Microsoft Teams turns five. What's next?

Microsoft Teams has come a long way in the past five years from a group-chat platform to a full collaboration system. Here's where Teams has been and where it might go next.

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Credit: Microsoft

As of this week, Microsoft's Teams product has been generally available for five years. During that time, Teams' usage has grown exponentially, with Microsoft officials claiming Teams as the fastest growing business app in Microsoft history. So where does Microsoft take Teams from here?

Microsoft kicked off its Teams rollout on March 14, 2017, after the product had been in preview for several months. From the get-go, Microsoft made Teams part of Office 365 business subscriptions for no additional cost. Microsoft announced Teams would replace its Skype for Business product family over time. And to keep up with its initial main competitor -- and one-time rumored takeover target -- Slack, Microsoft quickly added a free version of Teams to its lineup.

But it wasn't until the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that Teams really took off, growth-wise. In November 2019, Teams was at 20 million active users. By March 19, 2020, shortly after businesses began sending employees home, Teams was at 44 million daily active users. By April 2020, it was up to 77 million daily active users. And a year later, by April 2021, it was at 145 million daily active users.

Last week during a Bloomberg Live interview, Microsoft Corporate Vice President Emma Williams said that Microsoft has experienced a 400 percent increase in Teams' monthly usage since March 2020. In January 2022, Microsoft officials said Teams had 270 million monthly active users. It's worth noting that Microsoft switched from a publicly shared Teams daily-user metric to a monthly-user one last year, right around the time that Teams' meteoric growth began slowing slightly.

During the pandemic, Microsoft's main competitor in the group-chat space shifted from Slack to Zoom. And to try to head off Zoom, as well as to try to continue to grow its share of the group-chat market, Microsoft announced plans to create a set of consumer Teams features aimed at productivity-minded consumers. The company also debuted a standalone version of Teams for small-and-midsize business users late last year, a move which may or may not have been connected to Slack's antitrust attack on Microsoft for bundling Teams with Windows and Office.

Microsoft will likely continue to release new incremental, as well as major, features for Teams every week as it has done for the past few years. The company has been focusing heavily on the telephony features in Teams and will likely continue to do so. It also will likely continue to integrate Teams with even more products and services in the Microsoft stack as the platform moves forward.

One of the more major features on the Teams roadmap, on track to debut this month in preview form (according to the Microsoft 365 Roadmap), is the delayed Teams Connect collaboration capability. Also known at one point as "shared channels," Connect will enable customers to use Team's full suite of collaboration capabilities with external contacts in other Azure Active Directory organizations the same way they use them with colleagues from their own organizations.

I'd assume Microsoft will continue to try to find ways to grow its Teams consumer business in ways that go beyond embedding Teams Chat in the taskbar on Windows 11, as Microsoft seemingly still thinks there is a prosumer market for Teams, not just commercial and education ones.

Microsoft also is working to make Teams for work and school accounts more like Teams Consumer from an interface and back-end perspective via its "Teams 2.0" work. Teams desktop will no longer be an Electron app once this happens, which could make it faster and better performing. I'm also hoping for a UI update to Teams, too, as I still think it's hard for new users to figure out where to start with the platform.

Teams isn't the only hub for work in the Microsoft world. But it's been a major focus for the company and its customers in the past couple of years and likely will remain a major hot spot in terms of new features and functionality.

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