Microsoft Teams: Top 10 underused features

February 27, 2020

Microsoft Teams is now more than two years old and has been adapted by 500,000+ organizations. Within two years, surprisingly enough, 91 of the Fortune 100 companies now use it. Microsoft Teams features have clearly made it a big success story, but what makes it so successful?

Microsoft Teams is the chat-based solution in the Microsoft 365 stack and its built-on Office 365 groups and the Microsoft Graph. It has the same management, compliance, security and extendibility as the rest of Office 365. Whenever you create a ‘Team’ in Microsoft Teams the provisioning engine will create the following services for you:

  • A new Office 365 group (security)
  • A SharePoint Site (Files)
  • A shared mailbox and calendar (email)
  • A Notebook
  • Planner Plan

The following image illustrates that Microsoft Teams is one simple capability for connecting to/consuming  different services. It provides one single experience for using these services and a single hub for extending and managing the different stacks of Office 365. 

Everybody loves Microsoft Teams but there are many undiscovered features that I think everybody should use. Here are my top 10 under-used or undiscovered Microsoft Teams features. You can add them into your governance or roadmap to help fulfil your intelligent intranet.


Feature 1: Org-wide teams for small & medium organisations

After the Private and Public teams, we now have the Org-wide teams. They provide an automatic way for everyone to be a part of a single team for collaboration. Whenever you create an Org-wide team, all global admins are automatically added and team owners as well as all active users are added as team members. Team members can’t leave an org-wide team. However, as a team owner, you can manually add or remove users if needed. In my opinion, for small and medium-sized organizations, the outer loop, which Microsoft defines as Yammer, can also be replaced by the org-wide teams to avoid the question of “what to use when”.

Feature 2: Immersive reader

With the immersive reader in Microsoft Teams, co-workers, students, disabled persons can now easily viewtranslatehear individual messages. It will enlarge the text to fill the entire window. And you can also use the screen reader to have the computer read the message in a synthesized voice in any language you want. Within the immersive reader, whenever you enable the picture dictionary, the feature will translate every single word to a text. This makes it easier for you, students or disabled persons to clearly understand the text in the conversation.

Feature 3: Built-in translator

In a mobile-first, cloud-first world, more and more organizations are opting for big and geographically distributed teams. This helps to break down barriers and improve productivity. Today, having a content core team working on SharePoint or Microsoft Teams from different countries is the new normal. Microsoft Teams has a built-in feature that can translate any conversation for you. Below is an example of how it works. You can see that Jim and I have had a conversation in Dutch about contracts and Microsoft Teams has translated the conversation from Dutch to English.

Feature 4: Meeting whiteboards

Any meeting in Microsoft Teams can have a dedicated whiteboard where participants have space to sketch together. The main difference with “sharing your screen” and “Whiteboard sketching” is that when you share your screen attendees can only watch what you show. On the other hand, with ‘Whiteboard’, there is the opportunity for real collaboration. Attendees can sketch and actively participate in the meeting.

Feature 5: Notify when available

One of the top-used features from Skype For Business -“notify when available”- feature is now available in Microsoft Teams. Whenever a user becomes available in Microsoft Teams, Teams will send you a notification to inform you. Try to use this feature as much as possible instead of asking your contacts “do you have one minute for me?”. This is the most unproductive sentence ever – as you will never remember where you stopped before helping your co-worker 😊

Feature 6: Blurred background

Working with Microsoft Teams with a geographically distributed team has a lot of benefits. But what if you have sensitive information in your environment – or simply do remote working from home? If you don’t want to show sensitive information/private stuff to your attendees/co-workers use the ‘blur my background option’.

Feature 7: Microsoft Live Events

With Microsoft Teams live events, meetings, webinars or live announcements in your organization can be broadcasted to large online audiences. Something that the outer-Loop users are aware of as this was one of the core capabilities of Yammer. These are meant for one-to-many communications, (while meetings are many-to-many) where the host of the event is leading the interactions and audience participation is primarily to view the content shared by the host. The attendees can watch them live or watch the recorded event in Yammer, Teams and/or Microsoft Stream. Microsoft Teams live events are the next-gen of Skype Meeting Broadcast and will eventually replace the capabilities provided in Skype Meeting Broadcast.

Feature 8: Intelligent BOT Framework

Within the Microsoft Teams ecosystem, all bots are created using the Microsoft Bot Framework. Teams App Studio is a free-to-use, super simple tool that can help create your bot. With Teams App Studio you can deploy, download or even submit your bot to the Microsoft Teams Team to review and add it to the store. It also contains a React control library and configurable samples for cards. I recommend getting rid of the classic, HTML-based FAQ and replacing them with Bot’s in Microsoft Teams. Therefore, you must use Cognitive Services AKA QnAMaker. You can create a NO CODE bot in Teams, without writing a single line of code. You can also add personality to your bot using pre-built chit-chat datasets.

Feature 9: Private Channels

Each private channel has its own SharePoint site collection that’s separate from the parent team site. Eh? Strange isn’t it? The story for private channels is different from standard channels. Well, not completely different, but was the best approach – that Microsoft could do. Microsoft couldn’t add the Site Collection to the existing Office 365 Group as the owner of the group could then potentially read the data – and that is what we typically want to avoid, right! So, each private channel has its own SharePoint site collection that’s separate from the parent team site.

Here are a few considerations about Microsoft Teams Private Channels:

  • This Site Collection is not available from the SharePoint Admin Center, but only through PowerShell
  • Private chat files are stored in the sender’s OneDrive for Business folder and permissions are automatically granted to all participants as part of the file sharing process
  • By storing the files in the SharePoint Online document library and OneDrive for Business, all compliance rules configured at the tenant level will be followed
  • Anyone, including guests, can be added as a member of a private channel if they are already members of the team

From a visual perspective, and to make it very clear for any co-worker a “lock” icon indicates that a channel is private. Only owners and members of the private channel can see the content and take actions if necessary. Again, just to make it sure that you understand it correctly, the Teams or Office365 owner cannot see the content if he is not a member/owner of the private channel.

Each team can have a maximum of 30 private channels and each private channel can have a maximum of 250 members. The 30 private channel limit is in addition to the 200 standard channel limit per team. Those are the limits today and Microsoft is continually improving those limits and capabilities.

Feature 10: Get most of the out-of-the-box analytics

If you investigate reports into the Teams Admin Center, the per-team and cross-team analytics won’t be that much different. But in any case, the reports are essential to see who is collaborating in your team. And more importantly, for the team owners, it shows those who are inactive or who use Team(s) less within your organization!

So that’s it. Those were my top 10 Microsoft Teams features that I try to include in my guidance and roadmap of my intelligent intranet. I’m pretty sure that you can add more features to bring collaboration to another level in Microsoft 365. These Microsoft Teams features are essential and unfortunately the less known ones.

Collaboration means two-way communication!

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