10 min read
Nov 04, 2016
Communication

What is Microsoft Teams? 7 Pressing Questions Answered

Microsoft has released its answer to Slack: Microsoft Teams. In this article you'll find out what is Microsoft Teams and if your small business needs it.

Matt Mullarkey-TonerAnalyst

There’s a sort of sweet irony when two communication apps are awkwardly attacking one another via the media. Microsoft announced and kinda released (preview only) a new app called Teams, that takes direct aim at Slack. The two companies are also sending thinly-veiled disses to one another via the media.

But what is Microsoft Teams? In this article I’ll answer some common questions regarding Microsoft Teams including pricing, features, and integrations. And yes, I’ll address the “drama” between them.

(Keep in mind that Teams is in preview right now and hasn’t been formally released, so some features or options could change in the final release).

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Who is Microsoft Teams for?

Judging from the video, NASCAR crews and NASA. More seriously though, Microsoft Teams is aimed squarely at Slack’s user base as well as enterprise customers; it works with small teams and large organizations. It’s also aimed at the many organizations and businesses around the world that use the Microsoft Office suite (I’ll get to that below).

If you are a company (big or small) that is looking to streamline or optimize its communication tools and processes and you already use lots of Microsoft products, Teams is aimed at you.

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What are the features of Microsoft Teams?

At first glance, Microsoft Teams looks a lot like Slack; down to the navigation strip on the left side. You can also add in your own emojis and GIFs, make chats group/individual as well as public/private, and search through the history of chats. That should sound pretty similar to Slack. However, if you start to dig deeper, the differences become more apparent and things get complicated. One big difference is that conversations are threaded rather than being displayed individually.

Rather than having most of your screen space devoted to the chat, Teams displays multiple chats on onscreen. They’ve also added a tabs at the top of the window to make organization easier. The tabs allow you to rapidly switch between conversations, files, and other apps.

Microsoft Teams also takes some features from Skype and integrates them. As mentioned above, Teams supports emojis, gifs, and stickers, which has been a feature on Skype for some time. More importantly, Teams takes advantage of Skype’s voice and video capabilities which could be a big deal. Although Slack has voice and video calling, native Skype integration means that companies could incorporate calls from external sources, as opposed to all parties needing to use Teams (or Slack).

In terms of mobile, Microsoft Teams also has corresponding Android, iOS, and Windows Phone apps. The design is simple and sleek, and it appears to have many of the same features. Remember though: you’re going to need an Office 365 account to activate the app.

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What about Microsoft Teams integrations?

This is where Teams gets interesting. Slack has excellent third-party integrations, but Slack incorporates native Microsoft Office apps. According to Microsoft, Teams will have integrations with over 150 partners at “general availability.” Some of the partners that they listed off are Zendesk, Asana, Hootsuite, and Intercom.

Some of the Microsoft apps that are built into Teams include:

  • Word

  • Excel

  • Powerpoint

  • OneNote

  • Planner

  • Power BI

  • Delve

Arguably the most important integration is with Microsoft Exchange. Part of the reason Slack was created was to eliminate email or change it. According to Gartner, “Microsoft is more popular with larger organizations and has more than an 80 percent share of companies using cloud email with revenue above $10 billion.”

The Exchange integration is one of the most powerful features, and it includes notifications and updates from third-party services such as Twitter or GitHub. You’ll also be able to program bots—as you can do with Slack—to take care of tasks.

Check out Microsoft Teams integrations.

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How much does it cost?

The only way to get Teams is via an Office 365 subscription. For a quick refresher, Office 365 is divided into three different plans: Business, Business Premium, and Business Essentials.

It’s important to note that the monthly cost is per user, so a plan such as the business premium ($12.50 user/month) can quickly add up. There’s one oddity in the pricing plan that might be a typo: Microsoft Teams appears to only be available to business premium and business essentials—the most expensive and cheapest options—and don’t make it available to users of the normal Office 365 business plan.

This could be an error, and I’ve reached out to Microsoft to clarify. If you have doubts about the pricing plan for your company or you’d like to adjust it, don’t hesitate to contact to Microsoft and try to work it out.

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Is Teams a “Slack killer”?

Betteridge’s law of headlines would emphatically say: no. It’s a modern trope in marketing and journalism to refer to something as the “X killer” and there is no shortage of headlines referring to Microsoft’s “Slack killer.” Hyperbolic headlines aside, Slack does have one area that it hasn’t been as successful in: enterprise. Large companies such as the New York Times use Slack, but a massive company of 10,000 people won’t likely use it. One example is Uber, which shunned Slack in favor of Atlassian’s HipChat due to security concerns and whether Slack could keep up with the demands of a rapidly growing company.

Microsoft (and Teams by extension) is well-versed in the intricacies of security and compliance. In a blog post announcing Teams, Microsoft wrote that security features will include:

  • Data encryption in transit and at rest

  • A transparent operational model with no standing access to customer data

  • Compliance standards that include EU Model Clauses, ISO 27001, SOC 2, and HIPAA

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Did Slack write a letter to Microsoft welcoming them?

At this point, Slack and Microsoft are trying to out-patronize the other.

To begin, Slack did take out a full-page ad in the New York Times welcoming Microsoft to “the revolution.” It’s written as a letter addressed to Microsoft and contains some advice for the behemoth, likely by Apple’s famous advertisement “welcoming” IBM.

The advice essentially consists of:

  • Don’t just copy Slack’s features—talk to people to see what they like

  • Keep the platform open (e.g., make sure there are third-party integrations)

  • Love what you’re doing

The post is tremendously cringe-worthy and comes across as awkward at best, and passive aggressive at worst. It seems strange that Slack, which is already widely popular, would give what essentially amounts to free publicity to Teams. It feels a bit beneath them.

Some commenters on the post even said that they had never heard of Microsoft Teams prior to the ad, but now they were curious and going to check it out.

Source: https://twitter.com/stewart

Microsoft said that it’s not worried about Slack, and referred to it and other “little companies” as “applications du jour” that will disappear as Teams becomes more successful.

The passive aggressive battle between the two communication apps is sure to continue to play out over the coming months as Teams is released.

You can check out the post from the NYT over at Slack’s blog.

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Should I buy it?

As mentioned above, It’s likely that you won’t be able to “buy” Teams as a standalone product. It depends on whether you’ve already got an Office 365 subscription and whether your company actively uses other Microsoft applications. For example, if your business crunches numbers in Excel, jots down contact details in Dynamics CRM, and conducts meetings over Skype, you might as well give it a try.

If you’ve already got an enterprise or small business subscription, you’ll automatically get Microsoft Teams at no extra cost. So keep an eye on the development of Teams to see what Microsoft adds, improves, and fixes.

If you’re interested in getting a closer look at some of Teams’ competitors, be sure to check out our alternatives to Microsoft Teams.

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