Business communication tools are essential for any type of company, no matter the size. The purpose of business communication tools is to help employees and teams meet, share relevant content and information, manage tasks and projects, manage communication with customers and much more. Although there are many types of business collaboration tools on the market, we are seeing a shift towards integrated platforms that offer all these features in one place, creating a seamless experience for their users. Examples of such integrated communication and collaboration platforms are the Microsoft tools Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams.
An example of a business communication tool is a Unified Communication (UC) tool that combines instant messaging/chat, voice and video. This type of tool has heavily influenced the way businesses communicate internally and externally. UC tools effectively remove the need for physical meetings, as meetings can be held online using voice or video instead. This is more efficient for a number of reasons; it can save travel time, reduce delays, reduce costs related to travel and renting office meeting spaces, and it is also an environmentally-friendly alternative. UC tools are essential for business with offices in several locations, businesses that employ flexible working policies or outsource tasks to external partners and freelancers.
Skype for Business
Skype for Business, formerly known as Lync, is Microsoft’s own office UC tool. Skype for Business – in its different names and forms – has been around for several years, and it is known for its stability and wide array of features. It is, therefore, one of the best-known business communication tools on the market. There are two versions of Skype for Business – Server & Online. Server is the one you install on your own servers in premise or consume as a service from a private cloud service provider. Skype for Business Online, on the other hand, is hosted by Microsoft as a public cloud service. Microsoft has been pushing it as the go-to communication and collaboration tool for any business through its integration with Office 365 and Microsoft 365.
Skype for Business’ features
Skype for Business offers a lot of features which create a lot of possibilities for its users. It is extremely portable; being available as a desktop app, web app and as a mobile app, it allows users to communicate from anywhere and on any device. A lot of other features make Skype for business a communication hub. Some examples are:
Integration with Outlook Calendar provides the opportunity to make any meeting an online meeting. Users have the possibility to join any meeting in their Outlook Calendar through Skype for Business.
Share content in a video call – users can share their desktop, a single window, a PowerPoint presentation, OneNote and any other document that is located on OneDrive.
Collaborate real-time - Users can also communicate in a video call and work together on documents simultaneously.
Record meetings and save them in archives for future reference.
Save the messages sent during a video call in a folder on Outlook.
Broadcast meetings – has the capacity to host thousands of people in a meeting. Perfect for large-scale video conferences, company training etc.
Poll users in-meeting
If you already have Skype for Business, there might be many powerful features that you’re not taking advantage of! It is worth taking a look at some of your business operations and seeing how they could be optimized with Skype for Business. You can read more about Skype for Business on its official website.
As mentioned previously, there are two versions of Skype for Business. In 2017, Microsoft announced that Skype for Business online will slowly be phased out. Instead of Skype, Microsoft is encouraging users to upgrade to Microsoft Teams, which is a communication and collaboration tool rolled into one. In fact, many small businesses who have an Office 365 license and are not active Skype for Business users have already been auto-upgraded to Microsoft Teams. Furthermore, Skype for Business is no longer available in Office 365 when purchasing a new small business license.
What is Microsoft Teams and why is Microsoft replacing Skype for Business?
The way people work has changed. Professionals are increasingly working remotely and collaborating more closely across departments and even with external partners. This shift requires business communication tools that can support professionals’ needs – to provide a seamless communication and collaboration experience. Microsoft Teams can be considered as the next generation of Microsoft’s collaboration tools. It is a cloud-based unified communication tool that is the vendor’s answer to similar offerings on the market such as Slack, Google Hangouts and Cisco Webex.
In its essence, Teams is a chat-based workspace that offers the possibility to message individuals or groups with threaded and persistent conversations, meaning that conversations are saved and instantly available when closing and reopening the app, similar to the consumer chat apps we are familiar with. Users can create teams; and within teams, they can create channels to categorize their communication. Microsoft Teams also has a guest-access feature, allowing users to invite people outside their organization to join select channels; giving them access to messages, meetings and files shared in that channel. This is especially useful for aiding business – client communication in projects.
Other Microsoft Team features
Calls. Similarly to Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams users can make voice over IP calls to and from landlines and mobile phones on the public switched telephone network. Other calling features include voicemail and speed dial.
Group chat. Users do not need to create separate teams or channels to communicate with several people simultaneously, as they can simply invite others to an individual chat, making it a group chat.
Video meetings. Teams can hold video meetings directly in the channel’s chat window. These videos are available to everyone who has access to the channel and the video appears in the chat window – helping users keep track of the communication within the team.
Scheduling meetings for teams. Meetings can be scheduled directly in the team’s channel on the app or they can be scheduled using Outlook.
File sharing. Files can be shared through the team’s chat window. Furthermore, a SharePoint site is automatically created when creating a team, with subfolders created for each different channel. This creates an organized space to store all the files that are shared within the team.
Bookmarking. Messages with important information or containing files can be bookmarked for easy access.
Search functions. Microsoft Teams has an incredible search function that allows users to search for other users, specific messages or files that have been shared. Furthermore, specific commands can be typed into the search bar to bring up specific content, such as Wikipedia articles or YouTube videos, which can then be shared with other users on the team.
Other apps. Microsoft Teams offers several third-party app integrations through their Microsoft Teams Store. These apps can build on and extend Microsoft Team’s functionality, facilitate task management, aid users’ productivity and much more. Some examples of popular app integrations are MailChimp, Asana and Zendesk and Adobe Creative Cloud. Check out the Microsoft Teams App Store here.
Why you should be using Microsoft Teams
1. One platform for every type of communication
Microsoft has successfully integrated text communication, audio and video calling and file sharing in one interface, meaning that users never need to leave Teams.
2. Faster and easier than ever for teams to meet
Users no longer need to use external software, log in or use special links and codes to access online meetings, as everything is now available in one place, allowing users to enter a meeting with just one click.
3. Organized file sharing
All the files shared on Microsoft Teams are placed in several sections for easy access. Since the files are stored in a SharePoint site, Microsoft Teams creates a file structure for the users, helping users keep their files organized. Furthermore, the files are stored on the cloud, so that people can work on files together in real-time and the latest version of the file is always the one that is available.
4. Chat history
Unlike standard email inboxes, chats in Microsoft Teams are collected in threads and are also searchable, meaning that it is easier than ever to find any information that was sent in the past, without having to spend a lot of time scrolling through inboxes.
Disadvantages of Microsoft Teams
While Microsoft Teams- or actually, any similar type of collaboration tool – can offer a lot of benefits to the organization, it comes with its own set of issues and disadvantages.
Business can meet a lot of internal resistance against moving into the digital workspace, as many professionals who are deeply set in the traditional way of working will see this transformation as a threat. This is especially true for professionals who have used Outlook for many years to communicate internally. Using Outlook to communicate internally can be a difficult habit to break for many.
The biggest disadvantage of Microsoft Teams specifically is that it is a relatively new application, and quite a lot of work still needs to be done to truly create a seamless integration across all Office 365 apps. Furthermore, while video calls within Microsoft Teams are of good quality, they don’t quite have all the functionalities of Skype for Business yet, although Microsoft is working hard to add these features all the team.
The hardware to support business collaboration
Of course, businesses must also invest in the necessary hardware that can enable the use of business collaboration tools such as the ones we’ve described in this post. If one chooses to go with cloud-based infrastructure and collaboration tools, an important factor to consider is internet stability. Most cloud-based apps, especially video conferencing tools, require relatively high bandwidth to be able to operate smoothly. Furthermore, digital collaboration requires audio and video tools that can ensure communication is successful. Sometimes, the audio and video quality of inbuilt hardware on laptops and other devices are not sufficient, especially having meetings in larger rooms. Therefore, we would always recommend in investing in equipment made specifically for this purpose; mics, webcams, speakers or even better, a video conferencing hub that performs all these functions.
To conclude, business collaboration tools- and in this case, Microsoft Teams- are definitely a valuable investment when transitioning into a more digital workplace. Business collaboration tools will be able to support a more flexible workforce, increase productivity and make many business processes much more efficient. Businesses that take advantages of the features technology has to offer are better positioned to attract a younger, global, more digital workforce; streamline their processes, work agile, and foster innovation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced companies to rethink their business operations, IT infrastructure, and company policies. Remote collaboration, through necessity, has become the standard way of working. Many corporations are taking the leap and embracing the pandemic way of working; a combination of remote and on-site workers which McKinsey has labeled the “hybrid virtual model”.
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