people on a crowded subway car
PHOTO: Peter Lawrence

Microsoft Teams went down across Europe on Monday, March 16. The problem was fixed in a relatively short two hours, but not quick enough to offset the reputational damage.

It couldn’t have happened at a worse time. The social — not to mention medical — impact of the COVID-19 outbreak was starting to be felt with enterprises all over Europe sending millions of workers home to remote work.

This wasn’t a good start. For many of those workers, this was their first experience with remote working. If they hadn’t done it before, they had certainly heard about it, especially with all the hoopla over recent years about the advantages of this kind of working and the insistence that the technology to enable it was now in place.

The first two hours into remote working — and Teams goes down. Anyone who has used cloud productivity suites knows these things can happen, albeit rarely. However, for collaboration technology novices, it was frustrating and put a major question mark over Teams. There is little doubt that the tech buyers in many European companies will also take note.

So what was the impact? Obviously, none of Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft’s customers are going to tell, but new research, which was ironically also released this week gives us some idea of where the pain points in such an outage might have been.

The State of Microsoft Teams

Using real-time data, SWOOP Analytics found one in five teams using Microsoft Teams channels are working at optimal teaming and collaboration levels, while most organizations are still experimenting and exploring with the platform.

The report is Swoop’s 7th benchmarking (registration required) report (previous releases include four Yammer benchmarks and two for Workplace from Facebook) and its first for Microsoft Teams. The findings are the result of an analysis of 5,000 teams and 47,000 people across 15 organizations over a 12-week period. It also includes contributions from several implementation partners who identify some “worst implementation practices” they have observed, along with recommended better practices.

Unlike traditional benchmarking, which typically relies on surveying opinions, SWOOP captures online interactions from all staff who use the collaboration platform.

The research showed that on average, close to 50% of Teams members were active over the sample period. This lower number appears to be due to Team sizes being larger than they need to be, rather than a reflection of disengaged team members.This would appear to be confirmed by the fact that 61% of Teams sites are deemed likely to be immature teams, showing low activity levels and little cohesion.

Nineteen percent of Teams sites are identified as either Communities or Forums and may be better suited to a collaboration platform like Yammer.

The report contains many other interesting figures, including this one: some 11% of Teams sites include guest members from outside the organization.

It is also being used as a hub for access to other applications, with almost 70% of Team sites having tabs added. Excel was the most popular tab added, followed by SharePoint and Planner.

The report is full of other interesting insights which will be interesting for organizations taking a newfound interest in remote working strategies. It’s unfortunate for Microsoft that such a detailed and objective analysis of the platform's real value comes just a couple of days after an outage that is unlikely to be forgotten.

G Suite Claims 2 Billion Active Users

Since the release of Office 365 in 2011, one of the most closely watched figures for all productivity suites has been how many users any given suite has (and in what enterprise). While Office 365 and even Microsoft 365 have both shared user numbers on a regular basis, Google rarely shared information about G Suite traction.

As a point of comparison, in its FY20 Q1 earnings call last October, the company claimed Office 365 is now used by 200 million monthly active users. Office 365 is growing at more than 3 million users per month.

So what about G Suite? In a recent interview with Axios, Javier Soltero, VP and general manager of G Suite, said the suite now has two billion monthly active users, up from 1.8 billion in 2018.

At the beginning of 2019, Google announced a price increase across many of its G Suite offerings. Shortly after, during Alphabet’s Q4 2018 earnings, Sundar Pichai announced that G Suite had, as of Feb. 2019, 5 million paying customers.

The figures confirm that G Suite, at least for the moment, is still the principle competitor to Office 365. However, Microsoft still dominates the commercial market — and none of this considers the rapidly growing impact Slack has had on the market.

G Suite is a suite of cloud computing, productivity and collaboration tools, software and products developed by Google Cloud and comprises Gmail, Hangouts, Calendar, and Currents for communication; Drive for storage; Docs, Sheets, Slides, Keep, Forms, and Sites for productivity and collaboration.

Slack Redesigns to Enable Flexible Work

Speaking of Slack, the San Francisco-based company has unveiled what it is describing as a simpler, more organized experience for its users. The rollout started this week and will continue over the coming weeks, with the company promising a complementary mobile version to follow.

In a blog post about the release, Slack stated the idea behind the update is to enable every person on every team — centrally located or remote, technical or not — to take advantage of the platform and collaborate.

However, much of this is being hindered by silos such as email, document repositories, and even the siloed mentality that keeps people thinking in terms of separate and separated apps.

The average paid user spends more than nine hours each workday connected to Slack, according to a Slack blog post, including around 90 minutes of active use. Combined that adds up to more than 5 billion actions taken each week in Slack, from solving customer support tickets to keeping tabs on the latest sales deal.

So what’s on the way? Slack has only outlined some of the additions, or changes, but at face value they should make it easier to move across silos and channels. They include the ability to:

  • Navigate channels and search across the organization with a new navigation bar.
  • Discover key conversations, files, apps and more — all at the top of the sidebar.
  • Start a message from anywhere with a new compose button.
  • Organize channels, messages and apps into custom, collapsible sections like folders.

While Slack describes this as a major change, it is only one of the many changes it has introduced over the past 12 months. All those changes are designed to make it easier to work and communicate and to find any kind of data or content while staying in Slack.

Flexibility and ease-of-use are going to be game changers in the future, especially as the numbers of people permanently working from home will likely increase. This redesign is a smart move from Slack, but undoubtedly not the last change we’ll see in the Slack platform this year.

PandaDoc Releases Free E-Signature App

Elsewhere this week, San Francisco-based PandaDoc, which develops document automation software for SMBs, has launched a free e-signature plan to help businesses keep running while they switch to remote working. 

“We want to help keep businesses running and people working during this uncertain time, so we have introduced a new Free eSign plan, a free eSignature solution that we are presenting worldwide to keep business doors open and deals coming in,” Mikita Mikado, CEO andco-founder of PandaDoc, wrote in a statement. The new offer includes:

  • Unlimited document uploads.
  • Unlimited e-signatures.
  • Payment processing.

Therelease of this free version is designed to offer workers who have been forced to work remotely, in some cases overnight, an e-signature app. With an increasing number of people working remotely the need for e-signature apps that can be incorporated into home offices has never been greater. PandaDoc has a reputation as the developer of an easy-to-used app that provides to e-signature capabilities.

Netwrix Improves Microsoft Data Security

Finally, this week, Irvine, Calif.-based Netwrix, which specializes in data security, has announced the release of Netwrix Data Classification 5.5.2.

This updated version allows customers to increase Microsoft Information Protection (MIP) capabilities by accurately and consistently labelling documents; improve the security of sensitive content stored on their corporate Google Drive; and ease the burden of CCPA compliance.

New privacy laws are putting organizations under increasing pressure to find and secure the vast amounts of customer data they store and process. The new release of Netwrix Data Classification will help information security teams ensure  their security measures work as intended, thereby easing the IT workload.