Microsoft Responds to Teams User Voice
On October 3, Microsoft responded to a Teams User Voice request for the ability to work offline, saying: “You can now use Teams in Offline mode, which means users can browse their recent chats and channels as well as those they have pinned. Users can also compose messages for sending later as well.”
Teams has always been an application which demands a solid network connection. Although it’s got better at dealing with some of the more “interesting” Wi-Fi configurations, such as the high-latency connections available on many airplanes, Teams still works best when it has abundant, high-quality connectivity. This is especially so when participating in online meetings, even in audio mode.
But sometimes a network connection just isn’t available, even though a tethered smartphone, and as more work is done in Teams, people want continued access to that information.
What You Can Do with Teams when Offline
I’ve been experimenting with Teams in offline mode to see what’s possible. Table 1 outlines what I discovered using the Teams desktop app on Windows.
|Personal and group chat messages||Messages available for pinned and recent chats. Messages can be composed and sent for delivery when the network connection resumes.|
|Channel messages||Messages available for pinned channels and channels recently accessed by the user, going back about 90 days. Messages for hidden channels are unavailable. Messages can be composed and sent for delivery when the network connection resumes.|
|Calendar app||Unavailable (some data might be visible). You can’t schedule, initiate, or join meetings when offline. You can use Outlook to work with your calendar when offline.|
|Files||Both channel folders (SharePoint Online) and personal files in (OneDrive for Business) are unavailable offline. Files can be synchronized to the local drive with the OneDrive for sync client and accessed offline.|
|Tasks||Unavailable. You can use Outlook to work with personal tasks (but not tasks in Planner) when offline.|
|Third party apps||Depends on the offline capability of the app.|
|Switch tenant||Not possible. Offline access is restricted to data in the selected tenant when the network connection became unavailable.|
|Calling||Unavailable unless a Survivable Branch Appliance (SBA) is deployed. This feature (roadmap item 68772) is scheduled for release in November 2020.|
Cute graphics tell users when messages and other data are unavailable (Figure 1).
In addition to the items listed above, navigational information such as lists of chats, teams, and channels are available when offline.
The Meaning of Recent
Microsoft says that recent chats and (messages in) channels are available offline. Based on my tests, it seems that recent means the user accessed the chat or a channel in the last 30 days. This action forces Teams to refresh its local cache of messages, which makes the messages available offline. Limiting offline access to recent messages makes sense from the perspective that you’re most likely to need to work with that data and prevents the client from having to download information for (potentially) large numbers of channels. On the other hand, it means that if you know you’re going to be deprived of network connectivity for a while, some up-front preparation might be needed to access chats and channels you want to work with.
Not the Same as Outlook
In summary, what does the new offline capability for Teams mean in practice?
- Teams is not Outlook. Its synchronization model does not create a local cache of all its message data (like Outlook’s OST file).
- A major advantage of Teams is its ability to connect many parts of the Microsoft 365 ecosystem. If those parts (like SharePoint Online, Stream, and Planner) don’t support offline access, Teams can’t make data from those apps available. The same is true for third-party and LOB apps.
- Outlook desktop and the OneDrive sync client allow offline access to the calendar, personal tasks, and documents.
- Only expect to work with Teams messages when offline, and only messages that are recent.
Microsoft hasn’t yet announced this change in the notification center of the Microsoft 365 admin center. But we keep an eye out for updates like this so that the text of the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook is as up to date as we can. It’s a great example of the value of ePublishing monthly updates.