Most companies rely on Microsoft Outlook as a primary tool for communication, supported by an Exchange Server or Office 365 hosted cloud service. For many employees, it surpasses the telephone in importance. So it’s intriguing to see Microsoft announce changes that may indicate it hopes to consolidate how companies manage communication onto a single platform — Microsoft Teams.
Collaboration Is Communication
Teams is Microsoft’s foray into chat-based collaboration similar to Slack or Cisco’s Spark. All Office 365 customers have had access to it since mid-March. (We wrote about the potential benefits of adopting these types of tools: How to Use Team Chat Tools to Improve Collaboration.)
In late September, at its annual Ignite conference for developers and IT professionals, Microsoft revealed that over the next few years, it will gradually replace Skype for Business with Teams, which will become Office 365’s communications client.
Of course, that says nothing about email and Outlook. Skype for Business is an online audio and video conferencing platform that also hooks into or even replaces a company’s telephone system. So what’s the connection here?
Companies have never had so many different ways to communicate. Phone and especially email still matter most for both internal and external communication. But the adoption of various chat tools, video conferencing and collaboration platforms — many in the cloud — now provide new channels through which employees can digitally work together, as well as respond to customers or vendors.
This also presents some challenges. While new tools are exciting and convenient, they also introduce some confusion and fragmentation. When is it right to email versus call or send a chat message or talk in person? What if a conversation starts on email but then shifts to chat, and the thread is no longer captured in one place? Employees can struggle to work across multiple platforms for different purposes. From an IT perspective, companies can find it hard to keep it all sorted as well.
The trend toward consolidating and standardizing communication platforms, while still innovating with new features, is welcome. Users expect to have one platform for collaboration, especially internal teamwork.
Some analysts think group messaging services like Microsoft Teams, which also support audio and video calling and conferencing, could herald the end of platforms like Skype for Business. As Art Schoeller, an analyst at Forrester Research, was quoted about the news, “All these separate client experiences are collapsing into a team messaging interface.”
Of course, Microsoft Teams also provides file transfer, which begs the question, why do you need email and Outlook?
How Do You Use Email?
Every company approaches internal communications differently, based on their culture and management styles. For many, though, email is the standard—but is it always the most effective? It’s a question worth asking, especially at companies that have already migrated to Office 365 as a cloud-based business productivity suite, which provides alternatives, like Teams.
As we noted in another recent blog post, how employees use email is changing, in particular checking it less. One of the main benefits of collaboration platforms like Teams is that it shifts focus away from the inbox, as we have noted.
Some analysts even feel that Teams could completely replace Outlook. Irwin Lazar, an industry analyst at Nemertes Research told one tech news outlet:
“My feeling on Teams replacing Outlook is: Yes, that’s going to happen. As companies adopt Teams, they would see a significant decline in the amount of internal email.”
External email is another story, of course. Having an official digital record of communication comes in handy. And as much as there is value in consolidation, there are also circumstances where companies and employees will want separate tools.
Regardless, Outlook will certainly not disappear overnight. But for many reasons, organizations will want to standardize and rationalize how they communicate on specific platforms for specific purposes. Cloud-based services definitely enable new options. And as communication and collaboration tools evolve, companies should occasionally evaluate how they can use them to become more efficient and keep up with changes in culture and employee expectations.
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