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. …
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.
Presentation of Employee Monitoring Tech at Microsoft Build 2017 (Brian Smale/Microsoft)
Build, Microsoft’s annual developer conference taking place in Seattle this week, is focusing heavily this year on AI and machine learning, and how the company plans to embed these technologies in the workplace of the near future. Wednesday’s keynote demonstrations showcased what Mark Sullivan at Fast Company calls “a vision of the workplace of the future where workers are surrounded by all manner of cameras, sensors, and other recording devices connected to internet-based AI services”:
Microsoft showed demos and videos of the “intelligent edge” in a variety of forms, in a variety of use cases, and in a variety of industries:
- A heart patient was walking around wearing a sensor. He began to get tired, so the sensor sent that data up to the cloud for processing, and a nurse was notified to bring him a wheelchair.
- A camera detected an employee accidentally tipping over a barrel containing a dangerous chemical, information it sent up to image-recognition software in the cloud. Some other database likely helped determine that the liquid in the barrel was hazardous. Presumably an alarm was sent to a cleanup team.
- An employee in a shop was spotted taking a selfie while brandishing a jackhammer. The brain in the cloud recognized the employee, the activity, and the setting and concluded he was behaving recklessly, then contacted a supervisor.
- Someone else in a shop was seen not wearing safety goggles. Alarm. Supervisor notified.
All this involves some sophisticated, on-the-fly AI. In the words of the presenter demoing the intelligent edge developer tools at Build: “The solution is running more than 27 million recognitions per second across people, objects, and activities.” But the use cases Microsoft showed onstage sound equal parts helpful and intrusive. Sure, getting a heart patient back to bed or detecting a dangerous chemical spill are health-promoting. But the notifications to the supervisor suggest a completely different, and possibly unintended, consequence of the technology.
“There is benevolent surveillance and then there is just surveillance,” Sullivan worries, “and the Microsoft technology could work in both scenarios.” But CEO Satya Nadella spent part of his time on the Build stage Wednesday dispelling the notion that Microsoft is out to turn the workplace into a surveillance state:
Google Hangouts Chat (Google)
The battle for dominance of the workplace communications technology market is shaping up to be a key trend in the tech space this year: We saw the launch of Slack’s Enterprise Grid version of its signature work-chat product for large organizations this January, the emergence of Microsoft Teams and Facebook Workplace as major competitors to Slack in late 2016, and now, Recode’s Tess Townsend notes, Google is getting in the game as well with a set of new workplace tools in its G Suite enterprise offering, dividing the existing Hangouts app into Hangouts Meet, a video chat program, and Hangouts Chat—which Townsend notes “looks a lot like Slack”:
Hangouts Chat is part of Google’s newest push to sell its office tools to big businesses as part of its bigger aim to take on Microsoft Office. Verizon recently switched from Office to G Suite. And the update to Hangouts Chat appears to be designed to compete with Slack. The feature will be available to G Suite customers who apply for access. The new app allows users to create virtual rooms (much like on Slack) where they can hold group conversations, and to break conversations off into threads.
Chat also includes a new bot for automatically scheduling meetings: When called up, @meet will compare Google Calendar schedules of chat participants to automatically pick an open time.
A Google executive tells Townsend that these new tools are not envisioned as a challenge to Slack, which itself already integrates with Google Drive. Nonetheless, Google has already been focusing its energies on developing chatbots and other tools powered by artificial intelligence, which also happens to be the focus of Slack’s long-term growth strategy. Indeed, the ability to integrate bots is a central feature of Google’s new product, Ken Yeung of VentureBeat observes:
‘Tis the season for launching new workplace communication platforms. Back in September, Microsoft revealed that it was developing a competitor with Slack, and earlier this month, Facebook rolled out Workplace, the highly anticipated enterprise version of its social media platform. On Wednesday, Microsoft officially launched its new product, Microsoft Teams, GeekWire reports:
Microsoft Teams is a threaded chat tool that uses channels in much the same way that Slack does. Executives are showing the tool for the first time this morning at the event in New York City, available via webcast. The company says Microsoft Teams will be available as a customer preview in 180 different countries. It will be included in enterprise and small business versions of the Office 365 subscription service. General availability is scheduled for the first quarter of the 2017 calendar year.
Microsoft Teams looks like a cross between Slack and Facebook, with collaborative tools that allow people to work on documents together within threads, and the ability to build and upload memes and emojis to customize the app to match the vibe of the team. Skype is deeply integrated into teams, allowing a quick transition from chat to voice and video conferences. Microsoft Teams is also works with third party services like Twitter and GitHub, allowing for notifications and updates within the app. As part of the event, Microsoft announced a developer’s preview of Teams to allow companies to integrate it into their own technology. Microsoft says Teams will be integrated with more than 150 partners when it becomes generally available next year.
At TechCrunch, Brian Heater gives the platform a positive review, saying the user interface is clean and easy to navigate:
The app does a pretty good job organizing a lot of content at once – though a company rep admitted that developers held back some functionality, in an attempt to keep things lightweight, notably things like private meetings, though there are some workarounds for that, which we’ll go into later. Also, all users get access to all the information that’s been shared in a channel by default, so watch who you talk about in there.