Ten tips for getting the most out of Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams on a laptop and mobile

Ten tips for getting the most out of Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is a powerful, cloud-based business collaboration and communication tool. But with so many features and ways of working, how can you be sure you’re getting the most out of it?

At the time of writing, we’re enduring another lockdown thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. The working world now relies on cloud-based collaboration tools like Zoom, Google Workspace, and Microsoft’s popular product, Teams.

The key advantage over competitors is Teams’ deep integration with the Microsoft 365 suite. It natively integrates with Word, PowerPoint and other apps. Since introduced in 2016, Teams has been pushed as Microsoft’s primary communication tool and has become incredibly popular.

Microsoft Teams has over 115 million daily active users across at least 500,000 organisations, including 91 of the Fortune 100 companies.
Source: Microsoft’s Q1 2021 earnings

We’re in no doubt that the trend has set and Microsoft Teams will be with us for many years to come, well beyond lockdowns and the pandemic. So, all the more reason for you to get to know Teams and all of its features as well as possible.

While a tool like Teams can’t do the work for us, it can heavily influence how we work and how well we work with other people. They say knowledge is power, and our tips, tricks, and techniques will give your business a little bit more power to get the most out of Teams. After all, as a business, you may be spending a significant amount of time using this product.

In this article, we share many different tips for getting the most out of Teams so you can:

  • save time
  • improve productivity
  • make communication easier and more fluid
  • rely less on email and disjointed tools like WhatsApp and Slack
  • plan projects with ease
  • have better meetings
  • organise documents and other files
  • and much more

Tips for productivity

Productivity is about doing more with less time in the most efficient way possible. Here are some Teams features that can help make you and your teams even more productive:

Search bar

Search bar commands in Microsoft Team

Not only will the search bar in Teams help you find something specific without trawling through all of your channels and tabs, but it can also be used to perform many different commands. Use it as a ‘command line’ and it can perform various time-saving functions like these:

  • /unread – See all recent activity in one place
  • /files – View your most recent files
  • /calendar – Quickly jump into your calendar to view and schedule meetings

Get the full list of commands on the Teams website.

Get help with Teams, in Teams

Teams includes an extensive Help section that’s worth checking out. You can open this using the icon in the bottom left corner of the app. Here you can find answers to a particular problem and take some training on using Teams.

You can also access this help menu from the /help command in the search bar or the three dots in the left navigation pane.

Keyboard shortcuts

It’s worth learning the keyboard shortcuts for the software you use every day – it’s the quickest way for people to execute common commands in an instant.

Here are some handy keyboard shortcuts for Microsoft Teams:

  • Ctrl + Shift + M – Mute or unmute yourself during a meeting
  • Ctrl + Shift + O – Turn on or turn off your camera on a call
  • Ctrl + N – Start a new chat
  • Ctrl + O – Attach a file to send in your chat
  • Ctrl + [a number] – Navigate between the different sections of Teams (for example, Ctrl + 1 to view the Activity feed, Ctrl +2 for Chat, Ctrl + 3 for Teams, etc.)
  • Ctrl + E – Move to the search bar at the top to quickly find conversations, files, and more
  • Ctrl + / – Check all of the available shortcuts allowing you to navigate to various destinations, access needed content, and change your current status.
  • :word – Use the ‘colon’ symbol (:) directly before a word to discover the emojis related to this word and use them (for example, :meeting or :smile)

Check the Microsoft Teams Support Portal for the full list of keyboard shortcuts.

Do not disturb

Screen showing status options

Need to focus on something without notifications and calls disturbing your concentration? Teams has a built-in ‘Do not disturb’ option to let others know you’re in the zone, or just want some thinking time!

Constant pings and pop-up notifications kill your productivity, so turn off those distractions by clicking your profile and changing your profile to ‘Do not disturb’. You can also use the command /dnd in the search bar (see ‘Search bar’ tip above for more commands).

Customise your notifications

Screenshot showing channel notifications

The default settings for Teams can be quite distracting for some people. And others find they want more notifications from a particular channel. This is where one size definitely doesn’t fit all, so it’s worth knowing how to customise Teams’ notifications. Thankfully, the app gives you full control over notifications and can be customised using the options under each channel in each Team you are part of.

Screen showing quiet hour options in Teams

There are also some general settings that apply across the whole app available from your profile picture under ‘Settings’. These ensure you never miss another message or meeting again. You can also get notifications when someone appears online after being online, or when they go offline, and set your ‘quiet hours’.

Navigate easier around Teams

Back and forward navigation in Teams

Teams has navigation buttons at the top left of the screen that will allow you to navigate back or forward through areas of the app you have visited. This helps save a few clicks and a bit of time when moving around Teams each day.

Tips for organisation

If there are many different teams within your organisation, you may find that people have an overwhelming number of channels and tabs. Thankfully, there are ways to tackle this ‘information overload’.

Pin your most important teams

Pin a Team

People are often part of multiple different teams and, depending on their screen size, cannot see all their teams without scrolling down. Thankfully, you can ‘pin’ a team to the top of the list for easier access to that team’s content. This makes it easy to jump between the important stuff on Teams and ensures those pinned teams are always accessible at the top of the app.

Reorder teams

You can drag and drop teams into an order that suits how often you access them or to order by importance.

Minimise the list of channels within a team

Teams gives you the ability to hide the list of channels within a team so only the channel’s name is visible. This helps reduce some of the visual noise for people who are involved in many different teams across your organisation. You still know when there is activity within that team because the name appears in bold text.

You can also hide a channel from the main list of channels in the app. This will be hidden under a closed section at the bottom of the screen called ‘Hidden teams’.

Customise channels within a team

Screenshot showing how to add a channel in Teams

Every team includes a General channel by default. However, for busy teams especially, it’s best to avoid placing everything in the General tab. Instead, create new channels for each area of work or project that the team is involved with. You can do this using the icon with the three dots next to the name of the team.

Utilise the power of custom tabs

Adding custom tabs in Teams

Every new channel is preconfigured with two tabs: Posts and Files. But users can add custom tabs for other Microsoft 365 tools, websites, and third-party apps, allowing you to perform tasks without switching to a new window.

You can add Planner boards to manage tasks (more on that later), forms for gathering feedback or information, spreadsheets, presentations, a whiteboard, videos, wikis, and much more.

Group people with tags

Sometimes it’s useful to create subgroups within teams based on role, project, or location. Tags can help you do this, making it easy to @mention or start a chat with everyone included under the tag. You can add and manage tags in your Microsoft Teams options.

Tips for communication

People rely on Teams for communication with their colleagues, but there is so much more to this powerful tool than just simple instant messages and online meetings.

Keep an eye on the activity centre

The best way to stay up to date with all your Teams activity is to use the activity centre. This will show you a timeline feed of all your activity and notifications.

You can then search your activity feed by text search or filter to show only certain types of activity like reactions or mentions.

Use rich text for clearer communication

Rich text editor in Teams

The rich text formatting options can be found in the expanded view pane that appears when you click the Format button (the letter A with the paintbrush) under the message box.

Rich text formatting lets you change text size, weight, and colour, add links, and even incorporate numbered and bulleted lists.

Add a subject line to a message

Animated image showing how to add a subject line to a message

Channels often include thousands of conversations. To make a particular chat message unique and more searchable from numerous conversations, give it a subject line. This will appear in a larger text size than normal text in other conversations.

Direct messaging with ‘@’

Want to send a message within a channel directly to someone? Use the @ symbol and start typing their name. You will be able to select from a list of people and send a message to them directly. They will receive a notification, and you’ll get a faster response.

And with our top tip above (‘Group people into tags’) you will be able to direct message multiple people simultaneously. Handy when talking to a team or a group of people you’re working with on a specific project.

Send an urgent message

Sending an urgent message in Teams
Need an immediate response from someone in your team? Use the option to send an urgent message in Microsoft Teams. You can mark a chat message as urgent using the option in the toolbar below where you type your message. This will send notifications to the respondent every 2 minutes over a period of 20 minutes.

Note: This must be switched on by an administrator as part of a messaging policy for your organisation.

Bookmark a message

Want to save an important message for later? Click the bookmark icon entitled ‘Save this message’ to make sure you won’t have trouble finding it at a later date. Review your bookmarks by typing the command /saved into the search bar.

Start a call from a chat

Sometimes it’s easier to talk rather than chat in a message. Fortunately, you can quickly turn any chat into a voice call or video call with all the chat participants. You can even share your screen from a chat/

Inside any chat, click on the video, voice or screen share buttons in the top right corner to open a video call, voice call, or share your screen with all the chat participants.

Email a channel

You can easily send an email message to a channel just by clicking the ellipsis located next to any channel name and selecting ‘Get email address’. This will generate an email address for the channel you can copy and use to forward anything you might want to add to the channel.

Translate messages

Communicate across countries, cultures, and languages with Teams ability to translate messages into various languages. You can do this by clicking on the ellipses on the message you want to translate and select Translate to translate the message into your default language.

Create a poll to get a team’s opinion

Create a poll

Instead of typing a question into a channel, you can use a poll to gather feedback more efficiently. Click the Forms icon below the message box to create and send a poll in Teams.

Tips for better meetings

We have so many virtual meetings at the moment that it’s essential that they run as smooth as possible. Businesses are heavily depending on video calls as the only way their staff can collaborate and speak to customers.

Run live events

Developed as an extended feature of basic video calls during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Teams includes functionality that makes running virtual live events that bit easier. People in your organisation can broadcast video and meeting content to large online audiences and engage with attendees before, during, and after live events.

Adding live events in Teams

Set roles for meetings

Meeting organisers can now choose between 3 roles (Organiser, Presenter, and Attendee) for participants. The chart below identifies what roles carry which capabilities when utilising roles in Microsoft Teams meetings:

Change your background in meetings

Blurring background in Teams

As many of us continue to work from home, there may be some things in the background that you don’t want everyone at work to see. Thankfully you can remove distractions, hide any untidiness, or just have a bit of privacy by blurring your background. You can find this feature by clicking the three dots at the bottom of your video call.

Sit side-by-side using Together Mode

Together Mode in Teams

Together Mode places all your meeting participants on a shared background to make it appear that they are all sitting in the same room (like an auditorium or cafe.) Together Mode is located in your in-call background options.

Share your screen

You can easily share your screen during a meeting by clicking on the Share Screen icon in the menu bar to share your screen with meeting participants. This will allow you to share anything on a particular screen or just a particular window you have open.

Record your meeting

Recording meetings is easy in Teams. Click on the three ellipse (dots) icon on the menu bar menu and select ‘Start recording’ to record your team meeting. All participants will see a message to say the meeting is being recorded.

Once you start recording from the meeting control panel, a copy of the meeting will be saved to Microsoft Stream for everyone to access securely. This feature is handy for those who miss an important meeting or want to play it back afterwards.

Meeting transcriptions

If you record a team meeting, you can have it automatically transcribed. When the recording appears in Teams, click the three ellipse (dot) icon on the recording and select Open in Microsoft Stream from the options. This is where the recorded video is saved.

Under the Details section, click on the three dots, select ‘Update video details’, select the video language, select ‘Autogenerate a caption file’ and then click the Apply button to save the changes. After the file is generated, it will be available to download from Microsoft Stream.

Tips for collaborating with people outside your team

Teams is a fantastic collaboration tool, but you can only invite internal users to a team by default. In many situations, you’re going to need to work with others outside your organisation. To invite an external guest, you’ll need to change an admin setting first.

Managing guest access in Teams

To enable guest users, go to the Microsoft Teams admin centre.

  • Go to Org-wide settings
  • Select Guest access
  • Set the Allow guest access in Teams option to On
  • Scroll down and hit the Save button after making any changes to the setting

You’ll need to wait a few hours to let the updated setting propagate in your tenant and then you’ll be able to invite any external users to your teams.

Tips for storing and sharing files

SharePoint is highly integrated into Microsoft Teams. This feature allows your organisation to securely store many different files and ensure people have convenient access to download them. Teams also have great options for sharing files with ease, encouraging collaboration through shared documents.

Use the Files tab

Each channel comes with a File tab where you can upload files to share them with everyone in the Team. Here you’ll be able to upload any files you need to work on with your team. The files aren’t stored in Teams, behind the scenes they are all stored in SharePoint, and you can open them up in SharePoint if you need to.

Collaborate on files

You can add an impressive range of different tabs to a channel that lets you collaborate directly on a document directly from Teams. For example, add a Microsoft Word tab to embed a document and start editing with other people. You can view and create comments directly too. Other common documents types you can work on directly include Powerpoint presentations and Excel spreadsheets.

Tips for improving accessibility

It’s important that every organisation takes steps to ensure their Microsoft Teams meetings and live events are as inclusive as possible for all users.

Planning your meetings and events

When planning for a meeting or event, ask the participants which type of adaptations they need. You can include this question on a registration form, for example.

Lighting

Make sure there is adequate lighting on the person speaking. People who read lips need to see the speaker’s lips.

Accessible material

All organisations have a requirement to make material like Word documents and Powerpoint presentations as accessible as possible. While Microsoft Teams has been developed to be accessible, if the content being shared in the app has accessible problems like small font sizes, low colour contrast and complex layouts, this can put some people at a considerable disadvantage.

Screen reader awareness

Be aware that some people may be accessing Teams using a screen reader. While the app has been built to accommodate this, the content held and shared within Teams should be accessible too.

For more tips on making your usage of Teams as accessible as possible, see the Microsoft guidance.

Tips for planning

Manage tasks with Microsoft Planner integration

Planning tasks in Teams

Microsoft Planner has become a popular task management tool for many teams. One of the advantages that Microsoft Teams has over competitors is that Microsoft apps can be easily used inside Microsoft Teams, including Planner. This allows you to create and manage the tracked tasks within a Planner board without leaving Teams.

You can ‘pin’ the Planner app to any channel for easier access. This will make Planner displayed as a tab at the top of the channel.

Tips for mobile users

Teams in use across multiple devices including mobile

Microsoft Teams has a mobile app for Android, iOS and Windows. These apps let people in your organisation work on the move when away from their desktop computer or laptop. The apps focus mainly on facilitating team chats and channels without providing additional layers and features from the desktop version that might distract from that core functionality.

Dictate messages using voice control

Teams on iOS and Android have support for Cortana; a voice-controlled assistant. You can use Cortana to call people, join meetings, check your calendar, send chats, look for files, and even change settings. No tapping or swiping required.

Join meetings across mobile and desktop

Teams lets you start a meeting on one device (like your desktop computer) and then transfer to a different device, like your mobile phone.

For example, if you’re on your phone and want your meeting on your laptop or desktop, simply log into teams on that device, you should then see a banner at the top of Teams. Click the purple join button to join. Then follow the instructions on your screen.

Tips for fun

Add emojis to chat messages 😇

A vast number of emojis can be added to your messages. Use the ‘colon’ symbol (:) directly before a word to discover the emojis related to this word and use them (for example, :meeting or :smile).

Create your own gifs

Animated gifs can introduce a bit of fun into team communication and bring a smile to more informal chats. Microsoft Teams features tons of animated gifs that you can pick from and sprinkle into chats. You can also use the Giphy app to create your own version of animated gifs.

Note: The Giphy app must be activated by the Teams administrator.

Need expert Microsoft Teams or Microsoft 365 support?

Microsoft 365 offers a vast array of tools to help businesses work and communicate more efficiently than ever before. We offer tailored plans for small businesses, large enterprises, and everything in between.

And we’re always on hand to support you, making sure Microsoft 365, including Teams, is working hard for your business.

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