A quick overview to using MS Teams for online meetings

4 minute read

Written by: Kate Hertweck - Bioinformatics Training Manager

As our community prepares for remote work as much as possible over the next few weeks, the Coop has been exploring options to for communication and collaboration that will help you keep your research going. We recommend the following sources of information to stay connected to the community and to obtain help for your data-intensive research needs:

  • Coop Communities Slack workspace is the longtime source for community announcements and conversation.
  • Coop Calendars can be referenced at that link or shown in your own calendar using instructions at the bottom of the page.
  • The Coop Microsoft Teams is the officially supported Hutch messaging platform, and has a number of features that coordinate nicely with other official Hutch tools (Outlook, etc).

For the time being, all of the meetings hosted by the Coop or held in the Coop Lab (specifically, office hours and hosted community groups) are now being held in channels for the Coop MS Teams. The event listings in our calendars have been updated to the best of our ability, but please let us know (coophelp at fredhutch.org) if there’s something that needs to be modified or added.

Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams was deployed last fall as a communication tool for the Hutch community. For those of us using messaging platforms before that, we’ve probably not felt motivated to learn yet another tool. Well, now is a great time!

Most of the options for audio and video conferencing in Teams are pretty intuitive, and there’s also this quick start guide. As the we’ve been testing online meeting capacity, here are a few troubleshooting hints we’ve noticed:

  • There is both a web version and stand-alone application for video chats in Teams. If you’re having trouble getting sound or video to work on the web version, try switching browsers (we’ve had success with Safari and Chrome, but Firefox was problematic). Meetings in Teams also have an option to connect via audio on phone (see below).
  • You may need to update your security/privacy preferences to allow the software access to your camera and microphone (we encountered this issue on some Macs).
  • Other options for customization can be found in a video session by clicking on the three dots next to the red button to hang up. There you can blur the background (useful for when you’re working from home!) and adding live captions (this works pretty well, though isn’t perfect).
  • Screen sharing is a great way to get help, especially with code or software issues. In Teams, you have the option after clicking the screen share button (next to the video and audio buttons at the bottom of your screen) to show either your entire screen or a single window from among those open. Make sure you increase your font size so others can see it in their smaller windows!
  • For scheduling and creating meetings, you have two options: 1) create an invitation for someone else in Outlook and click the button for “Teams Meeting” to automatically add a connection link and phone number into the invite, or 2) head over to one of the channels in Teams and click the video camera icon at the bottom of the chat window (you can give your new meeting a name/subject before you actually create it).
  • If you’re in an online meeting and want to invite others to join, click on the three dots next to the button to end the call. Click “Show meeting details” and then click “Copy join info”. You can paste the subsequent output into a message elsewhere for folks to join on a computer (via link) or by phone.
  • Because each online meeting has a static web link (as well as phone number for calling in), this means even folks outside of the Hutch can join online Teams meetings.
  • You can join multiple Teams calls at the same time! If you’re in a call and click on an invite or link to join another, the first call is put on hold. After ending the second call, you’ll need to click the button to rejoin the original call.

If you have other specific technical questions about Teams, there’s a Fred Hutch Team for that: Teams New User Community (so meta, we know).

Other options for audio/video conferencing

While we always hope our original technology plan works perfectly, we also believe in having a backup. Here are a few other options for remote meetings, along with our impressions of them:

  • Cisco Webex has been enabled in MS Teams for Fred Hutch. I haven’t tried it but don’t expect it to be as seamless as the standard video chats unless you’ve already been using it.
  • Skype was purchased by Microsoft and is integrated in Outlook (e.g., you can select a Skype call for scheduled meetings). It seems like most (all?) of the Skype features I’d like to access have been integrated into MS Teams, so I’m not expecting to use this one either.
  • Zoom has a free plan with unlimited 1:1 meetings, though meetings with 3 or more people are limited to 40 minutes. I’ve used this one frequently for connecting globally distributed groups and it works well if you need a backup for MS Teams.
  • Google Hangouts still exists! If you’re a long time GMail user, this might be an appealing option for quick calls. In my experience, this doesn’t tend to be as stable as other options, but that seems to vary geographically.
  • Slack has audio/video messaging capabilities. The Coop Communities plan limits these calls to only two people, but is another good option for quick calls. It’s easiest to call someone from a direct message by clicking the phone icon at the top of the screen.