Like many businesses out there, The Solution Collective first got onto Slack about 2 years ago as a way to reduce email-mageddon – and to help the team focus on projects and topics by constraining chat to specific channels (it is easier to context switch, and catch up progress since last time you looked at something). It has worked really well for us to-date, and it has clearly worked really well for others too – Slack’s rise has been stratospheric.
Naturally Microsoft have also taken note of this phenomenon, and so their ‘Teams’ offering is clearly intended to meet this previously unmet demand within the Microsoft ecosystem. They are not alone – other offerings include Stride and the older dorky-sounding Hipchat from Atlassian, and Workplace from Facebook (yes, Facebook!). ‘Teams’ isn’t the first messaging app Microsoft has released (Lync became Skype for Business, and now Skype for Business will become part of Microsoft Teams – and then of course there is Yammer)… but it is certainly one of the largest and most ambitious. ‘Teams’ is (predominantly) built on existing Microsoft technologies, woven together through Office 365 Groups.
Introducing a new productivity app is certainly one way to spice things up at the office, and we’ve been really excited to see the pace at which ‘Teams’ has been evolving – but is now the right time for us to finally make the jump from Slack to ‘Teams’? In this blog post we detail the process we went through to make this decision….
Slack has become core to almost every aspect to how our business runs internally, but what does that mean in a practical sense? We took some time to distil out exactly what Slack does for us, and write it up in a handy table:
|Business need||What Slack does for us|
|Reduce likelihood of important information getting lost in emails||Moving all internal comms to Slack and curating information by channels certainly helped us achieve this objective.|
|Reduce time simply managing our email inboxes (a very timely and unproductive activity)||Most of our email is now for external comms only. In the case of developers, email is now close to zero. Time managing email inboxes for most staff is also close to zero.|
|Allow stakeholders to quickly ‘catch up’ on progress in a given area, project, or topic||The way Slack enables us to curate information into channels means that any staff member can quickly catch up on conversations, decisions, and key documents.|
|Allow stakeholders to receive timely information wherever they are||The mobile app for Slack is awesome, and often means that ‘catching up’ on certain topics can occur in ‘dead’ time e.g. walking between meetings. The ‘snooze’ functionality also enables us to prevent work from encroaching into leisure time.|
|Building our community||Slack has been instrumental in helping us create and amplify our company culture. Channels for social topics, and for cross-team information sharing mean that no matter where a staff member is – they still feel part of the team, they feel connected.|
|Reduced friction||Slack have done an awesome job of reducing the friction in communication. A good example of this is that to edit your last comment, you just tap the ‘up’ button on your keyboard. Little details like this all add up to an incredible user experience.|
|Meetings and video conferences||Slack has a really good audio and video conferencing capability. Sometimes it takes a while to connect, but once it does the connection is really stable and the quality is top notch.|
So, it’s not a big list – but it is an important list. Can we take this set of requirements, and achieve the same benefits using Microsoft ‘Teams’? I was keen to find out….
Let’s take a sneak peek of Teams
Before we get stuck into the nuts and bolts of our analysis, lets first have a quick whistle-stop tour of ‘Teams’. ‘Teams’ is available as a standalone app on most major platforms, including Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android – for Linux users they currently have to rely on the web version.
Different ‘Teams’ means organised channels
First of all, ‘Teams’ allows me to create new teams directly from within my app (this will trigger all the Office 365 magic, including the creation of the Office Group, and the SharePoint site). If you are the owner of an existing Office 365 Group, you have the ability to attach it to a new Team. When the Office 365 Group attaches to a new Team, the existing SharePoint TeamSite and OneNote are ported over to Microsoft Teams. Keep in mind, that a Group must be private and can’t have more than 600 members. In the Office 365 Admin Portal, you can see that your Office 365 Group has been created.
In the picture below you can see two new teams (yes there are two separate teams and not channels!).
For each team you can then create a number of relevant channels. This is a subtle difference to Slack, and perhaps a more organised approach to collaborating (we do have many Slack channels, so sometimes it is hard to find the right channel to post in).
Where did my files go?
When uploading files in Slack, by-and-large interfaces for finding them all again are very basic (as per example image on the right). In ‘Teams’, each channel has a Files tab (as below) along with the conversations – and here I can upload documents relevant to the channel in one place. This makes it easier to track the documents within the channel (behind the scenes the files are being uploaded to the corresponding SharePoint site). And since files are in SharePoint, you get all the amazing powerful features of SharePoint including co-authoring (amongst other things).
As below, I can also see all my recent files: ones I uploaded to SharePoint directly, to Teams or to OneDrive – all in one place. I think that is pretty cool.
‘Meetings’ to replace ‘Skype for business’
I always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with ‘Skype for business’ aka ‘Lync’ (messages/calls not being sent to all connected devices is my biggest bug bear – especially when the only device messages are being sent to is a machine I RDPed to earlier in the day!). But wait, ‘Teams’ is wrapping up all that functionality in one place (as below), and putting a bow on it – you can create audio and voice calls direct from ‘Teams’ (and it works really well too).
Activity feed for you and your team
In ‘Teams’ I can see ‘My activity’, ‘Team activity’ and the ‘Feed’ (notifications and mentions) – which gives me the option to filter activities based on what I want to see. Still winning!
Taking some notes?
To each channel you can also add a number of ‘apps’ (see below). These apps include OneNote, and a wiki. The OneNote tab is my favourite – as it means you can take notes direct in ‘Teams’, and these are synced to the appropriate OneNote in SharePoint Online.
For each OneNote section, you can then start a new ‘Teams’ conversation – wow!
How about other things we love from Slack?
Slack emojis are a lot of fun, and even more importantly – they help us convey emotion and intent with our messages. This helps avoid misunderstandings. The emojis in ‘Teams’ are a bit of let down – they don’t look quite as nice, and you can’t add new ones. Adding new emojis is amazing for creating our own company culture – as we can assign funny new symbols to internal processes and behaviours.
‘Teams’ does redeem itself somewhat with stickers and GIPHY integration, but there is definitely room for improvement here:
Slack messages can be deleted/edited even after posting them. In ‘Teams’ however, you do not have control over what you have already posted.
In Slack we make extensive user of ‘bots’ and add-ins such Polly (for doing votes), LunchTrain (deciding where to go for lunch) etc. – so if we move to ‘Teams’ we’d have to let go of them. Microsoft Teams bots support only 1:1 chats and not group chats
There is definitely some scope for us to engage more in development of custom bots, so that’s not all disappointing. To extend Teams capabilities the options are to use Connectors, Tabs, and Bots – available as Apps, to bring external information, content, and intelligent bot interactions to Teams (I imagine this is going to be a busy an exciting space to watch in the coming months)
We really like where ‘Teams’ has got to in terms of maturity. Microsoft has clearly spent a lot of time thinking about this product, and touches like OneNote and SharePoint integration are far superior to what Slack is currently doing. ‘Teams’ ticks almost all of our requirement boxes, but it does let us down about in terms of ‘friction’ and ‘building culture’.
Friction: despite the potential for better curation of information, it is still a bit more ‘clunky’ than Slack. It could just be us adjusting to a new way of working, but it does seem that it takes slightly longer to ‘catch up’. Additionally, the inability to edit or delete posts is a real downer.
Building culture: the inability to add bots to channels, or to add new custom emojis, removes the feeling that this is ‘our’ communications platform. Littles things like this can make a big difference.
We think that Microsoft have done enough to merit us conducting a ‘pilot’ for an upcoming project – to see if the app does the job when the rubber hits the road. Given that staying within the Office 365 ecosystem has many benefits over using a 3rd party provider – we are cautiously optimistic that now is the right time to make the jump! We’ll report back when our pilot has been completed….