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Microsoft Teams has a secret weapon in the productivity wars with Slack, Zoom, and Google. But it's not the technology. (MSFT)

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  • Microsoft Teams will likely become the dominant collaboration platform in the post-pandemic economy, beating out rivals like Google, Slack, and Zoom, experts say.
  • That's because it's generally the most convenient solution — and not necessarily because it makes businesses more productive.
  • Microsoft has functions like chat, videoconferencing, and document collaboration all in one place. And it's earned the trust of IT departments across industries.
  • Microsoft's challenge will be sustaining the trust it's cultivated, and keeping pace with the growth of its user base.
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When it became clear the pandemic would force NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to announce draft picks from his basement instead of a big event on the Las Vegas strip, the league had to figure out a way to remotely connect 32 teams for the first virtual draft.
The NFL turned to Microsoft Teams to make it happen.
Their decision is a prime example of Microsoft's key advantage in collaboration and communications software: It's convenient.
The NFL has been a Microsoft customer since 2013. When the coronavirus crisis suddenly forced businesses to enable remote work, that existing relationship made Microsoft the easiest place to turn. Teams is bundled with Office 365, a suite of other software products the company already uses — and Microsoft already had the NFL's trust.
The NFL is one of a growing number of businesses that have started using Teams as they transition to fully remote work in an effort to practice social distancing. On Microsoft's earnings call last week, CEO Satya Nadella noted that 20 organizations, including EY and Pfizer, have more than 100,000 active users on Teams. Coca-Cola just signed a five-year deal with Microsoft and will start using a wide range of its business software, including Teams.
Teams is already casting a long shadow over the market, including rivals like Slack, Zoom, and Google Meet. Nadella told analysts, "We have seen two years' worth of digital transformation in two months." Teams now has 75 million daily active users, up from 44 million in mid-March.
Zoom, Slack, and even to some extent Google's G Suite — which offers a similar range of tools as Office 365, but doesn't have a way to colocate them in the same way as Teams — don't offer a complete selection of tools. Microsoft Teams combines the entirety of the Microsoft Office Suite, bringing together just about everything that millions of workers already use — and trust — to get their jobs done.
The rapid growth of Teams has been criticized by Microsoft competitors including Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield as "forced," given that the company has killed older products like Skype for Business and started migrating users to Teams instead. But by the same token, when the pandemic suddenly required employers to switch to remote work, the fact that Teams comes bundled with Office 365 is what made it the easiest fix for companies that were never before equipped to function remotely.
Despite all the competitive drama, however, there's little evidence to show that picking one of these kinds of tools over another gives any kind of competitive edge, regardless of how many other tools with which they integrate. Rather, project-management experts told Business Insider that an organization's culture around communication and collaboration matters a whole lot more than the specific tech tools they use.
If your company is already adept at working remotely, adopting Microsoft Teams will hardly supercharge your ability to get things done. And if you're using other tools — like Slack, Zoom, or Google Meet — there's no real reason to overhaul that system and switch to Teams.
The business case for Teams is mostly about efficiency — not productivity.

Teams can make change management easier at large corporations

It can be challenging when thousands of employees who are accustomed to coming into an office every day start using the spotty WiFi in their living rooms. "Change management is hard," said Ben Aston, founder of The Digital Project Manager, a resource for project-management guides and training. Teams could be a good choice for larger corporations that don't have much experience with remote work, he said, simply because it's easier to get everyone up to speed on one product.
That's true even though Aston thinks Zoom and Slack are "best in class" for videoconferencing and chat, respectively. In this case, Teams' integration of tools is more relevant than their quality.
Tim Bombosch, a program director at the University of California, Berkeley, who teaches classes on project management, said large organizations often choose one tool for everyone to use because it's more affordable, more secure, or more easily scalable than anything else out there. (Bombosch said he doesn't endorse specific platforms or software solutions.) Maybe, he added, teaching people how to use it is easier. Sometimes the organization thinks they should keep everything in one place to avoid confusion if they're ever asked to search their records for legal purposes.
It goes back to the importance of efficiency.
universum work from home communications appsLarry Cannell, an analyst at Gartner, doesn't distinguish between "best-of-breed" tools like Slack and Zoom, which are considered top quality for chat or video-conferencing, and a suite of tools like Teams. Neither one automatically makes users more effective, he said. If it doesn't help people get work done, people won't use it.
And if having multiple communication channels is helpful for your organization, it's not necessary to streamline on principle, said Kathy Schwalbe, a professor at Augsburg College in Minnesota and the author of "An Introduction to Project Management." (Scwhalbe also doesn't endorse specific platforms or solutions.)
The first step Schwalbe takes when advising an organization on project management is to identify the problem they're trying to solve. Her goal, she added, is to figure out which technology (if any) is going to address the organization's needs and "add value to the business."

Teams is uniquely efficient for document collaboration

Teams isn't Microsoft's first attempt at collaboration software.
Microsoft first introduced Sharepoint, its still-popular tool for internal websites and and file sharing, in 2001. When it was meant to facilitate document sharing and collaboration, but the out-of-box experience was clunky, said Cannell. Sharepoint has since evolved and is still part of the Microsoft 365 suite, but its main functions are very different from Teams.
While Sharepoint is used as an internal site for an organization's employees to access shared information, Teams is meant for communication and collaboration among employees.
And the document-collaboration function in Teams is efficient, Cannell said. "It's more than good enough to compete in this marketplace," he added, "and it offers some unique capabilities that others don't offer."
When you share a document in a Teams channel, others can work on it and discuss it all in the same place. That's very different from what other vendors — including Slack and G Suite — provide. Slack integrates with many outside applications but doesn't have its own office productivity suite on offer, and G Suite is well-known for its confusing messaging app strategy.
However, Teams integrates with the rest of the Microsoft 365 suite, including Word, Excel, and Sharepoint. ViacomCBS recently decided to use Slack as its main chat provider — but also committed to using Teams as a way to collaborate on documents.

Businesses already trust Microsoft, so they're inclined to use Teams over other tools

Microsoft has, over its many decades of existence, also established a level of trust within organizations that relative upstarts like Slack and Zoom haven't necessarily done yet. The latter became popular because of their freemium models that allowed employees to start using them without having to consult the organizations' IT departments.
When businesses have to quickly pivot the way the company operates and choose tools — like many companies are doing now, as they transition to fully remote workforces — they'll turn to ones they have a trusted relationship with, said Daniel Newman, an analyst at Futurum Research.
While Microsoft has a free version of Teams, the company primarily lures customers by bundling the chat app with its business-productivity software products into what it calls Microsoft 365, a bundle that rolls together Office 365 with other IT-department-friendly products. Importantly, Microsoft 365 has security features built in across its entire suite of tools.
On the other hand, with rival Zoom, the simple user experience may have come at the cost of its security and privacy, as the red-hot company in April instituted a freeze on new features while it made sure that it could meet the challenges of suddenly finding itself in the spotlight as a consumer company.

Meeting customer demand could be a challenge for Microsoft

If Microsoft is to emerge as a winner after the pandemic, it needs to make sure it has enough capacity to keep up with demand, something it has recently struggled with. There are already signs that this may be easier said than done: Microsoft Teams experienced an outage in March.
Microsoft has also placed temporary restrictions for Azure cloud computing customers, including limits on free offers and "certain resources" for new subscriptions. The company has also said it would prioritize "first responders, health and emergency management services, critical government infrastructure organizational use, and ensuring remote workers stay up and running with the core functionality of Teams."
The key, Newman said, is making sure Microsoft has the capacity to handle all those new customers.
On Microsoft's recent earnings call, Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood said the company plans to "get ahead of the surge demand" in its cloud business, meaning that things could even out sooner rather than later.

The post-pandemic world

Microsoft expects the coronavirus crisis to forever change the way its customers work as it forces them to discover ways technology can make their businesses more efficient.
It's even causing some to rethink the NFL Draft, which had been operating essentially the same way for more than 80 years, until COVID-19 caused it to be rethought from the ground up. And it could be a sign of how Teams, and tools like it, prompt new approaches to remote work that shake up the traditional formula forever.
Athletes, coaches, and general managers joined from their homes and upward of 55 million fans tuned in, marking a 16% increase in viewership from 2019. During the in-person event, the team makes a decision about who to draft and then calls in their pick to the NFL, who passes along the pick to Goodell, the commissioner, to announce on stage.
This time, it happened directly through Microsoft Teams.
"It does seem like we should probably eliminate [the middle man] and just type the name into your computer and hit send," Los Angeles Rams general manager Les Snead told ESPN.
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