Microsoft announced on Thursday that it was launching a free version of its workplace chat and collaboration tool Microsoft Teams for groups of 300 people or fewer, the Seattle Times reported. The move puts the Redmond, Washington-based software giant in more direct competition with Slack, the startup whose popular group chat system operates on a similar “freemium” model. Previously, Teams was only available to subscribers of the Microsoft’s Office 365 suite of productivity software; the premium version remains tied to the 365 suite, but smaller organizations are now able to try out the free version and choose whether to subscribe and upgrade.
Like Slack, the free version of Teams puts some restrictions on what users can do, but the restrictions are different. Slack’s free version allows for an unlimited number of users but limits these groups to 5 GB of storage space and only lets them save and search up to 10,000 messages. Teams limits the number of free users but does not limit how many messages they can save. It also gives them more storage space than Slack: 10 GB for the group, plus 2 GB per user for personal storage. The free version also includes the platform’s built-in integrations with Microsoft Office and unlimited integrations with third-party business apps, TechCrunch adds.
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In a paper published last week, Harvard Business School professor Ethan Bernstein and co-author Stephen Turban set out to measure the impact of open offices on how employees communicate in the workplace, using sociometric devices to track employee interactions at Fortune 500 companies that were transitioning to open office plans. Quartz’s Lila MacLellan explains their counterintuitive findings:
In two studies, the researchers found that conversations by email and instant messaging (IM) increased significantly after the office redesign, while productivity declined, and, for most people, face-to-face interaction decreased. Participants in the first study spent 72% less time interacting in person in the open space. Before the renovation, employees had met face to face for nearly 5.8 hours per person over three weeks. In the after picture, the same people held face-to-face conversations for only about 1.7 hours per person.
These employees were emailing and IM-ing much more often, however, sending 56% more email messages to other participants in the study. This is how employees sought the privacy that their cubicle walls once provided, the authors reason. IM messages soared, both in terms of messages sent and total word count, by 67% and 75%, respectively.
Bernstein’s paper adds to the growing body of research questioning the value of open-plan offices, which came into vogue in the US over the past decade as part of an effort to make the office environment more interactive and collaborative. Critiques of the practice usually focus on the distractions and lack of privacy an open office provides; the proliferation of open offices in the US has even been suggested as a possible factor contributing to the spread of the flu virus in American workplaces during winter.
Other research, like Bernstein’s, has found that open offices don’t improve employee communication as advertised, and can even have the opposite effect. A major study in Australia in 2016, for example, found that workers in open offices form poorer relationships with their colleagues and managers, making fewer friends at work and seeing their supervisors less supportive.
Workplace, Facebook’s foray into the workplace collaboration technology market, has already come a long way from its highly anticipated launch in late 2016. As Facebook has added more features to Workplace, a key element of the platform’s evolution has been integrating it with a growing number of commonly used enterprise software tools (also a major selling point of competitors like Slack and Microsoft Teams).
Its most recent integrations reveal that Facebook’s ambitions for Workplace go well beyond intra-office communication. The social media giant has entered separate partnerships with the human capital management systems ADP and Paychex, HR Dive’s Kathryn Moody reports, which will enable employees to access pay and benefit information through Workplace:
Employees using the ADP integration — which links the ADP Virtual Assistant with Workplace by Facebook — will be able to access their pay statement summaries, pay deductions, time-off balances and other pay-related information. They’ll also be able to get notifications on when they’ve been paid, and generally can access this information from anywhere and on any device that supports Workplace.
Slack announced last week that it was integrating its platform with Workday to enable users to access the Workday suite of HR tools from within Slack’s platform. The integration will allow users to request time off and share information about their leave, provide peer feedback, and look up coworkers’ information without leaving the Slack interface. Other integrated features are in the pipeline, including custom notifications and a tool for IT functions to easily assign employees to the right Slack channels. These features are expected to roll out this coming fall, Slack says.
For Workday, the integration is an opportunity to reshape the way employees engage with HR, Chief Technology Officer Joe Korngiebel wrote in a blog post discussing the move:
We believe that the integration of Workday and Slack will be a game changer in terms of empowering employees. Employees will be able to engage with HR in a way they haven’t been able to before. Without having to move to another application, they will be able to resolve many of their questions and issues in an intuitive and familiar way. Slack and Workday are tools people enjoy using and derive significant daily value from. As a result, together we can empower people to work more intuitively and with less friction to more simply get things done at work.
From Slack’s perspective, the partnership is part of its efforts to turn its chat and collaboration platform into an all-in-one enterprise technology tool. Slack has been engaged in a feature war with a growing field of competitors, including major players like Microsoft, over the past year, and last week’s announcement illustrates the degree to which integration with other platforms is a central battleground.
Microsoft on Monday marked the first anniversary of the global launch of Microsoft Teams, the tech giant’s entry into the burgeoning workplace chat and collaboration software market, noting that the platform is now used by 200,000 organizations in 181 markets and 39 languages. Teams is also introducing new features this year, including a cloud recording system for meetings, inline message translation, and integration with Microsoft’s voice assistant, Cortana.
TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez takes a closer look at the new features and how they fit into the accelerating race to become the ultimate enterprise communication tool:
The added integration with Cortana’s voice assistance could give Microsoft an edge in its battle with Slack, given the increasing importance of voice-based computing in the workplace and within business productivity applications.
Microsoft and Amazon announced last year their voice assistants, Cortana and Alexa, would work together, for example. Meanwhile, companies – including Microsoft – have been working to make their applications and services work well with voice assistants given the potential of voice computing in the workplace. …
Since taking control of the company in 2014, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has been on a mission to transform its culture from one of fierce internal competition to the collaborative ideal of “One Microsoft.” Nadella’s tenure has seen an increase in the number of “boomerang” employees returning to Microsoft after stints at other companies, Seattle Times business reporter Rachel Lerman observes—over 2,200 in total:
During the few years before Nadella stepped into the role, about 12 percent of the company’s new hires in the U.S. each year had previous job stints at the company. But that number ticked up to 16 percent, or 621 boomerangs, between July 2014 and July 2015, starting a few months after Nadella took over as CEO.
These returning employees, who remember how Microsoft operated a decade ago, are particularly attuned to the change in the company’s dynamic, which in many cases, was part of the reason they decided to return:
When [Dean] Lester, an engineering director, left the company at the end of 2009, he was craving some time off and new challenges, but he was also feeling frustrated with the way Microsoft teams were being run — they were so focused on rapid project launches that people were burning out. That was changing, the chorus of former co-workers told him. He should take another look. …
Microsoft has rolled out the biggest update to its Microsoft Teams collaboration software since the product was launched in late 2016, adding an array of features “allowing users to better work with apps – something Microsoft Teams accomplishes via integrations, new search and discovery features, commands, and more,” Sarah Perez reports at TechCrunch:
Some of the features are, in fact, quite Slack-like. For example, Microsoft Teams now offers a way to search for apps from the new app store where you can browse by category or search by name, category or integration type – like Project Management or BI. … In Microsoft’s case, however, there’s a bit more emphasis on the apps your organization has added and assigned to you, as well as those you regularly work with.
A new “personal space” displays all the items that you’ve been assigned across your apps, like your tasks in Planner or issues in Jira Cloud, plus those from apps you’ve recently accessed, like OneNote notebooks or videos from Microsoft Stream. Microsoft even added its own new app called Who, powered by Microsoft Graph. This lets you search across your organization for people by name or topic. The updated version of Teams also makes it easier to launch apps.
The new update continues the feature war that has been ongoing between Teams and the startup Slack, its chief rival, over the past year: Microsoft first introduced third-party applications for Teams at its Build conference last May, while both services beefed up their features in September to compete both with each other and with new entrants to the increasingly competitive workplace collaboration software market.