Here are some tips and best practices to help make conversations in Teams effective and efficient in our work for the City of San Rafael. Together, we all can help reduce the amount of email piling up in our inbox and make it easier to collaborate across the City.
When to use Teams vs Email
- Communicating with internal City staff
- Facilitating informal discussions to get feedback/input prior to sending formal responses
- Communicating with external stakeholders or other City staff
- Sending formal responses based on discussions from Teams channel
When to use Public vs Private Channels
- Create visibility to the team
- Track conversations on a topic
- Subset of team members can be included in conversations as part of the larger team
Adding a New Channel
Responsiveness and Etiquette
- Keep your Teams app open and work from there. Stay in Teams for your internal workflows, and only dive back out to email for external communications or non-urgent matters.
- Manage your status to let people know when you're available and customize your "do not disturb" settings.
- Reserve important and urgent flags in chat for genuinely important or urgent matters only. If something needs to be formalized, put it in an email.
Be clear about what you need
- Clear = “I have a non-urgent question about…”
- Unclear = “Hey, are you busy?”
- @mention individuals when you need their attention or require a response. Don’t @mention your Team or Channel every single time you post something- it's disruptive. @mention when something needs attention or communication now. Leave FYI only posts to be discovered by Team members in their Teams activity when they have time.
Crafting a message
- Urgency in Teams is similar to urgency in email. People are busy in meetings and may have notifications turned off. Expect a response within the day.
- If something needs to be formalized, put it in an email.
- Always add a subject line to new Posts and always reply to the same conversation using a thread– don’t start a new post to reply to a previous post.
- Do not upload files to teams unless they are a) new and b) need to be there. Link to documents from SharePoint. Attached files are not collaborative and prevent good version control.
Fewer messages means fewer notifications
Here’s a quick win: Never send a direct message that just says “hey” or “hello.” Even if you immediately follow up with your “real” message, the recipient gets a notification on that first “hey” that contains no information and potentially causes distraction. The person might see the indicator that you’re typing but is still left waiting for your full message.
You can start a DM with “hey” or with a 👋, but make it the first line of your entire message. Getting everything you need into a single direct message means that only one notification is sent to the person. Multiple messages means multiple interruptions, and that’s far from an ideal use of everyone’s time and attention.
Write longer messages that scan quickly
Use emoji, bulleted lists, and bold and italic text styling to make your titles and key points stand out in longer messages. This is especially useful for announcements or meeting recaps.
Well-formatted messages make text easier to scan and help minimize follow-up questions and messages, since important action items aren’t lost in lengthy paragraphs.
Use threads. Seriously.
Threads are great for discussions in a team channel. Members can ask for clarification or share ideas freely without tripping the unread indicator for everyone else in the channel.
Use threads every time you want to keep an ongoing conversation organized while keeping the main channel area clear.
Replace short follow-up messages with emoji reactions
Emoji reactions are unsung heroes in Teams. They can communicate lots of different things to your team without needing everyone to post “I agree” messages.
Imagine you sent an email to your team with a new product idea. First you’re met with total silence, then later a reply or two. You have to guess how the rest of the team feels, or you can ask at your next team meeting.
What if that idea were posted in a team Teams channel instead? You’d likely see emoji reactions soon after posting. They might show support, indicate that the team wants to think about it, or note an approval.
Default to public channels
Too frequently, people reserve public channels for teamwide announcements, keeping most communication in direct messages (DM), which unnecessarily silos information into private discussions.
A DM not only sends a notification to the recipient but requires someone’s full attention to read. And if people choose to ignore it until later, they’ll still have a red "unread" notification on Teams.
Instead, create a culture where the default is posting in a channel and where using direct messages is reserved for specific requests or urgent matters. DMs serve a purpose and are great for personal, private conversations, but chances are much of your workplace communication is appropriate for a team channel—and relevant to the wider group too.
When you commit to posting to public channels and using features like threads and emoji reactions, others in your organization are likely to follow your example. Here’s to paying it forward and keeping your team on track.
Consider the Public Record
- Much like email, content in Teams can be made public through Public Records Act requests. If you wouldn't feel comfortable seeing it in the Marin IJ, don't put it in Teams. Use your best judgement and remember what you post is visible to everyone. That means you should avoid profanity, language, and/or images that could be considered inappropriate for the workplace.