Using Teams to Work from Home

Scaling Challenges For Teams as More People Work from Home

Microsoft’s cloud Office infrastructure has had some recent challenges as it scaled up to deal with the upsurge in demand from both the enterprise and education sectors as people moved out of offices and classrooms to work from home due to the Covid-19 virus. Things will settle down as the adjustments Microsoft is making take effect and new hardware comes online. At least, that’s the plan.

The interesting thing is how many Office 365 tenants are discovering that Teams is a solution to help people work from home. The demand for advice and guidance is staggering, perhaps because companies have accelerated their plans to deploy solutions like Teams, especially for audio and video conferencing.

Bringing People Together to Discuss Best Practice

AvePoint’s avuncular Chief Marketing Officer, Dux Raymond Sy, hosted a impromptu Teams call on March 18 to discuss “How to Ensure the Best Office 365 Remote Work Experience.” Appropriately, the webinar used a Teams video call, with a backup live stream to LinkedIn to ensure that people could connect when Teams hit its meeting participant limit of 250. Above this, you can use Teams Live Events, which scale up to 10,000 attendees, but usually need more preparation and perhaps post-processing.

The call started with a discussion about making sure that company networks can cope with the shift to home working in conjunction with Office 365. If you’re involved in network planning, make sure that you this post by Microsoft’s Paul Collinge and use it as a checklist to validate that your network is prepared.

If you haven’t already done so, consider using conditional access policies to ensure that only authorized people can connect to your Office 365 tenant.

Mastering Teams for Home Working

From an administration perspective, it’s unwise to rush into a deployment of Teams without taking some time to think things through. Time is a scarce commodity when people want things done now (or preferably, yesterday), but you can work through the points listed in this article to figure out how your deployment should proceed. Remember that it’s easier to release some controls and allow people to do more than it is to restrict them once a deployment is operational.

Setting Teams Up for Meetings

Online meetings are the big focus area right now because they replace the face to face gatherings people have in offices. On a personal level, your home network needs to cope with the bandwidth and latency demands of Teams. I’ve had quite a few reports of people needing to invest in mesh networks to ensure that enough bandwidth is delivered to where they want to work in a house.

To make sure your network can cope, make a test call to ensure that you can connect to Teams and participate in audio and video meetings. If bandwidth is scarce, you can connect with just audio, but it’s best when everyone’s remote if you enable your PC’s camera and use video. This normally results in better participation in the meeting.

With video enabled, make sure you turn background blur on as no-one is interested in seeing your immediate surroundings. At the Ignite 2019 conference, Microsoft discussed the ability to replace background blur with customized background images. The feature is now available, including the ability to upload and use custom images for meeting backgrounds. (Figure 1).

Wouldn't it be nice if you could use custom background images in Teams meetings?
Figure 1: Wouldn’t it be nice if you could use custom background images in Teams meetings?

Other points of Teams meeting etiquette include:

  • Be on time for meetings.
  • Start the meeting with all microphones muted and keep them muted unless someone needs to speak. In addition, silence phones. No one wants to hear calls coming in during the meeting.
  • Set ground rules for asking questions during presentations. Some people like to be asked while they are speaking, others prefer questions to be kept to the end of the meeting.
  • Use chat to capture questions and post links to pages relevant to discussions. Apart from anything else, this helps presenters and attendees track any action items or open questions. It also removes the need to interrupt a presentation.
  • Ask before recording. You never know when someone has a problem with recording a meeting and you should ask before proceeding.

Taking Care of Meeting Recordings

Unless prohibited by a Teams meeting policy, Any tenant user who attends a meeting can start or stop recording to capture the full audio and video stream of the meeting plus chats and screen sharing activity. The recording is later stored in Stream and can be viewed and shared from there.

Viewing a recording of a Teams meeting in Stream
Figure 2: Viewing a recording of a Teams meeting in Stream

Stream doesn’t support guest user access, so you can’t share recordings with people outside the organization unless you download the MP4 file and put it on an external-facing service, like a SharePoint Online site. For example, AvePoint posted a recording of yesterday’s call on LinkedIn.

The recording for a Teams meeting can be a maximum of four hours long, after which Teams stops the recording automatically. It’s common to find that everyone leaves a meeting, and no one remembers to stop the recording. When this happens, you can trim the recording to remove the unwanted piece at the end. It’s best when the meeting organizer takes the responsibility to start and stop the recording and make the recording available afterwards (meeting attendees have automatic access).

Before sharing a recording widely, it’s a good idea for the organizer to review the automatic transcript generated by Stream from the audio (not all languages are supported. The transcript is made up of captions created for every few seconds. Like any automatic transcription software, Stream can produce some absolutely wonderful interpretations of what people say, not all of which are quite what they intend to get across. You can edit the captions to correct errors and to make sure that the correct message is passed.

Teams Conversations

I think most people will find Teams channel conversations and personal chats easy to get used to. After all, chat applications work much the same and if you’re used to something like Facebook or Slack, you’ll know what to do with Teams.

I encourage new Teams users to embrace some basic points of etiquette to make their conversations smoother. For instance:

  • Always start a new topic with a Subject.
  • Don’t reply to a topic by starting a new conversation.
  • Don’t use @Team or @Channel mentions unless you want lots of people to be notified.
  • Use the important mark to highlight critical information.
  • Use announcements for announcements, not for every new topic.
  • Don’t post private information to channels. Use personal chats instead.
  • Use reactions (likes) instead of replies when all you want to do is agree with a point.

Some up-front coaching for users will make Teams conversations more productive and easier to navigate. If you don’t help people to use the technology effectively, the Teams activity feed will rapidly become as cluttered and unwieldly as any out-of-control inbox.

Don’t Forget Documents

If your organization still uses on-premises file servers to hold documents, it’s time to migrate that information to SharePoint Online and help users understand how to access and work with document libraries efficiently. They’ll also need some coaching to master OneDrive for Business and the OneDrive sync client, which helps people to work from home during transient network outages. If you’re concerned about data leakage, consider protecting SharePoint and OneDrive documents with Office 365 sensitivity labels and Office 365 data loss prevention policies together with the sensitive by default setting for new files.

Need more information to plan and manage your deployment of Teams alongside the rest of Office 365? Look no further than a subscription to the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook. Receive monthly updates to ensure you remain up to date with the latest developments.

7 Replies to “Using Teams to Work from Home”

  1. For what it’s worth, you can do custom backgrounds in Teams now. Under the user\APPDATA\Roaming\microsoft\teams\backgrounds\uploads you can move other images in. I’ve heard they are working on something to allow you to more easily import the images, but for now that is how you get them in there. As long as you are running the latest version of Teams it should work. If all you see is Blur Background in Teams then you aren’t on the latest update. They just released this in the middle of April, so a lot of people may not know about it yet.

  2. My deaf son has an interview using Teams which he hasn’t used before. Familiar with skype. Is it easy to set up captions/ subtitles. Does organiser/ administrator need to enable captions prior to appointment please?

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