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Microsoft Teams: How to master remote work beyond the basics

Want to make yourself more productive with Microsoft Teams? Use these eight tips to master command-line and keyboard shortcuts, connect to external apps, and make useful content easier to find.

Microsoft Teams: Eight easy ways to make remote work easier

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If you've begun using Microsoft Teams to collaborate with others as you work from home, you probably mastered the basics quickly. (Looking for introductory material to get your team started? You'll find a big collection of videos and short tutorials as part of the official Teams documentation.)

In this article, my goal is to show you some time-saving shortcuts that go beyond the basics and can make you more productive.

Use the command line

It might not be immediately obvious, but the Search box at the top of the Teams desktop app doubles as a command line. Click in that box and then tap the slash key (/) to display a list of all available commands.

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Type a slash in the search box to see what commands are available 

Developers, of course, are probably the most comfortable with a command line, but even learning a few commands can make you more productive at tasks you do over and over. You can use /chat or /call, for example, to begin communicating with someone, or use /busy or /away to change your status.

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Learn some keyboard shortcuts

Now that your hands are properly positioned on the home row, just the way you learned in typing class, why not memorize a few keyboard shortcuts, too?

Pressing Ctrl+E takes you to the Search box, for example, just as it does in File Explorer and your web browser. You can use Ctrl+number to go to the corresponding node in the navigation pane on the left. In the default arrangement, Ctrl+1 goes to the Activity pane, Ctrl+2 takes you to Chat, and so on. Press Ctrl+Shift+X to toggle between the bare compose box and the full editor with all its formatting options.

Just as in your web browser, you can hold down Ctrl as you tap the plus or minus keys to zoom in or out, then press Ctrl+0 to go back to normal (100%) magnification.

And perhaps the two most popular of all: Ctrl+Shift+M to mute/unmute your microphone in a call or chat, and Ctrl+Shift+O to switch the video camera on/off.. 

To see the full list of available shortcuts, type the command /keys, or press Ctrl+. (period).

Add a subject to a conversation

When you select a team and then click a channel, the default Posts view shows public conversations for that channel. Everyone who is a member of that team can read and participate in those conversations.

When posting a new conversation/thread, it's a good idea to add a subject, as I've done in the opening post here. That makes it easier to spot a specific conversation by scrolling through a channel, and also makes it easier to use the search tools to find that conversation.

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Click the Format button (lower left) to expand the compose box and add a subject to a new conversation.

To add a subject, you need to expand the compose box and use the full editor. Click the Format button (the first icon in the selection of tools just below the compose box). Select the placeholder text and replace it with your descriptive subject. To add a subject to a conversation that already exists, allow the mouse to hover over the first item in the conversation to display the toolbar, click the ellipsis to the right of the reaction icons to display additional options, and then click Edit. 

Change the group name for group chats

The Chat pane is where you have private interactions with other people, outside the formal structure of a team. Chats can be one-on-one or can involve multiple people, and over time your Chat pane can become so cluttered you can't find anything.

By default, each chat session is labeled with the names of the other participants. To make it easier to find a specific session, change the group name to something descriptive. Select any group chat from the pane on the left, then click the pencil icon to the right of the participants' names at the top of the page. Enter a new group name and then click Save.

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Click the pencil icon to rename a group chat.

The new name is persistent, and every participant in the group chat sees that name. This technique is particularly useful for long-running chats with a large number of participants, so everyone knows where to go to rejoin the conversation.

Blur your background

If you're in a video chat and you'd rather not show off your messy office or allow family members to wander accidentally into the meeting room, you can blur the background. That option is on the toolbar. Click the ellipsis to see additional menu options, then choose Blur My Background, or use the keyboard shortcut, Ctrl + Shift + P, to toggle this setting.

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Use this option to blur the background when you're in a meeting or video call.

Switch between organizations

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Use this drop-down menu to switch between organizations.

When you sign in to Teams, you do so using your email account. If you're a member of multiple organizations, you can switch between organizations quickly and keep your activities in each organization separate.

The trick is to use the drop-down menu next to your profile picture in the upper right corner of the Teams app window. In this example, I can switch between my organization where I'm a manager and a separate organization where I'm a guest.

Note that this list is only available when the email address that links you to an organization is the same as the one you used to sign in with Teams. If your employer uses one email address and you're a guest of another organization using your personal email address, you'll need to sign out and sign back in to switch between organizations.

In addition, you might notice that some options aren't available when you're signed in as a guest. You have the most options when you're using a fully licensed Teams account instead of the free or freemium version.

Add a cloud storage location

By default, every Teams organization gets an allotment of shared storage in SharePoint Online (a minimum of 10GB for the organization), and each team member gets personal storage in OneDrive for Business: 2GB for a free account and 1TB for a fully licensed Office 365 account. But what if you or some of your team members use a different cloud storage service?

For a handful of popular services, that's not a problem. You can attach cloud storage accounts to the Teams app so that you can access them from the same place as your OneDrive files. In this example, I've connected my Box and Google Drive accounts. Clicking the Files pane shows me all three file locations in a single list.

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Use the Files pane to attach third-party cloud storage services to Teams.

To connect a third-party storage service, click Add Cloud Storage, Supported services include Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, Citrix ShareFile, and SharePoint. Note that shared files are always accessible from the channel associated with the team that shares that cloud storage space.  

Connect to external apps

Microsoft Teams has excellent communication tools built in, but that doesn't mean you have to say goodbye to other tools that your organization has already standardized on.

For example, if one of your teams regularly uses Zoom or WebEx for meetings, you can connect those apps directly to the Teams app and then switch to that service as needed. To connect third-party apps, click the Apps button at the bottom of the navigation page and then search for a specific app or use the category list to narrow your selection. Click an available app, enter your credentials, authorize the app to share data with Teams, and you're done.

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Click the Apps flyout to connect external apps to Teams.

The list of apps is extensive and probably includes some of your favorites. If you're an Evernote user, for example, you can use that app instead of OneNote. If your team uses SurveyMonkey or MailChimp, there's an app for that, too.

One of my favorite additions is the Wikipedia Search app. After adding that app, you can click in the command bar, type @Wikipedia, and then search for any term and add a Wikipedia excerpt to a conversation or a chat.