How to Customize Microsoft Teams: Putting the Team Back in Teamwork

Microsoft Teams workspace

How to Customize Microsoft Teams: Putting the Team Back in Teamwork

By Tracy van der Schyff | March 27, 2018

Microsoft Teams has quickly become the ultimate collaboration and teamwork application.

As explained in a previous post titled, “Everything You Need to Know about Microsoft Teams to Get Started,” it took some time for me to come to grips with exactly how Teams fit into the picture and how it would change our lives.

For those who are new to Microsoft Teams, refer to the above post to learn more about its features, including navigation, chat, teams, meetings, files, channels, and tabs.

What is Microsoft Teams?

No one says it better than Microsoft.

Microsoft Teams is the chat-based workspace in Office 365 that integrates all the people, content, and tools your team needs to be more engaged and effective.

Microsoft Teams runs on Windows, macOS, iOS and Android, and (of course) it’s available through Office 365.

Why am I so impressed by Microsoft Teams?

I focus on User Adoption, Change Management, Training, and all those other cool “people-centric” processes. I’ve seen my fair share of failure in IT projects because users really struggle to adopt systems when they have to navigate to different places to do what they have to do.

In the past, users have had SharePoint, Outlook, Skype, Office apps, and other CRM / ERP systems they might have had to use. Add to that growing list file shares and all the documents on their desktop and you end up with a little bit of chaos everywhere. Users simply refused to navigate to the browser to open SharePoint and upload documents there as well.

Now, all of that has changed.

How? Microsoft Teams introduced a desktop app, where users can add, customize, and find everything they need in one place.

Let me show you how you can put the “team” back into “teamwork.”

Navigating through Microsoft Teams

Below, you’ll find the basics around navigating your Team. These include new features like the personal view of your apps, the app & services store, Who Bot, and the command box.

Microsoft Teams navigation window

In your Teams desktop app, you will see the following:

  1. Activity: This is where you’ll see the latest activity related to you, including mentions, replies, teams you’ve been added to, and more.
  2. Chat: Have direct conversations outside of your teams with chat, video, and voice-calling functionalities.
  3. Teams: Shows all the Teams you belong to.
  4. Meetings: Your own calendar (Outlook), as well as the calendars from the various Teams you belong to.
  5. Files: Find all the files you work with from Teams (SharePoint) and OneDrive. You can also add other storage locations.
  6. (NEW) Ellipsis: Allows you to add personal views to your favorite apps, meaning content won’t be filtered to a specific Team. Great examples are OneNote, Planner and Stream. The new Who Bot also resides here.
  7. (NEW) Store: Provides the ability to browse available apps and services to add to Teams.
  8. Feedback: Gives quick access to the Microsoft Teams UserVoice, where we can vote, submit, rate, comment, and participate in feedback.
  9. Add Team: Depending on your access, you can create a new Team from here.
  10. Name of your Team(s): See all of the Team names, which can be collapsed to filter out channels.
  11. Channels: Inside Teams, you’ll see the channels created. General is created by default when creating a Team.
  12. Team Ellipses: Opens the menu, where you can remove the Team as a favorite, manage the Team, add channels, leave the Team, and get the link to the Team.
  13. Conversations Tab: Have conversations with your Team in a specific channel
  14. Files Tab: Any files shared within your channels (attached to conversations) will be placed in the corresponding folder in your SharePoint document library, which is deployed when the Team is created.
  15. Wiki Tab: Added by default, this is based on Wiki pages and a great place to add governance and rules around your Team.
  16. Tenant & User: Use this to swap to other tenants or change settings of the user that is logged in.
  17. (NEW) Command Box: Use this new feature to search across your teams and files.

What are the business cases for Teams?

This is where the real magic happens. Teams can be used for pretty much anything, but it’s important that you understand what happens when you create one.

Personally, I would use Teams for departments, projects, & initiatives. Certainly it’s not limited to these use cases, but ultimately, it’s for you to decide.

Here are some business scenarios:

  1. I have a group of people who share files regularly, co-author documents, and hold Skype conversations, calls, and meetings. Should I create a Team? Absolutely.
  2. I share files with a group of managers once a month. The files are in PDF format and are for informational purposes only. It’s not really the platform where we collaborate around the documents. Should I create a Team? Depends, but it would be better to have a shared folder on OneDrive for Business.
  3. My department needs a place where we can share ideas, work together, and find content. Would Teams work? Absolutely.

When you create a Team, it creates a SharePoint Site Collection in the background using the Team Site Template. It also creates an Office 365 Group for that team (i.e. Shared Mailbox, Calendar, Permissions, Distribution List), OneNote, and Planner (you can have more than one per Team).

Creating channels to focus your content on Microsoft Teams

Inside of each Microsoft Team, you can add channels, where you can focus content and conversations. A Team has a General Channel by default that cannot be removed. I suggest using this for generic content, like announcements.

Microsoft Teams channel view

Email a channel on Microsoft Teams

Teams has helped me to sift through less emails from team members. Now, I can find these conversations and files shared in the teams or channels. When you do need to send an email, keep in mind that you can cc: the channel and it will put the email in the conversations.

See how you can retrieve the email address below:

Email a channel on Microsoft Teams

Finding and sharing documents on Microsoft Teams

Keep in mind that when you create a channel, it also creates a folder in the Shared Documents library on SharePoint.

Find and share documents on Microsoft Teams

Not sure why? Let me explain.

Apart from the Channels, you also have Tabs in Teams. Here, you’ll see Conversations, Files, & Wiki. Simply put, Conversations are for the conversations you’ll have with your Team—focused in each channel.

So, closed off to only the Team members: when you share a document in a chat in a channel, it will automatically save it to the folder in SharePoint. These files can be seen in the Files Tab as well. If you ask me, it’s pretty cool that you don’t have to navigate to SharePoint to load it there as well!

Microsoft Teams conversation windows

It’s important to note that the file will save in the root folder. If you’re using sub-folders inside of the channel folders, I advise that you load the document first and then share it as a link in the chat in the channel.

To do so, create the folder in the Files Tab and upload the document in the correct folder. In the conversation, click on attach (1), then on Browse Teams and Channels (2), select the correct folder (3), then select the document (4), and share the link (5):

Share link on Microsoft Teams

In Files, you’ll find all your Recent, Microsoft Teams, Downloads, and OneDrive documents. It also shows the location of the document.

Document actions on Microsoft Teams

How to get someone’s attention on Microsoft Teams

Remember to use @mentions to get someone’s attention, whether it’s a single person or the whole Team. You can also mark a message as important by editing in the “Compose Box.”

Important message:

Important message on Microsoft Teams

@Mention a team member or team:

@mention on Microsoft Teams

How to add Tabs in your Channels to enable your Team

As explained, each channel can have its own Tabs. It makes sense as our focus areas and tools are different for different channels.

To add a Tab, click on the “+” next to Tabs. There’s quite a variety of options to choose from, but the Tabs I add most are Forms, OneNote, Power BI, Planner, SharePoint, Stream, and Website.

Add tabs under channels on Microsoft Teams

Note that if the website requires users to login, it will still do so even if surfaced as a Tab in Teams.

Tabs on Microsoft Teams

How to use the Command Box to quickly find what you’re looking for

Use the Command Box feature to search across your teams and files. Type “@" into the command box to display the list of apps you can query and command:

Use Command Box on Microsoft Teams

You can also use the slash to perform tasks:

Slash functionality on Microsoft Teams

Search for someone in the new Command Box and have direct conversations with anyone in your company using Skype for Business. Add more people to the conversation and start calls—both audio and video.

You also have quick access to any Files you’ve worked on together, including the organizational details and recent activity. Notice on the right where you can start a call or add users to the conversation. Now, you no longer have to leave the app you’re in to open another app; it’s all right there for you to use and be more productive.

Files on Microsoft Teams

Use the Command Box to search for files from anywhere. However, remember to change the Search filter to Files:

Search filter on Microsoft Teams

What’s the T-Bot all about?

“T-Bot” gives you quick access to help. Ask questions or navigate to the Help, FAQ, and Videos:

T-Bot on Microsoft Teams

Who’s “Who Bot”?

The Who Bot is quite new, and it’s all about your organization. Ask the Who Bot questions about reporting structures or get employee contact details:

Who Bot on Microsoft Teams

How to use Meetings to manage your Team Calendar

Meetings shows your Outlook calendar, as well as any shared calendars from your Teams. Files brings together all of your content from Teams and OneDrive. The ellipses (…) is also new, and it allows us to add Personal views of our favourite apps.

Use Meetings to manage calendars on Microsoft Teams

A video overview of how to customize your Microsoft Teams platform

To help you get up to speed quickly, see the below video clip for an overview of creating Teams and adding channels & tabs.

You’ll only learn by trying it. Start with something small and grow it into a solution that not only brings your team together, but helps them become more efficient.

Stay up to date on Microsoft Teams

Some of the recent updates for Microsoft Teams include:

  • Personal view of your apps
  • Apps & Services Store
  • Who-Bot
  • Command Box
  • Teams support for Indonesian, Romanian, and Vietnamese languages
  • Access to Plans created in your Teams from the Planner Hub
  • Teams support for guest users from non-Office 365 domains

See below resources to stay in the know!

What's new in Microsoft Teams

Office 365 Roadmap – Teams


Tracy van der Schyff

Tracy is a Microsoft MVP and an energetic, hyperactive adrenaline junkie who sees challenges and issues as opportunities and thrives on improving processes, environments and the general quality of life. Her broad knowledge about IT and Business gives her the ability to communicate on both levels and convey meaningful requirements and narrow the (ever present) gap between the two.

Written By: Tracy van der Schyff

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