We have our collection of favorite apps that we use for personal productivity and to communicate with family and friends. But sometimes the sheer volume of available apps makes it increasingly difficult to keep our business-oriented projects organized and easily accessible. We use one app for email, another for instant messaging or chatting, another for calendaring, yet another for file sharing, online meetings, project management, white boarding … and the list goes on and on. Pretty soon we spend more time searching for content across multiple apps than we do working on the projects that the apps are supposed to be supporting.
If you’re like us and are beginning to feel the onslaught of app overload, take heart — there’s an app for that, too. Collaboration or chat apps are platforms that allow users on a team or business group to work together using myriad apps. Yet chat apps keep all the team activity neatly organized and easily accessible under the roof of the collaboration framework.
Team collaboration apps are not new, but their widespread acceptance and use in professional workplaces is a new phenomenon experiencing tremendous growth. Slack was really the first modern collaboration app we ever used seriously. It launched in 2013 and quickly rose to become the dominant application for collaboration and chat just as these types of tools were gaining widespread acceptance in the marketplace.
We were initially skeptical when seemingly always-late-to-the-party Microsoft launched a Slack competitor, Microsoft Teams, in 2017. But, to our surprise, Microsoft Teams — owing much to the huge popularity of Office 365 — has seen explosive growth over the last two years and now eclipses Slack in popularity in recent user surveys.
In short, Microsoft Teams allows you to seamlessly communicate and collaborate with members of multiple teams using various software tools within the application. If you are a Microsoft Office 365 subscriber (which we highly recommend), then you already have Teams and can begin using it without any additional cost. If you don’t use Office 365, you can still download and use a free version of Microsoft Teams.
We both already have Office 365, so we decided to start using the Teams app for new projects rather than setting them up in Slack. Just like Slack, Teams can be used on any platform. For our Apple team members who think Microsoft is just for geeks, we tricked them into using Teams because the iOS version of the app is slick and fully functional. There is both a stand-alone app as well as an online web version.
We were already familiar with the Channels organization within Slack, so we very quickly acclimated to the similar organizational layout in Teams. Unlike Slack, however, Teams is obviously deeply integrated with the rest of the Office 365 ecosystem, which makes it a natural tool to extend the usability of the products that we have been using in our office for years. Most of us work regularly in Word, PowerPoint and Excel. For the most part, the extent of our collaboration with colleagues involves emailing a document as an attachment. (As Bill is fond of saying, that type of collaboration is so “2000-late.”)
Now think forward to the 21st century. You’re working on a contract, brief or presentation, and you need to get feedback from one or more team members. You simply click on the collaboration channel that has been set up in your Teams app and share the document with your colleagues who are authorized on that channel. You can then chat online, initiate a video call and even edit the document in real time with everyone that you invited participating. You do this without leaving your office, home or even the beach. (Phil added this last edit while on vacation.)
Even more valuable is the ability to quickly access any and all activity that has transpired on a particular project, subject or channel right within the Teams app. Whether the activity is a series of email threads, meeting notes, call recordings or online chat sessions, we no longer have to search through hundreds of apps to see how the activity was created — we have everything right there win the Teams app.
While Teams is tightly integrated with Office 365, you are not restricted to using only Microsoft products within the app. There is a huge array of apps that you or your team can use right within the Teams interface. For example, if there is a particular YouTube video that we wish to share with our team members, we can simply link that video within Teams, and everyone can view the video without leaving the Teams app.
At last, we think we have found the solution to “death by a thousand apps.” We just didn't realize it was going to be another app. But Microsoft Teams has become our favorite method for aggregating a host of useful tools all within a single interface that all our team members can use, regardless of their computing platform.