Even though some areas of the world are lifting stay-at-home orders, many companies are continuing their own ­through the summer. Over the last several months, many companies have turned to Microsoft Teams to enable their workers to stay in touch. Remote working is a big change for some people and requires shifting your thought process on how to handle interactions you once had in the office. While many articles have been posted on how to work from home, this post is going to dive into various Microsoft Teams tips for having meetings, enhancing user experience, and maintaining healthy boundaries.

Managing meeting audio and video ^

Instead of meeting in person on a regular basis, people are now meeting virtually using Teams. However, if you're not familiar with working in this interface, you can catch yourself in some awkward positions, such as an open mic or inadvertent video display. Here are a couple of suggestions to follow when joining a meeting.

The Teams join options screen is your friend. Here, you can select options such as making sure your mic is muted or enabling/disabling your video. For myself, I always verify that my mic is muted and video is off, even if I know it is a meeting where I'm going to be an active participant. This ensures that I do not disrupt the meeting with my audio when I join a meeting that is already in progress. The screenshot below shows where these options are located on the join options screen.

Video off and microphone muted on join options screen

Video off and microphone muted on join options screen

Another option you'll see on the join options screen is audio configuration. If you happen to have a certified Microsoft Teams device or other headset, you'll want to make sure it is selected as the device Teams will use during the meeting. I've seen it happen more than once where someone is using a headset, but Teams is using the laptop for the microphone. This leads to a poor audio experience for others in the meeting, as your audio can sound muffled or far away.

If you select PC Mic and Speakers, a flyout window will appear where you can select the audio device. This determines where other people's audio is played and where your audio is picked up. You can also make sure the correct video is displayed if you enable it during the meeting.

Configuring device settings prior to joining meeting

Configuring device settings prior to joining meeting

If you do decide to have video enabled but your background is a bit distracting, you can enable background effects prior to joining the meeting. Background effects remove your background and replace it with a blurred background or another image provided by Teams. This is a great way to add some variety to a meeting and a great conversation starter if you decide to upload your own image.

Configuring background effects prior to joining a meeting

Configuring background effects prior to joining a meeting

With increased usage on the regular telephone network, Microsoft is currently recommending that you join Teams meetings using your computer audio (or Teams audio, as it is sometimes called). However, if you are worried that your Internet or network bandwidth is a bit congested, with more people at home streaming movies, you can join the audio portion of the meeting in a couple of different ways:

  1. On the join options screen, choose Audio Off. You will join the meeting to view content but will not hear any audio. You will need to dial in to the meeting from a phone to hear the audio.
  2. On the join options screen, choose Phone Audio. This will let you join the meeting to view content, but you will be prompted to enter a phone number so the meeting service can call you to join the audio portion (Call Me At). Alternatively, you can click the link to view meeting dial-in information.

Note: Both scenarios above require that the meeting organizer be assigned an audio conferencing license.

Join options screen with alternative audio options

Join options screen with alternative audio options

Once you are in the meeting, you can configure options such as the background effects and managing audio and video devices. You can also get dial-in information from the additional context menu on the meeting action bar.

Access options during a meeting

Access options during a meeting

Enhancing the meeting experience ^

One of the great things about virtual meetings is the ability to record them, and with Microsoft Teams it is super easy to do so. If you look at the meeting options displayed in the previous screenshot, you'll see an option called Start recording. Unlike its predecessor, Skype for Business, Teams will record the meeting in the cloud instead of locally on your system. This means the meeting is automatically available to everyone who was invited to the meeting (although the recording is limited to attendees from your organization).

Teams recordings are stored online in the Microsoft Stream service and require that the user have a Stream license assigned to them. The Stream license is a part of many enterprise bundles, but some organizations may have disabled the ability to record in a meeting policy setting. If you don't see this option, check with your Teams administrator to find out whether it has been disabled.

Another great option in a Teams meeting is enabling live captions. This auto-transcribes the audio and displays it during the meeting. There might be a scenario where you are unable to listen to the audio and need to rely on the captions to participate in the meeting. If you are missing this option in your client, check with your Teams administrator as this may be disabled via a meeting policy. The option to enable it is available in the same menu as starting a recording or managing background effects.

Live captions during a Teams meeting

Live captions during a Teams meeting

Finally, to help with collaboration during a meeting, consider using a digital whiteboard. This allows for sketching out ideas and processes that used to be done in a conference room. On the meeting actions bar, select the Share icon to select the whiteboard application.

Sharing a whiteboard during a meeting

Sharing a whiteboard during a meeting

Maintaining healthy boundaries ^

Many people fall into the trap of not stepping away from work and thinking they or others are always available for work. It's easy and tempting to just walk back over to the computer, log in, and check this one thing or reply to that email. Part of working from home includes being able to shut down and walk away from work. In the past, this was typically done by commuting from the office back to home, but now that commute is a walk down the hallway.

The first bit of advice I would recommend is developing that shutdown procedure. For me, it involves a few items:

  • Verify there are no outstanding emails that need attention. If it can wait until tomorrow, it will.
  • Check the next day's schedule to see whether there is anything that needs preparation today.
  • If required, enter hours worked into a time-keeping system (this is a habit I've had to develop working in consulting, where time is billed to customers).
  • Put the computer into hibernate mode or shut it down, disconnect from the docking station, and set it aside.

Teams can also help with setting boundaries and setting aside focus time. Your presence, whether you are available or busy, is auto-reflected by entries set on your Outlook calendar. However, you can set your presence manually by clicking your profile picture in the upper right and selecting the Status menu. Here, you can show yourself as busy, appear away, or even go into Do not disturb mode, which will prevent any messages or notifications from distracting you.

Setting your presence status manually

Setting your presence status manually

Another great way to communicate with your coworkers is to set a custom status message. Below the status menu is a link to create a message that others will see, which you can use to communicate what you are working on. For example, lots of parents are at home with kids who are not in school right now, so they could set a message that they are assisting their kids with schoolwork or making lunch. This lets your coworkers know that you are busy but will be back later. Another fantastic option is to set how long the status should be displayed until it resets, so you don't have to remember to go back and change it again.

Setting a custom status message and duration

Setting a custom status message and duration

If you are addicted to your mobile device and feel tempted to respond to that after-hours message from a coworker, set some boundaries by setting quiet hours in the mobile app. Quite hours will mute notifications from the Teams app during a specific time period. I typically set mine from later in the evening into the morning and disable notifications completely on the weekend. To configure quiet hours, access the account menu and click Notifications.

Configuring quiets hours on mobile

Configuring quiets hours on mobile

As a new remote worker, how have you used Teams to modify how you interact with your coworkers? Drop me a note below or find me on Twitter or LinkedIn to discuss further.

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1 Comment
  1. Ray (Rank: Level 2)
    2 weeks ago

    This was a great article. As a Microsoft 365 administrator, I’ve been using Teams with our organization and especially my IT group for over a year. 
     

    The only thing that gave me the creepy crawlies was the put the computer in hibernation. That is the worst thing Microsoft ever came out with. Coming out of hibernation does not ensure that everything will connect properly again. Just shut down the computer. 

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