A tale of two MS Teams experiences

By Toby Harris

4 minute read

The Coronavirus pandemic means many workers of all kinds are being forced into a prolonged period of teleworking and in many cases into using Microsoft Teams for the first time.

It could be an important development. After all, not only is Microsoft Teams naturally the most important vehicle for digital change projects in most big companies, the adoption of Teams itself could be seen as a strong signal that digital transformation is taking place.

Teams users are radically more connected to the behaviour changes involved in a major digital transition than those limited to email and attached documents. They are likely to collaborate more and more openly. They are exposed to the very best technology a company has to offer.

Or perhaps not.

In practice, many organisations will struggle to get any more out of Teams than they get from email or got from Skype for Business. Using Teams doesn't turn an employee into a contributor of value in a digital initiative. They may just spectate or communicate trivially, collaborating just as poorly as they were before.

The truth is that Microsoft Teams is more than a messaging app. It is much, much more significant as own-brand Microsoft ‘enterprise glue’ - the ultimate integration point for all of your apps that makes them all collaborative at the same time and generates a flywheel effect of increased knowledge sharing, ideas and productivity. But conversely, if Teams isn’t used to stick useful things together it won’t add much value at all.

To illustrate that, let's take a person-eye view of how it may play out for two users in different worlds (I'm borrowing a trick from my colleague James Tyas here, although watch out for when my two worlds weirdly cross over and interact in true Philip K Dick style!)

WORLD A

Leon is a sales rep for a big global firm. The company has shut the office where Leon works. Marooned at home, Leon finally decides to open an email about Teams and launch the new app. Leon notices he's been enrolled in a Team corresponding to his real-life team, and added to a channel in that team about the ‘Platform Economy’ - a topic he has identified as a need-to-know priority in a formal capability mapping process. Leon heads to that channel. But it seems fairly quiet. There’s one or two discussions Leon doesn’t understand. Some tabs he doesn’t understand. After all, Leon wouldn't admit it, but he doesn’t really understand the ‘Platform Economy’.

So Leon reverts to functionality he readily associates with this tool. He uses Teams to message his friend and colleague Mira. Within a few minutes she replies and they start chatting.

We might say that Leon has used Teams but he hasn't adopted it. It's nice that he’s used it at all but he’s barely scratched the surface and might have used WhatsApp or SMS or Skype instead for his use case. Leon’s behaviour hasn’t really changed - the new tech has not led to a new idea of himself and the way he works.

WORLD B

Mira is a rep just like Leon. She’s working remotely for the foreseeable future, just like Leon. But in this world, where Teams is being used as enterprise glue and not just as a replacement messenger app, her experience is different.

Mira logs on and goes to that e-commerce channel. This time there is something a bit more enticing there: a nice looking message in an interactive little card, promising something good. Mira doesn't read the message in detail; the button 'ACTIVATE' seems appealing enough. She clicks it.

Mira is taken to a direct message with a bot that identifies itself as ACTIVATE and introduces itself as the company's ‘digital coach’. There’s a subconscious acknowledgement that she’s seen that somewhere before. The bot says something about creating a profile and getting good recommendations. Sounds a lot like a music streaming app. She clicks ‘GET MY RECOMMENDATIONS’.

When Mira clicks the button the experience changes. She’s taken to a different part of Teams - in fact, part of a specific channel for her department - and is presented with a splash-screen and a chatbot. It’s a little exciting to watch another application launch seamlessly inside Teams like that. Mira notices it’s different to punching out to a browser that takes ages to load. She spends less than a minute describing herself to the chatbot and selecting a goal. Like Leon, she knows she’s supposed to be thinking about the ‘Platform Economy’.

She sees a shortlist of recommendations, a lot like a playlist. She bookmarks a few that look interesting. One of them is very simple: the title says ‘Now you can find anyone in the company using Teams’ and the description says ‘Just type /who in the MS Teams search bar to find anyone, or try variations like /who was in the meeting about ...’. Mira did want to find out who got invited to a meeting about a product launch she missed last week. She tries it and... it works. Then she sees a message from Leon pop up. Much more interesting.

But soon enough ACTIVATE rears its head again, this time as another direct message.

ACTIVATE has noticed Mira has bookmarked an asset called ‘The Good, The Bad and the Ugly of the Platform Economy’ and it pops up to remind her to watch it, or mark it complete. The title is enticing enough and Mira launches it. For the first time, as she listens to the snappy soundtrack and the interview, she understands what the term actually means. She shares this with Leon…

Analysis

World A is easily recognised. It’s Microsoft Teams swapped in for Skype for Business. Not much interesting happened and we couldn’t argue that the ‘adoption’ of Teams in this example was an indicator of business change or transformation.

World B is different: something interesting happened. Here, the new discovery of content and its transmission between two teleworkers made it feel a lot more like adopting Teams acted more like an indicator of digital transformation: a spark of awareness (watching the video), a bit of practice (trying out a feature like /who to improve her network in the company and using Teams to share knowledge, rather than just to communicate).

To make World A, IT switched one thing off and sent an email to turn something else on. To make World B involved a sophisticated set of learning methodologies and tools: content curation, recommendations, and engagement notifications built using adaptive cards. The role of Microsoft Teams was to glue all this together - so much so that Mira didn’t really notice all that going on in the background. It felt more or less as natural as Leon’s use of Teams as a messaging app.

We are interested in making World B. Here's how we're doing it.

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