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Best Practice Browsers Microsoft Teams Thoughts and Musings

You can’t be in two places at once, except…

Teams is great for focus. Teams is bad for multitasking. Get the best of both worlds with this not-too-techie tip

Why Teams is great

The short version. It lets people focus on the job at hand. Well designed Teams Areas let you pull almost everything needed for a single task into one workspace, which lets you avoid distractions and the open door problem.

The High Cost of Multitasking infographic

The long version. An article by Stephen Monsell (School of Psychology, University of Exeter) describes how subject “responses are substantially slower and, usually, more error-prone immediately after a task switch” when a subject switches frequently between a small set of simple tasks. An American Psychological Association article, “Multitasking: Switching costs” opens with “Doing more than one task at a time, especially more than one complex task, takes a toll on productivity.” and describes three types of multitasking:

  • Classic multitasking: Trying to perform more than one task at a time.
  • Rapid task switching: Going from one task to another in quick succession.
  • Interrupted task switching: Having to switch from one task to another, before the first task is complete.

The latter is especially distracting, is mostly out of the control of the ‘distractee’ and is endemic in the workplace.

The impact on productivity is considerable. According to an article on Inc.:

  • Professionals only get an average of 75 seconds on a task before being interrupted
  • It can be 25 minutes before they are fully reengaged in the task.
  • Heavily multitasking can temporarily lower your IQ by up to 15 points.

It’s shocking, but often we are our own worse enemies; it’s claimed that people check their phone 150 per day, so that’s every 3 – 10 minutes depending how you estimate it.

“Doing more than one task at a time, especially more than one complex task, takes a toll on productivity.”

The point is, we really shouldn’t add to this attention deficit/distraction problem. Yet we expect people to constantly go to Outlook for email, Windows Explorer for documents, Slack for messages, the intranet for company news and… the list goes on, substituting whichever concentration sapping applications your business has deployed. It’s not the fault of the apps (mostly), or the IT people (!); it is a failure to integrate appropriate applications and information into the user and task context.

And that’s what Teams does well. It replaces some things (bye, bye Slack, I never liked you anyway), it embeds many others (I access my sales email, proposals and CRM system in Teams tabs) and pulls messages into my conversation streams (company news and project wins come to my Sales Notifications channel). I get access to the things I need in the context I’m working in, such as Sales.

Most of the time, for most users, this is wonderful.

And then there are the other times…

So, I’m in an online video sales meeting with a client (Teams has got that part covered) when they ask me to confirm something in the proposal. Ah! Teams isn’t great at letting you be in two places at once. I could click the Teams icon in the Left Rail and then find the Sales channel with the document I need and the call will keep running, but I lose the nice big video window etc. and it can be a bit fiddly to get it back (actually, just click the little window, but some people struggle). It’s hard to be in 2 places at once.

How to be in two places at once – the vaguely techie bit

If this is your problem, the good news is that there is a solution and it’s only slightly technical. It all comes down to Teams really being a clever shell for a bunch of web stuff which means that Teams also runs really well in the browser. So, let’s do the following:

  1. Open you browser. I highly recommend you do this in the new, Chromium-based Microsoft Edge. It’s really very good. But the trick works in plain old Chrome too. Please don’t try this in IE; in fact, never use IE for anything.
  2. Open Teams. Use a link or just type https://teams.microsoft.com/ in the address field. Log in using your usual name etc. Don’t download the Teams app, use the web app instead. Once you have cleared that hurdle you will be in your Teams and it looks a lot like the Teams client, apart from the browser stuff at the top. If you want, navigate to your preferred part of Teams – a Teams Area, chat, Files or wherever.
  3. Now the magic…
    • In Edge, click the ellipsis at the top right or press Alt-F and click ‘Apps’, then ‘Install this site as an App’.
    • Alternatively, in Chrome, go to the 3 dots, ‘More Tools’, ‘Create Shortcut’, and tick ‘Open as Window’
Install site as an app using Edge
Install site as an app using Edge
Install site as an app using Chrome
Install site as an app using Chrome
  • Finally, on the Windows taskbar at the bottom, right click your newly opened browser app and pin it to the taskbar.
'Pin to taskbar' menu
‘Pin to taskbar’ menu
  • If that went OK, then do the same, but choose Properties and then change the icon. I created a bunch of Teams icons using an online service
'Add an Icon' dialog
‘Add an Icon’ dialog

How to be in two places at once – using it

That’s the hard part over. All that’s left is to put your hard spent 3 minutes (10 if you created icons) to use.

  1. Do most of your hour-to-hour stuff in the desktop Teams client.
  2. When you need to be in two places at once, fire up your Teams Browser App. You can put them on different screens) or if you are still living in the noughties and only have a single screen, use Win-Arrow (left or right) to throw them to the side of the screen in a half and half arrangement.
  3. Now you can easily access 2 distinct parts of Teams at once.

I recommend always using the desktop client for video calls; it is better than the browser for this.

Conclusion

I think this is a nifty workaround for what is mostly a strength of Teams, but sometimes is a weakness. I use it a lot. Try it and see if it works for you.

Multiple Teams icons in the Taskbar
Multiple Teams icons in the Taskbar

I also suggest thinking a bit about the distraction/interruption problem. It’s very real and very corrosive to getting things done. It’s definitely worth considering if you are designing, building or specifying business applications and systems.

The distraction/interruption problem is very real and very corrosive to getting things done

If you are building BI dashboards, for example, can you integrate the data capture, reports, notifications, comments and al the other things people actually do with the analytics you have provided. If you don’t, by the time your user has checked their notes, reviewed last year’s report and switched to email to warn colleagues about the business critical event they see looming in the data they may have been interrupted and/or forgotten what the problem was in that they saw.

Yes, really.

By Simon Hudson

Interests: Knowledge management; Information Architecture; Flexible working technologies

Passions: Physics, music, classic cars

Aspirations: To drive a V8 Vantage to the Amalfi Coast; to play guitar to a crowd of 1000+; to ski more than once a year; to make a difference

Background: From teaching to quality assurance, technical development to international marketing and from business development to business start-ups, Simon has flitted, butterfly like, learning from each experience and bringing that breadth to his client facing and business development activities. Simon is articulate, opinionated, understanding and suffers from an insatiable curiosity.

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