New feature turns Microsoft Personal Teams into a tool for small businesses

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Microsoft hopes that Teams will not only be the way business users collaborate on daily work, but also a simple way for smaller companies to build communities for employees or customers.

The personal version of Teams is free and built into Windows 11, and millions of people already have the free Microsoft account they need to use it on Mac, iOS, and Android devices. Now Microsoft is adding a new community experience to the existing chat and calendar features on personal computers.

What are communities in Microsoft Teams?

Communities in Microsoft Teams are invite-only group spaces to chat, meet, share information, and generally organize and collaborate. This Communities function (Figure A) could be useful for small businesses that want to connect and communicate with groups of customers, or for coworkers to manage work-related events, such as team lunches or company parties.

Figure A

Communities is a new feature in the existing free Microsoft Teams app.
Communities is a new feature in the existing free Microsoft Teams app.

Communities are available now on iOS and Android clients and “coming soon” (to quote Microsoft) for desktop Teams clients. You can use Communities in the free version of Teams, Microsoft 365 Personal, Microsoft 365 Family, and Teams Essentials if you sign in with a Microsoft account.

How to use Communities in Microsoft Teams

You can create a community from scratch or choose one of the eight templates in the app, though these just pre-populate an appropriate emoji as a header and icon, and you could easily choose an emoji or photo yourself.

Like Teams in the enterprise version, communities are based on Microsoft 365 Groups, but the features are simplified: A community has a chat channel and a calendar where you can organize events (which can be Teams meetings but don’t have than to be; you can fill in the address of a real-world event and get a map showing the location), plus a list of files.

Any photos, web links, or files that people attach to their chat messages are added to the community, and you can quickly filter them to view using the Events, Photos, Links, and Files buttons at the top. Currently, there is no button to filter only videos, but Microsoft says it is available (and the videos we uploaded were not showing up in the Files filter).

You can choose a file from within Microsoft Teams by adding it as an attachment when you write a chat message from your local device or connected cloud storage, or you can choose Teams as the sharing target from another app and then choose the community you want to share. post it. Share a PDF or image, and everyone can see and save it. Share an Office file like a letter that other people in your company need to use as a template or an Excel spreadsheet with the details of something you’re working on and other members of the community can see it and then open it for editing. Changes someone else makes will show up in the file for everyone, so you can use this as an easy way to collaborate on documents.

SEE: Microsoft Office Professional 2021 for Windows: Lifetime license (TechRepublic Academy)

What you need to know about using Communities and OneDrive

Microsoft Teams uses OneDrive to store files in communities, and you can also see a community’s files in Shared with their folder in your own OneDrive, so you can work with them outside of Teams, but this might not work exactly the same. way you expect. .

If you share a file from your own OneDrive instead of sharing your file directly, Teams makes a new copy in the root of your personal OneDrive and shares it. This means that while you’ll see changes people make to your community file, your original file in OneDrive won’t be updated with those changes. This avoids what could be tricky permissions management issues as people move in and out of a community, so it’s probably the right choice here, but something to keep in mind.

Most businesses will want the management options that come with commercial versions of Teams, Office, and OneDrive. But if you’re working with a small group of people and want an easy way to share, talk, and collaborate on files that doesn’t end up with as many different copies of the file as email does, Microsoft Teams Communities is worth a try.

Selected connections through Microsoft Teams Communities

There are many community tools that the people Microsoft Teams is intended for are using, and just like business teams, personal teams will begin to integrate them into communities. The first of these will be SignUpGenius, a service that replaces paper sign-up sheets or email chains for small businesses and volunteer groups: next year, you’ll be able to add a sign-up option to a Microsoft Teams community to organize things more structured, such as carpooling. to work or who brings what to the company picnic.

Microsoft says it will add more integrations in the future, and there are other Microsoft services that would make sense here, like Microsoft Bookings for scheduling appointments or the personal version of Microsoft Lists or PowerApps Cards that let you build microapps to enter information like a custom form. voting or rating screen.

And all of this information will stay in a group environment that you control, with more management and moderation options than you would with Discord, Facebook, or even Microsoft’s own GroupMe group chat service.

“Community owners have the ability to manage settings, set community guidelines, and add or remove participants and posts,” a Microsoft spokesperson told TechRepublic. “In addition, community owners can add new events or meetings to their community calendar, invite people, track attendance, and follow up with attendees through direct private chats.”

You have an invitation to join a community: It’s up to the community owner if they’re the only person who can send invitations, which can be a link to click or a QR code to scan, or if people who have already joined can invite your friends. Community owners can invite people directly using their email address or phone number, making it more difficult to spam people with invites they don’t care about or remove someone who is disruptive. If you’re using the community to share information with subscribers, students, employees, or another type of group that changes naturally over time, you can remove people who no longer qualify.

Anyone can edit their own messages to update the details that change (or fix that annoying typo you see right after you hit send) or delete them; Community owners can also delete posts posted by community members if they’re off-topic or not helpful, or just clean up discussions about planning an event or fixing a problem once everything’s done. finished.

There’s also an option to report content directly to Microsoft, which should give businesses confidence that using Teams won’t expose employees or customers to anything distressing.

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