MJFChat: Microsoft Teams Best Practices for Remote Work

We’re doing a twice-monthly interview show on Petri.com that is dedicated to covering topics of interest to our tech-professional audience. We have branded this show “MJFChat.”

In my role as Petri’s Community Magnate, I will be interviewing a variety of IT-savvy technology folks. Some of these will be Petri contributors; some will be tech-company employees; some will be IT pros. We will be tackling various subject areas in the form of 30-minute audio interviews. I will be asking the questions, the bulk of which we’re hoping will come from you, our Petri.com community of readers.

We will ask for questions a week ahead of each chat. Readers can submit questions via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and/or LinkedIn using the #AskMJF hashtag. Once the interviews are completed, we will post the audio and associated transcript in the forums for readers to digest at their leisure. (By the way, did you know MJFChats are now available in podcast form? Go here for MJF Chat on Spotify; here for Apple Podcasts on iTunes; and here for Google Play.)

Our next MJFChat, scheduled for June 12, is all about best practices for IT pros for Microsoft Teams in a world where more and more are working remotely. My special guest is Martina Grom, founder and CEO of atwork and a Microsoft Regional Director and MVP. We want you to submit your best questions for Martina ahead of our chat.

Martina is a long-time community advocate and specialist in Office 365, Azure, security and social media, in addition to Teams. She also is the organizational head of cloudusergroup.at. She is ready for any and all of your Teams questions.

If you know someone you’d like to see interviewed on the MJFChat show, including yourself, send me a note at [email protected] (Let me know why you think this person would be an awesome guest and what topics you’d like to see covered.) We’ll take things from there….


Mary Jo Foley (00:01):
Hi, you’re listening to the Petri.com MJF Chat show. I am Mary Jo Foley, AKA your Petri.com community magnate. And I am here to interview tech industry experts about various topics that you, our readers and listeners want to know about. Today’s MJF chat is going to be all about Microsoft Teams, best practices for remote work. And my special guest today is Martina Grom, who is the founder and CEO of atwork and a long time Microsoft RD and MVP. Welcome Martina. And thank you so much for doing this chat with me.

Martina Grom (00:43):
Hey, welcome Mary Jo. Thanks for the invitation. I’m glad to be here and have a chat with you.

Mary Jo Foley (00:49):
Me too. I feel like Martina and I see each other at all the big Microsoft events. And so I haven’t seen you in person in so long that this is kind of like the next best thing.

Martina Grom (01:00):
Yeah, yeah, it’s true. It’s kind of an uncommon experience for all of us, because I think we kind of love to travel and see each other at least once or twice a year during conferences. And now we do not see anyone. We are speaking to monitors and webcams all the time.

Mary Jo Foley (01:19):
Yes, it is. It’s a huge change. And you know, even as much as all of us have done meetings on Teams and GoToMeeting and all the various platforms, it feels like now this is the new normal, and that’s why we wanted to make this chat about Teams and remote work. So this is such a huge topic. I was trying to think about how to get going with this chat. And I was thinking maybe you could start out with something like some very general guidelines for IT Pros who are now living in Teams, basically in the remote work era. Like I was curious if with your own clients for your business, when you’re talking to them about setting up Teams for remote work, do you have something like a basic checklist or something that you use as like the way to introduce them to how they should be thinking all up about Teams?

Martina Grom (02:15):
Yeah, so what I learned in the last couple of months is we went from zero to a hundred percent in kind of lightspeed and every single person who used Teams before is now using it the whole day. It’s kind of our new working place, working environments. We meet our colleagues here, we chat here. We have conferences here. We collaborate here and everything. And what I’ve seen with many of my clients is that they had to set up from an IT Pro perspective. They had to make their users ready. So give them good environment and a good network connection and make everything stable and everything safe. And a lot of things, what I learned with my customers is for instance, many organizations, they were prepared for 20% remote workers in the past. And now they went to a hundred percent remote workers and every single person needs to connect to enterprise data on premises data, cloud data, and everything.

Martina Grom (03:30):
And some of their organizations weren’t very well prepared for that kind of scenario. So the whole connect through a VPN connection to your on premises data, work from there. So the recommendation we did with remote workers is that we checked on the machines. Is there a split VPN set up? Is there any security issue which comes to the clients because you also have to think about, if we talk about security, very often, it was the perimeter network, which was protected, but now you have to protect the client who works from remote or from his private machine or from his mobile device and so on, and the IT Pros have to make sure that it’s a secure connection. It works very well. And so on. And in the first two weeks we learn a lot. We also learned that Microsoft learned a lot. So for instance, they start throttling, unnecessary services.

Martina Grom (04:33):
So like present status and refresh happens not so often as it did before and so on, but it was a common learning. And this is also something, what I really liked here is we were all in the same boat and we worked together.

Mary Jo Foley (04:51):

Martina Grom (04:51):
And I also learned that the tolerance level was very high in the beginning that people said, okay, it’s okay. I have audio issues. I trust you that you will solve that. And these are kind of the learnings. And from a checklist, what I recommend to my customers is look at how the client connects, look at security, what they do there, look at your firewall proxy settings, make sure that all the ports towards Microsoft Teams are open and also make sure that the network connection is reliable because people use us are really frustrated when they try to work remote and they have the whole, the whole story. They have homeschooling. They have the whole family around them, they are stressed out. It’s a complete new environment for them. So from an IT perspective, you need to make their life as easy as possible. And then you can do a lot of things and also soft recommendations, like take a break, do a lunch break, go for a walk. All those things are really important currently.

Mary Jo Foley (06:08):
Right. You know, it’s funny you brought that up because I was thinking, it’s almost like there’s two sets of things you have to think about with your workers. You have to think about like, you’re talking about VPNs and how to secure the clients remotely. But then the soft topics are also really important, right? Because we’re talking about changing and modifying people’s behavior. And, and all the stresses that go along with the whole new world of work. So yeah, it’s, it’s like you’re trying to change everything all at once in a way, right. Not just the technology, but everything else that goes along with how people collaborate.

Martina Grom (06:44):
Yeah, exactly. And also one of, one of the other examples was in the first weeks we made webinars twice a week just to explain very simple Team settings. Like, how do I handle my mute, unmute behavior? How can I turn cameras on or off? How do I share files? Because people really needed to learn that. And also from an IT perspective, it was very hard for them because they said, we got so many tickets around, how do I do that and do that in Teams? And it was a very good experience that we said, okay, we set up, a webinar twice a week with our customers, we explain them basic things. It’s a live event. People can join here, they can ask their questions and they get trained in a very fast way or another customer, he did set up an e-learning, which was a 30 minute experience, just the basic things, how to handle Teams. And then they could work very fast and go back to kind of a normal behavior, remote working.

Mary Jo Foley (07:58):
You know what I also think is interesting because I’ve been trying to learn how to use Teams along with everyone else. I wasn’t using it before this all happened. What makes it even more challenging I think, is Teams is not a stagnant or a static platform, right? Like Microsoft is always changing it and adding new features. And so one week you understand how something works and then it’s like, Oh, now you can do this. Also, like we’ve changed how many people can be on a Teams call and now you can have virtual background, or now you can do this or that. And I feel like just when you feel like you’ve got a handle on it, it changes.

Martina Grom (08:37):
Yeah. That’s funny that you mentioned that, this is kind of the experience in an evergreen service and also Microsoft Learn to move forward very fast. And I think they also learned they got some many feedback in the beginning. Like it’s not enough to only show four on video. We want the three, the nine persons on video. We want to have custom background images and so on. And I think they roll it out some of the functionality sooner than it was expected to have there. But it also, brought kind of a better experience for the users to have it that way.

Mary Jo Foley (09:16):
Right. Right. I think you just have to be open to the idea that you, aren’t going to always know everything about the platform you’re using because it’s always changing. And that’s, I think that’s uncomfortable for some people.

Martina Grom (09:31):
Yeah. And this is the always changing thing. It’s, how the cloud works.

Mary Jo Foley (09:37):
It is.

Martina Grom (09:37):
Especially if you work in the cloud, like I do since 10 years now, it’s like, Oh, this is new. And you get used to that behavior. But if you’re not used to that, it’s kind of challenging, especially on the IT Pro side, when they come from a history from on premises, whether I used to have support packages once a month or every six months and so on, and now it just appears in the tenant. It makes people feel extremely insecure because they said, I can’t trust the service. Maybe tomorrow, it’s always also changing. And on the other side, Microsoft is not changing the whole thing all over. It’s only small things. And if you follow that, it’s kind of little presents you get during the journey you’re going with them.

Mary Jo Foley (10:35):
You call them presents. I’ve had some, IT Pros call them other things that I won’t mention on the podcast. So I was going to ask you that. So I totally can relate to that because I know IT Pros are, many times there are people who like order, right. And they like rules and they like things to be a certain way. So when you’re talking to people about this, how do you advise them to kind of accept the way things are in the cloud versus how they’ve always been done on prem? Like how do they get their, like their mindset to change, you know?

Martina Grom (11:10):
Yeah. So, what I learned, what works best is to, try to have trust among the IT Pros as well, because as you mentioned, IT Pros very often, they want to have control on the things because they are also the persons where the user goes to and says, my IT’s not working. Please fix that. And when they can’t fix it, because it’s an issue that Microsoft has or anything else, they can’t fix it. So they do not feel very well with that situation. And what I try to do with the customers I work with is to have them enabled very soon in any deployment project and make them use the stuff so that they see, I can trust it. It’s not breaking, I have it kind of under control still. And I also discuss with them that they said, please go away from the mindset that you are waiting for a service pack.

Mary Jo Foley (12:13):
Right, Yep.

Martina Grom (12:15):
And which were break everything, wait for the small and little things. So also with some of my customers and you know, there are delayed channels so that you get big updates every six months.

Mary Jo Foley (12:25):

Martina Grom (12:27):
And you can also make it a monthly channel or you go into the inside of preview. I do not recommend my customers to go into the inside of preview and production machines.

Mary Jo Foley (12:37):

Martina Grom (12:38):
But what I recommend them is go with a monthly channel because it’s much easier for people to adopt two tiny little things every month, than a huge and larger package every six months.

Mary Jo Foley (12:51):
Hmm. That’s good. That’s very interesting. Do you also advise them to set up test rings inside of the companies? You know how, I know in Windows, a lot of companies these days have set up like their own rings inside their companies, almost parallel to what Microsoft’s doing externally with the Insider program. Do you think that works for Teams too?

Martina Grom (13:15):
I like that. And normally I also give them that advice, to have kind of different channels in the organization because the monthly channel might not work for everyone.

Martina Grom (13:27):
So some users might need to be on the six months channel. But, I also tell them, please work with key users, make some people champions because they will help you. And also what I try with my customers is that it’s not an operations thing alone. We need adoption, we need change management. We need people who use it, who can tell stories around that. And when we have those kinds of scenarios, very often we recommend them that that’s okay. Let people opt into the monthly channel. And then we look how that works. And after six months we do a review and if it works well, we can extend the amount of people in the monthly channel. So it’s kind of a journey also with customers, if they do not trust the service from the beginning that they have just time to know the service, to understand it, to start trusting it. And then it’s much easier.

Mary Jo Foley (14:29):
That’s good. That’s really good. Now, I wanted to ask you some questions. Some of these are from people who participated on Twitter and sent them in and a couple of them are my own questions too. So these are more just about Teams and how people should think about Teams. And so one question I had for you myself is how much, when you’re talking to clients, do you tell them Teams is like SharePoint? And the reason I bring this up is I feel like Teams is almost like SharePoint and that it’s the Swiss army knife of products. Like it’s a little bit of this, a little bit of that. It can kind of do everything. It’s a platform. It’s almost like an operating system. Right. And so if you have clients who understand how to administer SharePoint and govern SharePoint, do you think that knowledge comes over to Teams or is this just like a whole different way of working when it comes to Teams,

Martina Grom (15:31):
That’s a good question. And they really like it because Teams can be everything and nothing.

Mary Jo Foley (15:36):

Martina Grom (15:36):
Depending on the point of view. So, for me, and also when, when you think about, is Teams like SharePoint, so Teams cannot exist without SharePoint, right? But to be honest, Teams cannot exist without Exchange as well, because it relies on those base services. And the interesting part, what I learned with many of my customers, it’s a massive difference where the IT Pro comes from. If he’s a former Skype on premises administrator, Teams for him is more messaging, chat, video, and things like that. And if the new Teams administrate is more from the collaborations based like SharePoint, Teams is all around collaboration, it’s always quite a fine line between, because you need to connect those, both parties, the telephone part, versus the collaboration part, and they need to work together because Teams connects that. And from my perspective, very often when I talk with customers, I said, you will have two main clients in the future from a collaboration perspective, it will be Outlook and it will be Teams. And this is where it all happens around there. And also from my perspective, I see for users, it’s, they love Teams because it brings them a single client where they have everything they need for the day to do work. They have their files there, their to-do’s, their colleagues, so everything, and this is why people really love the Teams client.

Mary Jo Foley (17:23):
Okay. That’s good. That’s a good answer. A question from Tero Alhonen on Twitter. I’m curious about this question too, is Teams end to end encrypted? Do you know?

Martina Grom (17:42):
This is kind of a hard question for me, but I will try to answer that.

Mary Jo Foley (17:46):

Martina Grom (17:47):
Teams has a lot of features and the perspective what end to end means it’s a very difficult one, in my opinion. So Teams has an excellent security guide where they go through different use cases. Well, the Teams, team describes what happens within Teams and what technology is used there. So from my perspective, if I explain that I say, okay, network communication. And the main part here is every single data stream, which happens between a client and Microsoft 365 in transit is encrypted. And the data at rest is encrypted as well. If we look at that, we see that network communications in Teams is encrypted by default. So that means the Teams client connects to the endpoints through an TLS encrypted communication. And some people will now say, yeah, but this is not end to end.

Martina Grom (18:56):
And I think that’s the perspective you can have on that. So if you have a person who has your login credentials, what sits on your pc, they can take over the functionality. But I think from a security perspective, this is kind of a very good description about how Teams security works.

Mary Jo Foley (19:19):
I remember this same issue came up about Skype a lot, like, you know, because people are trying to compare all the different chat programs and saying which ones are end to end encrypted. And again, like you just described, it’s kind of about how you describe end to end encryption and what you think that means.

Martina Grom (19:38):
Yeah, exactly. And when I look at that, from the perspective, my Teams client connect to Teams throughout the infrastructure within Microsoft 365, we have an encryption, right away. So all the communication is encrypted and this might be enough.

Martina Grom (19:58):
After that okay. I wanna make sure that Microsoft is unable to read anything. So this is more or less a customer communication we’ve had. Are you ready for the cloud? Do you think it’s a good way to go into a service, which you don’t trust? So, yeah, I would really recommend every Teams user or every security officer to look at the security documentation from the Microsoft Teams team, they are extremely transparent what they are doing and why they are doing that. And I think this is also very helpful for people to understand where’s my data, how it is encrypted, how is the data flow and so on?

Mary Jo Foley (20:44):
That’s great. Okay. Question from a listener @szlwzl on Twitter. And this also was something I had a question about when I first started getting more into Teams. This person asks, is there any workarounds so that people can be logged into multiple accounts on the same Teams desktop at the same time? And I would guess this is a much requested feature because I know I’m part of different Teams and different organizations, and it would be really helpful to me if I could just switch instead of having to back all the way out and come back in. Do you know, like, what’s the thinking there, is this even a possibility I don’t, I don’t even know if you would know that or not, but I think it’s an interesting question.

Martina Grom (21:33):
Yeah. So, what I can tell is that Microsoft knows that.

Mary Jo Foley (21:38):

Martina Grom (21:40):
So it’s the tenant, which I think is kind of a painful experience and what I know and what we all see there, they improved it a lot. So tenant switching is now much easier than it was in the past, especially on mobile devices, but what I do, I use different web applications.

Martina Grom (22:02):
So sign in my different Teams client. So as I work a lot with different clients, I’m a guest in my customer tenant, and I have to work with them on a day to day basis. So what I did there, there is very good advice from one of my MVP colleagues. He’s Tom Arbuthnot, and he wrote two blog posts about that. And the description around that is simply you create a Team web application either on Google Chrome, or you do the same in Edge Chromium. So that means you can use different profiles in Edge Chromium. So you sign in into the guest tenant in Edge Chromium. And after that you install the Teams web application.

Mary Jo Foley (22:57):

Martina Grom (22:57):
And that means you have now different profiles there, which you can simply switch and have them on.

Mary Jo Foley (23:04):
Oh yeah. That’s a good idea. I didn’t even think of doing that. That’s a really good idea.

Martina Grom (23:08):
It’s an excellent idea. And I also, I switched to Edge Chrome and the profile story for my presentations, you know when you present at Ignite, you have different identities, you have to switch back and forth. I get used to that profile thing in Edge Chromium. And in former times I just had four different browsers on my machine.

Mary Jo Foley (23:33):

Martina Grom (23:34):
Which was much harder. And now with the profile thing, it’s, it’s really easy to switch between them.

Mary Jo Foley (23:40):
It is. I’ve just been starting to use that feature in Chromium based Edge, the different profiles. And it’s, at first a little hard to get used to it. And then once you’re used to it, you’re like, Oh, this is great. Right?

Martina Grom (23:52):
Yeah. And also this web app possibility you have in here is really great. So you can, for instance, install Outlook web app from it, or Microsoft 365 and also the Teams client, which is very easy to do, and also a great help. So I use that everyday.

Mary Jo Foley (24:13):
That’s a really good tip. Here is another Twitter user whose name is Jorge, I believe. He’s asking if you think this would be a good idea. I believe he said can Teams be used by end users to contact their IT help desk by setting up a group within Teams or something like that. Like, do you recommend that as a way to use Teams to kind of set up a virtual help desk?

Martina Grom (24:44):
Yeah. And this is in fact something, we set up with some of our customers in the past three months. So there are multiple solutions I can think of here. So what I would do is to use a bot service with an agent handover for this kind of use cases. So what we did here with some clients is we use the HealthBot service. I do not know if you’re aware of that. It’s an Azure service.

Mary Jo Foley (25:13):

Martina Grom (25:14):
And this bot service everyone can install that from Azure. And when you have that, you can customize it to your needs. So there are different scenarios involved. It’s not only health scenarios, which can be involved. You can also have a QnA maker bot service in there, and you can integrate that bot into Teams or any other websites. And the bot can collect the first basic information or answer some basic questions of your users.

Martina Grom (25:51):
And you also have, an inbound agent handover for complicated topics directly with an agent. And this works very well because you can integrate it into Teams and you can also integrate it into any website you have in here. And the use case from my clients was that they said, we get so many service tickets. We can’t handle that anymore. We need a step between that. And this is kind of the scenario, what we found, which was very easy to set up, because if you set up a ready to use bot, like the health bot is, you only have to customize it. And you are ready within a couple of days, so you can’t go in a complicated development process and find something new. And this is why I like that. And I have a second use case here. And this was also an interesting one.

Martina Grom (26:51):
It came up eight weeks ago is one of my clients, they work in the manufacturing business. And they have stations onsite, which they are not allowed to travel to. And what they did here, they sent their customers a HoloLens, or they ask them to install the remote assist app. And they gave them support through that, which was also a very interesting scenario. And this has the demand here is very high from their client.

Mary Jo Foley (27:26):
Hmm. Interesting. Cool. Okay. I’ve got one more question for you. This is from Stuart Becktell on Twitter, he asked, what would you recommend for a Teams headset, both wired and wireless.

Martina Grom (27:43):
Yeah. So I have all different scenarios here, so I prefer a wireless option. But it’s, it’s really a personal decision what you want to buy. So my first advice would be for Microsoft Teams the best way is to go with a certified headset.

Martina Grom (28:07):
And there’s a website for that where people can look at. My personal preference, it’s a wireless option. But the disadvantage here is that wireless option relies on the battery. And I learned in the past weeks that maybe eight hours battery life is not enough for a whole working day.

Mary Jo Foley (28:27):
Because our day is so different now. Yep.

Martina Grom (28:30):
Exactly. Exactly. So always have a second option in place. And also why I like the wireless option is, it’s always, I want to move around, stand up, go around and so on. If you choose a wireless option, and this is something what I learned as well for many Bluetooth device, you get the Bluetooth dongle with the Bluetooth headset. And it’s always a good recommendation that you use the Bluetooth dongle as well, because it’s a certified device and the dongle makes sure that the connection with the device works perfectly.

Martina Grom (29:11):
And also it’s kind of a personal experience. I’m more the in ear headset person, others like over ear. So it’s whatever you prefer. And I also learned it worked with uncertified headsets a lot. So in the past couple of weeks, I saw a lot of very plain headsets used for Teams meetings. But if you have a better audio option, I would recommend to go with a certified headset.

Mary Jo Foley (29:41):
Okay. Good to know. I keep waiting for the Surface team to make a Teams headset. I’m like, come on guys. I think this makes sense, but so far nothing.

Martina Grom (29:55):
And I think it’s maybe because there are so many headsets around there. I think also the only difficulty nowadays is that people need webcams and headsets because they haven’t one and they’re sold out almost everywhere.

Mary Jo Foley (30:12):

Martina Grom (30:14):
What I also learned is that many of my customers they said, okay, my executive wants to do a live event, how should we do that? That you should pay attention on that scenario as well that you have a good camera in place, a good light in place, a good headset. Otherwise it’s not a good experience. If a manager talks in a live event and you can’t see him or hear him or anything else.

Mary Jo Foley (30:42):
Right. Yeah. You’re right. Lighting, I can tell you from the many webcasts I’ve had to do over time. And I’m sure you know, this better than me, lighting is like one of those under rated and kind of last thought of things, but it makes a huge difference.

Martina Grom (30:57):
It makes a huge difference. Also, if so, what I liked to be outside, but if you do a recording in the nature, the light is never good enough. The sound, never good enough.

Mary Jo Foley (31:11):
No, it’s never good enough.

Martina Grom (31:13):
It’s nice to see you with a blue sky, but that’s it more or less.

Mary Jo Foley (31:16):
That’s why you should use the virtual background. If you want to have a blue sky background. Right.

Martina Grom (31:22):

Mary Jo Foley (31:25):
Well, Martina, thank you. This was really fun and really interesting. Lots of great tips for everyone. I appreciate your time. Thanks.

Martina Grom (31:33):
Yeah. Thanks for the invitation. And hopefully there were some tips which people like and can use for themselves.

Mary Jo Foley (31:41):
Yes, definitely. And for everyone else listening right now to this podcast, all you MJF Chat, readers and listeners, I’ll be posting more information soon on Petri about who my next guest is going to be. Once you see that you can submit questions on Twitter, directly for the guest. And in the meantime, if you know of anyone else or even yourself who might make a good guest for one of these chats, please do not hesitate to drop me a note. Thank you very .