Next Tuesday will be a big day for Microsoft.

The company plans to release the production version of Microsoft Teams on March 14, their great move into the collaborative workspace market.

You might already use Slack or Convo today, two of the most popular apps in this space, but the big news here is that, with a simple click if you're already using Microsoft Office 365 for word processing and email, you can now chat with colleagues, exchange documents, start a Skype phone call, and communicate in real-time.

One of the keys to success is that the app will "magically appear" for Office users. We've long passed the age when there's a complex install process for software. When there's a new app, it shows up in a row of icons in your browser. To the end user, it's seamless.

Of course, if you are not already using Office 365, you should know there are some hurdles to overcome. In fact, before jumping on the bandwagon (maybe because it's new and it's from Microsoft), you should know this new app is not for everyone.

In fact, the tool is meant for folks already using Office 365 or those who subscribe. It should be called Microsoft Office Teams, because that's exactly what it is. It might lure users to the workspace, and Microsoft has made many improvements to Word and PowerPoint lately. For long documents, I've finally gone back to Word after sticking with Google Docs for so long.

However, if you're already familiar with Slack, this is not quite the same thing. I recently started a Slack group for some volunteers, and it's amazing how quickly people gravitate to the tool. You send a simple invite, they click to register, and they're in. They almost always figure out the basics--how to ask a question, share a file, and even start a phone call. Slack recently added threaded conversations that work like a comment on an article like the one you're reading now, and people seem to know how to do it. It works like a glorified email app. People know intuitively they can add a comment in a thread, then hide the threads and manage their channels and tag people. It's all about speed.

Microsoft Teams is a different beast. For starters, you can't send a link to invite users on any platform, using any device, and on any operating system unless they are an Office user. Microsoft Teams runs fine on Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and on any web browser, but it only works within a set user base. It requires a subscription for Business Essentials, Business Premium, E1, E3, or E5 (or E4 can be "grandfathered" in). Even those tiers might not be intuitive for a startup used to Slack or some other free web-based tool.

Also, you might be under-using Office 365. For example, I talk to people who have a Microsoft Surface tablet in office environments and check their Outlook and use Word and Excel, but they have no idea there's an app like Delve Analytics. Teams will expose them to multiple apps that are integrated into the chat. They might see links to OneNote sites or Microsoft Planner and wonder what those apps even do.

Even for current Office 365 users, you can't possibly give them a quick summary of what all of these apps and services mean for them, but Teams brings it all together. That's a good thing in many ways, but I can imagine companies will need to train employees on how all of these apps and services tie together. It's not click here and done.

Not that everyone needs to be an expert to use them, but the advantages to using Teams is that it exposes everyone to all of the features available, far beyond Skype and a simple text chat and a way to share a Word doc. If that's all your company needs, why not stick with Slack? If you want the integration, deep analytics, Skype calling, and more of an enterprise ecosystem approach to your collaboration, it will mean you will need to embrace that complexity. For even larger mid-sized companies, it remains to be seen whether Microsoft Teams will make sense. I'll be testing the full app next week and will give you my impressions after going hands-on.

For now, before you jump on the Microsoft Teams bandwagon, it's important to know what kind of leap it requires, who can use it, and how much training you'll need.

Published on: Mar 9, 2017
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