Microsoft Teams: The past, the present and the future
Microsoft Teams was launched in early 2017 and has become the companies fastest growing application with approximately half a million companies worldwide using it (Pre COVID-19). What you may not know is that the app started life on a fruit farm in Hawaii and hotel room in Las Vegas. For years Microsoft had been trying to convince businesses to switch to group chats but the product it had acquired for the task, wasn’t up to it. Brian McDonald who had worked on the original version of the Outlook email app was tasked with creating a concept for Microsoft’s new chat software. Around this time Slack was becoming very popular and Microsoft was eager to have a strong competitor in place, as soon as possible. McDonald explained in an interview with The Verge website in 2017, that the original pitch in early 2015 included some bizarre offsite locations for brainstorming. He put together a team that had worked well together in the past, including the lead engineer on Teams, Jigar Thakkar. McDonald took some of the Team to his fruit farm in Hawaii and Thakkar took his engineering team to Las Vegas. The groups would conference call to collaborate and share ideas, mimicking typical office environments, worldwide. Only a month after returning from their remote working sessions the team had already created a working prototype of what was introduced in November 2016 and launched in early 2017.
Teams has been on a long journey in its relatively short life and the company are continually upgrading the features, integrations, and user experience. Many of the newest and most appealing features have been rolled out early as the demand for Teams skyrocketed as millions of businesses around the world adapt to remote working. Here’s a list of some of the key features currently available with Microsoft Teams:
- Full integration with Microsoft 365 (Formerly Office 365).
- Direct access to Skype, OneDrive, and SharePoint.
- Real-time secure collaboration, both internally and externally.
- Access Teams across all your devices.
- Fast search function.
- Conversation threads.
- Reach people faster with Tags.
- Use Microsoft Teams Room as an Interactive Whiteboard.
- @mention feature.
- Consumer edition.
- Seamless integration with 100’s of 3rd party application via the app store. You can even join a Zoom chat from Teams, via the Zoom bot. They also have an impressive range of bots that are ready to go.
Latest releases in April 2020:
- End meeting – This feature is only available to the meeting organiser.
- Multi-Window chat enables users to multitask more efficiently by popping out of their chat conversations into separate windows.
- Background Blur and custom/virtual backgrounds – With many of us turning our messy spare rooms into our home office for the foreseeable future, the introduction of background blur and custom or virtual backgrounds has been very much welcomed. Background blur has been a feature while a while now but these two really do go hand in hand.
Before we look at the future of Teams here are some of the features currently in development or with releases imminent.
- Real-time AI noise suppression.
- Raise hand feature – Allows a meeting attendee to indicate that they wish to speak. This will also be very useful for online lectures and classes.
- Offline mode.
- Multi-chat nine-person video windows.
- Increase in team membership from 5,000 to 10,000.
- Participant reports – Useful if you have a large Teams meeting and want to track who had taken part. Also, very useful for teachers and lecturers.
As much of the world was adjusting to remote working and learning Microsoft tells us that Teams meetings have increased at an incredible rate; from 560 million meeting minutes per day on the 12 March 2020 to 2.7 billion meeting minutes per day on March 31st. Such an exponential increase was of course driven by the rapidly evolving health crisis that restricted the ability to freely travel in many parts of the world. The world will eventually return to some type of normality, however, what that is, remains to be seen. I do believe that when everything settles down, there will be a seismic shift towards flexible working solutions and applications such as Teams and indeed Zoom, will have a much larger role in workplace communication and collaboration. Zooms quickly became the trending video chat tool in the early days of international lockdowns and earned a lot of new users. Unfortunately, it has also received some bad press with regards to several publicised security breaches during live Zoom sessions. Zoom is a very good video communication tool but if you’ve already invested into the 365 ecosystems then you really must be using Teams. Look at it like this; early mobile phones allowed you to make calls and send texts and not a lot else apart from that snake game. With new smartphones, making calls is just one small feature of the device and not the most frequently used feature either. This is how I see Teams. Yes, it allows you to make a video call but as part of the Microsoft 365 ecosystem, this is only one small element of its usability. Microsoft is throwing everything at their purpose-built communication and collaboration application, and I expect to see more exciting features released as they respond user feedback and further refine the app for the new ways of doing business in a post pandemic world.