Improve Your Virtual Meetings Part 2: A Guide to Microsoft Teams

Video chat platforms have grown exponentially in use—and features—since working from home became the new norm. While Zoom is dominating the market, other platforms such as Microsoft Teams are rising in popularity by including a full ensemble of virtual collaboration features—from video conferencing and chat to file sharing, organizational workflows and calendars.

During the shutdown, total video calls in Teams grew by over 1,000 percent—and on March 31 a daily record was set with 2.7 billion meeting minutes in one day. Since then they have enhanced the program and added new features to help users collaborate better and have more productive and creative meetings.

Here’s a guide for how to use Teams effectively, along with tips to improve your online meeting experience and increase productivity.

Quick Links

How to use Microsoft Teams

Create Meeting and Send Invite

First, you’ll need to sign up for a Microsoft Teams account. You can do this online or by downloading the app for desktop and/or mobile. We recommend downloading the app so you can access Teams from anywhere. The app gives you access to more settings and functionalities and is easier to use when you are out of the office or working from a home computer.

Before scheduling a meeting, if you plan on meeting with people outside of your organization who don’t have a Teams license, you must enable guest access. This is done by going to the Teams admin center, opening Org wide settings, and turning on “Allow guest access in Teams.” Now anyone you invite can join a meeting.

There are several ways to open the meeting scheduling form. You can go to your Calendar (in the menu on the left) and select New meeting in the top right—or you can book a meeting with people in a certain chat by going to the chat box and selecting Schedule a meeting.

Once you save the meeting form, an invite will be sent to everyone’s Outlook inbox. To invite people outside of your organization, type their full email address when adding attendees and select invite. Then they’ll receive an invite and meeting link through their email address.

Join a Meeting
If you don’t have an account…

Select the Join Microsoft Teams Meeting link in your email or calendar invite. This will open a web page with the option to use the app or the web—select which one you prefer. That will open a “Choose your audio and video settings” page with a preview of what your camera will show. Turn your camera and microphone on or off (these settings can be changed at any time during the meeting) and change your default display name if desired.

If you have an account...

Sign in via the web browser or app, go to your calendar to find the meeting and click Join. You will be prompted to choose audio and video settings, and then can select “Join now.”

If you want to call in...

Dial the number and enter the conference ID listed in the invitation.

Meeting Controls

The controls toolbar is where you can turn audio and video on or off, start or stop screen sharing, record the meeting, open chat and more. If you’re the host, you can disable certain actions for guests—such as screen sharing or recording—by setting custom meeting policies in the Microsoft Teams admin center.

7 tips to help improve your meetings

1. Check speaker and camera settings before joining.

The most common issues users come across when video conferencing are audio and visual related. Avoid wasted time and frustration by checking your camera and microphone settings before the meeting starts.

Teams makes this process easy. Before being admitted to a meeting, every user is sent to a page where they can change audio and video settings. If you are using a microphone and/or camera besides the one on your computer, make sure Teams defaulted to the correct devices. To do this, click on the settings cog in the bottom right corner to open Device settings. Make sure the right speaker, microphone and camera is connected, and select a different device in the dropdown options if needed.

You can also change the microphone or camera at any time during the meeting by selecting the ellipses (...) in the toolbar for more options and going to “Show device settings”.

2. Turn on live meeting captions.

The live caption feature is a huge benefit of using Microsoft Teams, making your meetings more inclusive to anyone hard of hearing, in a loud setting, or with different language proficiencies.

To turn on captions, go to meeting controls and select the ellipses (...) for more options and then choose Turn on live captions. Every user has control of closed captioning on their individual screen, so if you’re the host, make sure attendees are aware of this feature before diving into discussion.

Keep in mind, as with any live captioning service, it will be more accurate when people speak clearly and directly into the mic. And if you’re the host, requesting everyone to stay muted when they’re not speaking is a good way to reduce background noise.

3. Set up meeting lobby requirements.

A Teams meeting lobby is the equivalent to Zoom’s waiting room—a page where attendees are sent to wait until the host admits them in. This is a smart option for formal meetings or large virtual events where you should ensure presenters are ready and available before admitting any participants in. The host will see a list of people waiting in the lobby and can admit them all in at once or one by one.

The lobby is automatically enabled, but you can go to Meeting Options when creating the meeting or to the general Meeting policy settings for more options. There you can select who can bypass the lobby—only you, people in your organization, trusted organizations, or everyone. You can also set up alerts so you’ll be notified if anyone joins or leaves.

4. Navigate Teams quickly with keyboard shortcuts.

Focus better on the meeting or task at hand instead of searching for the right button. Below is a guide to some popular keyboard shortcuts within Teams to help you get started.

For Mac Keyboard Command For Windows
Cmd + . (Period) View all keyboard shortcuts Ctrl + . (Period)
Option + Shift + N Schedule a meeting Ctrl + Shift + N
Cmd + Shift + , (Comma) Open settings Ctrl + , (Comma)
Cmd + Shift + M Mute/unmute your audio Ctrl + Shift + M
Cmd + Shift + O Turn your video on/off          Ctrl + Shift + O          (only works in app)

Note: Microsoft Teams does not let users customize shortcuts yet. 

5. Host a brainstorming session with a virtual whiteboard.

Brainstorming together during video meetings can be a challenge. Teams is integrated with Microsoft Whiteboard to make collaborating much easier, enabling everyone to participate seamlessly. Whiteboard is a shared digital canvas where everyone can type, draw, create mind maps, insert images, post notes and more.

To share a Whiteboard and make it available to all participants during a meeting, click the Share option in the toolbar and select Microsoft Whiteboard. Everyone can add to the shared whiteboard then in real time during the meeting. If participants have the Whiteboard app downloaded, they can even open up the board you share through the app to access more functionality. Any changes they make to it in the app will also appear in real-time. All participants can access and edit the shared whiteboard after the meeting by going to Teams chat and opening the tab labeled Whiteboard.

6. Blur background when sharing video.

Like many popular video chat platforms today, you can completely change or enhance your background. One option is to blur the background, which can be helpful for hiding any messes or details you don’t want shown. You can enable this setting before joining the meeting or during the meeting.

On the Audio/Video page that shows up before joining a meeting, turn the Background effects toggle on (the portrait icon to the right of the video option). This will open a window with background effects, choose Blur. It will show a preview of the effect then so you know it’s on.

To turn the blur setting on during the meeting, click on the ellipses (...) for more options and select Show background effects and then choose Blur. Open more options again at any time during the meeting to turn the blur off.

7. Record and transcribe a meeting.

When reviewing a meeting, quickly scan a transcript for certain discussion points. By recording a Teams meeting, you can have it transcribed through Microsoft Stream afterwards. Click the Record option in the toolbar at any point during the meeting to start and stop recording.

When the meeting is over, go to the saved recording file in Teams and click on the ellipses (...) next to the file to view more options. Click Open in Microsoft Stream. When it opens, go to Details > More options > Update video details > Video Language > Autogenerate a caption file. Then click Apply to save. Once the transcription is generated, the file can be downloaded from Microsoft Stream. The file will include a video recording of the meeting with captions as well as a complete transcript.

As you navigate today’s increasingly virtual workplace environment, we hope these 7 tips help streamline your workflows and make your meetings much more productive and effective.

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