Microsoft Teams: How to use it, and how it stacks up to Slack and Zoom

Microsoft's take on collaboration, group messaging and video continues to evolve. Here's how Microsoft Teams fits into the booming collaboration software market and what you need to know to evaluate it against rivals like Slack, Zoom and others.

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To delete that installer, go to the Windows Start menu and click Settings. In the Apps & features menu search for “Teams,” which should bring up both the Teams app and the installer. Click the Uninstall button for each and Teams should no longer appear when you restart your computer.

The process for macOS users is more straightforward: go to the Application Folder, select Teams and move it to Trash. Similarly, removing the Teams app from mobile devices is easy, requiring just the standard app uninstallation process.

Microsoft Teams: Feature roadmap

Microsoft has a website — UserVoice — dedicated to gathering customer feedback and suggestions for new features. Teams users post their ideas, and Microsoft gives an indication of the status of feature development, such as whether it is actively being worked, on the backlog, or about to be released.

The most requested changes as of late 2020 include:

  • Replies to a specific message in chat on the Teams desktop app (29,674 votes)
  • Simultaneous access to multiple Teams accounts (27,915)
  • The ability to move a project or channel from one team to another (24,985)
  • The inclusion of group calendars in Teams (19,340)

There’s also a roadmap site that details features in development. Currently in the pipeline for release are a new file sharing experience, integration with RealWear HMT-1 and HMT-1Z1 smart glasses, and the ability to pin messages within a channel.

Microsoft Teams vs. Slack (and other competitors)

Slack is considered the main rival to Teams. Microsoft reportedly considered an $8 billion purchase of Slack in 2016, before founder Bill Gates and CEO Satya Nadella vetoed those plans in favor of Microsoft building its own application.

While there are certainly overlapping areas of functionality, the focus of the two apps diverges in some significant ways.

Although Slack has video and voice capabilities, it largely relies on partners here, keeping its focus on chat as well as connecting the various communication and business apps that businesses rely on routinely. CEO Stewart Butterfield recently described the software as a “lightweight integration fabric” to be used across organizations.

Teams’ clearest advantages are integration with Microsoft apps and its availability within Microsoft 365 business subscriptions for no extra fee. This makes a compelling argument for existing Microsoft 365 users — of which there are 258 million — using Teams rather than shelling out money for a separate tool.

Just as Slack offers a “best of breed” chat application, there are numerous products that focus on other specific aspects of collaboration.

Zoom’s CEO recently said he sees Microsoft as a partner rather than a direct competitor, but the video meeting software company has achieved stratospheric growth during the pandemic and is a direct competitor in terms of the video capabilities available within Teams.

“When it comes to product features, while it initially lagged Zoom and Slack, Teams is catching up fast and has a distinct advantage over its competition given the synergies and added value that result from using it in combination with other productivity and collaboration tools in Microsoft’s suite,” said Castanon.

“For example, Teams provides a tight integration to tools such as Outlook email and calendar; this has an obvious advantage over its competition. In addition, Microsoft is overlaying AI-enabled capabilities that further enhance these synergies.” 

In some ways Google’s Workspace serves as a more direct competitor. The recent rebranding of Workspace from G Suite follows Google’s continuing efforts to unify its collaboration and communication capabilities — Gmail, Chat, Meet and Voice — and tighten integration with its gamut of productivity tools such as Docs and Sheets. 

There are other software suite providers that rival Teams. Zoho’s Workplace suite offers similar functionality to Teams, and at a lower price point. And Cisco’s Webex Teams mirrors Microsoft’s app in more than just its name, though it offers a focus on unified communication capabilities rather than productivity. 

Microsoft Teams pricing and licenses

Teams is available to Microsoft 365 account holders on these license plans: Business Essentials, Business Premium, Enterprise E1, E3 or E5. Microsoft has launched its own free option, too. All subscriptions include access to a range of additional Microsoft applications, as well as security and compliance features within Microsoft 365.

The cheapest option — Business Basic — costs $5 per user/month, with a more fully featured option, Business Standard, costing $12.50 per user/month.

Microsoft Teams pricing (October 2020) Microsoft

Enterprise options start at $32 per user for E3 licenses, with the most expensive at $57 per user/month for E5 subscriptions. Teams is also available as part of the A1, A3 and A5 licenses for students, and in G1, G3 and G5 government customer packages.

In comparison, Slack offers a freemium payment plan for access to its software, with three pricing tiers for individual and business users, as well as a product — Enterprise Grid — aimed at large deployments. Google’s collaboration tools such as Chat and Meet are included within Google Workspace subscriptions; prices range from $6 to $25 per user per month (enterprise pricing is upon request) and provide access to a range of applications.

Microsoft also has a number of payment options for specific use cases. A SKU aimed pricing at “first-line workers” was introduced earlier this year: both Microsoft 365 F1 ($4 per user/month) and F3 ($10 user/month) include Teams access.

Other add-on subscriptions include Advanced Communications ($12 per user/month — for meeting organizers), which provides access to features such as live-event support for up to 20,000 employees and a custom- branded video meeting “lobby.” The Business Voice subscription ($20 per user/month) is a cloud-based phone system package for small businesses that bundles various individual add-ons including audio conferencing, a domestic calling plan, and phone system features such as caller ID and call queues.

For those looking to use Teams within conferencing rooms there are a couple of options for connecting with hardware devices. Teams Rooms Standard costs $15 per device/month, and a new managed service, Teams Rooms Premium, offloads management of hardware to a Microsoft service provider for $50 per device/month.

Microsoft’s priorities for Teams

Microsoft has now outpaced Slack in terms of Teams user adoption, thanks to the legions of Microsoft 365 customers globally that have access to the collaboration app at no extra cost. An advantage Slack retains over Teams is higher levels of active engagement with the app throughout the day. Slack users tend to spend more time actively using the app, which in many cases is integral to their workflow.

Much of the real use of Teams has stemmed from video meetings — thanks to Skype for Business customers migrating to the new platform — rather than making full use of its potential as a workstream collaboration platform.

“Until early this year even many of the early adopters were still leveraging Microsoft Teams as “Skype 2.0” or Zoom,” said Sy.  “They would use the videoconferencing and chat, but they would lock down Teams workspace creation and lose out on the rich, contextual file collaboration. It was practically the equivalent of having a Ferrari with a Corolla engine.

“They were afraid they were going to wake up with a million sprawled Teams overnight with no good way to manage the lifecycle or the content within them.”

As Teams becomes more widely deployed, heretofor cautious businesses are building confidence in their use of the platform and extending its use, said Sy.

“Today, most organizations are much more comfortable and mature with the platform usage,” he said. “Now, we see organizations looking to optimize their use by tailoring Teams controls, templates and governance for different departments or managing their external sharing and guest users.”

There’s plenty of room to grow the number of Teams daily active users, which remain less than half the overall Microsoft 365 user base. Teams is the third most widely used tool in the Microsoft 365 portfolio, with Exchange Online estimated to have between 175 million and 185 million users as of December 2019, according to Petri.com, and SharePoint Online, with 100-105 million users.

“Today, despite email’s limitations, Exchange still reigns supreme from an adoption and usage standpoint — and it’s not particularly close,” said Sy.

A key challenge for Microsoft is encouraging its own customers to change their work habits and work routines.

“Since Microsoft Teams is a new way of working, if you don’t provide contextual training for your users, you won’t see sustainable adoption or increased productivity,” said Sy. “It’s not enough to show users how the platform works; you have to show how it works for them specifically in their role.”

Additionally, there is the ongoing competitive threat. Microsoft lists Slack — which completed its stock market listing last year — as one of the competitors to Microsoft 365 in its annual 10-K report, and faces a court battle over its bundling of Teams within Microsoft 365. Slack lodged an antitrust complaint against Microsoft with the EU in July, centering around Microsoft’s alleged “illegal and anti-competitive practice of abusing its market dominance to extinguish competition.”

Slack is just one rival to Teams, of course. With a wide variety of alternatives to specific components of Teams, keeping up the pace of innovation will be one of the top priorities for Microsoft as it seeks to grow adoption and boost interaction.

“Its biggest challenge is the speed in which competitors like Zoom and Slack continue to innovate and raise the bar for team collaboration, with a myriad of features for immersive and asynchronous collaboration announced at their respective annual user conferences earlier this month,” Castanon said October 2020.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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