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Microsoft Teams

What is Microsoft Teams?

Microsoft Teams is cloud-based team collaboration software that offers core capabilities, including business messaging, calling, video meetings and file sharing. Businesses of all sizes can use Teams, which can be accessed via desktop, any internet-connected device and the Teams mobile app.

Microsoft Teams was previously bundled with Microsoft Office. In an attempt to proactively mitigate antitrust concerns, Microsoft unbundled Office and Teams in the European Union and Switzerland in October 2023 and made this change globally on April 1, 2024. Teams and other Microsoft 365 apps will be sold to new commercial customers as separate products. Current customers can continue using their Office apps and Teams together.

Teams is Microsoft's core cloud-based unified communications offering, and it competes with similar products, such as Cisco Webex, Google Workspace and Slack. As a business communications app, enables local and remote workers to collaborate on content in real time and near-real time across different devices, including laptops and mobile devices. Microsoft Teams integrates with other Microsoft business applications, including Exchange, PowerPoint and SharePoint. As with the cloud-based versions of each of these apps, Microsoft Azure cloud storage is available for shared meeting content and artifacts.

Microsoft Teams is especially useful for remote collaboration because it keeps dispersed teams of workers connected and communicating. The COVID-19 pandemic compelled organizations worldwide to use Microsoft Teams extensively -- as well as other collaboration software -- as a communications platform for remote teamwork.

Microsoft Teams is usually deployed across entire organizations and not just within certain company departments. In some cases, Teams can replace email for internal company communication among employees.

Microsoft Teams key features

Microsoft Teams offers several features to help teams communicate and collaborate. Key features include the following:

  • Messaging chat. At its core, Teams is a chat-based collaborative workspace that features group and individual messaging with threaded and persistent conversations. Users can elevate a group or one-on-one chat to a voice or video call. Like other messaging services, Teams messages can incorporate emojis and GIFs (Graphics Interchange Format).
  • Calling. Teams provides cloud-based telephony for voice calling. With the Teams app, users can make voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls between Teams clients. Microsoft Phone System and Calling Plan users can make, receive and transfer calls to and from landlines and mobile phones on the public switched telephone network. Microsoft also has Direct Routing, which lets customers connect an existing private branch exchange or Session Initiation Protocol trunk to Teams. Other Teams calling features include audio conferencing, Enhanced 911 support, voicemail and several other enterprise-grade calling capabilities.
  • Video meetings. In addition to audio-only calls, users can conduct virtual meetings. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and work-from-home directives, video conferencing adoption soared as people collaborated remotely. Teams meetings offer key video conferencing features, including customized virtual backgrounds, meeting recording, transcription, whiteboarding and breakout rooms.
  • Screen sharing. This older but critical capability is a common feature among team collaboration tools. As the name implies, screen sharing lets users share their desktop screens, including files, in real time during Teams calls or video meetings.
  • Calendar. Teams, like Microsoft Outlook email, features extensive calendaring so users can keep track of their workweek, meetings and other daily appointments. The Outlook and Teams calendars are tightly integrated, and Outlook automatically generates notifications of Teams meetings.
  • File sharing. This document management feature lets remote teams store, share and edit files within Teams. Users can collaborate on the same document in real time within Teams.
  • Polling. From within a Teams community, a group chat or a meeting chat, a user can create a poll to gather feedback from participants to aid in decision support.
  • Webinars. Microsoft Teams supports interactive meetings and webinars for up to 1,000 attendees. Features include live reactions and host moderation controls to disable attendees' chat, audio and video. Teams webinars can accommodate 10,000 people in a view-only broadcast. Attendee reports show who attended the webinar and for how long.
  • External collaboration. The guest access feature in Microsoft Teams lets users invite people outside their organizations to join internal channels for messaging, meetings and file sharing. This capability helps to facilitate business-to-business project management. Teams Connect is another external collaboration feature that lets companies chat, meet and edit documents in a shared workspace in Teams.

Because Teams is cloud-based software, Microsoft can update the platform's features frequently and quickly. As a result, Microsoft Teams features are constantly evolving.

What's new in Teams?

As of March 2024, Microsoft Teams offers the following new features:

  • Microsoft Teams Premium provides artificial intelligence (AI)-based tools, enabling users to generate meeting notes and follow-up action items automatically. This add-on option for existing Teams license holders offers a branded Teams Meeting feature that lets organizations add colors and imagery to invites, screens and backgrounds to increase brand awareness internally and externally.
  • Copilot for Microsoft 365 is an AI-based tool that supports Teams users by providing meeting summaries, key discussion points and action items. As an add-on to existing Microsoft 365 licenses, it offers a chatbot for meeting attendees to ask questions.
  • Microsoft Mesh provides Teams meeting participants with a more immersive 3D experience by adding more human elements to virtual meetings. Mesh can be used to create custom experiences for employee events, training or guided tours.

How do I schedule a Teams meeting?

To schedule a meeting in Teams, follow these steps:

  1. In Teams chat, click on the Calendar icon on the left-hand navigation menu, which will display your meeting calendar. Then click the + New meeting button in the upper right corner.
  2. Select a time range within the Calendar. This will bring up the scheduling form. Click on the Scheduling Assistant feature at the top of the form to find a time that will work for all attendees.
  3. To schedule a meeting within a Teams meeting chat, go to the Camera icon dropdown in the upper right corner, select Schedule a meeting from the list of options. Click on the Scheduling Assistant feature at the top of the form to find a time that will work for all attendees.

Basic Microsoft Teams terminology

The Microsoft Teams user interface (UI) is like other team collaboration software as it shows a ribbon of workflow icons on the left-hand side of the desktop screen along with a list of teams. Chat collaboration takes place in the center of the desktop screen. Most team collaboration tools use similar terminology to identify certain parts of the UI. For Teams, the terminology includes the following:

  • Teams. Teams are groups of people who connect and collaborate on work and other projects.
  • Channels. Within each team, users can create channels to organize their communications by topic, like news items, monthly reports or more lighthearted chats. Within channels, users have meetings, conduct conversations and work on files together. Channels can be either public or private. Each channel can include a couple of users or scale to thousands of users.
  • Tabs. At the top of each channel are tabs, which link to files, apps and services. Some common tab names include Posts for the messages people have sent and Files for the documents people have shared within the channel.
  • Mentions. Users can use mentions to message and alert other users. Mentions use the @ symbol followed by the person's name. Users can also use @ to mention entire teams and channels.
  • Feeds. The activity feed provides a summary of messages, replies, mentions and other activities happening within team channels. The activity feed can be filtered by unread messages, mentions and other categories, as well as the user's own activity.
  • Threads. A series of messages creates a thread. Users replying to a message should select the Reply option instead of creating a new conversation and thread. Threads can become quite long as colleagues chat back and forth. Users can schedule voice and video meetings within threads, which helps to provide contextual communications.

Microsoft Teams integrations

Microsoft Teams integrates with many other applications in the Microsoft 365 and Office 365 suites, including Excel, OneDrive, PowerPoint, SharePoint and Word. For added workplace productivity, Teams also integrates with apps outside the Microsoft domain, such as Box, Cisco Webex Meetings and Zoom.

In addition to software integrations, Microsoft Teams integrates with hardware components. While Teams video calls are possible through desktops and laptops, Microsoft has partnered with video conferencing hardware vendors, including Crestron, Logitech and Poly, to integrate Teams with their devices.

Microsoft Teams operates on Android, iOS, macOS and Windows systems and devices. It also works in Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge web browsers, as well as Safari 15, with support on Safari 14 and 13.1 except for one-on-one calls. It isn't supported on Safari versions preceding 13, Firefox or Internet Explorer 11.

Microsoft Teams pricing plans

Microsoft Teams is available for free, but the paid versions of Teams offer more features and integrations with other Microsoft apps. Several business and enterprise plans are available.

Microsoft targets several industry verticals with its products. Notably, with Teams, the vendor targets frontline workers, healthcare and education. Government plans -- Microsoft 365 Government G3 and G5 -- are also available, as are one-month free trials, add-on services and nonprofit pricing.

Effective April 1, 2024, Teams was removed from Microsoft Enterprise suites globally and is no longer available in Office 365 E1, E3, E5 or Microsoft 365 E3 and E5. Existing customers who already subscribe to Microsoft 365 or Office 365 suites with Teams can renew or upgrade their current licensing plan or switch to a new plan.

The chart below details the paid plans for Teams subscriptions. Pricing varies by country and currency. Consult Microsoft for additional pricing and plan information.

Microsoft Teams pricing chart.
Microsoft Teams offers a variety of pricing plans designed to meet the needs of businesses of all sizes.

How secure is Microsoft Teams?

Microsoft offers several security features in Teams, including two-factor authentication, single sign-on and encryption of data in transit and at rest. Teams workflows can take advantage of the security features of other integrated Microsoft apps as well, such as SharePoint encryption.

According to Microsoft, it doesn't have access to customers' uploaded content. Customer data stays within the customer's control, and Microsoft doesn't scan content or teams for purposes unrelated to the service. Microsoft Teams includes the following security features:

  • Advanced Threat Protection is Microsoft's optional cloud-based service that lets organizations determine if content in Teams is malicious and block the content from user access.
  • Private channels within Teams keep conversations private among certain users and isolated from the larger, overall team. Only owners or members of the private channel can access the channel. Private channels are helpful if certain users need an area to discuss sensitive information, such as budgets.
  • End-to-end encryption (E2EE) for one-to-one ad hoc VoIP calls is a security option for organizations conducting sensitive online conversations. IT departments control who can use E2EE within an organization.
  • Safe Links helps to protect businesses from malicious sites when people click links in Teams apps.
  • Meeting controls, such as disabling video and invite-only options, enhance meeting management. Disable video lets a meeting organizer disable the video of an individual or all attendees. An invite-only feature sends participants to the meeting lobby if they weren't invited directly to the meeting.

Much like the rest of the Microsoft Teams features, the security features are constantly evolving as the vendor updates the platform routinely.

Although tools like Microsoft Teams offer an effective way for workers to collaborate, they also offer IT a way to monitor collaboration features like chat.

This was last updated in April 2024

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