I have reviewed before where Microsoft and other see Teams fitting in the Office 365 suite, and while there’s currently a nice definition of the line between Teams and Yammer, I feel that the elephant in the room is email. Vast numbers of people in my organisation only use email, and I suspect your companies will be similar. We hear that millennials don’t work this way, and we should give them Teams as that how they work, but for the rest of us that remember actually toasting in the year 2000 why should we invest in learning something new?
I wanted to start a list of my top 5 reasons that Teams is better than Outlook, I don’t think I’ve travelled far enough myself for this to be definitive, but I don’t see a lot of discussion on this and I would love to hear other people’s opinions, tweet your views to Steven Collier.
1. Discussion is pervasive
The Teams client is very cool, I have heard Microsoft refer to it as the scaffolding of Office 365. The vision is that the tools your team needs are neatly organised for the team as a set of Tabs which expose each services interface, while less regular services might just pop in with a connector message. In all of these cases the client embeds the chat associated with those objects in the user interface. If I’m viewing a document I can see and contribute to the conversation that has happened around it, I can get a link from a Planner task and create a conversation, I can reply to a connector post from a third-party system to discuss the outcome. If I have a meeting then that floats in the channel, if people IM inside the meeting then that’s in the thread and we’ve seen that in the future your meeting recordings will be glued into the thread.
This simply is not even close to being possible in email, your messages are in Outlook, and only Outlook, and Outlook says you’ll be looking at those messages in chronological order, or by some other email attribute. Your meetings aren’t in your threads, your files are hard to spot unless you find the message that it was attached on linked from.
2. Focused and cognitively efficient
Your email inbox is a disaster of focus, typically you wade through a chronological list of messages, needing to switch your brain back and forth between projects you might work on, previous conversations, company announcements and external messages. I think we all intuitively know this isn’t super-efficient, for 98% of the population brain scans show that your overall capacity drops, and the more switching you do creates stress. You probably aren’t the best version of you when reply to emails.
Teams isn’t going to reduce your workload, but by having your work already divided into Channels roughly based around a topic you can reduce the need to switch your cognitive context. The chat, files, tasks and meetings for that project are in one place, you can catch up all in one go, then move on to the next project or place. Now, the powerful notifications in Teams are the opposite effect, but the options to customise these, and use favourites to restrict your list of visible Teams are extensive.
3. Keep in the loop and share history
I suggest to my colleagues that as a group they should make a pact to not use email, but instead start using their channel in a similar way. Every message should be addressed to the individuals you want or the channel by @mentioning them. Teams conversation view is super smart to bring your attention to where you are @mentioned, even down to highlighting your name in red within the body of a message. However, the conversations are also there for the rest of your team to view, like and contribute to. Introducing a new member to the Team means they instantly access all that went before.
In email this is hit and miss, if you used the new Outlook Groups then there is a history or messages preserved, but from what I’ve seen in real use the discipline to keep the groups CC’d on messages often doesn’t happen. Your conversations fracture and spread between personal and group messages. Without groups then there’s generally no records, other than the content of each individual’s mailboxes. I’ve certainly ‘helped’ bring someone up to speed by forwarding them a bunch of previous emails, but I doubt that’s really given them the jump start I imagined without access to the full context and history.
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4. Team files are in one place, and make sense
The Outlook and OneDrive team have worked hard to make it pretty much the default to not attach a file to an email, it’s clear to most that this isn’t efficient, versions break, comments need to be merged and it’s generally ugly. The solution of storing that file in OneDrive and sharing it isn’t really all that much better, who has the file, who has the link to the file isn’t intuitive enough, leads to anxiety, and I see many users switch back to real attachments as then at least they know someone has access. Groups files view in the browser was an attempt to fix this, but really just revealed what a mess file sharing via email has become.
Teams bucks the trend, and to me is just simpler. If I attach a file to a post, from my machine, OneDrive or another SharePoint location it’s copied into that Teams files. No ambiguity, no confusion, “I shared this file with the Team” means everyone will know where that file can be found.
5. It is all your conversations
So far, you will notice I’ve really been talking about Teams as something that’s not a real-time chat tool, it is entirely up to each member to decide how instantly they respond. Teams is entirely comfortable to use at any pace, use it like WhatsApp or iMessage on your phone, or with a Team where different users speed of response is different. As long as people reply to the thread then there is one unified stream of conversation.
Outlook tries to do the same, the conversations view rolls up messages based on their subject line. Clever logic attempts to hide previous replies, so it feels like one conversation. However as soon as people are added to the conversation, side threads are created, or someone else just uses the same subject line, it all falls into an unfathomable mess of signatures, disclaimers and other inconsistencies. Email is not built on these concepts.