Undoubtedly attracted by all of the success different firms have been having within the online collaboration area, Microsoft designed its Groups app to let digital teams mix their efforts throughout functions, recordsdata, and conferences. For $5 per person per 30 days, Microsoft goes to nice pains to take one of the best facets of Slack and basically construct them into Workplace 365 utilizing Groups because the wedge. Not solely does this integration give it a leg up from a function perspective, Microsoft’s massive array of value-add companions and third-party Workplace 365 add-on apps give it much more energy.
For these of you who’ve by no means used a chat app at work, this is a small primer: Packages like Slack, HipChat, Workplace by Facebook, and now Groups give you a corporate-wide workspace during which your groups can have conversations as massive teams or in smaller, non-public teams. Need to focus on advertising and marketing technique? Create a non-public advertising and marketing chat room. Need to focus on the Nationwide Basketball Affiliation? Create a non-public sports activities chat room. Need to ship a message to your entire firm? Ship the message within the Normal channel.
As chat apps have developed, they’ve enabled firms to incorporate video conferencing instruments, embedded video by way of YouTube, GIFs by way of Giphy, file sharing, and storage. Microsoft Groups can do all this in a cohesive and embedded method by connecting Redmond’s massive ecosystem of enterprise apps to the Groups interface on a desktop, or by way of a cell app throughout Android, iOS, and Home windows telephones. Check out our deeper dive into the Microsoft Teams iOS app for a way of how the merely designed cell expertise handles channel-based collaboration, calling, chat, and alerts.
As of July 2018, Microsoft has introduced Groups even nearer to its arch-nemisis, Slack, by giving it the one factor Slack’s at all times had that Microsoft tends to overlook: A free model that is truly definitely worth the obtain, at the very least for smaller companies. That is as a result of the free tier has a restrict of 300 customers. Against this, Slack has no such limitation, however then once more, 300 customers will definitely cowl most small companies worker rosters. The Groups free tier additionally has no message restrict, that means that even firms utilizing the free model can depend on Groups to allow them to search their whole message historical past with no worries regarding eventual deletion on account of message cap. Although, whereas there is not any message cap, there are storage limits, however even these are pretty lenient with 10GB as a base and one other 2GB per person. Lastly, Groups even provides the niceties at no cost customers, together with user-to-user voice calls in addition to group voice classes, too. You’ll be able to even leverage not solely Groups’ Workplace 365 integration, however any third-party app integrations you wish to constructed your self. That is quite a lot of muscle for a free app, and it ought to Microsoft properly in its ongoing Slack battle.
Microsoft Groups: Interface
Once you first open Groups, you see a left-hand rail that features the Exercise, Chat, Groups, Conferences, and Recordsdata tabs. Click on right into a tab to see the totally different channels and recordsdata that exist inside the subgroup. The Groups interface is designed with a typical blue, gray, purple, and white theme that straddles the road between playful and severe. If this is not your cup of tea, you may alter Group’s themes to certainly one of two wackier and fewer company choices.
In contrast to Slack, which depends on a thread of conversations centered solely on the channel’s matter, Groups enables you to silo matters inside a channel with a purpose to provide help to higher handle conversations. For instance: In case your promoting staff alternates between conversations about TV and billboard buys, you may create a sub-conversation inside the channel for each matters. This offers a extra buttoned-up really feel than what you may get in Slack, which offers a extra stream of group consciousness philosophy to chatting, which will be good or dangerous, relying on how your thoughts works.
For those who require plenty of construction, Groups is totally extra organized than Slack. Nonetheless, this group can be daunting. Whereas Slack and Atlassian HipChat focus totally on chat rooms, Groups’ five-pronged method to navigation leaves extra room for navigational error. Fortunately, like HipChat and Slack, everytime you’re talked about straight anyplace inside the Groups utility, a pink alert pops up on the Exercise tab and directs you to your precise vacation spot. You’ll be able to customise your alerts to inform you solely whenever you’re talked about straight, or you may set alerts to inform you every time any exercise occurs inside a particular room. You may also mark actions as “learn” and “unread” with a purpose to set them apart for later. These are the minute options that separate Groups from different collaboration apps in the marketplace.
On the high of each channel, you may see a listing of pre-populated companies and instruments that present extra context to the channel. Instruments like ZenDesk, Microsoft Power BI, and Excel are simply accessible so customers can view third-party or exterior information inside the context of the channel. Customers can view a doc or utility whereas having a dialog alongside the suitable aspect of the file, in order to not disrupt the dialog. All cloud-based instruments that replace in actual time will replace inside the feed. Sadly, with a purpose to make adjustments to the functions you may be directed out of Groups and into an internet browser. So, in case you’re viewing a Phrase doc in Groups, and also you discover a typo, you may chat along with your colleagues to allow them to know a typo exists, however neither of you may truly repair the typo with out being redirected to Workplace 365 on the Microsoft Edge browser.
Microsoft claims it’s investigating methods to allow adjustments inside the Groups expertise, which might be a humongous coup. As of right now, instruments like Asana, HipChat, and Slack solely permit customers to connect paperwork that may be seen by particular person customers. Groups is the one software that lets everybody have a look at a doc inside the context of a chatroom’s thread. If Microsoft can allow real-time modifying inside the thread, it can have drastically surpassed its rivals’ performance.
Alongside the embedded instruments you may additionally discover associated recordsdata, an organization organizational chart (powered by Lively Listing), and an Exercise tab, which is a operating historical past of all your interactions inside the particular group.
As with Slack and HipChat, you may simply embed recordsdata and GIFs from Giphy utilizing shortcuts. You may also create memes by clicking on a design, cartoon, or picture after which plugging in textual content. That is certainly one of many examples of Microsoft embedding an expertise into Groups; on Slack and HipChat, it’s a must to depart the appliance to seize photographs and add textual content with a purpose to create memes. It could appear minor, however given the extremely social and collegial nature of chat apps, the flexibility to remain inside the software is essential with a purpose to save time for extra skilled work. Heck, you may even use an emoji to call a chat room. Slack will not even allow you to use uppercase letters or a number of phrases.
Groups means that you can hook up with most cloud-based functions in actual time. For instance: You’ll be able to plug a Twitter feed or a Fb web page right into a Groups channel. Which means every time a brand new tweet or replace hundreds it will get pushed into the dialog stream. It is a actually priceless expertise, particularly for organizations that depend on third-party info and well timed responses to do their jobs (or for individuals like me who’re too lazy to depart the Groups expertise to examine their Fb notifications).
For those who see a video icon subsequent to a dialog, there’s an open videoconference taking place. You’ll be able to leap into the assembly and participate, or you may keep away from the channel in order to not be disruptive. These video chats aren’t Skype conversations, so you do not have to fret concerning the back-end server implications of your Skype/Skype for Enterprise accounts. Anybody in your Groups account can click on in your title, click on the video icon, and name you.
You may also schedule video requires a later date, and the software will provide you with a warning that the decision is about to start, which is a pleasant improve over the fundamental video name function obtainable in HipChat and Slack. Groups even enables you to view somebody’s Outlook calendar to find out the right time to schedule a Groups video name. All videocalls will be set to “recurring” so you will not must manually examine everybody’s schedules each time you wish to have a convention name. Extra importantly, you may squeeze a whopping 80 contributors into one Groups video name, which is 4 instances as many as HipChat permits, and greater than 4 instances as many as Slack permits (15).
Bots in Microsoft Groups
No chat app could be full with out its personal distinctive bots. Groups integrates with PollyBot to let you take polls inside a channel. So, in case you’re attempting to determine the place to have the corporate vacation celebration, you may record three eating places and have your staff vote on which one they’d choose. This could be a terrific function for PCMag: We continuously argue concerning the temperature right here in our labs. With PollyBot we might simply take a ballot in Groups to find out whether or not the thermostat must be turned up, down, or left alone.
T-Bot means that you can question the Groups software with a purpose to entry automated solutions concerning the Groups utility. Ask the software how you can create memes or GIFs, and the bot surfaces content material that can assist you carry out an motion. Sadly, T-Bot is not probably the most useful bot you may encounter. I requested, “What time is it?” and it could not present a response. I requested for a Group member’s title and it could not present a response. Nonetheless, once I requested “How can I join a Groups account to Outlook?” and “How do I create a brand new Phrase doc?” it surfaced the precise content material I wanted to assist me accomplish my job.
WhoBot will ultimately sit on the Microsoft graph and pull in Lively Listing information that can assist you uncover or study extra about individuals inside your group. For those who ask WhoBot a query about an individual, or in case you ask a few particular topic, the bot will floor the particular person for whom you are trying, or subject material specialists in your group who might help you discover extra info. You may also click on on somebody’s profile and see the place she or he sits in your firm’s org chart. Sadly, WhoBot wasn’t linked to the appliance we examined for assessment, however T-Bot mentioned WhoBot could be coming quickly, and a human Microsoft rep confirmed that it could ultimately be obtainable.
Groups is included in Workplace 365 Enterprise Necessities, Enterprise Premium, or Enterprise E1, E3, and E5 plan accounts. It’s presently unclear if you’ll in the future be capable to purchase Groups as a standalone utility, or in case you’ll at all times have to buy it as a part of a brand new workplace 365 Enterprise account. As I beforehand talked about, Groups has built-in with greater than 100 companions, together with Zendesk, Asana, and HootSuite. It’s constructed with an open utility programming interface, which implies your organization’s builders can plug your current functions into Groups with a purpose to create related embedded interactions.
Microsoft can be encouraging builders to create business-specific experiences and customizations for Groups. It is a dramatic departure from the opposite newcomer to the area Office by Fb, which solely connects with Google G Suite, Okta, OneLogin, Ping, and Home windows Azure AD. Though we typically loved the group dynamic delivered in Office, we discovered it to be severely missing the group collaboration performance that makes Groups so dynamic.
Groups is a game-changer for any group that would really like its staff to spend the vast majority of their time in or close to the appliance. If PCMag have been to plug our content material administration system into the Groups interface (which is feasible, by the way in which) there could be little or no motive for me to ever depart Groups all through the day. I assume an Edge plug-in will turn into obtainable inside the subsequent yr, which signifies that you may by no means have to depart Groups to make use of an internet browser. There isn’t any indication that this integration is within the works, nevertheless it looks as if a no brainer. At the moment, as a substitute of Edge, you may plug in particular web sites you’d wish to navigate inside the context of a channel. For instance: You’ll be able to add Bing to a channel to allow in-channel internet searches. It is a strong possibility for extra-curricular Groups utilization, however an inevitable Edge integration could be ideally suited. If it does come to fruition, Groups will operate nearly like Home windows-within-Home windows…
…which implies you need to count on Cortana integration in some unspecified time in the future, as properly. An integration with Home windows’ voice assistant will convey Groups to the last word degree. You’ll ask T-Bot questions with out having to kind. You’ll launch video calls with out urgent a button. You’ll pull up a PowerPoint presentation, ship it to your boss by way of a chat message, then create a meme that claims one thing like “Too simple!” with out ever having to the touch your laptop computer. However let’s not get forward of ourselves. As of right now you continue to cannot even create a GIF utilizing a Giphy shortcut the way in which you may in Slack. Groups is unimaginable, nevertheless it’s nonetheless in its infancy.
The Backside Line
It is clear that Slack and HipChat are about to have some severe competitors. Groups is succesful, versatile, and gratifying to make use of. Sadly, Groups comes with one humongous caveat: Solely organizations which are closely invested within the Microsoft ecosystem will use Groups at full effectivity. For those who’re an organization invested in Google Drive, or in case you’re on staff Zoho, Groups will not actually attraction to you in the identical manner it can to Microsoft Office 365 energy customers.
That mentioned, I predict firms will make the swap to Workplace 365 with a purpose to reap the benefits of Groups’s impeccable group and connectivity. The power to assessment and approve paperwork inside a video name means groups can basically take away in-person conferences from the collaboration equation. The identical will be mentioned for its third-party integratations: Zendesk reps can reply customer support tickets, Asana staff members can delegate duties, and analytics groups can pivot technique as Energy BI dashboards replace in real-time—all from inside Groups.
Microsoft could not have created Groups with out the blueprint created by Editors’ Alternative winners HipChat and Slack. These two companies have already got large adoption, and Slack particularly has a powerful maintain on the mindshare of the technoscenti in the intervening time. It is unclear to what extent Groups can steal prospects from these two early movers. However even when groups solely makes inroads amongst Workplace 365 customers, it is positive be a giant success, and it wins an Editors’ Alternative for collaboration companies.