Office 365 users can now use Microsoft Teams to make and receive phone calls without switching to another app.
On Dec. 13, Teams is taking the first steps in becoming the Skype for Business replacement, which Microsoft promised during its Ignite conference in September. Teams is the software maker's chat-based collaboration tool for workgroups, similar to the popular Slack app used by many software developers and cloud-native startups.
In addition to chat, which users can spice up with emojis and animated GIFs, Teams also provides users with ways to share files and work collaboratively on Office content. Like Slack, Teams integrates with third-party apps like Asana, GitHub, Trello and many more, allowing users to consult with colleagues or provide status updates while working in those apps.
Now, users can add phone calls to the mix.
"Today we are releasing new calling capabilities in Teams, providing full featured dialing capabilities, complete with call history, hold/resume, speed dial, transfer, forwarding, caller ID masking, extension dialing, multi-call handling, simultaneous ringing, voicemail, and text telephone (TTY) support," wrote Microsoft senior product marketing manager Paul Cannon, in a blog post.
The move fits with Microsoft's goal to turn Teams into a one-stop communications hub for business users, according to John Peluso, CTO of Public Sector at enterprise collaboration software vendor AvePoint.
"Microsoft is on a journey of trying to unify the communication experience of Office 365 users. In the beginning, Skype for Business was the access point for all UC communications—including voice, IM and video," observed Peluso in email remarks sent to eWEEK. "When chat was introduced in Microsoft Teams, it meant that users did not have to leave the Teams interface to initiate or respond to instant messages."
The calling features require the Phone System add-on (formerly Cloud PBX) for Office 365, which is included in Office 365 E5 plans. Using Phone System, customers can subscribe to a Calling Plan for their users. The two components work together to "create a phone system for your organization, giving each user a primary phone number and letting them make and receive phone calls" from outside of your organization, added Cannon.
Adding phone support is a crucial step in eliminating friction when engaging in different modes of communications, which often requires that users switch apps or pick up the phone.
By "bringing the voice calling experience into Teams, we're one step closer to the goal of a single interface that can support all of my internal and external communications. However, this is just a step on the journey that Microsoft detailed in its roadmap for Teams just after the Ignite conference in September," Peluso wrote, noting that Microsoft still has some work to complete before fulfilling its aims.
Peluso also warned of some "gotchas" that may "impact your users in certain scenarios, so organizations should carefully research the current limitations of calling in Teams before enabling these features."
In its guide on configuring an Office 365 Calling Plan in Teams, Microsoft cautions that some features, such as Hybrid Voice implementations that blend cloud and on-premises Skype for Business/Lync deployments along with federated calling is not supported in Teams.