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Why Are We Still Emailing if We're Using Microsoft Teams?

May 19, 2020 Collaboration and Productivity
Andrew Pope Headshot
By Andrew Pope

Microsoft Teams adoption is exploding. It is perfect for these times, when so many of us now work in distributed teams (aka remote). It is an easy way to access our files, our colleagues and manage our day-to-day work. Using Teams as we adjust to remote working gives us a huge opportunity to ditch some of the bad habits of the old workplace, such as never-ending email and never-ending meetings, allowing us more flexibility in our days. But are we actually doing this?

The Mystery of the Missing Teams Conversations

Laurence Lock Lee recently compared Microsoft Teams usage before and during the current period of enforced working from home. Unsurprisingly, he found that the number of people using Teams has rocketed. Yet he also found the percentage of engagement (people responding to posts) and using tagging (@mentions) has decreased since lockdown. To me, that rings a number of alarm bells.

Engagement shows people are responding to posts and having conversations. Conversely, if there is no engagement, we can imply that posts are being shared without receiving a response, or no one is posting at all. Likewise, the reduction in percentage of tagging indicates that with the increased usage of Teams, sharing posts isn't seen as important.

The purpose of posts within a Teams channel is to hold team conversations. It is not enterprise social-style posting, but specific, team-focused activities: discussing ideas and problems, working collaboratively on activities. Makes sense to me, so why aren’t we doing this? And where are these team conversations happening?

Related Article: Unraveling the Teams and Yammer Tangle: Make Both Work for You

The Email/Teams Catch 22

From my experiences of digital team building, a few common barriers come up:

  • We don’t know what we’re supposed to do where.
  • We don’t feel comfortable having everything we’re doing being visible to our colleagues and managers.
  • Yet another tool/function adds to our daily struggle.
  • Unfamiliarity with good practice digital collaboration, such as @mentions.

Which of course leads us to continue communicating with team colleagues via email. And here lies the key issue, and it’s a bit of a Catch-22: We won’t use Teams well if we continue to use email, and whilst we continue to use email, we don’t feel the need to post in Teams.

If that’s the case, how do we break the email habit?

Firstly, do we really want to duplicate tools and notifications? There will still be notifications from Teams, so why not make this the place we start our day rather than in email? What a waste of time if we are using different tools for activities that can be done in one.

Secondly, why do we need to email team members? All team conversations benefit from being visible to all team members, and really, why do we need to hide them? Private chat is available if this if necessary. Having the ability to see what our colleagues are discussing, whether we are directly involved or not, is so important, especially if we are not working in the office together.

Thirdly, team conversations in Teams are contextual. They are directly linked to content, meetings, tasks (such as integrations with Planner). It keeps everything in one place and helps us keep track of how and why certain things actually happened.

But these three sensible things won’t make any difference if we don’t feel safe, or feel listened to if we post in Teams. The biggest blocker of all needs to be adjusted: expectations. This is where team leaders make the difference, and create the right expectations of a safe, visible and highly collaborative way of working. Good digital leaders do this by empowering their teams rather than trying to exert control over all aspects. And don’t forget, more control = more notifications.

Related Article: Have We Reached the Era of Group Messaging Disenchantment?

What Good Digital Leadership Looks Like

Good digital leadership in Microsoft Teams creates a sense of purpose, of safety and of empowerment. Now this doesn’t all necessarily happen overnight, but here are some simple actions that can quickly get you on the right path:

  • Walk the talk: Use posts in Teams channels to begin conversations. But more importantly, respond to the posts that have already been made. Listen to your team members, help them rather than create more barriers.
  • Let your team know that the way to contact you is via posts in Teams using @mentions and video/voice calls. Not via email.
  • Ensure team membership on Teams is for a specific team or project, not open to all (that’s the place for Yammer). Numbers ideally are low, everyone in the team knows who is in (and who isn’t).
  • Be yourself in conversations. Ensure there is always a human element. We respond with more trust when someone speaks honestly and personally with us.
  • Encourage honesty by posting about what doesn’t work as much as what does.

Remote working makes it harder to interact with each other. Teams provides a number of means to interact, and as helpful as it is to have video calls, we can’t always do this or have the time. Posts can be made at a time that suits us, can be seen by anyone and can bring others into conversations that might otherwise not have happened.

Seeing team members interacting in posts, and particularly with each other rather than just with the team leader, displays the signs of a team that is able to organize itself. It shows we are confident to surface what we are doing rather than keeping things isolated. It’s collaboration rather than communication, the point of Microsoft Teams and of course, team working itself.

About the Author

From environmental science beginnings to project management, knowledge management and innovation management, I’ve always appreciated how mature collaboration is critical to success of any project. Advising global investment banking and professional services sectors, I’ve worked on some wonderful knowledge and collaboration projects. My biggest challenge was being asked to help a global engineering firm be ‘more innovative.’ The experiences of all of this motivated me to co-establish Innosis, helping organizations focus collaboration towards innovation and continuous reinvention.

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