The best MS Teams apps: leveraging Microsoft’s in-built Teams apps

Microsoft Teams is increasingly becoming the heart of the digital workplace for many organisations – a single environment where users can digest content, view data and perform transactions from right across the digital workplace without having to visit multiple disparate applications. The introduction of Microsoft Viva is driving this trend further, supporting a better employee experience.

In organisations where Teams use is very high and some employees are spending their day in and out of Teams, it makes sense to give employees the power to access more information and complete tasks directly in their flow of work, helping drive productivity and reducing information and app overload. One of the elements powering this is the ability to deliver a library of Teams apps across companies; digital workplace teams now need to consider their Teams apps strategy in order to support the best possible employee experience.

Apps, apps and more apps

One of the issues here is that there is a growing number of apps available, and more than one option to deliver required capabilities. Options include:

  • Leveraging Microsoft’s in-built Teams apps
  • Adding apps from other Microsoft 365 applications
  • Adding third-party Teams apps and connectors from an ever-expanding library
  • Using community-driven apps available on GitHub
  • Creating custom apps to meet your organisation’s specific needs
  • Using Microsoft Viva Connections (currently for the mobile experience)
  • Delivering integrations via bots
  • Providing access to “micro-apps” built into SharePoint, and delivering them via Teams
  • And more.

As you can see, accessing apps through Teams is an exciting and evolving area. In this post, we are going to look at some of the out-of-the-box apps which are built into the fabric of Teams.

Microsoft’s in-built Teams apps

Microsoft’s in-built Teams apps come out of the box within Teams (they may not be available for all Microsoft licenses, so it is important to check the small print and make sure an app is available to you). There are a multitude of options, including bookings, lists and shifts, that can meet a number of use cases. Below, we look at the different in-built Microsoft Teams apps that are currently available, what they do and the value they bring.

Bookings

The Teams Bookings app allows for the scheduling of appointments, either in-person or virtual (via Teams) and for both internal and external audiences. While this is useful for arranging meetings with colleagues, it can also be used by people managing diaries to co-ordinate touchpoints with customers and third parties. Multiple diaries can be involved, so this is very useful for co-ordinating meetings and appointments across a busy team or department where scheduling can be extremely complex. The app is especially useful if you are predominantly running virtual meetings in Teams itself. Naturally, everything is synced with Outlook.

Screenshot of the queue view in the Bookings app in Teams

Lists

At Content Formula, we’ve had a long-time crush on SharePoint Lists. It is one of the most powerful and underused elements of SharePoint; recognising this, Microsoft has made Lists available as a separate app. The Lists app for Teams brings the power of Lists to the Teams experience, establishing a great place to keep track of things like assets, inventories, supplier lists, locations and more.

Lists can also be a smart way to store information that is used in other workflows and automation, acting as the source of truth for information that is updated within other systems, for example. The app allows users to create new lists (using templates or even an expert from Excel) or access existing ones (even from different SharePoint sites), all from within Teams.

Tasks

Task management is a key element in project management and driving personal productivity. The Teams Tasks app helps both teams and individuals manage their tasks. Currently, tasks can be set and managed using both Microsoft Planner and Microsoft To Do – the Teams App brings tasks from both into one place, within the Teams environment.

The app can help employees prioritise tasks, view deadlines and drill down into the details. The app delineates between tasks for individuals (My Tasks) and for the team (Shared Tasks), with the latter showing who the task has been assigned to, supporting transparency and accountability. Anything that helps employees keep on top of their busy schedule and stay co-ordinated will drive value, so this app can prove popular with both employees and managers.

Praise

Employee experience is a currently a major focus for the digital workplace, and the Praise app is a nice way to support this. It facilitates a way for employees to show their appreciation for their peers by offering praise to a named colleague or colleagues, as well as providing a range of badges from “Achiever” through to “Thank You”. Note that these badges are set – it’s not possible to set-up custom badges, although this was available in the past.

These shout-outs are a good way to celebrate success and promote a positive organisational culture. The Praise app is available within Microsoft Viva Insights, while a stripped down “praise” feature is also available in Yammer. Although we like it, the Praise app is not always suitable for every function or department, so it is possible for central admins to enable its use for specific groups and not for others.

Approvals

Many organisations still rely on emails for approvals of a variety of different processes: ordering a laptop, submitting a budget request, approving a training course and so on. Using email is inefficient as it wastes time, is difficult to track and is not able to apply any multi-step approvals. Digital workplace tools that use workflow provide an alternative to email that is far more efficient, ensures requests don’t get lost and aggregates everything in one place.

The Teams approval app brings simple approvals into Teams, allowing administrators to set up a range of approval types and associated workflows, and approvers to be notified of requests, then view and act upon them Aggregating and streamlining approvals is always a good use case, and it makes sense to do this in Teams as it is one of a number of options to create approval workflows across Microsoft 365. Note that to use the Approvals app, your organisation will require a Power Automate license which is used as the workflow engine for the app.

Shifts

Shifts is an app designed to co-ordinate rostering and shifts for frontline employees, such as those working in customer service, call centres, retail operations or in manufacturing plants. It’s primarily designed to be available on a mobile device. Team leaders can create rosters, message employees and share news and documents, while frontline staff can view their schedule and request to change or swap shifts.

Currently, Shifts can only be used by staff (rather than guests), and everyone needs to have Microsoft digital identities which isn’t always the case with frontline staff. Overall, shifts and rostering is a great digital workplace use case for frontline employees, so used in the right way, this app can drive real value and adoption for Teams across this group.

Using Microsoft Teams apps

We think using apps within Microsoft Teams is only going to grow, and Teams app strategy and selection will become one of the key considerations for digital workplace teams. The Microsoft in-built apps described in this article all provide value. If you’d like to discuss options for Teams apps in your digital workplace, your overall Teams apps strategy or a specific app, then get in touch!

7 strategic tips: external apps in Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is a platform that is continuing to evolve and receive great levels of adoption. When it first launched, few predicted that Teams would have quite the impact that it has, but it is now at the centre of the digital workplace for many organisations.

One element of the Microsoft Teams experience that is increasingly coming to the fore are the apps that can be experienced through Teams. In our experience, not many digital workplace teams and IT functions are fully leveraging the possibilities for accessing apps through Teams, meaning that many are missing out on a big opportunity.

Accessing apps through Microsoft has real value because:

  • Many employees spend their working day in Teams, thus it makes sense for them to access apps and relative content there, with Teams acting as an entry point into the wider digital workplace
  • Integrating apps into Teams means content from apps can be shared and discussed within Teams channels and chat threads, such as a page on the intranet, an e-learning course or a Jira ticket
  • Apps that have chatbots to support transactions and deliver information can be experienced through Microsoft Teams
  • Users of the Teams mobile app can also access apps and consume information through it, providing a feasible one stop shop for the digital workplace through one mobile app in a way that is relatively straightforward.

When considering an app strategy or approach to Microsoft Teams, there are several different elements to consider. In this post, we’re going to cover seven of these.

1 Deciding which apps to include

A major element of your approach to Teams apps will be deciding which apps to include. The good news here is that there are a wide range of apps available to meet employee needs, with very few barriers.

Within Microsoft Teams, there are essentially three types of apps that can be integrated into the experience. These are:

  • Microsoft 365 apps such as Yammer, Planner, SharePoint and the new Microsoft Viva suite of apps
  • Third party apps such as ServiceNow, LiveTiles intranet and Salesforce, many of which are available out of the box
  • Custom apps, built around specific use cases for your organisation or legacy applications, which can now be experienced through Teams.

Any app approach will need to include a policy on which apps to include (or exclude), and decide on a process around adding or removing apps. One handy element of the Microsoft Teams experience is that all these apps can be aggregated into the Teams app store and accessed by users in a uniform way, regardless of the type of app being used.

2 Enterprise-wide setting relating to apps

The Microsoft Teams Admin Center is the place where admins can configure enterprise-wide settings for Teams, including apps. Recently, there have been some improvements introduced that give admins even more control over how apps are experienced and the policies they want to implement, including which apps to include in the app store and which are pushed to different groups of employees.

Teams admins are able to target apps to different groups based on AD profiles. For example, you might want to target a particular app like LiveTiles Reach which delivers frontline communications to frontline workers, or an employee onboarding app to new hires. Within the Admin Centre, you can create policies that ensure a particular app automatically appears in the left-hand rail of Microsoft Teams for different AD groups.

Other settings you can control include:

  • Excluding access to particular apps already available within the Microsoft Teams store
  • Dictating which apps appear in the left-hand rail for all employees, such as an intranet app
  • Preventing apps being pinned by individuals for a more fixed Teams experience
  • Revoking an app completely.

3 Branding your enterprise app store

To provide a more branded, company-specific digital workplace experience, Microsoft has also recently introduced more flexibility to brand your own Teams enterprise app store. The Customize Store area now means that admins can decide on a logo, a custom background and specific text colours for their store. Although these changes don’t sound dramatic, they can help highlight the official apps to use, and differentiate the store experience from the normal Teams look to support increased adoption.

4 Building custom apps

One of the strongest elements of using Microsoft Teams apps is the ability to build and add custom apps that employees can access. These can range from highly complex apps that deal with specific business processes to relatively simple ones; a basic custom app might be used just to add a link to your company intranet within Teams. Defining the custom apps for your organisation is a big topic in itself, with multiple options for apps across the Microsoft 365 universe.

Within Teams, some apps can simply consist of a link and iFrame to allow employees to view information from within Teams. Some highly successful custom apps within Teams are just a set of links accessible across the top of a Teams app which might lead to a range of key pages and views, such as high value SharePoint pages or an area of ServiceNow. These simple custom apps are very straightforward to create using the Teams App Studio, and can be set up by a non-IT professional through a citizen development approach. Here, the interface allows you to set up links, tabs and more. More complex apps that might be driven though an API will need to be generated by an experienced developer.

5 Leveraging messaging extensions

Another way that Teams apps deliver value is through the ability to reference content from an app within Teams channels and conversations. For example, the LMS365 for Teams app brings a learning management platform right into the heart of Microsoft Teams. The ability for a user to search the LMS365 app for learning content they may want to share with a colleague has real value; likewise, you might want to reference a ServiceNow ticket in a conversation between a user and the IT helpdesk.

Apps that allow you to feature contextual information from the app in a Teams channel or conversation have messaging extensions; the relative information is usually presented in a card format. There are also some out-of-the-box messaging extensions such as those designed for sending praise and approvals. Considering which apps to enable messaging extensions for is another good way to add value to the Microsoft Teams app experience.

6 Utilising bots using natural language

Some apps within Teams can use chatbots driven by natural language. Chatbot interactions work very well within the Teams environment, and are increasingly being adopted by users. These can be a great way to carry out simple transactions, receive status updates on workflow and get simple answers to questions without having to visit separate apps, again, all without leaving Teams.

7 Support and governance

Of course, there are other elements to consider when formulating your approach to Teams apps relating to governance, support and training. For example, you will need to define who owns the app strategy, and who can configure the apps settings. There will need to be a process for adding and reviewing new custom and third-party apps, and you’ll need to consider communication and support for users as well as any necessary training.

Accessing apps through Microsoft Teams

Accessing apps through Microsoft Teams is becoming a core part of the Teams experience, and is popular with employees. If you haven’t previously considered an app strategy for Teams, now’s the time to start thinking about your options. If you’d like to discuss apps for Microsoft Teams, then get in touch!

MS Build 2021: What’s new with Microsoft 365, SharePoint, Teams and Search

Today Microsoft have announced a whole raft of upcoming changes to digital workplaces across the globe. Enhancements to profiles, Teams & meetings, Search and Graph were among the top topics on display. Here is a roundup of what we are most interested in coming out of Microsoft Build 2021:

Enrich profiles with information from Workday, SAP and other Microsoft Graph connectors

thumbnail image 1 of blog post titled Profile enrichment with Microsoft Graph connectors

Long overdue are updates to profiles in the Microsoft eco-system – today Microsoft have announced a way for organisations to enrich profile cards by directly showing information from HRMS systems like Workday, SAP SuccessFactors and more using Microsoft Graph connectors.

Whilst there are a few limitations, this looks like it will deliver a much needed boost to profiles in M365.

Messaging extensions in Outlook

A feature that has become invaluable in some scenarios in Microsoft Teams will be rolled out later this year in the form of Outlook messaging extensions. These extensions allow users to create rich media cards in messages to display powerful contextual information and actions from 3rd party systems.

Visual showing example of a message extension being used in Outlook on web.

Commercialise your Microsoft Teams apps

Also on the Microsoft roadmap is a feature that will allow partner organisations to start shipping products through Teams with all licensing handled through an integrated checkout process.

Users will be able to purchase subscriptions of partner apps directly from the Teams Store and the Teams Admin Center (via invoice billing or credit card)—making it even simpler for users to acquire and adopt apps while providing partners more monetization opportunities for your solutions.

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Together mode in Teams meetings

Coming this summer, Together mode extensibility lets you create and share your own custom scenes for Teams meetings. This provides an easy design experience, within the Developer Portal for Teams, so developers can craft custom scenes to make meetings more engaging and personalised for your organization. Heres a custom scene built by the Microsoft team that you can try out today!

Visual showing a custom Together Mode scene being created.

 

A dedicated Org Explorer app that will allow employees to visualise and contextualise their organisation

In every digital workplace requirements document is a requirement for org charts. Until recently there hasn’t been great user experiences or functionality in org charts on M365. Microsoft are hoping to change this with what they are coining as an app that “enables users to contextualize, visualize, and explore people and teams around them from within Microsoft 365 apps and services”.

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Yammer vs Teams infographic

Yammer vs Teams infographic

Also read our article “Yammer versus Teams: which tool should I use”

Yammer versus Teams: which tool should I use?

Microsoft 365 offers a suite of tools that gives digital workplace teams an enormous range of options with which to deliver world-class communication and collaboration platforms. The sheer flexibility, scalability and breadth of features is empowering, but having too much choice can be overwhelming; you can achieve excellent results using different tools, yet some capabilities overlap. Which tool to use when is not only a question that employees frequently ask, but also one that teams need to consider as they implement the Microsoft 365 platform.

Yammer vs Teams?

We are often asked when should we use Yammer and when should we use Teams?. At first glance, this seems quite a straightforward question, but the answer is not always so clear cut, and it may differ from organisation to organisation.

In this article, were going to explore when its best to use Yammer and when its best to use Teams, as well as the cases in which the answer is not necessarily so straightforward.

The inner loop and the outer loop

In the past, Microsoft has used a model involving inner loops and outer loops to explain the fundamental differences between using Yammer and Teams. This entails imagining the people you need to collaborate and communicate with as a series of loops. The inner loop is defined as people you work with regularly on core projects: this may be your immediate teams and colleagues, people on projects and others you work with closely. Microsoft recommends using Teams spaces to collaborate and communicate with the people within your inner loop.

Meanwhile, the outer loop is defined as the broader audience you might want to inform and engage with. This could be people more on the periphery of your network, members of a community you only have irregular contact with, or even people you dont know within your company. Microsoft recommends using Yammer with this circle.

The inner and outer loop model is still useful in illustrating the main difference between Yammer and Teams and their respective strengths; however, the increasing growth of Microsoft Teams as the entry and aggregation point for the wider digital workplace and as the centre of unified communications makes the loop model less clear. For example, you may now use Teams to call someone very much in the outer loop and even to engage in external collaboration.


When to use Yammer

Yammer is essentially a social networking platform that facilitates open and less formal discussion across larger numbers of employees, perhaps across a whole department, a particular community or even an entire organisation.

Its the place where conversations and discussions happen in which anybody is invited and encouraged to contribute, get involved or ask questions. Because the groups and conversations in Yammer tend to be open by default, its also a good tool to use when you have an ongoing group dedicated to a particular topic which you want people to discover and then join.

Its an ideal place for less formal and more social communication such as shout-outs and non-working groups, but internal communicators can also use it as a platform to boost more formal internal communications or remind people about events and things they need to do.

Use cases for Yammer include:

  • Getting wider feedback and opinions from people across the business on different initiatives
  • Establishing Professional Communities of Practice or Communities of Interest around different topics, from engineering to wellbeing
  • Setting up Employee Resource Groups (ERG) for discussions and support that help promote diversity and inclusion
  • Encouraging questions from people across the business and providing answers from experts
  • Implementing user support communities for different technologies where both IT teams and super-users can provide answers to questions
  • Creating non-work groups such as sports clubs or spaces for people with particular hobbies
  • Providing a place for people to share links and photos
  • Sharing employee shout-outs and thank-yous across a wide group of people
  • Spreading quick updates and informal reminders for a particular department or location.


When to use Teams

Teams is a real-time messaging, communication and collaboration platform ideally designed for smaller, closed teams with high volumes of communication. Teams is a fantastic platform that works best for teams of, say, less than 20 people who are all working closely together day-to-day on a particular project or as a working group with a specific aim. The focus here is on everyday work, sharing documents and messaging with people you probably already know using a far more efficient option than email.

Generally, a Teams space and its content will be restricted to only members of that space. It is not designed for those broader, community-based conversations that sit better in Yammer. It is also the place where you carry out messaging, audio calls and video meetings with individuals, smaller groups and even external collaborators.

A Teams space can include document libraries, discussions and additional functionality such as Planner tasks, bots and integrations with a range of other Microsoft 365 and non-Microsoft 365 tools.

With Teams proving to be so popular in recent month, with many people spending their working day constantly in and out of it, Microsoft and other technical providers are pushing more and more capabilities through Teams. For example, you can now organise online events through Teams, and the recently announced Microsoft Viva will be delivered through the platform too. You can even access a LiveTiles intranet through Teams.

Use cases for Teams can accommodate:

  • Smaller project teams and working groups
  • Close-knit and immediate teams working within specific functions for everyday document sharing and communication
  • Teams who work together to deliver a specific, repeatable process
  • A group whose work is often confidential and who require a space for private discussions and files, for example, a leadership team
  • A group who wants to exploit integrations, bots and other capabilities readily available within Teams.

When to use other tools

If you are considering when to use Yammer and when to use Teams, it is also worth defining when to use your other major digital communication and collaboration tools as well. This will give your employees and other communicators a more complete view of their digital workplace options. Here, a common tool is SharePoint and a SharePoint-based intranet. This is likely to be the platform to use for formal news and internal communications. You may also want to consider the role of Outlook, employee apps, digital signage, your HR portal and platforms like ServiceNow and Confluence.

When it gets blurry

We think the distinction between Teams and Yammer and their ideal uses is relatively clear. However, there are times when the decision between the two is not going to be clear cut. Here, some flexibility is usually sensible, allowing the site manager to make the choice or basing the decision on the preferences of the members.

These kinds of borderline cases typically include:

  • Where smaller, closed groups are engaging in a lot of ongoing discussions which might be better displayed in Yammer than in Teams
  • Where you are introducing Teams, but discussions are ongoing in Yammer and the existing platform is already working well (and vice versa)
  • Where a manager of a site has a strong personal preference.

The fact that you can view and interact with Yammer through Teams is an additional complicating factor. This may entail a harder position in deciding when to use Teams or Yammer in your messaging to employees.

When adoption of Teams is very high and people are spending much of their working day with it open, it can be tempting to push more usage of Teams because its what people are already using, even though a Yammer community might better suit some use cases. Again, there is not necessarily a right or wrong answer here, and taking a pragmatic view is the best option.

 

Yammer or Teams?

Yammer and Teams are both excellent tools with individual strengths. Whilst the distinction is broadly clear, there is always going to be overlap. If youd like to discuss either your Yammer or Teams strategy, then get in touch!

Should I take a Teams-first approach to my mobile intranet?

As the Microsoft Teams app continues to gain adoption and deliver a broad range of capabilities and features, some clients are asking us whether they can deliver a mobile intranet or employee communications app via the Microsoft Teams app. In this article, we explore the question in detail.

Can Teams deliver you intranet?

Build Teams IntranetFor some organisations and their employees, Microsoft Teams has become the focal point for their working day. With the possible exception of Outlook, it is the place where they spend the most time, consuming and accessing most of the information they need through shared documents, updates from other applications and even news.

The ability to integrate other applications into Teams, as well as its high adoption rate, had led some organisations to consider whether Microsoft Teams can deliver their intranet or equivalent capabilities too.  Its a question that clients keep asking us, and one weve explored in detail. The answer is not a simple yes or no, as it depends on various factors, but the ability to view an intranet like LiveTiles through Teams certainly increases your options in this area.

Can the Microsoft Teams app deliver my mobile intranet?

Clients are asking whether the Microsoft Teams app can deliver their mobile intranet, employee communications app experience or equivalent capabilities. Again, the answer here is yes and no, depending on the functionality you want in scope and the kind of experience you wish to deliver to employees.

If you are implementing a mobile intranet app, the Microsoft Teams app is definitely an option you should consider. Here at Content Formula, we are currently working with a major client for whom the Microsoft Teams app will be their primary mobile app, delivering employee communications to a diverse workforce that includes global locations and frontline workers. It will be enabled on both corporate and employee-owned devices. With the app, employees will be accessing Teams functionality, but because they can view their new LiveTiles intranet through Teams, they can also view content through the Teams app.

Can Teams deliver the functionality that I need?

Mobile Intranet AppWe recently looked at the eight essential ingredients of a mobile intranet app. These included capabilities around strong news delivery, social collaboration and community, access to the employee directory, access to an event calendar, reference content pages, integrations from other applications and more. The question of whether the Microsoft Teams app can tick all these boxes for your organisation or not relies on both the native functionality of Teams and the integrations that you choose to deliver through it.

Social collaboration and community elements of a mobile intranet might be met by the Teams app and other elements such as profiles, events, reference content and internal communications which are all potentially viewable through Teams, but may be dependent on integrations. Integrations with other applications can also be delivered through chatbots that deliver mobile-friendly experiences.  a question to consider here is whether the Teams app will deliver the kind of engagement-led or custom experience that you may want to deliver to employees.

Should I take a Teams-first approach to mobile?

Taking a Teams-first approach to mobile and delivering digital communications and services through the Teams app has some advantages and disadvantages. Lets explore the upsides first.

Teams adoption is high

At the moment, the adoption of Teams is very high across many organisations due to  the pandemic increasing the need to work remotely; many employees are now comfortable working with Teams due to this new requirement. IT functions will relish the opportunity to extend Teams capabilities, building on the work they have already done to increase adoption.

One app for everything

Information and application overload are common employee pain points and lead to inefficiency, confusion, frustration and a poor digital employee experience. Employees simply dont want to have to deal with too many applications when viewing all the information they need or  trying to get things done. A mobile Teams app provides a single, convenient place to meet many everyday information and communication needs, and reduces the number of apps employees need to have on their device.

Employee choice

One of the advantages of the Microsoft Teams app is that it doesnt stop employees using other dedicated apps for the various applications and capabilities that are integrated into Microsoft Teams. For example, even if employees are accessing Yammer conversations through the Microsoft Teams mobile app, there is nothing stopping them  using the Yammer app too if you allow its use. It is  possible that these dedicated apps offer deeper capabilities and richer experiences that employees prefer but only need from time to time, or are a must-have for particular groups. The good news is that the Teams app can leave employees with a choice.

Leveraging Microsoft investment in the Teams app

Microsoft Teams has been a huge success and adoption is still growing, thus Microsoft will continue to invest in Teams and the dedicated mobile app. The advantage of this is that Microsoft will almost certainly ensure that it keeps on improving and working across all devices and operating systems; it is also distributed through the iOS app store and Google Play. This means you can be very confident that the app will continue to work effectively across all devices now and in the future; this is not always the case with some enterprise mobile apps.

Taking advantage of bot capabilities

One of the real advantages of the Teams app is that it can leverage bot capabilities with a mature conversational UI that works very well on a mobile device and takes advantage of native device capabilities, such as sending urgent messages to your lock screen or leveraging a devices voice activation to interact with the bot. This means the Teams app can work effectively to deliver urgent communications, updates and reminders from multiple integrated applications, and even perform simple transactions – an approach particularly useful for frontline employees. This positions Teams as a simple digital assistant that can really make a difference to the employee experience.

Aggregating apps going forward

Microsoft will keep on investing in the mobile Teams app, and new capabilities that are added to Microsoft 365 will likely also be available within Teams. Moreover, many other tech providers will build versions of their applications that are designed to be consumed in Teams as well as the corresponding app. In this way, the Teams app can be a useful resource through which digital workplace teams can  integrate applications into Teams and make information available to employees on mobile devices  quickly; they dont necessarily have to manage and launch a new dedicated app. The Teams app acts as an aggregator of information and communication that can evolve with future needs.

Teams Intranet

Disadvantages

There are, however,  some potential disadvantages to taking a Teams-first approach to your mobile intranet experience.

Licensing and cost

The most critical issue is whether your Microsoft licensing agreement gives access to all employees who would need to use the app. For example, not all frontline employees may have the necessary access or even Microsoft IDs and Active Directory profiles, and costs may be prohibitive. In these cases, you might need to look to an alternative mobile intranet app such as LiveTiles Reach.

Customised experiences

Sometimes organisations are looking to deliver more customised and branded experiences, particularly when the main aim of an app is to engage employees. The Teams app experience may not necessarily tick all your boxes.

Deeper app capabilities

You can do a lot in Teams and the related app, but employees might not be able to do everything they need. Sometimes, a dedicated mobile app for a different application may need to be delivered with richer and broader features available.

You need to be on top of Teams

Teams has a rich set of capabilities, not all of which  can be turned off. If you are considering rolling out the Microsoft Teams app across all your employees, you will need to consider how it is going to be used and the related governance and support measures you may have to put in place.

Other dependencies

For some of the  intranet capabilities you want Microsoft Teams to deliver, there may be other dependencies you need such as good Active Directory data and an additional audience targeting engine to deliver intranet personalisation. Before you go ahead and take a Teams-first approach to mobile, you  need to ensure everything you need is in place.

 

Taking a Team-first approach to mobile

Launching the Teams app to deliver intranet-style functionality has enormous potential value, but there are advantages and disadvantages. It is undoubtably an approach to consider. If youd like to discuss the Microsoft Teams app or your mobile intranet strategy, then get in touch!

Microsoft Teams consulting – 8 services we could help you with

The impact of Microsoft Teams on the world of work has been profound; it now forms a major part of many enterprises digital workplaces, and a collaboration hub for countless individuals. In fact, it is not unusual for some employees to be spending most of their working day in and out of Teams. Anybody with a digital workplace based on Microsoft 365 needs to be thinking about Teams, and even those who arent may find employees are using it when communicating with third parties.

What next for Microsoft Teams?

The growth of remote working during the Covid-19 pandemic has only accelerated Teams usage, and by October 2020, the platform had reached 115 million daily active users. This growth has been so rapid that many digital workplace teams and IT functions may have found themselves with a well-adopted Teams platform that was not initially installed with the planning and guardrails which would normally be in place for such a launch, leaving some necessary governance and formalisation yet to take place. They may also be wondering how they can best utilise Teams going forward now that attention has shifted away from driving adoption.

Some organisations who arent quite at this level of maturity, or are still undergoing their Microsoft 365 digital workplace journey, may also be thinking about the best way forward. A Microsoft 365 implementation will likely involve a Teams roll-out in some way.

Its also worth remembering that Teams is still undergoing investment from Microsoft, with new  capabilities emerging regularly. With an aggressive roadmap and many other third-party applications working to integrate with Microsoft Teams, the tool will continue to evolve.

Talking about Teams

We are increasingly finding that existing customers and other professionals from across the digital workplace community are talking to us about what the next steps for Microsoft Teams are, the role it plays in various digital workplace related strategies, and ways they can improve governance.

As part of our Microsoft 365 and SharePoint consulting service, we provide comprehensive advice on different aspects of Microsoft Teams. Here are some of the main themes that customers are talking about, all of which are areas that anyone using Microsoft Teams should be considering.

1 Digital workplace strategy and roadmap

If you have a Microsoft 365 digital workplace, then Teams needs to be part of your digital workplace strategy and roadmap. The continuing investment from Microsoft, ability to integrate applications, high levels of adoption and potential for value, means that Teams is difficult to ignore. Questions to consider include the possible use cases for Teams, its role in key organisational processes, how it is supported and other themes listed below.

2 App delivery framework

For many organisations, Teams is now where work happens. This means it is emerging as a key platform for delivering both third-party tools and custom apps created using the Microsoft 365 Power Platform. An app delivery framework involving Microsoft Teams takes a structured approach to defining Teams apps and integrations, ultimately helping employees to work better and smarter.  As part of the app delivery framework, the value delivery of bots and automation should also be considered.

3 Microsoft Teams governance

During 2020, many digital workplace teams and IT functions were forced to roll out Microsoft Teams in a hurry to support business continuity. For the sake of expediency, this means that they may not have employed the usual governance measures which might be put in place on a major launch of a tool like Teams.

Some organisations might now need to be playing catch-up with Teams governance, ensuring that the platform meets any security, compliance and regulatory commitments, but is also optimised for use and findability.

The settings in Teams, both at the platform level and across each Team, allows for considerable levels of governance, while site provisioning processes are critical in order to reduce site sprawl and duplicated spaces. Organisations may also have specific requirements around auditing, for example. Governance is one of the key areas in which  we are regularly advising clients on their options.

4 Digital communications and channel strategy

Teams is primarily a team communication and collaboration tool; it is not necessarily an internal communications tool. However, it is a channel that is hard for internal communications teams to ignore for several reasons, including its high adoption and length of time employees are using it, as well as its ability to consume content and information from other tools. Additionally, new functionality, such as the ability to run large events on Teams, offers new options for internal communicators.

Here, key questions include the role of Microsoft Teams in your digital communication and channel strategy, and, more specifically, the relationship Teams has with your intranet, Yammer and even your broadcast channels.

5 Meeting rooms and hardware

With Microsoft Teams still continuing to grow, there is an emerging ecosystem that offers hardware that is designed to enhance the Teams experience, as well as help to equip meeting rooms that may involve connecting users via Teams. This includes everything from headsets and webcams, to desk phones and more complex meeting room equipment.

With the new reality of hybrid working likely to be a permanent feature of the way we work, and Teams being a primary collaboration platform in this prospect, hardware can be an important area to consider. A key question is how to optimise the Teams experience both in the office and outside of it; for example, many organisations are now offering hardware such as optimised headsets to assist employees working from home.

6 Unified communications and telephony

When Skype for Business was incorporated into it, Microsoft Teams effectively became a unified communications platform. This means there are multiple options to consider when using the system (including the hardware you use), including a number of specifics regarding telephony; Teams can have an impact on your in-bound dialling, so how to deal with call-routing, call-waiting and  conducting calls when working from home are all themes that need to be explored.

7 Digital literacy, support, adoption and launch

While the huge scaling up of Teams during lockdown  may have moved the focus away from driving adoption, there is still considerable thought that needs to be put into how to best support employees with optimal use of Teams, and how wider digital literacy programmes can train employees to get the best out of the platform. There may also be further launches that are required to facilitate this. Support and training programmes are important in helping get maximum value from Teams.

8 Migration strategies

Many organisations are migrating data, content and collaboration spaces over to Microsoft 365, such as from Jive. This migration may involve Microsoft Teams; here, the details of the migration need to considered to ensure the migration process is smooth and the new environment delivers a good employee experience.

Need advice on Microsoft Teams? Get in touch!

Microsoft Teams looks set to be the main pillar of many digital workplaces for years to come. It is a highly configurable tool packed with a wide variety of features that has the potential to make a real difference at an organisational, team and individual employee level. If you need support and advice on Teams and think you may want to utilise our Teams Consulting service, then get in touch!

#MSIgnite2020: Day 1 Microsoft introduces a whole set of new meeting experiences, and finally brings SharePoint in to Teams

Microsoft today have announced at their virtual Ignite event a whole set of new updates that will be coming soon to SharePoint, Teams, Yammer and OneDrive. Here is a run down of some of the things that we can expect to see rolled out over the coming months:

Home Site App in Teams

This is the one were excited for! Today, you can add a SharePoint page to a Team channel quite easily, but this dedicated Teams app promises to deliver a whole new level of integration between SharePoint and Teams straight out of the box.

Microsoft will be allowing customers to set a customisable app icon and name, apply a consistent brand as well as having a multi-level navigation across Teams. The app can also be pinned to the personal Teams bar area and rolled out to different users through Teams policies.

Custom Meeting Layouts

Later this year Microsoft will allow event organisers to customise how their meetings display to participants. This will include the ability to overlay video on presentations and move participants around the screen.

More powerful webinar features

We think that this might finally mean that Teams becomes a reliable competitor in the webinar field. Microsoft today have announced features for more structured meetings, such as customer webinars, meeting organisers can use event registration with automated emails to make it easier to manage attendance, and after the meeting, view a detailed reporting dashboard that will help understand attendee engagement. These new features are expected to begin to roll out by end of year.

Extending Teams meetings with Apps

It looks like soon consultancies and developers like ourselves will be able to extend the Microsoft Teams meeting experience using a extensibility framework that will be released in the next 6 weeks or so. We will soon be able to integrate apps into Teams meetings and create scenarios that have deep awareness of the meeting context including particupants, roles, and permissions. New meeting surfaces, such as meeting tabs, in-meeting side panel, and content notifications will enable us to build powerful scenarios and provide end users with a richer meeting experience.

Microsoft Teams governance best practice

The governance of Microsoft Teams is a topic that clients keep on asking us about. Having effective governance in place is important, not only to manage risks around privacy and security, but also to make your Teams environment easier to manage and to drive adoption.  It is very easy for a Teams environment to get out of control with a sprawl of sites that is difficult to manage and negatively impacts the user experience; having robust governance will help make Microsoft Teams more successful and sustainable across your organisation.

The governance of Teams has never been more important. As the coronavirus pandemic has forced businesses to switch to remote working almost overnight, Teams adoption has been dramatically scaled up and platforms rolled out. Expediency may have meant that not all organisations have had time to consider and prioritise governance. However, once the dust has settled it is important to think about how you can establish some processes and implement policies across the platform.

In this article we are going to take a deeper dive into the governance of MS Teams and some of the areas to consider. It is worth noting that Microsoft keeps on investing in MS Teams so it is very possible additional governance capabilities may be available by the time you are reading this! Well aim to keep this article up to date as changes appear.

Lets explore some different areas of governance relating to MS Teams.

1. MS Teams in your overall digital workplace governance framework

The overall governance of MS Teams needs to be considered in the context of your wider digital workplace or intranet governance framework and related content strategy. Governance covers the policies, processes, standards, bodies and other elements that will dictate how you run your Teams environment in terms of aspects such as overall ownership, security, support, training, strategic governance and more.

More specifically it needs to address:

  • Who is responsible for each Teams space?
  • What Teams spaces are used for and what other channels are used for
  • The use of other collaboration tools like Slack
  • Support and training an area we look at in more detail below.

2. Teams provisioning

Out of the box, Teams allows any user to set up a team and run it how they want. However, there are settings and options available that allow you to control the Teams provisioning process. This process is critical for effective governance and is your opportunity to put controls in place to limit Teams sprawl. Sprawl happens for a variety of reasons including duplicate teams set up by different people; teams set up by people trying out teams for the first time; teams that have a fixed lifespan but are not decommissioned. If you want to avoid Teams sprawl, you need to control the provisioning in some way.

The site provisioning process is also an opportunity to collect metadata about each team that can help you manage the platform later on, and even create model teams (Teams templates) spaces for different purposes. With an effective provisioning process, you can:

  • Put in approval workflow for the creation of a team and vary this depending on who is requesting the team or what the purpose of it is
  • Vary the type of team to be created based on different criteria, spinning up teams based on templates and even force people to use alternatives such as team sites or Yammer groups
  • Collect the metadata and information that can help with a variety of different areas; this is not only approval workflow and type of team, but also to support findability, the creation of central directories of teams, team owner review processes and more
  • Enforce policies such as team naming conventions.

Some of these topics are covered in more detail below.

Team provisioning in MS Teams straight out of the box is pretty limited so you either need to supplement it with a product like Wizdom for Teams which has an effective provisioning engine (and doubles up as a Teams intranet), or by building Teams customisations using tools like SharePoint, PowerApps and Power Automate and suited to your specific needs. We have worked with both approaches and they can be highly effective. When you take this approach, you also need to lock down the out of the box capability in the admin settings.

With Wizdoms provisioning capability you can create the provisioning experience from within MS Teams for users but then create, depending on the purpose of the site being requested and who is requesting it, varying approval workflows, a template for that Team space or even an alternative type of space such as a Yammer group, a SharePoint team site or Office 365 group.

3. Metadata and other information

The point at which you provision a team is your opportunity to collect any data you need about the team from the person requesting it in order to help with governance; using a product like Wizdom or  a customised provisioning tool allows you to create the form you need to gather all the associated critical metadata you need. This metadata can determine the rules to follow around workflow, type of site and more; you can also associate Power Automate (formerly Flow) to trigger even more complex workflows and notifications.

Other metadata and information to gather can also underpin critical elements of Teams governance such as:

  • Establishing who are the owners or users
  • Setting a review date to check the team is still needed
  • Level of security associated with the team
  • Tags to aid findability, for example in keyword searches on your SharePoint intranet or categories in a site directory
  • A clear description of the Team purpose.

Again, using Teams out of the box just does not provide you with these opportunities to implement robust governance.

4. Lifecycle management

Site provisioning is key, but so is also knowing when to close down a site. Using the metadata collected means you can put in effective processes around the proper lifecycle management of a Teams space. For example, putting in a review date and effective workflow means you can offer notifications to a team owner to review their team, and then additional workflow to delete or archive it based on the results of the review. This helps you to keep your Teams environment up to date and less cluttered, supporting a better user experience, while still ensuring compliance with wider information management policies relating to deletion.

5. Individual Teams configuration via templates

As already stated, using a provisioning engine means you can also create different templates for Teams sites depending on their purpose, with default channels set up, standard tabs, folder structures, integrations and even pre-set documents added. For example, your organisation may have a standard project methodology and you may want to automatically set up sites for users that have a channel for each step of your project methodology. Perhaps you may want to set up a site for marketing teams working on a bid that includes branded PowerPoint templates. Take a look at our video case study on a custom Teams provisioning tool using templates that we built for a private equity firm to help them better manage investments.

To make this effective you need to use a product like Wizdom, carry out a customisation or an expert-driven configuration. Although with out of the box Teams there is the ability to use a template by copying another site, users can only pick from a list of all Teams spaces which is simply not effective.

6. Other administration policies

Teams administrators usually working in the IT function or digital workplace team are also able to set important policies which can be implemented across the platform and again are an essential part of governance; these can align to your wider information management, data security and digital workplace policies. For example, you can control:

  • The navigation options for the whole platform, for example adding different Teams apps which can even be targeted to different groups and locking down different features
  • Messaging policies that impact the ability to collaborate externally, for example stopping all external users accessing spaces or more specifically viewing documents
  • Trusted domains for external users, for example only allowing email addresses from a certain organisation
  • Naming conventions for teams to aid findability
  • Default or suggested Teams for new starters based on their profile
  • Wider archiving policies
  • Define the format of certain types of information that cannot be added to a Team such as a credit card number.

7. Governance controls for individual owners

Each individual team also has a raft of governance measures such as who can access the Team, whether particular channels are private, what users can see within each channel and other configuration options.

8. Training and support

Another critical element of your wider governance of MS Teams is the training and support that helps drive adoption and best use. This might include:

  • Self-service resources on how to use Teams
  • The role of the IT helpdesk in answering queries
  • An expert support community
  • Targeted training
  • Guidance on when to use Teams and when not to use Teams
  • Campaigns to help drive usage
  • Local champions and coordinators
  • A central team responsible for strategy and adoption.

Optimising your MS Teams platform with governance

Governance is essential for your MS Teams environment, helping to minimise risk and make the platform more manageable, but also to optimise the user experience. If youd like to discuss any of the points in this article or need help establishing robust governance for Teams then get in touch!

Video: Can you build your intranet on Microsoft Teams?

Given the massive adoption of Teams these past few weeks and the need to keep in touch with a dispersed or locked-down workforce, this question is on every internal communicators lips.

Dan Hawtrey, John Scott and Joe Perry of Content Formula and Jess Lassen of Wizdom/LiveTiles as they discuss the topic and answer the following questions:

  • What are the pros and cons of Teams as an intranet?
  • What are some of the tools and techniques you can use to help you build a Teams intranet?
  • What are the major traps you should absolutely avoid?
  • Why you should see this as a stop gap, not a permanent solution

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