REFRESH TEST STORY: 15 power user tips for Microsoft Teams

Take collaboration to the next level with these Teams tips and tricks.

Microsoft > Teams [Office 365]

A latecomer to the group chat scene, Microsoft Teams has become a powerful corporate collaboration application. Because it’s included with most Office 365 business subscriptions, many companies already own it.

Like other chat tools, Teams lets you set up multiple channels (discussion areas) for your team, share and store files, and conduct live voice and video meetings. As part of Office 365, Teams integrates well with other Microsoft apps and services like Word, OneNote, Planner, and SharePoint. Indeed, Microsoft is in the process of replacing Skype for Business with Teams as the primary communications client in Office 365.

If you need help getting started with Teams, see our Microsoft Teams cheat sheet. Once you’ve mastered the basics, try the following tips to get more out of this powerful collaboration tool.

Note: This article focuses mainly on the Teams desktop app for Windows or Mac. There are also Teams apps for Android and iOS, as well as a web app. But these apps emphasize chatting without a lot of the advanced features of their desktop counterparts.

Taking control of the interface

1. Organize your teams and channels

In the navigator bar at the far left of the app, click the Teams icon. A list of teams that you’re a member of appears in the pane just to the right of the navigator bar, with channels underneath each team name. By default, teams and the channels under them appear in the order that you joined or created them, but some will be more important to you than others — and not necessarily in the default order.


“Pinning” a channel places it toward the top of the pane so you’ll notice it more and be able to access it quicker. To do this, click the three-dot icon to the right of the channel name and select Pin from the menu that opens. (Do this process again to unpin a channel.)

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Pinning channels to the top of the Teams pane makes them more easily accessible. (Click image to enlarge it.)

To change the order of your pinned channels, click-and-hold a channel name and drag it up or down to where you’d like it to be in the list of pinned channels.

You can also do this to change the order of the team names so your most important teams appear higher up: Click-and-hold a team name and drag it up or down to where you’d like to move it on the list.

2. Hide low-priority channels or teams

You can tidy up your Teams interface further by hiding channels or teams that are not important to your work at the moment.

To hide a channel or team, click the three-dot icon to the right of its name, then click Hide from the menu that opens. (Note that you cannot hide the General channel for any team.)

To unhide a channel, look at the list of channels under a team name. At the bottom is a link saying how many hidden channels there are; click that link to open a menu revealing the channels that you hid under this team. Hover the cursor over the channel you want to unhide, then click the Show icon to the right.

To unhide a team, go to the end of the list of teams, where you’ll see a “Hidden teams” link. Click this to open the list of hidden teams. Click the three-dot icon to the right of a hidden team, then click “Show” at the top of the menu that opens.

3. Filter activity by your name

On the Activity Feed title bar, right-click the filter icon to the right and select @ Mentions from the menu that opens. Or type /mentions into the search bar at the top of the Teams app. Chats that you’re a member of and messages that you’re tagged in will be shown in your feed in the pane next to the navigator bar on the left.

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You can see all your @mentions in one place. (Click image to enlarge it.)

4. Save important chat messages

This trick can be handy if you want to compile a list of chat messages to catch up on or refer to later. Move the cursor to the upper-right of a chat message you want to save, click the three-dot icon, and click Save this message from the menu that opens.

To see a list of your saved chat messages, click your profile headshot or icon at the upper right of the app and click Saved from the menu that opens, or type /saved into the search bar at the top of the Teams desktop app. Your saved chat messages will appear in your feed.

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Saving messages bookmarks them for easy access later. (Click image to enlarge it.)

This can also be useful for saving chat messages with attached files, such as important documents that you need to look at later, without having to download these files.

Communicating with your team

5. Get someone’s attention

Channels typically contain numerous conversations among numerous team members, so it can be easy to overlook a message with lots of activity. To make sure a specific team member sees a particular message, you can tag them as you write your message by typing @username. Another option: after you type @, a menu of your team members’ names opens, so instead of typing their username, you can click their name in the list. Once you post the message, the person will get a notification  that they’ve been tagged in the message as a prompt to join in the discussion in the chat.

You can also use this @ function to quickly send a direct message (one-on-one chat message) to a team member. Inside the search box at the top of the Teams desktop app, type @username or type @ and select their name from the list of team members that opens. Type a short message in the search box and press Enter or click the right arrow at the right end of the search box.

6. Title your chat messages

Another way to help a chat message stand out among other messages listed in the channel’s main window is by giving it a title. Another plus: you can enter the title in the search box to find the chat message. You don't need to title every chat message, of course. It’s best to title the most important ones that you need to keep track of.

To add a title to a chat message as you’re composing it, click the Format icon (it looks like an “A” with a paintbrush over it) at the left end of the toolbar under the text entry field. The message window will expand. On the line that says “Add a subject,” type in a title, then type your message below. Click the Send arrow to the bottom right of the message window to post your chat with its new title.

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Titling key messages can help them stand out and make them easier to find later. (Click image to enlarge it.)

You can also add a title to an existing chat message by moving the cursor to the upper right of the message, clicking the three-dot icon that appears, and clicking Edit from the menu that opens. The message window expands; follow the directions above to give it a title.

7. Control the conversation

The expanded message window that appears when you click the Format icon has a couple other tricks up its sleeve as well.

If you want to make a message really stand out, you can turn it into an announcement. In the expanded message formatting window, click the New conversation drop-down at the top left and select Announcement. A field appears where you can type a large headline for you post and optionally include a background image or colored background to make it stand out even more.

By default, everyone in the channel can reply to conversations, but if you click the Everyone can reply drop-down at the top of the message formatting window, you can select You and moderators can reply to limit responses to only these people — an option you might want to choose for an announcement message.

Depending on how your version of Teams is configured, you might have another option at the top of the message formatting window. If you want your message to appear in more than one channel, select Post in multiple channels, click the Select channels button, and check the boxes next to the channels you want to post to.

All three of these options should be used sparingly, only for messages of top importance.

Managing notifications

8. Follow important channels

If you need to keep track of what’s going on in specific channels, you can opt to be notified whenever there’s new activity in them. To do this, in the Teams column, move the cursor over the channel name, click the three-dot icon to the right, and click Channel notifications from the menu that opens.

A “Channel notifications settings” screen appears. Here you can set whether you want to be notified whenever a new message is posted to the channel and/or whenever the channel is mentioned by a team member. If you turn either notification on, you can specify if you want to be notified through your Activity feed and as a banner, or only through your Activity feed.

9. Adjust other notifications

By default, Teams sends notifications for lots of events — @mentions, chat messages, likes and reactions, team membership changes, and more — using various methods including banners, your Activity feed, and email. You may want to reduce the number of notifications you receive, keeping only those few that you need to be aware of turned on, as well as adjust what kinds of notifications you get.

To do this, click your profile pic or icon at the upper right of the Teams app, then click Settings from the menu that opens. On the Settings screen, click Notifications.

This opens a screen with a long list of activities you can be notified about (mentions, messages, meetings, etc.) and lets you choose what kind of notification you want to receive for each: banner and email, banner only, feed only, or off.

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You can cut down on distractions by ratcheting down Teams’ notifications. (Click image to enlarge it.)

A few items have different options — for instance, you can choose to hear notification sounds for all types of notifications; only for calls, mentions, and chat messages; or none. And you can choose to have missed activity emails sent as soon as possible, every 10 minutes, once an hour, once every eight hours, once a day, or never.

You may need to try various settings to find the right balance of helpful vs. intrusive notifications, but once you’ve figured it out, you’ll be glad you made the adjustments.

Sharing documents

10. Add important documents to a channel’s tabs

A channel has tabs along the top of its main window. By default, you’ll see tabs for Posts (showing chat messages and other activities) and Files (for all files uploaded to the channel). If you have one or two documents that are important for your team, you can add a tab that displays the document to keep it handy for all members of the channel.

To add a Microsoft Office document (Excel, PowerPoint or Word file) or a PDF as a tab, upload it first by clicking the Files tab. There you can click the Upload icon in the top toolbar, then choose a file from your computer or OneDrive for Business, or just drag and drop the document into the main window.

After it’s been uploaded, click the + to the right of the tabs at the top of the channel. A panel opens, presenting a large selection of web apps that you can browse through and select from. Click on the app that would be used to open the document that you want to set as a tab (e.g., Excel for an Excel file).

Another panel opens. Below “Tab name,” type in a name for this new tab. Then, further below, click on the document that you want to set as a tab and click the Save button.

A new tab with the name you came up with will be added to the top of the channel. Click it to switch to this tab and view the document. If it’s an Office document, it will display inside a mini version of its app (Word, Excel, etc.) inside the Teams window.

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You can display an important document in a tab in any channel. (Click image to enlarge it.)

To start a chat with your team members in this document’s tab, click the Comments icon toward the upper right corner.

You can also add a tab that shows a web link, a YouTube video, or a web app such as Adobe Creative Cloud or Trello.

11. Use SharePoint to store and share files

Many enterprises rely on SharePoint as a secure file storage and collaboration platform. The good news is it’s highly integrated into Teams. In any channel, you can click the Files tab to share files with team members via SharePoint or access SharePoint files already shared to the channel.

When you upload a file to the Files tab, it’s automatically saved to the SharePoint site for your team within a folder structure that corresponds to the team’s channels. To go to your SharePoint site, click the Open in SharePoint button in the top toolbar on the files tab. (You might need to click the three-dot icon to see this option.)

Team members can collaborate on files shared to a channel using Office Online or an Office desktop app.

Exploring extras

12. Invite others into the fold

With Microsoft Teams, you’re not limited to chatting with people in your own team; you can provide guest access to anyone at your company with an Outlook account so you can chat, share documents and more. (Try it — you can search on the name of anyone at your company to find them and start chatting.)

In fact, guest access isn’t limited to those within your own organization: You can invite anyone who has a Microsoft account. When you add a user outside of the organization, you can include that person in chats about projects, tag them in channels, and share Word documents without ever sending an email.

13. Forward emails into a channel

Although some tiny startups skip email and use chat exclusively, most of us in the corporate world depend on email. Fortunately, you can forward any email message to a channel from Outlook.

Just click the three-dot icon next to any channel name and select Get email address. That generates an email address for the channel. Copy it, and you can use that address to forward Word docs, messages, or just about anything you want to add to the channel. It’s a nifty workaround.

If you want to stop allowing emails to be sent to a channel or control who can send them, click the channel’s three-dot icon and select Get email address again, then click the advanced settings link. By default, anyone who has the link can send emails to the channel, but you can change it to Only members of this team or Only email sent from these domains: with the option to fill in one or more domains. Click Remove email address to prevent any further emails to the channel.

14. Integrate with Microsoft Planner for simple task management

One perk Teams offers versus Slack and other competitors is that you can use Office 365 apps like Microsoft Planner inside Teams. (Slack offers thousands of integrations as well, but every Office app is available to integrate from the get-go in Teams.)

Planner, a task-management tool for small teams, is not exactly robust, but it’s a good way to track tasks and then reference them in Teams without a lot of fuss — plus you won’t need a third-party task manager. You can also create a tab for the Planner app in any channel (see tip 10 for details) to make it more accessible in one click. There you can quickly add and assign tasks or see a dashboard for the project in a board, chart or schedule view.

15. Use keyboard shortcuts

Did you know you can simply press the R key on your keyboard to reply to a thread in the Teams app? Or press Ctrl-O in Windows (⌘-O on a Mac) to quickly attach a file to a message? See all the keyboard shortcuts available in Teams by pressing Ctrl-. (Ctrl and the period key) in Windows or ⌘-. (Command and the period) on a Mac.

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Press Ctrl-. or ⌘-. to see a list of keyboard shortcuts for Teams. (Click image to enlarge it.)

This article was originally published in November 2017 and updated in April 2020.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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