The European Union prompted a change in Microsoft’s strategy, opened the door to competition, and exposed significant challenges with the Teams product.
Every week, I have many calls and meetings—Zoom, Cisco Webex, Google Meet, Skype (believe it or not), and the dreaded Microsoft Teams. Whenever I get an invite for a Teams call, I wonder what will happen when I click the link.
Teams can be unpredictable. Say what you will about the other players, but they just work.
Zoom started as a standalone product—and if it didn’t work, the company would’ve gone under. Webex was one of the earliest players, so they know how to make meetings work. Google Meet always feels strange, but it’s generally competent, although essentially a “me too” product. Skype is, well, Skype. It’s nothing fancy—kind of AOL Messenger on steroids—but it works.
Poor User Experience is the Teams Challenge
The trouble with Teams is that, in an effort to integrate all its products, Microsoft appears to have forgotten about the experience of actually using the individual product. Most people don’t care about integration—or, more correctly, users don’t care about integration if the product itself doesn’t work.
The Teams experience, at least for me and many users I have talked to, has not been good. Most times I go to use it, I get stuck in some kind of login issue. On more than one occasion, almost as a throwback to the late 90s or early 2000s, I’ve resorted to just using the dial-in numbers.
If I can solve login, I have to change the settings for backgrounds, etc., as I’m getting set to enter a meeting. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking, and I’m late for a meeting.
One of the most significant issues with Teams is guest access. If I host a meeting or call, I’ll use Zoom, so I often join Teams as a guest.
The experience as a guest is inconsistent. Some features, like chat, work on some calls and not others. It also creates multiple user IDs, which can create confusion for end users. This is why many organizations use Teams for internal meetings but a product like Zoom for external. Guest access is better in the latest release but it’s still not on par with other vendors.
The EU and Unbundling
Once inside Teams, things work all right. Yet the experience, compared to Zoom or Webex, is severely lacking. But there may be hope on the horizon—in the unlikely guise of EU regulators. You may have read that the EU has prompted Microsoft to unbundle Teams.
One news article I read about the unbundling said Teams was considered the crown jewel of the Office 365 suite. I’m not sure about that, but it’s apparent that Microsoft is unhappy about unbundling. From a business standpoint, no one would be happy about this. Government regulators interfering in the way a company operates is generally abhorrent.
Looking back, Microsoft wasn’t happy about making it easier to uninstall Explorer after wrangling with the Justice Department in the late ’90s and early 2000s. But they survived allowing non-Microsoft software into its walled garden and grew into a trillion-plus dollar company—despite years of feckless management under Steve Ballmer.
For users of Teams in the EU, unbundling could be a good thing if Microsoft approaches it correctly. Thinking about the user experience for Teams itself rather than the overall integration should help the company address the usability issues.
The ability to link to a doc from SharePoint is probably not a high priority for people just trying to have a seamless meeting. But those integrations should be relatively easy to maintain. One big step the company could take in improving usability is to acquire a company like Box. One might think that Box and Microsoft OneDrive are overlapping products, but the reality is that Box improves the Microsoft user experience better than Microsoft’s own product.
I know many people think I’m anti-Teams but, in reality, I’m anti-bad user experience. I want to like Teams. I really do. I hope that the company will use the unbundling to free it from those shackles everywhere and focus its usability experts on creating a great product that is easy to use and just works.
Microsoft Needs to Prioritize Usability
I might be shouting into the void, but Microsoft product engineers might want to rethink how they approach Teams. It’s a simple thought: Prioritize the core functionality that users need or want. Then, approach that development from the inside out, like Zoom did. Think about enabling great meetings and messaging. Worry about everything else later.
The challenge with Microsoft is that the company appears to prioritize locking customers into license bundles over everything else, including usability. By making the job of procuring the product so frictionless, it can use that audience to push substandard products on corporate workers. This is why so many workers will say something like, “I really don’t like using Teams, but the IT department made the decision.”
The danger that unbundling creates is that it removes that lock and creates an opening for better products. Proof of that is how fast Google managed to have Chrome usurp Internet Explorer’s once dominant position.
If you’re a customer of Teams in one of the countries where it will be unbundled, do your due diligence and look at Zoom, RingCentral, Webex, 8×8, Avaya, or any of the other many products and use Box as the solution to integrate data across them. You’ll have happier customers and likely save yourself some money.