How to build a community using Microsoft teams? You can’t. That was fast. Seriously, Microsoft Teams is considered by many as one of the most prominent competitors to Slack or Zoom and, although it’s superior in a lot of places, there are some things that it lacks. No software is perfect, so this is my list of things that Microsoft could improve upon but won’t necessarily do to enable communities in Microsoft Teams.
The Competition Approach
Slack is simple. You provide an email address, any email address, and you’re part of a Slack Workspace. Then you can interact with people in channels and exchange ideas and, with certain generous limitations, for free. That’s what made Slack the go-to place for communities to form because it was super simple to do so. You can even provide an invite link to add people to your Workspace.
Discord takes a similar approach by providing you with channels (both written and voice) so that people can interact. Although Discord was first as a gaming collaboration platform, enabling players to talk with each other while playing, it soon became the go-to place to form communities of several interests. I’ve seen podcast networks, niche communities, and other special interest topics that can be found and discussed taking advantage of amazing features. By the way, if you want to join our little tech community, follow the link in the header, and we’ll be more than happy to have you. From books to the Power Platform, everything interesting goes.
Microsoft Team’s Approach
Microsoft Teams uses a different approach. A team is part of an organization, and that has licensed users to use Microsoft’s products. Since it’s deeply linked to Microsoft’s products, which can be a good thing or, in this case, a bad thing, you can only add guests with a valid Office 365 license. That’s a massive problem if you’re interacting with people that are using Google’s or other companies’ products. These companies can use Slack entirely and add you to their workspace, but you can’t do the opposite.
In my opinion, Microsoft will continue to make things simpler for external people to join meetings. Otherwise, it would be an island for people within a corporation but won’t make a lot of effort to allow for external users that don’t have a valid license. There’s an incentive to force people to be in Microsoft’s ecosystem to be able to use their products. There’s nothing wrong with that since this is the approach for many companies. Let’s wait and see on this one.
What can change?
Slack is already doing something to bridge the gap. According to its CEO, they are building an integration that would enable both platforms to do calls. It’s the first step, but coming from the wrong side. Since Satya Nadella took over Microsoft, one thing changed hugely. Microsoft’s mindset. No longer Microsoft would be looking at Linux as the “enemy” and open source as “insecure.” They also developed their cloud platform to support all sorts of integrations between all kinds of platforms, and that brought a competitive edge to the whole platform. Windows even allows you to install a Linux subsystem, something that would be crazy-talk a few years ago.
So the mindset should extend to Microsoft Teams and start opening the doors more and more to external collaboration with other entities. By allowing for Guests to use only a small subset of features of Microsoft Teams would make a world of difference for companies that have external suppliers, for example. And since Microsoft Teams is becoming the central hub for the whole company’s collaboration, it makes sense for it to be as open as possible to inside and outside contributions while maintaining the control on what people can and can’t see with all the SharePoint’s features behind it.
I know this is a different type of article that I usually write. I like to write about things that you can do to solve problems or enable you to learn something, but this is nagging me every time I want to do a meeting with someone outside my organization and have to use Zoom or another creepy platform. Microsoft is making a significant effort on security and privacy, and this is a breach by design. You either don’t talk with people who can’t use Microsoft Teams, or you use alternative providers that are not approved by your IT department and may have security holes, exposing your company to all sorts of problems.