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Microsoft Teams: Safe, Secure, and Strong

This article appears in the Ministry Magazine Summer 2020 issue. Read and download free here.

The pandemic has many working at home for the first time and organizations are struggling to keep this new crop of remote workers connected and productive. Congregations and their small groups are also struggling to find meaningful ways to connect while in-person gatherings are heavily restricted. If your organization uses Office 365 (now named Microsoft 365) you have access to an incredibly powerful tool called Microsoft Teams. Odds are you’ve had access for a while and just didn’t know it.

Before you rush into Teams consider if you already have tools you can use. For instance, if 75% of your group is on Facebook, then use Facebook, because the learning curve is only for the 25% who aren’t using it. The learning curve is always 100% if you decide to use another platform entirely. Try to find a common denominator first. Then, if there isn’t something secure or readily available, start looking at other options.

Microsoft Teams is a relatively new product, introduced in 2017. It was built by integrating several existing Microsoft collaboration products, like Skye, Skype for Business and Microsoft Classroom. It was designed to be a way for organizations to not only collaborate, but also communicate and gather virtually. (Who knew that in 2020 the only way for collaboration, communication, and gathering would be virtually?)

Today Teams is expanding rapidly and adding features and functionality at a breakneck pace. Teams is being used by schools for remote learning, corporations for board meetings, conference organizers for virtual events, and churches for livestreaming services or small groups. With Teams built into Microsoft 365 and Windows 10, the integration makes it easy to use—but there is a catch. As the name implies, Teams is built for a team, which is why it is heavily integrated with the Microsoft ecosystem. Zoom, Facebook, WebEx and other providers make it easier add users and guests who are not part of your team or organization.

As a platform focused on communication, Teams was originally limited to only showing a 4-up display, meaning you could only see 4 other participants on your screen at once. Other tools emphasized their ability to show 25-50 users on the scree at one time. Microsoft initially resisted the pressure to display more users, stating productivity would be hindered. Are participants focusing on the communication and its content, or scanning 25 little boxes on their screen to get a glimpse into other’s homes or catch misbehaving pets in the background? Today Teams now shows up to 9 users, but that number will probably grow.

Teams also requires a bit of configuration when integrated with a Microsoft 365 setup. You can get a free account and start using it now even without a Microsoft 365 organization setup, but many have found using Teams with guests (or even between another Microsoft 365 organization) to be a bit cumbersome. I’m sure these challenges will be addressed as Microsoft continues to evolve the Teams platform.

One of the bright spots to using Teams is the security. Teams is backed up by the security resources of Microsoft and provides a secure communication and collaboration portal. While many organizations have run to Zoom and other less secure platforms, bad actors are having a field day as folks rush to virtual communication without proper security. Teams uses encryption and your existing Microsoft work or school account (one less login to remember) and provides two-factor authentication.

As with most technology there is no one-size-fits-all. Evaluate what you are trying to accomplish and match the functionality need with the proper tools. Function over fashion – not fashion over function. I’m all-in with Teams but it may not be right for everyone. It is just one of the tools available and definitely worth serious consideration – especially since you may already have free access to it if you are a Microsoft customer. Why pay extra for something else?

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Jonathan Smith is the Director of Technology at Faith Ministries in Lafayette, IN, an author and frequent conference speaker. You can reach Jonathan at jsmith@faithlafayette.org and follow him on Twitter @JonathanESmith.