how Teams can replace Yammer, or Outlook is not helpful to the Teams product.

The word that is inflammatory of course is “replace”. Teams is never intended to replace productivity solutions available in Office 365 like Outlook, Yammer, SharePoint etc. Instead Teams compliments or adds another dimension to these solutions to help users collaborate more seamlessly in their day to day collaborative tasks.

We all know and accept that Teams will replace Skype for Business Online at some point. Why would you have two UC clients? It makes no sense, so this replacement is rational. But that’s it as far as replacement goes.

However, there are faults with Teams as a UC solution to date. One of the biggest drawbacks on specifically Teams vs Skype as far as UC is concerned is screen space utilization.  In the Skype client, we can have a relatively small, tabbed conversation window that doesn’t take up all your working space, so you can chat and work independently.

In Teams the client is a full screen client, or rather takes up around 25% of screen space in order to be usable. This is too much for users working in other applications and makes app switching arduous compared to Skype.

The second drawback is that there is no concept of a UC Only mode in Teams. The perception is that everyone must want to use Team based collaboration within Teams. This pre-requisite is probably the number one issue that prevents the roll out of Teams to an organization at speed. It triggers all kinds of intra-business logistics before it can be released because we’ve never had to contemplate the concept before.

Putting these drawbacks to one side, I could argue that instead of designing the application to support legacy habitual usage, design the app for modern day working. However, you are not going to get users to flick from performing tasks in a certain way for the last 10 years to this new way over a weekend. There is going to be a transition phase, and if I am honest, Teams has missed this transition phase and gone straight for future state.

This has led to confusion in the market and some of the far out claims that it is a replacement to all sorts of things. When you strip Teams back, it is just a SharePoint Team site merged with Skype chat, stuff that has been around for years. But Teams glues them together and makes it sexy.

Teams is not a replacement for Yammer, and that comes from someone who does not like Yammer! As bad as Yammer seems, putting that into Teams would make a bad thing terrible. If you suggested that to an organization and implemented it, then you probably wouldn’t have any repeat business.

So how can I justify my opinion?

Firstly, you have to look at what it is you are trying to achieve by rolling out Teams in your organization. Do you know why you want it? Do you know how your business will use it? Do you know what return you’ll get from it?

Let’s take the first question, why do you want it?

Is it because it’s just new and you think you want it because everyone else seems to be talking about how great it is? Or is it because your organization lacks the ability to cohesively work together to extract experience and efficiencies within your team to reduce costs of going to market to find a consultancy to help you with a product design?

Do you know how your business will use it? Is it going to be something that is there but no one really knows what it is supposed to be used for? Or is it going to be the platform that is used to collaborate with internal and inter-organizational  users for the purpose of designing and improving route to market times for business products?

Do you know what return you’ll get from it? Is it just a perception that because you’ve spent X thousands implementing it, you’ll see a return, but not sure what it is? So when a team says they are ready to ship, you automatically assume that is ROI? Or is it measurable in employee welfare, speed to market and innovative material?

Until you know the answer to these questions then do not even think about deploying Teams. It is only going to end up in “just another failed IT project that cost a fortune and delivered nothing but problems”.

In the end these simple three questions are all that matter, the rest of the stuff out there about how Teams can replace X or Y is just unwanted noise and distracts you from the true purpose of Teams in your organization.

The use case for Yammer does not go away. Perhaps some of the use cases that you use Yammer for could see themselves pivot into Teams, but for organizational wide public forum, Yammer is still the number 1 Office 365 productivity tool for that purpose. In effect Yammer will turn into the corporate FaceBook. This doesn’t mean Yammer is being replaced by Teams.

If we look at the other common concept

Teams will replace Outlook

To debunk this claim we have to look at user habit, communication reach, and message intent.

Firstly an e-mail is globally accepted as an official medium. This means that emails can be transacted on because they represent official and authoritative instructions that can be tracked for authenticity. Chat based communication is much more fluid and lack the same presence as an e-mail. You cannot transact on a chat easily because people say things in conversation that perhaps should not be taken seriously. Chats can be easily misunderstood and they lack the same kind of controls as e-mail.

Chat is becoming more prevalent and preferred way to transact however, but only in specific cases.

So will e-mail disappear and we will all move into a instant chat only world? No, e-mail is here to stay.

Admittedly, e-mail based traffic may reduce, but it will not be replaced.

Also, people behave differently towards a chat vs and e-mail. Whether you notice this or not, you will do. I would bet that most people’s mind’s “hear” and e-mail more than a chat. An e-mail has a kind of formality about it in the same way as getting a letter through the post from the Police about your speeding incident. You read the e-mail, you have an action to complete and your mind creates a mental stamp that you must action something by a certain time.

With chat, because chat is conversational and less formal, your mind pays less attention to it. You get asked to do something in the middle of a conversation, your mind will not register its importance in the same way. That means unless you action that specific request within a short period of time (usually measured in minutes) you’ll forget and then be on the back foot when chased for it later on in the day.

Even if you remember “Oh John asked me to run that report for him, what was it about?” you now have the horrible task of trying to figure out the search string to type to return some results or scan through hundreds of conversation threads until you find the specific item you are looking for.

There is also communication prioritisation to consider. There is a perception that every communication needs to be instant, it does not. Using Teams for everything will end up hassling the person you’re trying to work with and actually have a negative impact on productivity. For non urgent or even semi urgent communication e-mail should be used leaving the instant channel available for more pressing tasks. This helps the user organize and prioritise their workload without you thinking about it.

This comes with the Outlook client.  Outlook is the go to application for email. Its incredibly good at what it does. It has search and categorisation capabilities that help users keep track of their emails and tasks in order of importance to them. This cannot be replicated for chat based communication in the same way. To port all of outlook functionality to the Teams client is not realistic for a number of reasons, but mainly, the Teams UI is not optimized for e-mail, it would take far to long to get feature parity and the road on that journey would dent the Teams brand as a whole and it would make Teams a huge application to deploy and use that could lead to performance issues all round.

In the same manner as Yammer, Teams will reduce the amount of mail traffic, we will see reductions in distribution list email or emails that attract discussion, BUT it will not replace Outlook or email.

My personal view is that if an email chain goes beyond three reply all’s then the conversation should either be in a Team if it is a small group or Yammer if its org wide. But Outlook will never get morphed into Teams completely.

What actually needs to happen is that both Yammer, Outlook etc. need to adopt Teams enabler features. What I mean by this can be described in this feature: Add a “Move to Teams” button to the email action buttons as well as reply and reply all. Have the ability to remove the reply all in favour of moving to Teams perhaps. The apps then encourage the usage change rather than users having to be the ogre and copy and paste the email conversation to Teams, then email a reply all saying “Moved to Teams”.

My point is this, Microsoft Teams is like the Swiss army knife for Office 365 and your organization. It has tools to achieve almost everything you need to survive, but it is not the best tool to complete a single specific task. For instance, if you had to chop a tree down every day of your life, you would probably choose a chainsaw instead…

In summary, Microsoft Teams gives you a lot of options to be productive. Not every option is going to be a good one for you. Ask yourself some grounding questions first, figure out how you want to use it and then work from there. Avoid cliche approaches and promises of replacing X and Y. Teams is not meant for that, Teams is meant to encourage, enrich and enlighten productivity options for your organization.

 

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