Workplace collaboration platforms are already an office staple for professionals working “desk jobs” in fields like technology and media, but these tools are less common among frontline employees in hands-on roles. Nearly two years after its global launch, Microsoft’s workplace collaboration platform Teams has added a series of new features to improve its functionality for workers in fields like retail, hospitality, healthcare, and manufacturing. The latest upgrade was rolled out last week, GeekWire’s Nat Levy reported, including:
- [A] new customizable mobile experience comes with a series of features specifically for workers on the go, such as location sharing, smart camera and the ability to record and share audio messages.
- Teams will now include a template to help IT managers grant individual employees access to the features they need.
- Microsoft is working on a set of APIs, which will debut in public preview later this quarter, that will allow companies to integrate workforce management tools that handle things like scheduling and payroll directly into Teams.
- Coming later this quarter, Microsoft is enabling a Praise feature, which allows employers to call out important contributions from workers.
This announcement comes just a few months after Microsoft showcased a series of new features for “first-line” workers at its Ignite developer conference in September. These included scheduling tools that enable users create and share schedules, swap shifts, request time off, and access announcements from their employers. Microsoft also revealed that it had a secure patient care coordination tool in private preview as part of an effort to bring Teams into the health care field.
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.
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. …
Facebook has made a number of rapid-fire improvements to its enterprise offering Workplace since launching the bold play for the workplace productivity market last year: Earlier this year, it introduced a free tier of the service and added a collection of new features like file-sharing integrations to keep up with the rapidly developing standards of collaboration platforms as Facebook vies for dominance in the market against Slack, Microsoft, Google, Atlassian, and a growing number of new competitors.
This week, the social media giant released another package of new Workplace features, including a desktop app that allows screen sharing and will soon introduce group video chat. TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden checks the specs of the latest update:
Previously, the video features in Workplace were limited to live video broadcasts and one-to-one video conversations. Alongside the new apps and features, Facebook is also updating the overall design of Workplace to simplify the interface and make it consistent across Android, iOS, desktop and web[.]
Workplace has positioned itself as the collaboration platform for everyone in your organization — not just those who are so-called “knowledge workers” who are at desks most of the day. The idea is that everyone, from executive to barista to warehouse assistant, will find Workplace easy to use because, well, it looks and feels a lot like the hugely popular Facebook. However, the new desktop apps — for both PC and Mac — are a hat tip that there are, in fact, a lot of those desk-sitters using Workplace, too.
Facebook had said the app was a response to user requests, but Lunden argues that these new features are also aimed at boosting user engagement, as that metric is critical for Workplace’s business model:
Slack Shared Channels (Slack)
The market for workplace collaboration software has been growing steadily more competitive over the past year, with tech giants like Microsoft and Facebook moving into the space formerly dominated by the startup Slack. Last week, Atlassian unveiled its new platform called Stride, which integrates with the company’s other enterprise technology offerings and aims specifically at meeting users’ needs in areas where Slack falls short. Both Slack and Microsoft made announcements about their products this week that show they are well aware of the heightening competition and prepared to respond.
On Monday, GeekWire’s Nat Levy reported, Microsoft released a new feature on its Teams product called Guest Access, which gives organizations “a way to bring in freelancers or consultants on a project and show them everything they need to know, and nothing more”:
Larry Waldman, a program manager for Teams, told GeekWire that guest access has been among the most frequent and long-standing requests from customers. “We knew we needed it because people in companies work with folks outside their companies very regularly,” Waldman said. “That’s something we heard feedback on even as we were developing Teams.”
Microsoft also announced that Teams is now being used by 125,000 organizations, more than double the 50,000 who were using it when it launched globally in March.
Not to be outdone, Slack put out an announcement of its own the next day at its Frontiers conference in San Francisco, Levy’s colleague Monica Nickelsburg adds. The company revealed that it had grown to 9 million weekly active users in more than 100 countries, including 50,000 paid teams, and 2 million paid users, generating $200 million in annual recurring revenue. Slack also unveiled a feature that enables ongoing collaboration between multiple organizations:
Last October, Facebook rolled out Workplace, its highly anticipated competitor to Slack and other workplace productivity programs. Originally, the service was available to businesses for a monthly fee, and free for nonprofit organizations and educational institutions, but now, the social media giant is testing a scaled-down free version in an effort to expand Workplace’s user base, CNET’s Richard Nieva reports:
Now, the free tier is called Workplace Standard, and the paid one is Workplace Premium. The software is meant for teams to use as an online office, with familiar Facebook fare like a news feed or groups. But it’s not linked to your personal account. The paid version costs $3 per user for the first 1,000 active users, $2 each for the next 9,000 active users after that, and $1 each for anyone on top of that.
The paid version also includes extras like analytics tools and administrator controls. Right now, companies including Starbucks, Viacom and Campbell’s use Workplace. …
Simon Cross, a Facebook product manager, tells CNET that the free tier was always part of Facebook’s plans for its enterprise offering, adding that it would help attract new customers for the paid product by giving them a taste of what Workplace has to offer, as well as also to attract more customers in emerging markets like India.
Slack's San Francisco HQ (Courtesy Slack)
At the end of January, Slack released Enterprise Grid, a much-anticipated version of its signature group chat program designed to suit the needs of large organizations. TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lundgren checks out the specs on the wunderkind tech startup’s competitor to Microsoft Teams and Workplace by Facebook, which “comes with a range of features that are essentially table stakes in the enterprise software market”:
IT administrators are now be able to manage and provision multiple large teams; and, in addition to the encryption that Slack already offers, add in new layers of security and identity management (integrating with Okta, OneLogin, Ping Identity/Federate, MSFT Azure, Bitium, LastPass, Centrify, Clearlogin and Auth0); set new security and compliance controls; and new HIPAA & FINRA compliance and data loss prevention integration (working withPaloAlto Networks, Bloomberg Vault, Skyhigh, Netskope, Relativity by KCura and Smarsh, among others).
Along with this, Slack is also adding in new partnership with SAP where the enterprise services company is building a portfolio of bots to integrate with SAP services. The first three will be a Concur travel and expense bot; a SuccessFactors performance management bot; and a bot to interact with the HANA Cloud platform. This expands on the kids of relationships Slack already has in place with other B2B businesses like Salesforce and Google Cloud, and it looks like these SAP bots will work across all of Slack, rather than just for users of Enterprise Grid.
Lundgren’s colleague Ron Miller calls the new enterprise offering “the next logical step for Slack”: