Rumour has it that Microsoft seriously considered buying out Slack – the most notable operator in the chat-based workplace market which has a staggering three million daily users.
It was only Bill Gates’ intervention and current CEO, Satya Nadella’s scepticism that curtailed a potential eye-watering $8 billion takeover bid.
Instead, Microsoft decided that it would take Slack head on, building a competitor from the ground up.
The result is Microsoft Teams.
According to Microsoft, Teams is built around four key components.
The largest, and most important, component is threaded chat. Hailed as the solution to everyone’s overstuffed inboxes, chats allow team members to communicate as a team, chronologically and visible for all members.
The second core component is Teams’ ability to act as a hub for teamwork. On top of persistent and threaded conversations, Office 365 integration means that almost all work documents play nicely with the platform.
The third aspect is how customisable Teams is. Each team can have multiple channels to help make sure chats are appropriately assigned to ongoing projects or sub-teams, etc.
There is one glaring emission though… Teams doesn’t allow guest users to register.
That means that if your company regularly uses freelancers to help out with projects, you will have to purchase a 365 Enterprise subscription for them if you want them to be involved in the team’s chat – a mind-boggling decision.
The fourth, and final, core component of Teams is the level of security that Microsoft has baked into the service. All data sent to the cloud is encrypted and separated from customer data – something that will put safety-conscious companies at ease.
Teams is also available on almost every platform: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Windows Phone and a web-based client – everyone in the business should be able to access Teams, regardless of what device they use for work.
But none of this is new. Competitors offer this exact same service, for free. So why would you chose to go with Microsoft Teams?
It’s all about Office 365
The most interesting selling point for Teams is its deep integration with Office 365. If your business already uses Office (which, let’s face it, it probably does) all meetings, files, notes, video calls – everything will work in Teams. That means Word, PowerPoint, Outlook calendar, Skype, OneNote – all the heavy hitters are baked right into Teams.
Have a meeting scheduled with a few team members? With Teams, all documents can be shared with attendees before the meeting, and with Skype they can automatically video or audio call them. It really is simple, and in reality it works extremely well.
Even better, if your business is an Office 365 Enterprise user, Teams is included for free.
So, what’s it like in practice?
If you’ve ever used Slack, you’ll find Teams remarkably similar. In fact, it’s strikingly similar and it’s not hard to imagine where Microsoft pulled most of its ‘inspiration’ from. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
On the whole, it’s easy to find your way around and jump between conversations.
The ‘Notifications’ tab does a really great job of helping you keep track of all your conversations. But I can imagine it getting a bit out of control if you’re a member of a few different teams and conversations.
Where Microsoft Teams truly excels is as a less formal comms channel for colleagues. A library of emojis, GIFs, stickers – even memes, are only a click away.
This might sound like it’s frivolous and distracting (which it definitely can be), but providing colleagues with a virtual ‘water cooler’ where they can communicate instinctively like they aren’t in work has myriad benefits.
Helping colleagues express personality does absolute wonders for team spirit.
If you work as part of a team that is spread across different locations (even countries), Teams is amazing at enabling collaboration to happen in real time, involving every team member. Another great feature is the ability to message specific members of the team one-on-one.
The deep-rooted Office integration is really where Teams becomes less of communication platform and more of a genuine work platform. Being able to quickly upload and share documents for everyone to view and comment on is incredibly helpful.
It does away with the endless string of edited documents, all saved with slightly different names that you usually have to contend with when multiple people are working from one document.
One of the greatest things about the new wave of workplace chat apps is how they play nice with mobile devices. And Microsoft Teams is no different, its mobile apps are light, intelligently laid out and supremely easy to use.
The experience neatly mirrors its full-size desktop brother, putting chats first and foremost in the layout:
That means remote workers really will feel like they are intimately involved with any team conversations, even if they have to be out and about for most of their working day.
But where the app falls short is its concerning lack of features that are present in the fully fledged desktop apps, things like video calling, scheduling meetings and uploading files from OneDrive.
I think you can be pretty confident that Microsoft will introduce these features later down the line through app updates, but their omission at the moment is more than a little confusing.
How does it compare to its competitors?
Honestly? It depends how invested your company is in Microsoft’s ecosystem. If you’re already an Office 365 Enterprise subscriber, then Teams makes a lot of sense. After all, it won’t cost you anything to implement and will play nicely with all of Office 365’s tools.
But at the moment, Teams isn’t bringing anything ground breaking or revolutionary to the table. In fact, it’s faithfully copied much of what Slack innovated in the first place – except Slack’s freemium model means that anyone can download it and start using it straight away.
So, is it worth it? Microsoft Teams is a pretty neat solution and if your company hasn’t implemented a chat-based system for working, it’s got plenty to like.
And if you already subscribe to Office as a business then it’s a no-brainer to at least try out. But Teams doesn’t offer much that Slack doesn’t already do – very well.
Overall score: 3/5.