Microsoft Teams can be a critical tool for working from home. How well it works for you, however, depends on how many of the key features you know about and use, as well as how many tricks you know about for navigating this enormous tool and keeping it organized.
What Is Microsoft Teams?
Microsoft Teams is one of the best team messaging and video conferencing apps, allowing groups of people to talk to one another using group text chat, one-on-one text chat, video calls, and file-sharing. In Teams, you can collaboratively make a wiki for a project or department as well as connect to other Microsoft apps. Anyone can use Microsoft Teams for free. Learning how to use the core features of the app, like how to join a channel and post a comment, is fairly easy, especially because you get brief tutorials the first time you use Team.
Let’s look instead what’s less obvious. What follows is a collection of ten simple bit powerful tricks and tips that help you stay organized, keep key tools at your fingertips, turn off some notifications to reduce distractions, and generally have a more productive experience with this app. To learn more about Microsoft Teams, read up on how it differs from Slack, as well as some of the alternatives to these two popular messaging apps.
1. Customize Notifications at the App Level
Notifications from team chat apps help you stay on top of important conversations, but the unimportant ones can be awful distractions. That’s why it’s important to customize notifications. In Teams, you can do it at the app level, channel level, and conversation level.
At the app level, you can customize notifications for mentions, messages, and other changes to the account, such as when someone joins or leaves. The only one you cannot disable completely is @ mentions.
To get there, click your profile icon in the upper right corner, choose Settings, and then select Notifications.
2. Customize Notifications at the Channel Level
At the channel level, you can customize notifications for all new posts, all replies, and channel mentions, meaning when someone tags the channel to talk about it. It may be helpful to disable (set to Off) any channels that you’ve joined for fun and socializing, or any channels that you watch or listen to passively. Even after you turn off channel notifications, the name of the channel will still turn bold when there’s new activity, letting you know you can drop in and catch up, but only when the time’s right for you.
To get there, hover over the channel name until three dots appear. Click the dots and select Channel notifications.
3. Customize Notifications at the Conversation Level
At the conversation level (also known as a thread), you can turn off notifications completely, which is helpful when a thread goes off the rails.
To get there, hover over the top right corner of the original post until you see a string of reacji and three dots. Click the three dots and choose Turn off notifications. Even with notifications off, you’ll still get an alert if someone @ mentions you.
4. Send a Private Chat Without Leaving a Channel
Microsoft Teams keeps channels and chats separate from one another. That’s not helpful when you need to quickly message someone privately while you’re in the thick of a channel conversation. There is a way to do it, however.
Click on the profile of the person you want to message. A box pops up with a few options for reaching them, including a message field that’s nothing more than a quick way to send a chat.
5. Turn a Chat Into an Audio or Video Call
Microsoft Teams has built-in audio and video calling. This means you can turn any chat with a colleague into a phone call or video call using your computer’s speakers, microphone, and camera. There are a few ways to call your colleagues, including clicking on someone’s profile image and selecting the calling icon (see the image in the previous tip). Another way is to switch from a private chat to a call. This option is convenient when text-chatting just isn’t being as efficient as you’d like.
From the chat, simply click on either the video camera icon or phone icon in the upper right corner. The app will dial the person or people in the chat automatically.
6. Share Your Screen
When you physically share office space with others, it’s easy to ask a colleague to look over your shoulder at someone on screen. It’s nearly as easy to show your screen to colleagues when in a remote work environment. With Microsoft Teams, you can do it by starting a call with someone, and then turning on screen sharing.
Once you start the call, click the screen sharing option near the bottom of the window. Note that the account administrator must allow screen sharing for it to work.
7. Add a Virtual Background to Video Calls
Maybe you’ve seen all the fun background images that people have added to Zoom virtual meetings. Microsoft Teams lets you choose a background image for video calls, too, but it doesn’t give you a simple way to make your own image.
The short version of his instructions is to drop the image you want to use into the folder that Microsoft Teams uses for its background image options.
8. Tidy Up Your Channel Bar
The more teams and channels in your account, the messier and more disorganized the left rail of your app looks. Let’s look at a few key ways to tidy up the channel bar.
First, pin the channels that you use the most to the top of that area. Hover over the channel name until you see three dots. Click the dots and choose Pin.
Second, you can expand and collapse teams as needed. The more teams you collapse, the more organized your channel bar will seem.
Third, you can reorder teams by dragging and dropping them, letting you put the more important teams higher up.
Lastly, within any team, you can hide channels that aren’t highly relevant to you—except the General channel for each team. You can’t get rid of that one. To hide a channel, hover on its name until you see three dots. Click the dots and select Hide. After you hide channels, you can still reach them easily by navigating to the bottom of the list of channels for that team, where the app tells you how many channels you’ve hidden for the chosen team.
9. Try / Commands
The search bar at the top of your Microsoft Teams window doubles as a place to type commands. Commands let you navigate the app faster and more efficiently. If you’re not very technologically savvy, commands may seem daunting, but here, they’re not.
Try typing a single forward slash ( / ) into the search bar. A list of possible commands appears, which means you don’t have to memorize them. Additionally, the app helps you complete the command. For example, if you type /chat, the app automatically gives you fields for typing the name of the person you want to send a message and a text field for writing it.
Two other handy commands are /dnd, which puts your account into “do not disturb” mode; and /keys, which pulls up a list of keyboard shortcuts for more ways to navigate the app efficiently.
10. Add Special Tabs to Your Channel
Every channel has a row of tabs at the top. By default, you’ll see Posts, Files, and Wiki. You can add special tabs that are unique to each channel. Tabs can be websites, specific files you need to reference offer, and even information from other apps, such as Trello or Zendesk.
To add a tab, click the + in the tabs area, and a list of options will show you what kind of content you can add.