In November 2016, Microsoft announced Microsoft Teams. A brand new collaboration experience to bring together people, conversations and content—along with the tools that teams need—so they can easily collaborate to achieve more.
Microsoft Teams was launched on March 17th, 2017. Later that same year, Microsoft published its vision for modern collaboration and teamwork, and announced Teams would replace Skype for Business over time.
Over the short 2.5 years since Teams was launched, Microsoft has rapidly developed the platform and achieved adoption rates higher than any product in Microsoft history. Today, Microsoft Teams is used by 500,000 organisations1, starting to realise the benefits of the rich teamwork capabilities of the platform.
While Teams is being adopted at a rapid rate for teamwork, many organisations are still using Skype for Business as their main tool for communications and meetings. Many of these customers are using Skype for Business Online as part of the Office 365 cloud service.
Microsoft recently announced the upcoming retirement of Skype for Business Online for July 31st 2021. Customers using the service will need to plan and migrate from Skype for Business Online within the next 2 years.
Skype for Business launched in April 2015 as the next evolution of their Unified Communications platform, Microsoft Lync. The name change was a strategic rebranding following Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype in 2011.
Today, Skype for Business is widely used by organisations for meetings, instant messaging and voice/video calling including telephony. Many organisations use Teams as well, but have not completed the switch to Teams for these communications.
Eventually, all Microsoft customers using Skype for Business will need to migrate to Teams. As mentioned, the retirement date for Skype for Business Online cloud service is July 31st 2021. Customers running on-premises servers will be within mainstream support on the latest version until 2023.
Teamwork in Microsoft Teams is a fundamental shift in the way teams collaborate as opposed to an evolution of meeting, chat and calling features that exist in Skype for Business.
Having said that, these capabilities are vastly improved in Teams and can be considered outside the teamwork components. Let’s have a look at some of the improvements to the communications experience in Teams as they relate to Skype for Business functionality – Meetings, Chat and Calling.
In many ways, Teams meetings are similar to Skype for Business. You can schedule a meeting through Outlook, or host an adhoc meeting with your team. External participants can be invited and join a meeting even if they don’t have a Teams account. In a meeting you can share your video, content, and invite others to join. Once you start using Teams for meetings however, you will realise it is markedly improved over Skype for Business.
The quality of experience is noticeably better, particularly when it comes to the video performance and content in a Teams meeting. You will see a much smoother and higher quality video, with less freezing and stutter. The “background blur” intelligently blurs the area behind you while keeping you in focus, useful for situations where you want to ensure you’re the focus of people’s attention and not the distractions in the background. To get the best meeting experience from Teams, it is important that client hardware is well spec’d and the network is configured correctly with sufficient bandwidth.
Skype for Business requires users who did not have the client installed to install a browser plugin to connect to the meeting. This is sometimes problematic in locked down environments, and led to difficulties and delays in joining the meeting while users attempted to install the plugin. Teams allows users to join a meeting directly from a browser with no delay and uses the native capabilities of modern browsers to provide the full rich experience of the meeting to these users.
The ability to record a meeting is not new in Teams, however its implementation has greatly improved. In Skype for Business, meeting recording is performed at the client level. Users need to manage meeting recordings from a separate utility, which by default recorded large video files to their local machine. They then need to take these files, potentially convert them into another format, and upload them to the suitable repository. With Teams, these recordings are recorded and processed in the cloud, and stored in Microsoft Stream. They can be accessed and played back from any device, in the most suitable quality and resolution for the form factor and bandwidth.
Further leveraging the capability of Microsoft Stream, Teams meeting recordings can be automatically transcribed to text, which opens up powerful search capabilities. Let’s say a user wants to search for a point in the meeting where Queensland sales forecasts were being discussed. The user can search for “Queensland” within a single or all videos in Microsoft Stream, finding the exact location within the meeting recording where that was discussed.
The chat experience in Teams has been significantly improved over Skype for Business in a few key ways. Firstly, chats are persistent. You can sign in to Teams on any device and see all of your private and group chats including their full history. Persistent chat is great for group chats. In Teams, when a user is added to an existing chat, there is the option of allowing the previous messages to be visible to the user being added so they can catch up on the conversation quickly. This was not possible in Skype for Business and a group chat would end for good when all users closed the chat window. In Teams, the group chat remains and users can leave or be added at any time with the full history available to them.
For instance, take a look at the same conversation in Skype for Business versus Teams below.
Chats support rich formatting. You can customise fonts, colours, size, highlight, indentation, create lists, add tables or code snippets (for the techies) – the list goes on. Pictures can be embedded in messages and viewed in full resolution within Teams, unlike Skype for Business where they need to be downloaded and opened separately. Common social media features such as @ mentions and likes work really well to target messaging and acknowledge receipt quickly and effectively.
Sharing of files in Skype for Business is an issue for many organisations as it is difficult to control when enabled. When you send a file in Skype for Business it is a peer-to-peer transfer from one computer to another. Some customers were rightly concerned they had no ability to audit the contents of the file, which could lead to data leakage or malicious content being sent. So often file transfer was turned off. With Teams, file transfers are facilitated by OneDrive, and an audit trail including the file itself is available to IT admins if required.
Then there is the fun stuff. GIFs, stickers, memes. Some might initially write these off as just silly and inappropriate for a work setting, however in practice my experience in various organisations has been they foster stronger relationships and culture between employees and their teams.
Skype for Business provided an integrated softphone experience and many organisations took the opportunity to leverage the single client and platform for all their communications including telephony, while desk phones remained an option for users that preferred a traditional handset. With Teams, Microsoft has made subtle but welcome improvements to the calling interface. There is now a dedicated “Calls” tab which integrates Speed Dial, Contacts, History, Voicemail and a Dial Pad into the same screen.
Desk phones remain an option for organisations who require them for certain users. Microsoft have employed the same strategy with desk phones as with Microsoft Teams Rooms, working with partners who make the best hardware and providing the Teams software. In Skype for Business, the software was controlled by the device manufacturers, which brought challenges with consistency of experience and reliability in some cases. The change approach with Teams gives customers a choice of hardware while retaining a consistent and familiar user experience across all Teams devices.
The architecture to provide PSTN calling to Teams is also simplified, which is a welcome change for IT departments. While Microsoft Calling Plans (provided by Telstra in Australia) are a pure cloud calling service and is available in both Skype for Business Online and Teams, there may be reasons why you would not like to use this service.
A new telephony integration option “Direct Routing” allows a qualified Session Border Controller to directly integrate with Teams to provide PSTN services or integrate into an existing phone system. Direct Routing SBCs can be deployed in various ways including hardware, virtualised, Azure or hosted and fully managed by a third party.
So you’ve decided that there’s some pretty awesome improvements in Teams over Skype for Business, and that July 2021 will be here before we know it. How do you move to Teams?
If your organisation uses Skype for Business today, check out this blog to see what you need to consider. Contact a Collaboration Specialist to learn more or explore how a Modern Meetings Proof of Concept, can help your organisation shift to Microsoft Teams with ease.
Still unsure about whether or not it’s time to make the move? Our team also offers a Skype for Business health check, to ensure your Skype environment is meeting the needs of your business, and helping your employees work productively from anywhere.
1. Tech Target (2019). Microsoft Teams gains 13M users with help from Office 365 base. [Online] Available at https://searchunifiedcommunications.techtarget.com/news/252466804/Microsoft-Teams-gains-13M-users-with-help-from-Office-365-base