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News Spotlight Chat in Microsoft Teams: The unexpected joy of courtesy

Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, once wrote ‘courtesy is a small act, but it packs a mighty wallop’. His words are oddly applicable to the online, locked-down world in which we currently live. Right now, without all the added communication that comes from face-to-face contact, simple courtesy is crucial to getting through the working day happily, with your colleagues on-side. Here, we’ll take Carroll’s maxim and apply it to how we use ‘chat’ in Microsoft Teams.

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20 Apr 2021

Chat in Microsoft Teams: The unexpected joy of courtesy

Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, once wrote ‘courtesy is a small act, but it packs a mighty wallop’.

His words are oddly applicable to the online, locked-down world in which we currently live. Right now, without all the added communication that comes from face-to-face contact, simple courtesy is crucial to getting through the working day happily, with your colleagues on-side. Here, we’ll take Carroll’s maxim and apply it to how we use ‘chat’ in Microsoft Teams.

Private chat and availability

Teams private chat is equivalent to any other instant message service. If you message someone here, you’re implying greater urgency than if you @mention them in a conversation. (Exactly the same as texting someone as opposed to emailing.)

With this in mind, it’s crucial to consider people’s status first, and message accordingly. As a good rule of thumb, ask yourself what you might do in real life:

  • Purple: I’m out of office. This is the highest indicator of unavailability, so should be honoured. Send an email or wait until later – please don’t text, use another message tool, or phone. You wouldn’t turn up at their doorstep to hassle them, so avoid the online equivalent.
  • The ‘do not disturb’ status, placed between the purple ‘out of office’ and the ‘busy’ status next up, equates to the sign you’d hang on a hotel room door. Simply put, do NOT come in. This is valuable for when you are presenting and don’t want people to bother you, never mind walk (virtually) into the room. But it also informs colleagues you are present and will be available later, on your own terms.
  • Red: Busy – I’m in a meeting or working on something. The person you’re after is around but has other priorities right now, so send an email or check their calendar for availability.
  • Orange/Yellow: I’m away from my desk/getting lunch/taking timeout/preparing between meetings. You’re on their ‘to-do’ list when they are ready, so don’t expect a reply straight away.
  • Green: Go for it! However, it’s good practice to drop a simple “hi” first, as you would to start a phone call, waiting for the other person to respond before you launch into your verbal conversation. This simple opener safeguards both of you, just in case that person is in a screenshare or presentation.

In extreme situations, there are a couple of (courteous) ways both to pursue and to avoid pursuit:

  • If you desperately need a reply, use Priority Notifications to alert someone in case of real urgency. Click the “!” in the text toolbar to reveal the bell. The recipient will be nudged every two minutes for twenty minutes or until they read the message.
  • Sign out completely if you categorically do not want interruptions or pop-ups (or disable this option).

Help colleagues understand your availability

We can’t really complain about colleagues getting our availability wrong if we give out a mixed message, so make sure to do your status ‘housekeeping’:

  • Get into the habit of updating your status accordingly (if not automatic in your calendar).
  • You can also change the message that goes alongside your status and clear it after a certain amount of time.
  • Clear cancelled, rearranged, and other redundant items from your calendar.
  • Block out time between meetings so that colleagues know you are not up for grabs.
  • Remember to put out of office replies on (it updates the team dashboard).
  • Take a moment to configure your notifications: If you’re over- or underwhelmed by the notifications you’re getting, make them right for you. Check Settings in the desktop app or Notifications on your mobile device.

As we shamble through the last remaining months of remote working, we can make the whole experience more pleasant, and possibly more productive, by taking the advice of a long-dead author who had a thing for white rabbits and mad hatters.

There’s nowt queer as folk.