10 Microsoft Teams Tips for working from home

Microsoft Teams comes with most Office 365 accounts, but it is also available for free with limited features. Due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 Microsoft decided to expand the free features. Teams has the potential to replace Outlook for all internal communication in your organization. The basic features are explained well in the videos of Microsoft.

In addition, I’ve collected 10 tips and tricks primarily for Scrum software development teams. Other teams might benefit from this too.

1. Extra chat options

In both chat and channels, this button gives you the option to add code snippets and hyperlinks. You can also mark the message as important to let it stand out from other messages.

2. Channel your information

Especially when working from home, there will be a lot of textual communication. If you use 1 chatgroup or channel, it basically becomes impossible to find back previous messages. Everybody will also be notified of all new messages, no matter if they are relevant. Compare it with replying to all in an e-mail and changing the topic. Isn’t that confusing? Create different channels for different topics and let people set their notifications according to their needs.

3. Connect with your build server

Just like Slack, Teams has the option to connect with your buildserver and post messages of builds, releases and pull requests directly in a channel. The advantage is that you can easily have a conversation about a release, build or pull request without opening a separate window. Combine this with the previous tip to create a channel for pull requests and a channel for your test automation run for example.

4. Channel vs chat group

In a channel every post is basically a topic that people can reply to under the topic, similar to how a forum works. In a chatgroup, although you can quote someone, the messages are always sequential. If two topics are discussed simultaneously, a channel will have a better overview of those 2 discussions than a chatgroup, if used correctly. Take this into consideration when structuring your communication.

5. Initialising a call and adding people

A (video)call can be initialized from a chatgroup or a meeting invite. Every meeting invite is by default a call which you can join. Typically meeting invites are used for regular meetings and (video)calls in a chat group to discuss ad hoc topics. In any call, people can be added manually. Both people who are already invited, so they get a pop-up or people who were not invited yet. This can both be done in the ‘show participants’ screen.

6. Poker during refinements

During a (video)call, people can share their screen to show JIRA for example. In addition, each call has their own chat integrated, which could be useful to poker during refinements. I would also recommend separating the votes per story with any comment (e.g. a dotted line), to avoid confusion which values are given for a story.

7. Online whiteboard

Besides sharing a screen, you can also set up a online whiteboard where all participants can draw on at the same time. This is an option in the share screen window. Multiple colors are available, and I would recommend assigning people to colors to see who draws what. In addition, an iPad (with MS teams app) or device with a touchscreen (e.g. Microsoft Surface Pro) combined with a pencil will improve this feature. Alternatively a Wacom drawing tablet could also improve your drawing skills over a mouse.

8. Add tabs for additional tools

In addition to Posts and Files (Sharpoint) can add ‘tabs’ to any channel or chatgroup. This can be a OneNote document, Wiki, a Trello board and many other free and paid options like brainstorm tools. People can work in these documents simultaneously. For example, a OneNote can be very useful to store meeting notes.

9. Digital sticky notes for a retrospective

During any call, you can go back to teams and your call will remain active and viewed in the top left corner of the screen. For example, you can go to your shared OneNote document or Trello board.  This can be used as alternative for anything you would normally do with sticky notes in a retrospective for example. In Trello you can add tasks and assign them to yourself to show that this is your ‘sticky note’. If you create a board with Start/Stop/Continue columns, you can still have a very basic online retrospective. There are probably paid options with better visuals and more features, like Miro for example, but with free options and some creativity you can do a lot.

10. Record a meeting

Any call can be recorded to view later for those who missed it. This is a built-in option when the call is active. This could be particularly useful for a sprint review. Although the feedback might come later, the demonstration can be shared with a wider audience more easily. If many people would like to join your review though, Teams has a Live events option that supports up to 10.000 viewers.

BONUS tip

For people who like dark mode, there is a setting for this in both the browser and desktop app. Click your icon in the top right and go to settings. Here you can change the color palet.

 

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