Microsoft Teams era takes flight inside Microsoft

Microsoft’s internal upgrade to Microsoft Teams is complete, and now the company is looking to get its base of more than 200,000 employees and vendors to do more with this versatile collaboration platform. Usage of Teams has been high since the company largely finished its move from Skype for Business to Teams in March, says Keshav Puttaswamy, a director of program management in Microsoft Core Services Engineering and Operations (CSEO).

Microsoft Teams

“While we are seeing some change in how employees collaborate, many are still using Teams like they did Skype for Business—for chats, calls, and meetings,” Puttaswamy says. “But Teams is much more than a Skype for Business replacement. It can transform how our teams work together with channels and has deep Office 365 and third-party integration.”

Taking stock of a massive upgrade

Moving to Microsoft Teams was no small feat, Puttaswamy says.

Microsoft employees and vendors began using Teams to collaborate when the product’s beta version launched internally in late 2016, but Skype for Business was still their default communications tool until last fall, when the company’s upgrade to Teams-only mode started (when Teams became employees’ default client for meetings, calls, and chat).

Before shifting to Teams-only mode, the company gave employees access to Teams and Skype for Business, side by side, called Islands mode. Learn more about these “coexistence” modes here.

The upgrade didn’t start until CSEO was able to deploy a Teams add-in in Microsoft Outlook so that employees could schedule Teams meetings from Outlook, where most company employees manage their calendars. After that was done, the team was able begin the upgrade to Teams-only mode in earnest.

“We wanted to do it quickly, but at the same time we had a high bar for the user experience,” Puttaswamy says. “We were able to do it with minimal disruption.”

Meetings was a foundational experience that the company wanted to get right.

“Like other companies, we spend a lot of time in meetings,” he says. “We know the impact of making the meeting experience better.”

The response to moving meetings into Teams has been remarkable.

“We collect a lot of data in terms of how well our services are working, and we have a lot of data on meetings,” Puttaswamy says. “When we moved to Teams, we saw a 15- to 20-percent increase in the quality of the meeting experience.”

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Driving a successful migration

By any measure, the company’s upgrade to Microsoft Teams was very successful, with 96 percent of employees and vendors now moved over to Teams-only mode, says Eileen Zhou, a senior program manager on the CSEO upgrade team. The last four percent are exempt from moving due to considerations in some countries and because Teams doesn’t cover some telephony uses that a few employees still need.

Measurement has been a big part of the move to Teams—the upgrade team specified KPIs, set thresholds and tracked progress of Teams adoption and the Teams-only mode upgrade using a Power BI dashboard that allowed them to respond to challenges in real time, something that played a pivotal role in how smooth the changeover went.

“We collaborated closely with our service engineering partners to make sure the audio and video quality for calls and meetings stayed reliable when our user numbers started climbing,” she says. “The team monitored telemetry to make sure Teams didn’t falter during the transition.”

The team created an Art of Teamwork training curriculum to prep employees and vendors for Teams adoption and the upgrade to Teams-only mode. That training was rounded out with support and encouragement from Teamwork Champions, a community of more than 1,500 employees who volunteered to deliver training and encouraged and helped others move worldwide.

Using data from the Office 365 tenant admin center, the team created a Power BI dashboard to measure the effectiveness of the training programs and to get critical updates on how users were adopting features that were a key part of the upgrade.

“Our readiness effectiveness report indicated that the people who we reached with the Art of Teamwork training and Teamwork Champions program were adopting Teams much more rapidly and embracing the full range of Teams functionality more quickly than those we hadn’t reached,” Zhou says.

The team was able to make direct comparisons between Teams and Skype in the four areas where they offered the same functionality—calling, video, meetings, and messaging (chat). When one person went through the Art of Teamwork training, six other users on his or her team, on average, made more calls, watched more videos, scheduled more meetings, and did more chatting in Teams. Analyzing Teams telemetry and metrics in the dashboard, the adoption team could assess its month-to-month progress and determine whether these efforts were effective.

“We were tracking these programs closely with our Power BI dashboard, so we were able to adapt and adjust on the fly,” Zhou says.

For example, from the team’s experience delivering the Art of Teamwork training, they learned that executives needed one-on-one training to help them make Teams work for their specific business scenarios. In response, the adoption team developed customized White Glove training engagements for them.

In addition, the team monitored user sentiment to discover and respond quickly to user experience concerns and issues. This included analyzing Teams-only mode pre- and post-upgrade surveys, early-adopter feedback, Teams-only deferment requests, and support ticket trends.

Zhou notes that all of the effort to prepare and support employees and vendors for the upgrade made a big difference.

“More than 100,000 of our users made the move proactively,” Zhou says. “That’s pretty amazing.”

Getting more out of Teams

Using Microsoft Teams for communication has been very successful, but there are other collaboration capabilities that employees aren’t fully leveraging yet, Puttaswamy says.

Showing them that they can do more than they could in Skype for Business is something that can be addressed, but the bigger challenge is getting Microsoft employees who are used to living in email to move their team-related communications to Teams channels.

“Email is hardwired into how we work and is very efficient for many communication scenarios,” Puttaswamy says. “But Teams takes conversations from individual-centric to team-centric. We know this brings huge benefits to teams in terms of driving shared understanding, inclusion, and accelerating team-based workflows. Email is still essential but team-centric communication is better in Teams.”

Driving that culture change is the next challenge.

“We cannot force employees to work in Teams,” he says. “We have to show them the value.”

Puttaswamy says it’s a combination of showing employees how powerful it can be to collaborate in a Teams channel where everyone can work and have transparency on a project, focusing on specific team-based workflows, getting champions to spread the word, and leaders to advocate for change.

“We have lots of success stories internally already—we need to highlight those,” he says.

One is sellers, a group at Microsoft who notoriously has had to go to dozens of places to get the information to prepare themselves for conversations with potential customers.

“Why not have those conversations in a Teams channel where everything happens in one place,” Puttaswamy says. “Teams fits in nicely with the application-consolidation work our teammates are trying to drive in the seller space.”

Content creation is another.

“When we approve this story that you’re writing, why do we ever need to go to email?” he asks. “When you send out your draft in email, that just forks the conversation. Instead, why don’t you have all the conversations in one channel, where everyone can work on the doc at the same time, and everyone can see all the feedback and conversations as they come in.”

The same goes for other team-based workflows, he says.

“Now that we have everyone fully on Teams, our focus will be to drive this kind of culture change,” Puttaswamy says. “We’re looking forward to getting our employees to rethink how they collaborate with each other using Teams, so we can accelerate delivering value to our customers.”