Traditionally, our collaboration tools have been divided into silos based on the mode of communication. In the Microsoft space, we’ve used Outlook and Exchange for persistent messaging, Skype for Business for real-time communication, and SharePoint to provide a place to share documents and other information.
These tools work together to provide for our communications needs, whether they’re real-time, message based, or documents and other content. They work well together, but they’re still separate programs we have to run, and constantly flip between. As we do, the information is organized differently in each tool: most of us view email by date, Skype by person, and SharePoint by project or team. That’s a lot of context switching. Of course we’re all used to this, and probably don’t even notice how much of our attention goes into it.
Microsoft Teams aligns all these modes of communication under a single “pane of glass”, so we can focus on collaboration rather than collaboration tools. For certain kinds of communication – specifically anything involving a team of people – it’s a lot easier than juggling multiple tools.
Most electronic communication and collaboration tools have evolved from the real world. Mail was the first to make the leap from real world to online when, in 1971 at BBN, Ray Tomlinson combined features of two pre-Internet programs, SNDMSG and CPYNET, to send the first email. One by one, electronic implementations of the other ways of communicating came along, as shown in the table below.
|Telephone, telegraph, pagers||Chat, voice, video, conferencing||Real-time communication||Skype for Business|
|Paper: files, documents, pages, bulletin boards, newspapers||Shared workspaces||Shared storage and presentation||SharePoint|
This led to a world where our collaboration products are metaphors for things in real world, along with their incumbent limitations.
Like their real-world forebears, email and real-time communication tools are organized by recipient; that is, communications are delivered to a person or a group of people sharing an inbox or Skype identity. If that recipient is a modern information worker, this soon leads to chaos, as communications from everywhere about every topic piles up in a big heap on the doorstep. No wonder keeping up with email is such a Sisyphean effort!
Shared workspaces are different because they’re organized by topic rather than by recipient. Let’s share everything about Project X here, and everything about Topic Y over there. You might end up with a big heap of information, but it won’t be random, it will all be related to the topic of the shared workspace in some way, which is a big help!
Teams, and other tools like it, align all forms of communication to topics instead of individual people. This has a number of benefits:
- When you’re focused on a task, everything you need is likely to be in the same place: messages, meetings, notes, documents, are all in the same place, along with immediate real-time access to teammates who are online
- You can work “in the open”, eliminating the need for extra emails. For example, when you upload a document to Teams, a notification is automatically shown in the channel so everybody knows about it; no need to send an email announcement, or an email asking where the document is.
- The team can have a conversation right in the channel about the information there, eliminating the need to send links to information into Outlook or Skype (or worse, to attach duplicate copies)
Working day to day in Teams feels a lot more streamlined, and is a welcome change from the traditional tool set.
Both Teams and SharePoint team sites are organized by topic, project, organization, or some other focal point for a team of people. Hence, in any given organization, Teams and channels will often follow a similar structure to SharePoint team and project sites.
In fact, this is inherent in the design. Every Microsoft Team automatically has a modern SharePoint team site associated with it; that’s where channel documents are stored. Each channel is associated with a folder in the SharePoint site’s document library. In addition, files sent between users outside of a Teams channel are stored in the sender’s OneDrive for Business folder.
- The OneDrive sync client works on Windows or Mac, so it’s easy to sync all the files for a Team
- Document co-authoring and and the online versions of Office applications depend on two special protocols (WOPI and FSSHTTP); since they’re built into SharePoint and OneDrive, they also work in Teams
- SharePoint provides previews for more than 300 file types, which are displayed directly in the Teams file tab
- SharePoint and OneDrive have comprehensive data governance and compliance features, so Teams documents are protected as well. These include:
- Automatic classification and labelling
- Data loss prevention
- Document retention policies, disposition review, and event-based retention
- eDiscovery and legal holds
- Files are discoverable in Delve and SharePoint search
Users don’t have to leave Teams to work with their files; they appear in the Files tab. There’s an “Open in SharePoint” option that brings you right into the SharePoint site.
It’s also possible to add SharePoint pages as tabs in Teams. This provides a much easier approach to building tabs compared with the typical approach of building a custom website from scratch. All the information on a team site home page can appear there, providing the best of both SharePoint and Teams in the same user interface.
It’s also possible to put a whole document in a tab. This can be useful, for example, to share a key presentation or to track information in a spreadsheet that’s easily accessed by the whole team.
At the Build conference last week it was announced that this will go to even another level of integration, where SharePoint Framework web parts can be added as tabs as part of Microsoft Teams applications. That will make them more configurable, and users can add an app to their team and get the tab without any additional work. App builders will no longer need to figure out where to host custom tabs; why not host them in the underlying SharePoint site which is ready and waiting?
There have been a number of (mostly failed) attempts at bringing conversations into SharePoint. Discussion lists and news feeds were part of SharePoint but never caught on (perhaps because of usability challenges with discussion lists and immediate backpedaling by Microsoft on SharePoint Social). A number of 3rd party offerings have worked to address this as well. Many of the more successful 3rd party offerings focus on the “outer loop” of communication – that is, broader corporate communication. Yammer is the tool of choice for this within the Office 365 suite; perhaps next year I’ll be able to post a similar article about Yammer integration but so far it’s not nearly as extensive as what we have with Teams and SharePoint.
For the “inner loop”, Teams puts the conversation on center stage, which makes a lot of sense; SharePoint augments this with documents and other shared information. In fact, you can even (finally!) have a conversation about a document directly.
The same conversation is shown in the channel along with a link to the document, so people can’t miss it.
But what about team news that transcends the conversation? Perhaps a new phase of a project is starting, or you want to highlight a success. Those things could easily be lost in the Teams conversation thread, so SharePoint news is a perfect vehicle for those kinds of messages.
Modern SharePoint sites include a light-weight publishing system for news pages. These pages bubble up on web parts, in Hub sites, on the SharePoint Home page, in the SharePoint mobile app, and now in Teams as well. When a news item is posted, it’s also announced right in the channel.
From there, it’s easy to add the SharePoint news archive as a tab, so the news stories are never more than a click away from the channel.
Hopefully by now you’re getting the idea that Teams and SharePoint are indeed better together, but how do you get there?
Well if you’ve got a Team, you’re already using SharePoint. Try adding tabs, news, and all the rest to enhance the experience!
If you’ve got a SharePoint team site, then you can easily add Teams as well. For a while now it’s been possible to add a Teamto a modern team site (actually you’re adding the Team to the site’s Office 365 Group). But now it’s even possible to add an Office 365 Group and Team to a classic SharePoint team site!
There’s no reason to be left out – please try it out and let me know how it’s working for you in the comments!