New Microsoft Teams Activity Feed Controls Clamp Down on Reaction and App Notifications

In Preview Now and Rolling Out Soon

Described in message center notification MC302218 (December 7, Microsoft 365 roadmap 88400), Microsoft is putting some extra control on the notifications which appear in the Teams activity feed. From mid-December, a new control (already available to preview users) is available to disable notifications for reactions (thumbs-up, smile, etc.) with another to do the same for notifications from a specific app.

More Control Needed

Because it’s a highly visible part of the product, Microsoft has tweaked the activity feed over time (here’s an example) to give users more control and to reduce the possibility that the activity feed becomes a distracting mélange of notifications demanding user attention. If reactions aren’t restrained, the number appearing in the activity feed can be a royal pain for busy users. It’s cute to see a thumbs-up the first couple of times someone acknowledges you in this manner, but once the number of teams you’re in grow and the volume of conversations increase, reactions can be overwhelming and lose their value. This is why one of the seven best Teams habits to acquire is to control the activity feed so that what appears there is truly important.

Interestingly, Microsoft’s post reveals that despite control over reaction notifications already being available in user settings, the control (Figure 1) is hard to find (“low discoverability”).

Teams notification setting for Likes and Reactions
Figure 1: Teams notification setting for Likes and Reactions

Microsoft characterizes reactions and apps as “top culprits” for activity feed overload and hopes that the new features will “address one of the top user DSATs of the feeds feature area.” Translated into English, this means that Microsoft’s telemetry and feedback (probably gathered using the feedback features in Teams) say that controlling excessive activity feed entries from reactions and applications should address a major cause of user dissatisfaction with Teams.

Turning Off Reactions

All of which is why they have delivered a feature to “empower users to intuitively control their notification experience for certain activity feed items by leveraging the existing notification settings.” I guess that the reference to “existing notification settings” means that if you turn something off in the activity feed, it updates the underlying control in Teams settings. This is true when you turn off reactions in the activity feed through the […] menu (Figure 2). Teams notes the action and updates the Likes and Reactions setting (Figure 1) to Off.

Turning off activity feed notifications for reactions
Figure 2: Turning off activity feed notifications for reactions

Turning Off App Notifications

Things are a little different when dealing with apps. First, there’s over a thousand apps available for Teams which require individual control. Second, apps have their own way of controlling notifications. Third, Teams has no way to instruct an app to stop using the activity feed notification API to send its signals to the activity feed. Introducing such a command would require every Teams-enabled app to update their code. A different method is needed.

Take the Viva Insights app for example. Viva Insights loves sending notifications to inform users that their virtual commute is beginning, to praise other people, or to log their personal state of mind. To be fair to Viva Insights, the app allows users to decide when these notifications should appear. For instance, Figure 3 shows that the user wants to be notified at 18:00 daily to start their virtual commute. Viva Insights notes the setting and uses the notification API to post a reminder in the activity feed at that time.

Viva Insights notification settings for a user's virtual commute
Figure 3: Viva Insights notification settings for a user’s virtual commute

Let’s say that we want to disable these notifications in the activity feed. Again, we go to the […] menu and select the option to turn off notifications for the app (Figure 4). Teams stops the notifications surfacing in the activity feed but does not update the notification settings in the app. In the case of Viva Insights, it has notification controls in Teams Settings and they are turned Off if you suppress notifications for the app in the activity feed.

Turning off activity feed notifications for an app
Figure 4: Turning off activity feed notifications for an app

However, Teams doesn’t have control over notification settings in other apps. To solve the problem, the activity feed applies its own filter to stop notifications appearing from the apps a user turns off. The application-specific settings to control its notifications are ignored and notifications continue to flow before being blocked by the activity feed. Even if you update the notification settings inside an app, the activity feed continues to ignore its notifications until you turn them back on using the activity feed. It’s a reasonable solution to the problem of how to handle so many apps.

Interruptions and Notifications

I am sometimes amused by how people attest to the horrible distraction caused by email notifications when compared to how Teams works. The facts are that Teams can be every bit as horrible and distracting as email if you let notifications get out of control. Choosing notification settings which suit your work is a good first step. These new controls will help finesse your settings, especially for apps.


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