The Blog| Popular topicsInfographicsMicrosoft TeamsOffice 365SharePoint

The Microsoft Teams tutorial that will make you an expert today

Confused by Microsoft Teams and all the complex features it comes with? This quick but thorough overview of all the major features is just what you're looking for.
Published on
September 21, 2020

Your crash course on Microsoft Teams

Today I wanted to take a bit of a big-picture view and provide an everyday intro on how to use Microsoft Teams in a short, digestible format that gives you everything you need to kill it in Teams without having to spend a ton of time learning. This is better presented in video, with plenty of demos and one-off tips and tricks, so I’d suggest pressing play below. It's 18 minutes chock-full of demos, guidance, tips and tricks, and best practices that cover the entirety of Microsoft Teams. It might be the best 18 minutes you ever spent on Microsoft "training". There, I said it!

However, if you prefer to read, feel free to continue. Teams basically combines a bunch of apps or services we’ve been using for years. Chat and meetings replace Skype for Business; Teams and channels are replacements for email threads; Files replaces network shares and email attachments; and you’re able to edit those files right in Teams.

Private chat

To start out, let’s talk about chat. Chat is a space for having ad hoc conversation, usually high-priority, kind of like text messaging.It’s not generally a place for getting work done since going through chat history isn’t easy; a Team is much better for getting work done and managing decision-making and collaboration. But chat is perfect for checking in with colleagues, sending in your lunch order, and giving your boss the update they were asking for.

Open chat from the Teams app bar and from here you can see your ongoing private chats and start new ones. Create a new chat with someone by clicking the new chat button to the top-right of the chat listing. Start typing the name of the person and select them. Actually, add a few. To keep things organized, rename this chat by clicking the pencil next to the recipient names so you can find it later.

Now draft the message. When you’re writing messages in chats or in channels, always enable the formatting button. I wish it was enabled by default, but it’s not. In here you’ll find the standard formatting tools, but you can also set a message as important, insert tables, add quotes, add hyperlinks, and use bulleted and numbered lists. If you want a recipient to get a specific notification, @mention them by using the at symbol and type their name. They’ll see a little icon that shows there’s something they need to read. They’ll also see their name show up bolded, meaning they should read that section; the @mentions aren’t just for notifications, you see.

Fun fact, as you’re typing out the @mention, you can press backspace (delete on macOS) to remove part of the name to be more informal or to shorten names that have lots of information, like department or office location.

Press the paper airplane to send your message. Quick tip:press the up-arrow button immediately after if you want to edit the message. You can also enable read receipts.

You can like and react to messages, edit your message, save important messages, and more. Incidentally, your saved messages end up under your main menu; just click your face. The chat ellipsis menu is really useful:you should always keep it in the front of your mind. Chat also lets you share emoticons, memes, gifs, and custom stickers to keep things fun. Note that you can also use emoji; just press Windows + period on Windows or Control + ⌘+ Space on macOS to pull up your emoji library. On mobile, you can swipe right on a message to reply to it. You can’t do this on desktop but you can copy, paste, and format it as a quote.

Big picture-wise, you can pin chats, mute them so you don’t get notifications—this is helpful during meetings—hide them, and more. Click the ellipses on a chat to see all your options. You can’t delete a chat, so if you want to get rid of it, just hide it.

Team, channels, and conversations

Now let’s jump into your Teams. Create teams for organizational units, classrooms, projects, affinity groups, and more. EachTeam has its own permissions and everyone in the Team has access to all the channels and files in that Team. When people join, they get access. When they leave, they lose access.

Each Teams is split into channels. Channels are kind of like folders in a shared drive. It’s an arbitrary but useful way to split up discussion and team files by topic. This is a really useful way to manage what’s important to you.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say you’re a marketing professional on a product development team. You likely don’t care about the engineering channel, so you can hide it and stop following it. You’ll be notified if someone @mentions you and you’re free to peruse it, but it won’t intrude into your workday uninvited. On the other hand, if you were still working in email, you’d be cc’d on all those emails regardless, wasting your time and causing you a lot of strife. Major win moving from email to Teams.

Channels are a place for getting work done. Everyone who has access can see everything that’s happened in the Team, so they have context and a running history, which makes a Team a way better place to get work done than a private chat.

Jumping into a channel, you can start a conversation thread by clicking New conversation. There are different types of conversations, a standard one or an announcement; announcements have bigger text and a graphic at the top. You can also post to multiple channels to save you some time. But a standard conversation is the most common.

Like with chat, always click the formatting button to bringup your options. If you’re starting a channel conversation, always always always use a subject line. You’d never send an email without a subject, right? Same in Teams. It keeps things on topic, orderly, and, frankly, when you’re looking for something, scrolling through endless conversations that have no subjects is a nightmare. A little time investment at the beginning saves people a lot of time later on.

When you write a message in a channel, always use @mentionsso everyone in the Team knows who the message is meant for. This is like using the To field in an email. Without it, it’s like being at an emergency and yelling “somebody call 911” or the emergency number—everyone looks around and nobody does anything. So make sure to @mention regularly so it’s clear who’s supposed to do what.

That said, don’t @mention the channel or team unless necessary. Doing that is like replying all in email or sending spam; nobody likes that. Convince yourself the channel or team needs to be notified before doing it. Incidentally, @mentioning the channel isn’t the same as @mentioningthe team; people can mute the channel mentions but they can’t mute the team mentions.

Your messages in a channel thread will have a purple line on the left for easy identification. Any messages where you’ve been @mentionedwill have a red line on the left and red @ symbol on the right. And messages where the channel or team have been at mentioned have their own red icons on the right to stand out. These icons will also show up in your activity feed, accessible through the Activity button in the app bar.

Messages in channels are similar to those in chat, but try not to use memes, gifs, and stickers since they take up so much space in an area where work is meant to get done. It’s easy to get into gif wars and one line of useful text-based information gets effectively swallowed by a bunch of gifs going back and forth. Dedicate a channel reserved for fun stuff where memes and gifs are fair game and tell everyone to avoid them elsewhere; I usually call this the water cooler channel.

Reply to a conversation with the reply button. Like chat, you can react to messages. I suggest reserving the thumbs up as an acknowledgement tool to replace unnecessary “thanks”, “got it”, and “okay” messages, which really aren’t necessary when that reaction exists. Think about how many emails you’ve received in your life that were literally just those kinds of messages; usually not that valuable, taking up your time, being annoying. No more with Teams. And as with chat, the message ellipses menu is really useful.

Files

Sharing and collaborating on files is a major aspect of Teams, too. You can share files in both channels and private chat, but they work notable differently. First, open the Files app in the Teams app bar. 

This app shows all the recent files you’ve opened in anyTeams. You also have direct access to your OneDrive account, which is super handy. You can add other file tools like Google Drive and DropBox if you’d like. I don’t find those useful though because you have to download the files to use them.

Files in a Team are stored channel by channel. Each channel has a tab at the top called Files and your files are organized by folders. Try to keep your folder structure no more than three levels of folders deep. For one, folder structures are a nightmare to learn anyway, so do your colleagues a favor. But there’s also a character limit to the web address of a file, so more folders means a longer address, which could cause the file to break.

You can create and edit Office files right in Teams, though you can also open them in the desktop app if you need. Feel free to drag and drop almost any file type to upload them into Teams as well. You can even upload folders, but there’s a limit to the number of files and folders you can upload at once.

You’ve got a bunch of other features available, like being able to move files between Teams or OneDrive, copying files, deleting them, renaming them, syncing, and more. If you have any experience with SharePoint, the files are actually stored in a SharePoint site that comes with your Team and they’re stored in the default document library. Because SharePoint is behind the scenes, you have a ton of advanced features if you want them. But that’s a post for a different day.

Sharing files is the important part. You can reference a file or multiple files in a channel message. And you should. Basically, if you ever reference a file in your conversation, you should always link to it so your readers don’t have to go looking for the file and so they don’t mistakenly look at the wrong one. To share a file in a conversation, click the paper clip below the message.

If the file doesn’t exist, you can upload it—though if you do, it gets dropped in the Files tab arbitrarily and isn’t organized in a folder, so keep that in mind—or select it from the Team. I suggest the latter.This is equivalent to attaching or linking a file in an email. One single source of truth on a file, everyone clicks and opens the same file, it’s glorious.

Now, if you’re in private chat, you can send files there too.Click the paper clip to share an existing file in your OneDrive or to upload from your computer. Just note when you send a file in a chat, the file is automatically shared from the sender’s OneDrive. If it’s already in their OneDrive, the permissions are changed so the chat members can access it; if it’s not already in their OneDrive, it gets uploaded to a folder called Microsoft Teams ChatFiles. This is important: in case you didn’t know, when someone leaves the organization, their OneDrive automatically gets deleted. Because of this, don’t collaborate on files in chat, or at least keep it to a minimum. Always collaborate on files in a Team because eventually your chat files could disappear and you don’t want that.

One last thing: make use of the OneDrive sync tool. You can sync your Teams files directly to your computer, tablet, or phone for offline use, which is super useful. You can sync channel-by-channel or Team-by-Team. It also makes files much quicker to open and you can access them right from Windows Explorer or macOS Finder. Definitely look into it.

Meetings

One of the biggest and most complex parts of Teams is the online meetings aspect. I think it’s safe to say most of us are all too familiar with online meetings nowadays, so let’s try to take what we know and build on that.

First, scheduling a meeting is simple. Click the calendar icon in the app bar and click new meeting. Just like in any other calendaring app, give your event a name, invite people, give the meeting a description, and send it out. You can invite people by name if they’re internal or you can add any email address if they’re external.

You can also schedule meetings through Outlook and the Teams and Outlook mobile apps. One tip is to set your default meeting time lengths to 25 and 50 minutes to keep meetings a bit shorter and give people a bit of a reprieve now that we’re all stuck in front of a screen all the time. You can manage this in Outlook. Another tip is to add the FindTime plugin to Outlook for sending polls out to invitees when you don’t have access to their calendar.It’s a Microsoft product, it’s free, and it works amazingly well.

But that’s not all. Once the meeting is scheduled, you have a lot of options available to you customize your meeting. Open the calendar item and click Meeting options. From here, you can control who has to wait in the lobby when the meeting starts, who has the ability to present during the meeting, and more. Meeting roles are an important thing to be knowledgeable on, so read up on them.

A few minutes before the meeting or when someone joins it, you’ll get a reminder to join the meeting in Teams. Join through the notification or open the calendar event and click Join. From there, you can select video and audio sources, add a room, change your background, and more. For external invitees, the invitation email has a Join Microsoft TeamsMeeting link at the bottom as well as a dial-in number in case you have that feature.

The new meeting experience is out and it should open the meeting in a new window. If you don’t have it, see this video on how to enable it. Keep the top toolbar in mind because it gives you all your tools. First, use video.In a remote world, you need to see people. Video off should only be if the meeting is a presentation from one to many or your internet bandwidth can’t handle it. That’s just me though. Then there’s sound: you can’t hear all the background noise coming from your microphone; nobody wants to hear your dog whimper about going out or your extra-loud AC unit turn on. Because of that, you should stay on mute unless you’re talking. I also recommend using the hand raise rule:click the raise hand button in the toolbar to indicate you want to talk and the meeting facilitator should track that and call on people.

The next most important tool is the chat. Click the chat icon to type back and forth with attendees, which is a great way to share information, links, and more without bothering the presenter or speakers. This chat ends up in your private chat list and it can be a great way to keep in contact with the attendees after the meeting is over, especially if some participants were given follow up tasks.

Track who is in the meeting with the participant pane. From here, you can see whose hands are up, put their hands down, mute them if they’re making noise, change their meeting role on the fly, and even boot them from the meeting. You can also invite people in your organization on the fly or share a link to external people.

Share your screen if you’re discussing a file, slides, or webpage. And always zoom in. You can also share a whiteboard. I have a number of posts on how you can share your video and content concurrently as well as guidance on how to make the most of PowerPoint during a Teams meeting: hint, I never use the built-in sharing tool. You can even get presenter view in PowerPoint during a Teams meeting.

As with other aspects in Teams, look at that ellipses menu.You have a ton of features available there. The biggest ones are the views. You can get large gallery view to show up to 49 cameras at once. You need to have at least 11 people (including you) with their cameras on to use this. Then there’s together mode, which places cutouts of the participants in a virtual shared space like a conference room or lecture hall; you need four people(including you) to use it. Both large gallery view and together mode do not affect how other people see the meeting. Views are personal to each attendee.For a deep dive in using those, watch this video. The ellipses menu also gives you options to record your meeting, enable automatic closed captioning, change your camera and microphone, update your background, and more.

Before you finish, you can download a copy of the attendance report. When you’re done, you can leave or end the meeting. Ending the meeting ends it for everyone, where leaving it means it can still keep going if others remain. If you recorded the meeting, the recording will be available in the meeting chat. If you included external people, you’ll have to download the video recording and upload it to OneDrive to share a link with them.

There’s a lot more to meetings, including live events, channel meetings, meet now meetings, and more, but that’s a pretty good crash course on the basic online meeting. You get the best experience in the desktop app, but the mobile app is pretty good too. You can even transfer with a tap from desktop to mobile if you need to take the meeting on the go; just join the call on you phone after you’ve joined on desktop and the app runs you through it. You can invite anyone with any email address to a Teams meeting. They can join with Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome and they don’t even need to download a plugin or app. It’s so much better than Zoom and WebEx in this respect.

And lastly, make sure to check out my Guide to Rockstar Meetings in MicrosoftTeams. It’s a helpful, free e-book that you can add to any channel as a website tab to help your colleagues make the most of their meetings.

Additional tips

To close out, there are a few things you want to take advantage of when you use Teams.

For one, download the app. I know I just said that above, but I’m going to repeat it. The desktop app gives you a lot more features than the web version, especially in meetings.

Customize your notifications. If you’re overwhelmed by notifications, it’s kind of your fault, sorry to say. You can open up Face menu> Settings > Notifications and modify which notifications you get. You can also mute channels, mute specific conversations, and mute chats so you can minimize unnecessary pings. On top of that, you can enable quiet hours on mobile to set a hard work-life balance timeline. I strongly suggest quiet hours.

Use the back button. The desktop app has a back button and it’s really useful. I forget about it way too often, especially when I open files and then feel the need to click the Teams button to get back to the channelI wanted to be in. Waiting for the load time is annoying, but the back button avoids all that. It’s just like using back in a browser.

Search isn’t amazing, but it definitely works. Use the search bar at the top center to search conversations, chats, files (including full text in the files), and people. It’s also a great place to quickly start a call or chat with someone using what’s called a slash command. Try typing /call and a person’s name. It’ll start a call with that person. Another useful slash command is /testcall. Try it. I swear it’s not a bad thing. The last good slash command is getting a list of keyboard shortcuts. Just type /keys.

Use good etiquette. I’ve spent a lot of time documenting how organizations agree on and follow good behavior rules. Make sure to check out my Everyday Guide to Etiquette in Microsoft Teams for that. Add it as a website tab to any channel as a compact and agreement on how everyone should act. There’s also a pdf you can download if you need it to be more easily shareable.

Wrap up

Alright, well I know that’s a lot. But so is Teams! I’ve been using Teams now since 2017 and I’ve never looked back. It almost physically hurts me to open my email these days because Teams is just such abetter experience. Easier to converse, way better threading, great file sharing and editing, and available on pretty much every platform thanks to the many apps and the web version.

For a deeper dive into more tips and tricks, etiquette, and best practices for Microsoft Teams, check out this more advanced video below.

So that’s it for now! Thanks so much for watching and I hope you found that helpful. If you did, I’m actually available for remote, instructor-led Teams training if you need it. I am super curious to hear what your Teams tips and experiences have been, so please drop your thoughts, experiences, and insights into the comments so everyone else can learn for what your team does. Happy chatting, meeting, and collaborating in Microsoft Teams!

Matt Wade
Matt is an engineer-turned-IT nerd and Microsoft MVP. His career began in the nuclear power design field and ended up in SharePoint adoption, pretty much by mistake. He’s best known for his SharePoint and Office 365 infographics and advocating AI and chatbots to automate business workloads.

Recent blog posts

View all posts

Obviously you have an opinion, so share it!