Working from home is going to be new for a lot of people. I’m writing this in March 2020, where working from home is the new normal. So we’ll cover some general working remotely tips, and then go on to go through some quick power tips and then a walkthrough of the Microsoft Teams interface in this how to guide to MS Teams. Note, MS teams isn’t part of the Office 365 family package, you’ll have to stump up for the business package to use it.
First, the Remote Workers Survival Guide
For a lot of people, you may be working from home for the first time and there are some useful tips for keeping productive and sane when working remotely.
Have a routine
It can be really easy to just get up late, stay in your PJs and maybe even just work from the bed or sofa. This should be avoided. A routine establishes clear boundaries between work and non-work. Not only is routine essential for good mental health but the fuzzy edges of work can create stress due to never really having downtime. Routine and mental health study (L M Lyle et al, Lancet 2018). I always make sure I’m showered and dressed before starting work around 8:30.
Get some daylight
Since you don’t have that 2-hour daily commute, it’s likely you won’t be getting that 2 hours of extra daylight hitting your retinas. The problems of Seasonal Affective Disorder are well known but there are benefits in spending time away from a screen and seeing distance as well as daylight including reduced headaches, less tiredness and generally more productivity. In addition to seeing some real daylight, I suggest getting a daylight temperature desk lamp.
Have some boundaries
As I’ve said before having a routine for starting and finishing work is important for delineating the edges of your workday but if possible try and have a specific part of your home to work in. This should be separate and distinct if possible and any other members of your house know that when you’re there, you’re working and not to be disturbed. For a lot of you, a separate room won’t be possible, but if you can make your work environment distinct using something like a desk lamp or potted plant then it will help differentiate it.
If you’re working remotely it is a reasonable assumption that you are going to have work colleagues that are also working remotely. Try and get into a morning routine of saying Good morning to them around 9 am, it will help you feel less isolated.
Set up your environment
It’s likely you’ll be working off a company laptop, this will be extremely bad for your posture and productivity in the long run. If you can, get a proper chair, mouse, keyboard and monitor you’ll be sitting there for long periods and you’ll need to keep yourself healthy (Posture guide). Make sure your monitor or laptop screen is close to eye level using a riser.
It’s quite easy when you’re working remotely to feel out of the loop and not know what is going on within the group. This is normal and is going to be a problem across all of your team. To combat this try and make posts, files, meetings and status updates as shared as possible. Linking them to Teams channels allows your team members to know what is going on through the chatter and updates.
It’s a fair bet that virtual meetings will become a big part of your day so learn to do them well. A good quality headset is essential even some of the less garish headsets are pretty good. It’s not essential to have a webcam but it does help you feel part of the team as well as forcing you to get dressed and take care of your appearance, your top half anyway. If you’re not used to working with a headset you will tend to speak a lot louder than normal, try and speak at a normal level, having one ear of the headphones off will allow you to hear yourself and regulate your volume. This becomes essential if there is more than one of you working at home at any one time and have to share the space. If you talk to teams around the world it’s a polite routine to use good morning or afternoon depending on the timezone of the person you’re talking to. It helps you to keep mindful of other peoples working hours when coordinating meetings. For meetings of more than a couple of people, it’s good etiquette to mute your mic when not speaking. The ambient background noise can often be much higher than you realise and it adds up to make it more difficult to hear people. One last thing, and I can’t stress this enough, do not slurp your coffee or eat while your microphone is on. If you need to drink or eat, mute yourself, otherwise, it is really unpleasant for everyone else on the call.
Too Long Didn’t Read — Teams Power Tips
When organising a meeting, it’s good policy to book it in the calendar tab through teams and not Outlook. You can use the scheduling assistant to work around peoples free and busy times. Add a channel to the meeting so any messages or recordings are available on that channel after the meeting.
We need to talk!
In the cases where everyone should be having an impromptu meeting about something use the Meet Now button. This is usually considered a bit rude to do regularly and meetings should be scheduled in the calendar and attached to the channel instead.
People tend to zone out a little in meetings if there is nothing to look at, so it’s often good practice to have an agenda of things to cover on your screen and share your screen during the meeting.
A picture is worth a thousand words
In addition to screen sharing, you can also share a whiteboard. For some discussions being able to quickly sketch something is very useful. I use a cheap Wacom tablet to be able to draw out things quickly.
Files aren’t just for sharing
If you have MS Office documents in the files section of a channel. Not only can they be uploaded, downloaded and shared, but they can also be worked on collaboratively. You can have multiple users working on the same spreadsheet at the same time.
Use enhanced posts for important messages
When posting messages click on the Format button to open up formatting options. This will allow you to create posts that have a subject line, fully formatted text, lists, tables, images and importantly flag posts as Important!
If you just want to positively acknowledge a message, just click the like button. It keeps the message window from getting too cluttered.
CC the channel
Ideally, you want to make sure all chatter and discussions are on a channel to keep track of history and decisions. This isn’t always the case and email is going to be used. In these cases, use the channel get email address function and add that to the CC of your emails.
Microsoft Teams is a great piece of software for working collaboratively. It’s not just a meeting tool but a fully integrated collaboration suite. I’m not paid by Microsoft I’ve just used lots of systems and MS Teams has become my tool of choice. There is a lot of tools in teams to help with collaboration but to get started we’ll cover the basics.
The main panel can be quite intimidating but we’ll break down the important bits, and what they do.
- Activity — This is where things like “mentions” and important updates will be listed. If you are on a lot of teams this is a good place to start your day.
- Chat — These are one to one or group conversations. If you want to talk to an individual or a small number of people.
- Teams — Where most of the collaboration occurs and where most of your interactions should probably be. This is the selected view in the screenshot above.
- Calendar — For booking meetings, checking your schedule and modifying RSVPs. It all syncs with your Outlook calendar view.
- New chat — A quick start new chart button, to start chatting to someone new.
- Search bar — Searches your contacts, teams, channels and diary. There are also a whole bunch of short cut commands that can be used in this bar for power users.
- Account Settings — here you can set your availability status, and configure application settings including webcams and headsets.
Teams and channels
- This is your team. You can be in lots of different teams and they can all have different permissions and members.
- Within a team there are channels. Think of channels like topics. This way you can organise discussions and files into subject areas. All teams start with a default channel of General.
- By clicking on the (…) next to your team name you can bring up the Team management menu. Manage Team by adding and removing team members and setting their permissions. Add a new channel to your team. Add a person to your team. Leave the team. Edit the team name, description and visibility. Get a link to open the team for posting in emails. Add and remove tags from the team.
- The posts tab is where messages and channel meetings appear.
- The files tab is where files and documents are shared collaboratively.
- The channel wiki is for collating information collaboratively, a bit like an internal Wikipedia (Wikipedia — wiki)
- Channel Notifications allow you to quieten the notifications of what happens in the group, essential for high chatter channels.
- Manage channel is for setting permissions for who can post and if messages are moderated.
- Get email address is so you can add the email address of the channel to emails and a copy of the message will be recorded in the channel.
- Connectors is a serious power user tool, most users will not use this at all but it can be used to link channels with external services and applications.
Working with files in teams is one of its very useful if rarely used features. It brings the collaboration tools of Office365 into a very usable form. Files can be shared using the files tab, but can also be worked on collaboratively. When opening a document for editing in Teams multiple people can work on, review and comment on a document simultaneously.
- Create a new folder or document (Word, Excel, Powerpoint etc) in the channel’s files.
- Upload a file from your local PC.
- Download a file from Teams to your local PC.
- Open the file in Teams (generally preferred), Word Online (Word in a browser) or Word (Word application on your PC), to view or edit.
- Perform so actions on the file like rename, delete, copy etc.
Posts, messages and chats
The chat window has a lot of options and with lots of power tools hidden away, that can make your teams experience much more useful.
- Formatting options for posts, similar to the basic formatting options in Word.
- Bottom toolbar.
- Format/Collapse compose box — toggles between basic posts and richer formatting options.
- Attach a file to the post from the files tab, your local PC or One Drive.
- Add an Emoji (smiley faces) to the post.
- Add animated Gif images to the post. These are fine and fun for one to one messages but are generally bad form for channel posts. As they can get quite annoying quite quickly.
- Add a sticker, similar to Gifs, use them sparingly if at all.
- Meet now, starts a meeting on the channel immediately and alerts all members of the channel that it’s started. Use this for any ad hoc meetings.
- Stream, don’t use unless you know what you’re doing.
- Praise is cheesy stickers you can assign to people. I wouldn’t use it, but it depends on your Team dynamic.
- Send, posts your message to the channel
Most organised discussions should be scheduled in the calendar section. When creating a new event you can manage a lot of the functions you would do with Outlook although not as powerful.
- Title of the meeting
- Add required and optional attendees
- Start and end times for the meetings, it’s very important to have a solid start and end time to a meeting as it dictates how your free and busy information shows up for other people.
- Repeat options like every workday, weekly, monthly etc.
- Channel the meeting should be attached to. Very important.
- Location if you some of your attendees are in a meeting room you can add those locations here.
- Description of the meeting. Important to add agenda items here to keep discussions on topic and allow people to prep.
- Scheduling assistant tab (see below)
The scheduling assistant has a lot of the same details as the previous pane but laid out in a different way. It also has one major difference, the free and busy view. The free and busy view shows you when all your attendees have got something else scheduled allowing you to find a slot where everyone is happy, this is almost identical to the Scheduling assistant in Outlook.
- Start and end of the meeting.
- Manage required attendees.
- Manage optional attendees.
- Manage additional locations e.g. Room bookings.
Meetings can be started using the chat system, scheduled using the calendar or using Meet Now in the channel, but whichever way they are started the tools are pretty much the same.
- Enable and disable your camera.
- Mute and unmute your own audio.
- Bring up the sharing panel (for screen sharing).
- Bring up the settings menu.
- Show the meeting chat. This should be saved between chats on the same channel, event or group.
- Show people who are in or have been invited to the chat.
- Disconnect and close the meeting.
- Share your whole screen. You can pick the monitor to share if you have more than one.
- Share a window to share an individual application, not the whole screen.
- Run a PowerPoint slide show in the meeting. Much better than screen sharing for these types of document.
- Share a whiteboard allows a collaborative drawing space for all the participants. Less useful if you don’t have a drawing tablet plugged into your PC.
- Show and hide device settings (shown)
- Show and hide meeting notes (a way to take minutes)
- A new feature not available on all platforms that allows you to blur the background of your camera so people don’t see what’s behind you. Wallpaper backgrounds are coming soon, so you can even pretend to be on the beach.
- Start recording, this is available in scheduled meetings and meet now. It records the meeting as a video file that is made available after the meeting for people that may have missed it.
- Select the audio output device.
- Select the microphone device.
- Select the camera using for video.