Rencore TechTalks: Episode 5 – Microsoft Teams with Maarten Eekels

16 min read
16 min read

Welcome to the Rencore Tech Talks show. In this episode, I’m catching up with Maarten Eekels on Microsoft Teams, that has been launched on March 15, 2017 in general availability.

[Recorded: 2016-12-08]

Listen to this show to learn more about things like:

  • Microsoft Teams, where does it fit in?
  • Teams Desktop Applications vs Browser
  • Threaded conversations, giphys, etc.
  • Enabling Teams in my Tenants
  • Bots and Connectors for extensibility
  • And more

Guest: Maarten Eekels 

Maarten Eekels (@maarteneekels) is Microsoft MVP and CTO of Portiva, one of the larger SharePoint and Office 365 implementation partners in the Netherlands. In that role he is responsible for all knowledge and technology related matters.

Maarten is an experienced Office 365 and SharePoint specialist and already since version 2003 he is involved in implementing SharePoint and (later) Office 365.

Also, Maarten is a regular speaker on both national and international events, like conferences, SharePoint Saturdays, and user group meetings. In September 2015 he started a video blog series called Maarten’s Cloud Journaal, specifically targeted at Dutch speaking Office 365 users.

Show notes:

Full transcript

[Tobias] = Tobias Zimmergren
[Maarten] = Maarten Eekels

[Tobias]: Hi! I’m Tobias Zimmergren. Welcome to the Tech Talk Show. Throughout this podcast you’ll be able to listen to the latest happenings and updates from the community along with interviews with industry experts talking about their favourite technologies.

In this episode I’m catching up with Maarten Eekels, a Microsoft MVP for Office Servers and Services. Maarten is sharing his thoughts on Microsoft Teams. We’re discussing things like where does Teams fit in, Teams desktop application and Teams in the browser, thoughts on threaded conversations, GIFs and other favourite features of Microsoft Teams, enabling teams in my tenant and how you do that, connectivity with bots and connectors and much more. So tag along and let’s dive into this recording about Microsoft Teams with Maarten.

All right so here we are again with Maarten Eekels. Welcome!

[Maarten]: Thank you. Thanks for having me again.

[Tobias]: Yeah, you’re welcome. And this time we’re going to talk a bit about Microsoft Teams. Recently Microsoft announced something called Microsoft Teams. Can you tell us a bit what that is and why would I be interested in looking into Microsoft Teams.

[Maarten]: Yeah, absolutely. So they’ve announced this Teams and it’s basically running on top of Office 365 groups. So you get all the features that groups already offers you like the files, the shared OneNote, the calendar, etc. But what they’ve now done is add a layer where you can have, as Microsoft says, high philosophy conversations.

I think it’s more like chat. So you want to chat with your team members, you want to have a conversation and you want to have a chat tool, but you don’t want to have that running in Skype. There you can have a chat, but then whenever you close the window, the chat is gone. So you want something where you can have a conversation around certain topics, make it fun to have a conversation there and interact – and we’re going to talk about that later – with even other systems as well. So yeah, that’s basically what Teams is about.

[Tobias]: All right. So collaboration on a more immediate level if you will.

[Maarten]: Yes, exactly.

[Tobias]: So I know a lot of organizations use things like Yammer. A lot of organizations, myself included, use something called Slack, which is also like immediate chat. You can reach out to your colleagues extremely fast and it works very well. How do you see Teams fitting into or replacing that picture? Where does Teams fit in, in comparison to the alternatives on the market today?

[Maarten]: OK. So there’s Yammer. I think Yammer is more focused on larger groups of people. Teams is more focused on smaller groups of people and you already know the people that you’re working with. You know these people and you’re having conversations with these people in a smaller audience.

When you don’t know the people that you are looking for yet or whenever you want to get a message across to a larger group of people, I think Yammer is still a good alternative. Yammer is also still a good alternative like I said, if you are looking for someone with certain expertise, but you don’t know who you are looking for yet, then Yammer could be a good option for you.

[Tobias]: Right.

[Maarten]: Then there’s the alternatives outside the Microsoft software stack, for example, Slack as you mentioned. I think Teams and Slack are quite similar. I think that Slack is so popular because there was a need for such a tool. For a tool to have very quick ad-hoc collaboration and have chats and conversations with people and think that’s what Teams is aiming at as well.

Of course there are differences. For example, Slack has a free plan. You can start using it without paying money for it and for Teams, that’s not possible. You need to at least have an Office 365 license in order to use Teams. I think Microsoft is focusing a bit more on enterprises with Teams, but yeah, it has kind of similar functionality.

[Tobias]: Yeah, and I can relate to what you said about people having been missing this functionality for a while and that’s kind of why we started using Slack in our team as well, because we’re highly distributed. We have people in the Netherlands, in Sweden and in the UK and in Germany, across the European half of the globe and it’s not always easy to collaborate instantly with everyone.

But when we implemented,  in our case, Slack or maybe in the future, if we started using Teams, it’s just like you said, if need immediate collaboration, you can get in touch with your colleagues in a snap. You don’t have to send an email or got to, for example, Yammer. People maybe not be monitoring Yammer that often. And when using Slack or if we start using Teams, it’s more like if you used IRC back in the day. It’s a traditional network with channels. You go in and say, look, I need help with this or with that and there’s always someone who can pick that up and help you rather than reaching out to a specific guy at a specific time.

[Maarten]: Yeah, I think also a good thing that Microsoft has done with Teams is that they have already very well working clients for all the platforms that you would need. Right? So there’s a Teams client for Windows obviously, but also for the iPhones, for the Android phones, even for the Windows phones. So they’ve really thought about this well and like you said, maybe people don’t always monitor Yammer that well and with Teams that has its own app just like Slack does, you can just follow it as you want.

[Tobias]: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And when you say client for all the platforms, that means like a Windows desktop installable client, right?

[Maarten]: Yeah, so you can run it in the web as well. So if you are somewhere on a machine or in an Internet café. Do these still exist? Yeah, I think.

[Tobias]: I don’t know. I guess they do some place.

[Maarten]: So whenever you’re at a machine that’s not yours, you can also run Teams in the browser. That works as well, but there is a proper client for Windows definitely.

[Tobias]: Yeah, that means a lot of sense. Personally, I use the web browser for almost everything now. I have all my files, I have SharePoint Online, I have Exchange, I have everything actually in my browser. I don’t even use Outlook anymore. But for instant collaboration, I try to use Slack for example in the web browser. And that’s ridiculously bad for me.

Installing a desktop client works and if I can see Teams doing the same thing, I think they’re totally on the right track. And there’s probably a lot of wins with the strategy that they have. That they, you know, from day one say, hey, this is Teams and by the way we support all the platforms so you can install a client or a mobile app already.

[Maarten]: Exactly! I guess that’s the new Microsoft, right?

[Tobias]: Cool! So one thing that organizations have been kind of screaming about is the lack of threaded conversations in some platforms. Threaded conversations is something people obviously love because it’s easier to follow threads or follow specific discussions and I know this is something Teams can offer. So what’s your take on that? How is threaded conversations in Teams?

[Maarten]: I think this is one of the key differentiators and I think this is really something that Microsoft listens to the user. Say what are you looking for in such a tool? So both in Teams and Slack, in both products, you have this option to create a channel and with a channel, you can already create maybe some kind of topic that you want to have discussions about. Right? That’s what a channel is about. Like differentiates on conversations, on topics, on subjects etc.

So that work the same in Slack as it does in Teams. But then, within a channel, within a certain topic you could have different conversations. Maybe if the topic would be a podcast or a channel would be podcast. Maybe we want to have a different conversation for the podcast on the 8th of December and a different conversation on the podcast for next week, the 15th of December. And with a threaded conversation that’s actually possible.

You have this conversation paradigm right inside your channel where you can have the chats around this one particular sub-topic very visible and very accessible within your channel. And that’s something I really, really like. Absolutely.

[Tobias]: Nice! I know threaded conversation is – specifically in Teams – one of my favourites. What will be your top features with using Microsoft Teams?

[Maarten]: We talked about threaded conversations as one that I definitely like. I like the channels as well – the fact that you can already create some high level differentiation between topics. And the cool thing is that works for your plans and for your files etc. as well. So all the other underlying Office 365 group features are tied to these channels as well.

Whenever you store a file in a particular channel, that file is actually stored in a sub-folder within the document library of the underlying group. So you can already separate files from a channel perspective as well.

[Tobias]: Right.

[Maarten]: So I like the fact that you can collaborate on documents within Teams. It’s cool I think and that’s the whole reason why they probably built this on top of Office 365 groups, because you get all the features that groups already offer you and you get those for free.

[Tobias]:  To collaborate on stuff inside of Teams and you get that accessed from your group just as normal. Right?

[Maarten]: Exactly! Yeah, absolutely.

[Tobias]:  That’s pretty cool.

[Maarten]: Yeah, and then what I like as well, Microsoft has really tried to make it fun. So they’ve got all these GIFs and all these in emoticon type of things to add some fun to your conversation. I think that works really well.

[Tobias]:  That works a lot. I mean we are using that as well almost daily where you have to express an emotion or you have to express that you’re happy about something or whatever it is. It makes it a lot more fun like you say, but it also makes a lot of sense even though if someone would propose to me that, hey we’re going to send animated GIF images in our corporate team collaboration, I would kind of raise my eyebrows and say what? But actually using this makes a lot of sense. You know to learn more about the people you’re collaborating with, but also to make it a bit more relaxed in the work atmosphere which is actually helping collaboration a lot.

[Maarten]: It’s actually good even for people from our age.

[Tobias]:  How do I go about enable Teams for my tenant? How do I get started with this?

[Maarten]: All right, this is one of the features that Microsoft has switched off by default for tenants. So that’s a new concept for them, because usually, they’re just like, hey, you have this new feature and if you don’t want to use it, you have to turn it off. Well, in the case of Teams, it’s switched off by default. But it’s very easy to start using it, because in your Office 365 Admin Center, you can go to your settings and enable Teams form there and then it’s enabled on a tenant level and then you can just assign the licenses to the users that you want to allow to start using Teams. So it’s very easy and I like the fact that they’ve switched this off by default for a change.

[Tobias]:  That’s it? You just enable it?

[Maarten]: Yeah, that’s it and you can go to and you just log in with your Office 365 credentials and it works.

[Tobias]:  Wow, that’s nice. And I do like the fact that they kind of switch around saying, hey, we have this great new feature, but we know that you might not want to use it straight away. So we just allow you to start this up whenever you feel ready for it rather than, hey, this is a new feature and you’re going to use it and if you don’t like it, you can disable afterwards. That’s new. I really appreciate that.

[Maarten]: Yeah. One more thing I would like to remark by the way. Teams only works on private groups. Like I just mentioned, the Office 365 groups, that’s the infrastructure lying underneath Teams. If you want to start using Teams in existing groups, make sure that these groups have a private setting instead of opposed to the public setting. They need to be private groups otherwise Teams won’t work.

You can still create a new Office 365 group if you want to. You can create a new Team and it will create a new group for you lying underneath, but if you want to start using it on the existing groups, make sure that these groups are of the private type.

[Tobias]:  OK, and how does that tie together with for example with external users? Can you invite external users to Teams if it’s a private group?

[Maarten]: Not yet, but that’s definitely something that Microsoft has already announced that is coming. We don’t know the timeline yet, but this is coming.

[Tobias]:  OK, cool. I know that’s a big ask and a big request from a lot of people whether it’s groups or files or SharePoint team sites or in this case Teams or whatever it is. There’s always collaboration happening outside the organizations. That makes a lot of sense that they started looking into that.

[Maarten]: Yeah, I agree.

[Tobias]:  So next thing is automation, integration and that’s a big thing today. A lot of different platforms offer some kind of integration and automation. How can organizations kind of tailor Microsoft Teams to their specific needs and have them better support those processes? Is there some way to connect services? What kind of integration scenarios does Teams offer?

[Maarten]: Great question! Because I think this is also something that Microsoft has as well thought out. There’s two types of integration that they currently offer, actually three types and the first type is the easiest one. Within a team, you have the option to add tabs within your team and these tabs can have different kinds of functionality. For example, you could at a Power BI report or a Power BI dashboard as a tab right in your Microsoft team. I think that’s a cool integration feature.

The other two options are more from a development perspective. You can add bots and you can add connectors to your Teams as well. And to start with bots, a bot is a piece of software that can perform lightweight tasks, maybe for example do some lightweight project management to change a task, assign a task to someone else and it can answer questions and it can do so based on natural language. So you can type in a question and it will figure out what you mean with that question and it will give you an answer or perform a lightweight task and I think that’s very cool.

There are two bots that are included out of the box with Teams already. One is the help bot so you can actually in natural language, in your own language, ask a question. You can ask for help and it will give you some help a context. The other one, there are some kind of people finder bots already available as well where you can search for people. Just ask for some expertise or for a name and it will come up with that person for you and I like that very much.

[Tobias]: Yeah, cool.

[Maarten]: So that’s from a bot perspective.

And the other one I mentioned is connectors. And connectors are not so much about performing tasks, but are more about getting signals or content from external systems right into your conversation. So when you’re running a team, maybe you are running a sales team and you’re having conversations and whenever a new opportunity is created in CRM maybe, you want to have a signal right into your team, because you want to have a conversation around that opportunity. And that’s something you can do with a connector. So whenever something happens in an external system, get that conversation started, get that signal right into your team.

[Tobias]: Right. It’s kind of a web hook kind of thing, right?

[Maarten]: Exactly! It’s exactly that. It’s a web hook kind of thing. Exactly. So you can create your own web hooks through your own systems if you want to. But there’s already I think more than one hundred connectors available out of the box as well that you can hook up to send to CRM that I just mentioned but also to Twitter, to a MailChimp if you want to use that for email marketing, etc. There are so many connectors available already.

[Tobias]: So maybe the challenge is not to develop connectors. Maybe the challenge is to configure the right connector, if it is already there to tie your organizational needs together if you will.

[Maarten]: Absolutely!

[Tobias]: Cool! So I’ve heard about Microsoft Teams and I’ve heard a few things about something called Persistent Chat that I know you know something about as well. What is that and how does that help the organization and what specifically differs Teams and Persistent Chat?

[Maarten]: I think that’s something I mentioned for a little bit already in my introduction about what Teams is. For example, when you use Skype for Business and you use the online version, the Office 365 version, whenever you start a chat and then you close your chat window, the chat is gone. You can still go to your conversation history folder in Outlook to look that conversation up, but the conversation itself is gone. Whenever you want to continue that conversation, you’re not really able to. You just have to start a new conversation from a technical perspective.

Now, what you can do with Persistent Chats and that’s something that Microsoft does offer for the Skype for Business platform, but only for the on-prem Skype for Business platform is that whenever you close that chat window from Skype for Business, the chat still exists. A moment later or on that day or later in the week, you can fire up that chat again and continue that conversation, continue that chat. And that’s what we call Persistent Chats. But you’ll still need to look up that chats and you have to fire up the right window in Skype for business, etc.

And now with Teams, all the conversations are already there right within your team. So it’s kind of like Persistent Chats, but it’s way more sophisticated and elaborate in features. They’re all there in one overview. I don’t have to go start looking for that one particular Persistent Chats. Now they’re just there and you can add all the files and all the GIFs and connectors and bots and all the things that we’ve just discussed. So I think that’s where Teams really differs from Persistent Chats and Skype for Business.

And of course, it’s online. It works when you’re on Office 365, which doesn’t work for Persistent Chat.

[Tobias]: Okay. Yeah, that’s kind of cool and I like the fact that next time you log in, you can just pick up wherever you left off with whoever you are collaborating with. That makes a lot of sense and that is a challenge with Skype for Business. The chat is gone. Sure, there’s a copy in the email or you can always get the history somewhere, but then you have to remember who you talked to and when – things like that. But I really like this idea of just having that when you sign in next time. All right, cool!

I guess that’s all of the questions I had about Microsoft Teams. Is there something else that you would like to share about Microsoft Teams? We’ve talked about a lot of different features here, so I’m happy with my questions.

[Maarten]: I’m happy with the answers, I guess.

[Tobias]: Yeah, you should be. 

[Maarten]: I think the biggest challenge for most companies, if there’s something that I would like to add, is the fact that when are you going to use Teams? Right? It’s another tool in the productivity stack of Microsoft so whenever you want to start using Teams in your organization, make sure that you have thought out the scenarios where you want to use Teams and what you want to use Teams for. What are you aiming for, what do you want to achieve when you start using Teams. I think that’s something you need to carefully think of, but when you do so and when you have defined the scenarios that you want to use it for, go for Teams. I love it. It’s a very nice product.

[Tobias]: All right, fantastic! So thank you for that insight and thank you for joining me today in this episode of our podcast here. I hope you want to come back sometime and do another.

[Maarten]:  Absolutely! Thanks for having me and talk to you soon.

[Tobias]: Yeah, see you next time.

[Maarten]: Cheers!

[Tobias]: Bye.

[Maarten]: All right, bye-bye.

[Tobias]: That concludes another episode this time about Microsoft Teams with Maarten Eekels. Thank you, Maarten, and thank you, everyone who joined. To find out more about Maarten’s experiences with Teams, check out his blog details in the show notes.




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