How Microsoft is enabling its employees to work remotely with Microsoft Teams

When Microsoft employees need to work remotely, they are empowered to stay productive and connected by using Microsoft Teams.

“For a variety of reasons, we have seen an increase in the numbers of employees working remotely,” says Pouneh Kaufman, the principal PM manager in Microsoft Core Services Engineering and Operations (CSEO) who leads the internal deployment of Teams across Microsoft. “We’ve learned through experience how valuable it is when employees have the tools they need in these circumstances.”

Guidance for working remotely

Microsoft wants employees working in Teams to feel like they’re not losing anything from working away from their office.

“Face-to-face connection is very valuable, but when that’s not practical, we want them to feel heard and included,” says Sarah Lundy, the business program manager in CSEO in charge of communicating to employees about how to get the most out of Teams. “We have a set of tips that we share with employees when they need to work remotely in large numbers—things like turn on video to help everyone feel connected, pause to give people on the call a chance to speak, and remind people to mute themselves when they’re not talking to cut down on distracting background noise.”

Kaufman added to that list, saying remote meetings are much more effective when you record them for people who are not present if that’s acceptable to the team. Also helpful, she says, is to send an agenda in advance, and to identify a facilitator for the meeting that can monitor questions and make sure everyone’s voice is heard.

Features designed to help

In some ways, remote meetings can be more additive than meeting in person.

“When you make it a Teams Channel meeting, then everything is captured in a single channel conversation for your reference,” Kaufman says. “All the documents, all the chats, and of course, the recording of everything everyone said is in one place, and much of it is searchable.”

Channel meetings are highly effective for reoccurring meetings, where keeping track of a project over time is crucial, she says.

Teams Channels themselves offer a great way for groups of employees to work together collaboratively, Lundy says. Collaborating in a channel ensures that the interactions employees have are transparent and open. Files, applications, and conversations are easily accessible to every team member.

“When team members are working remotely, effective teamwork habits that keep everyone informed and connected become more important than ever,” she says.

When teams across Microsoft hold meetings larger than 250 people, they are asked to use live events in Microsoft 365 in conjunction with Yammer to broadcast the meeting while allowing the audience to engage via chat.

Teams pays attention to the strength of the network and adapts as needed, which helps make sure the experience is optimised. When employees work remotely in large numbers, their use of chat in Teams shoots up, Lundy says.

“If you chat with a person or group frequently, you can pin the chat so it always shows up at the top of your chat list,” she says. “We suggest that you name your group chats to keep them organized and easy to find.”

And when deeper-level collaboration is needed, employees are encouraged to move their chats into a channel.

Lundy urges employees to ask themselves a few key questions:

  • Will you be collaborating on multiple related workstreams, each with their own conversations, files, and applications?
  • Do you envision multiple conversations happening at once?
  • Will the project last longer than two weeks?
  • Are more than three people involved?
  • Do you want files to be available for coauthoring to all members of the team?

When they answer “yes” to any of the questions, she encourages them to start a threaded conversation in a Teams Channel.

There are many other Teams features that will come in handy when employees work from home, Lundy says, including background blur, live captions, and cloud recording.

“Use background blur when you’re not happy with your backdrop, whether it be the airport, a coffee shop, or a messy room at home,” she says. “It keeps you in focus while hiding anything distracting behind you.”

It only works for scheduled meetings, she says.

Teams’ live captioning feature can detect what’s said in a meeting and, in real-time, present captions to anyone who wants them, she says. Cloud recording captures the audio, video, and screen sharing activity for anyone who missed a meeting or needs to refer to what happened.

Other steps Lundy encourages employees to take include downloading the Teams mobile app, managing Teams notifications to avoid missing important conversations, and setting their status message in Teams to include their current location (such as “working from home”) so that people know where they are.

“There are lots of trips and tricks that we use to help employees get more out of working on Teams,” Lundy says. “There’s a lot that they can do to stay effective when they need to work remotely.”

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