Well, what a challenging year this is turning out to be. We’re not even halfway through and have already experienced more change and upheaval than we ever could have predicted, and the changes aren’t stopping or slowing down just yet. No doubt your organisation, like ours, had to make the unprecedented change of catapulting all employees into remote work, almost overnight.
No matter where we find ourselves working in this new hybrid world, clear, frequent and effective communication and collaboration with our teams remains as important as ever – if not more so. Not least to ensure our people are always informed about pivoting priorities and new projects that are running at pace, but also to support and maintain employee engagement and team morale. After all, as Senka Hadzimuratovic, Head of Communications at Grammarly, explains: communication fosters connection.
So how are you facilitating team communication and collaboration through the COVID-19 crisis? One tool that we have found very useful in helping to remain a close-knitted workforce is Microsoft Teams. With the quick shift into remote working, Teams may well have been introduced and rolled out across your organisation in record time. But with little time, resource and information, you may not have had a chance yet to get your head around it, get the most out of it, or indeed coach your team on how to use it either. In this blog, I’m going to help you to understand how you, as a manager, can make best use of Teams to communicate and collaborate effectively with your team, drawing upon some of the lessons we have learnt over the last few months.
What is Microsoft Teams?
If you haven’t come across it before, Teams is a collaboration platform which is part of the Microsoft Office 365 suite, enabling workers to chat, hold video meetings and share files, amongst many other functions. It has more than 44 million daily users, a figure which has been growing substantially over the last few weeks and months – in fact, in a recent blog, Jared Spataro, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft 365, reported a new record of 2.7 billion meeting minutes in one day on Teams, which is a 200 percent increase from 900 million on 16th March.
As the name suggests, the tool enables you to set up groups (Teams) of employees, helping you and those you work alongside to perform day-to-day tasks much more efficiently. Not only does Teams open up team communication to make quick questions or group discussions easily accessible to all, it also allows for productive and collaborative teamwork. This is vital in this challenging new era of work we’re living through; while you once would’ve been able to pop over to a co-worker’s desk or walk 10 steps to ask your employee a quick question, we’re now working in completely different set ups which often prevent this level of interaction.
In a nutshell, the functionality within Teams provides an intuitive, easy to use platform that allows your people to work together effortlessly wherever they may be, unclogging email inboxes, saving valuable time and enabling face to face contact among workers, which is something that is so critical to us all right now.
What to think about before setting up your Teams
It’s worth taking some time to consider how you will set up your Teams to ensure information sharing and communication can happen between the right people at the right time, whilst avoiding duplication or having too many Teams that then become difficult to manage and keep up with. Consider the following questions:
- What groups of people do you need to bring together in a Team to communicate and collaborate?
- What Teams do you need to have set up to support the way you work? Think about how information is normally cascaded within your business and how it is managed
- Who will own each Team and have the authority to decide who can join, and what they can do?
- Who needs to be in each Team?
- Do you want people to be able to contribute to the Team, or is it a one-way channel to push communications?
- Do you want everyone to be able to create a new Team?
Once these key decisions have been made, you will have created a solid foundation on which you can create an efficient hierarchy or framework of teams that will serve all of your communication and collaboration needs.
Below is an example of a Teams structure that we would use at Hays – this might be useful to get you thinking about what your framework could look like. As we operate in 34 countries and across 20 different specialisms, it’s important we filter these Teams by location (country/individual office locations) and by specialism to ensure the communications within the Teams are relevant to our people.
- Country Teams
- Regional Teams
- Office Teams
- Management Teams
- Specialism Teams
- Project Teams
You can then follow this guide from Microsoft which takes you through how to set up your Team. Whilst doing this, take a moment to consider a naming convention for your Teams, so that there isn’t any confusion amongst your members with a number of Teams having similar names! For example, perhaps you could combine key factors such as region/office locations, departments, divisions and people leaders so that each Team is unique and easily distinguishable from others. As explained in this Harvard Business Review article, the disruption of experiencing a crisis overwhelms a person’s ability to process information. Therefore, it’s essential that your communication methods with your employees are as simple and clear as possible.
How to use Microsoft Teams effectively as a leader
There are many different ways in which you can use Teams to enhance the way you communicate and collaborate with your people. It’s important for you, as a leader, to spend time navigating and testing the platform to ensure you fully understand how you can use it to address the needs of your team and how you work, in order to get the most out of the tool. Here are few suggestions on what you should be thinking about to do just that.
Focus attention using channels
Within a Team, you can set up channels – essentially these enable you to organise conversations/communication, so that people know where to go when looking for particular information. Think about how you could divide your Team into effective channels. For example, you may have a ‘questions and requests’ channel, a ‘planning’ channel and a ‘training/learning and development’ channel, whereby members can share links to any webinars, helpful reading materials, conferences, or discuss new findings they’ve learnt or read about.
You may also want to think about including an ‘informal’ or ‘just for fun’ channel, where your team can hold virtual coffee breaks, chat at lunch times, or host after-work drinks video calls. Work-life balance is more important than ever as our work and personal lives collide through remote working. Using the ‘informal’ channel you also can help your team to establish new healthy habits by sharing and asking them to share any new hobbies or activities recently taken up.
Never miss out - organise your Teams and use notifications
Over time you will find that you become a member of many different Teams. This can make it feel a little overwhelming and difficult to keep up with everything that is going on in each Team. There are a few simple tips you can use to stay on top of things. Firstly, make it a routine to always check your activity feed first – this will give you a quick rundown of what has been happening across all your teams and who is trying to get your attention. You can also organise the order in which you see the Teams you are a member of and even hide those you don’t want to see so you can focus on those that are most important. Finally take some time to set your notifications to decide when and how you are notified of any activity.
Keep the conversation going through chats
Use the instant messaging functionality to have an ongoing conversation with either an individual, a group of individuals, or with the team as a whole. Whilst we’re working in remote set ups or are partially office based, it is – of course – that bit harder to check that a message has been received and understood by you team members. Set up a system whereby you ask members to give the message a thumbs up to acknowledge that they have seen and understood the message. You can also tag individuals in messages (by typing ‘@’ followed by their name) if you are wanting to draw someone’s attention, or you can mark a message as important or urgent (by using the ‘!’ icon in the message bar) if you need a quick response.
Provide vital one-to-one contact through voice or video calls
Whilst living through unchartered territory, one-to-one calls are arguably even more important right now than they were in the pre-crisis world. Using Teams you can instantly voice or video call anyone within your organisation. Your people are likely experiencing new concerns, anxieties and difficulties, inside and outside of work, and these conversations give you a chance to check in with the individual, see how they coping, and offer support. And as Dr Maggi Evans, Chartered Occupational Psychologist, discussed: “they are a key mechanism for working in partnership, setting short-term targets and providing ongoing feedback”.
Remember too, that while our world of work has completely transformed of late, things like performance reviews are still of utmost importance as we try to keep people productive; this can be by way of ongoing feedback, or more formal monthly meetings. However often these conversations happen, it’s essential for your employees to know you are still committed to their development and growth.
Keep your culture strong and bring people together using Team meetings
When a team conversation trail gets too complicated over chat, why not click the video call button to get everyone in an instant meeting so you can talk it through? Just like if you were all sitting in the office, you would walk over to one another’s desks and discuss issues and solutions there and then. This is a great way to maintain regular communication between you and your team – helping everyone to feel connected, despite perhaps working miles away from each other.
You may also have had a regular team meeting every Monday to get your people set up for the week, or a Friday wrap up to celebrate the successes of the week. It is critical that these cultural norms aren’t lost just because we are working remotely. They are more important than ever to maintain the sense of belonging and stability. You can schedule team meetings very simply through the platform. Teams is linked to Outlook, so you can use the app easily to set up meetings using either your normal email distribution lists or through Teams using the new groups you have set up. You can have up to 250 people on a Teams meeting, but it is worth remembering that you will only be able to see four on your screen at any one time, determined by who is speaking most, so don’t forget the quieter members of your team and make sure you actively get them involved.
During your meetings you may well want to share materials or work together on a document. This can be achieved very simply by sharing your screen during a meeting, and you can even choose to give control to someone else in the meeting so that they can share their screen or edit a document open on your desktop. Finally, note that you can record meetings in case someone isn’t able to join – a great way of keeping everyone in the loop even if they’re needing to take time away from their desk to look after children or perhaps care for vulnerable relatives.
Collaborate in real time by sharing files
Teams isn’t just about conversations, calls and meetings; you can share key documents within the platform, and enable more than one person to work on files at one time. This can save valuable time in going back and forth over email to get a document finalised. Documents can be shared over chat or can be added to the Files tab within a specific Team for all to see. Whilst this is beneficial, it is essential you take time to think about how you will organise the files in each Team/channel, to avoid it becoming a long list of documents that is impossible to navigate. Work with your team to agree:
- Key folders that should be set up within the Files tab of each channel
- The guidelines for which files should be in each folder
- Guidelines or process for agreeing when and what additional folders should be added.
Remember any files shared through chat will not be automatically saved to the Files tab
Keep your business growing with external meetings
Teams doesn’t need to be solely used for internal communication and collaboration; the platform works just as well for external meetings too. For example, if you are pitching to a new potential client, or are interviewing for a new role within your team, this can be arranged in the exact same way as an internal meeting. Doing so will further reiterate the use of Teams within your organisation as a one-stop-shop for all forms of communication; saving time and energy swapping between various other channels and systems.
Don’t postpone big events, just run a live event
Your organisation may usually host conferences, training events, or large internal departmental calls. If so, I’m assuming, then, that the transition to remote work will have made these types of events difficult to rearrange or host. But using Teams Live Events allows you to reach audiences up to 10,000 people, whilst holding full control of what your attendees are viewing on their screens. You can have up to 10 different presenters in any one event, share slides and materials, and allow the audience to participate through a live Q&A feed – so there really is no need to postpone events until a later date!
Think about the long-term uses, not just short-term
At the moment, it might be tempting to focus solely on the ‘here and now’. But it’s essential to remember that Teams is a platform that can go beyond this period of remote work. When organisations are transitioning back into the workplace, working from home and flexible working arrangements will still exist. So, think about how you can use this tool in the next era of work, too, whereby there may be some team members still home-based and some office-based, with very little time when everyone is physically in one place. Consider all the possible use cases of Teams both now and in the future, and take care to prioritise the order in which you plan to introduce these, so as not to overwhelm people with too much at any one time. Here are some ideas of how you could use Teams in the long-term for formal and informal situations:
Make Teams your primary channel of communication and collaboration
As you can see, Teams’ broad range of functionality can address the vast majority of communication and collaboration needs. You may also have a number of other channels that you use to communicate within your business and this can get confusing as your team don’t know where the information will come from and can lose time and energy swapping between the various channels looking for what they need. Therefore, it is important to encourage people to minimise the use of different channels and focus on making Teams the primary channel. You can easily connect Teams to other key communication methods such as intranet sites by adding them as tabs to the relevant team or channel so that there is no need waste time swapping between them – it becomes a one-stop-shop!
Whilst we live through this rollercoaster of changes and challenges, it’s imperative your team feel connected to you and always informed. Microsoft Teams, we have found, is a great platform to help us stay united, keep our people motivated and engaged, and collaborate as effectively as possible – hopefully it will work for your organisation, too. At the end of this blog, I have listed an eight-step checklist for you to get started with using the platform.
Checklist: adopting Microsoft Teams as your new means of communication and collaboration
- Set your Teams up and assign members – agree as a management team which Teams need to be created, who should be in each and who will own each Team. It’s often advisable to make at least two people owners of a Team, in case one is unavailable.
- Set up key foundation channels within each Team – consider how you need to divide activity in your Teams to make information and discussions easy to find and follow.
- Send a welcome message – post a welcome message in the Team so that your members are greeted with some content, even if it’s just a ‘Hi everyone!’ to get the conversation started.
- Add core shared files – set up a basic folder structure and add some files that your team regularly discusses or collaborates on in the relevant channel.
- Schedule a Teams meeting – schedule a meeting using Teams to get everyone using the app. Use the meeting to help people navigate the app and ensure they know how to chat, call, share files and understand how the channels are structured. It’s important you spend time training your team on how to use the tool, and don’t just expect them to pick it up and run with it. Constant reinforcement and training is necessary to embed the tool into how your team works.
- Brainstorm with your team – brainstorm with your team around what further channels should be set up, and how your team can get the best use out of the platform. Ensure you keep the line open for new ideas and encourage ongoing discussions about how best to use Teams.
- Shift your email discussions, calls and meetings onto Teams – lead by example. Move email conversations onto Teams, such as team updates and communications. Use Teams to share all files, rather than going back-and-forth over email, to keep your inbox easier to maintain. Also ensure you’re using Teams for all those team and one-to-one calls to get people used to consistently using the app.
- Follow up – for Teams to become the norm, you will not only need to set the example, but you will also need to follow up with your team regularly to ensure that they are using it as they should be.
As a manager, it’s essential that you lead by example here. In order for your team to fully adopt the new technology, you need to demonstrate to them that this is your new means of communication and collaboration. There’s no use in setting up a meeting in Teams, only to email your employees an hour later to tell them you need to reschedule. Whenever you are looking to communicate with your team, turn your attention to Teams. Post a chat message, video call them, share that document or schedule a meeting. You will find, then, that your team will follow your leadership, and you will soon be collaborating effectively and efficiently.
About this author
Alex Fraser is the Group Head of Change at Hays. Alex joined Hays from KPMG last year, from where she led the development of our own Hays Change methodology. Alex has responsibility for developing our change capability globally, driving our key strategic change projects, and ensuring that we maintain a truly agile culture, where sustainable change is a key part of the norm enabling continuing growth of the business. She brings with her with over 20 years consultancy experience, managing and leading large scale global transformation programmes and embedding sustainable change in complex environments. Alex is also a qualified professional and strengths based coach and has worked extensively with a diverse range of global organisations at all levels of businesses across the people agenda.