Microsoft Teams is a collaboration platform which is part of the Microsoft 365 family of products. Teams has seen a tremendous surge in adoption since March of 2020, coinciding with the beginning of the COVID-19 global pandemic and the corresponding need for remote work tools. During that time, CPA firms have been no exception. While many firms are still in the early stages of adoption primarily using chat and video conferencing features, many have moved to more advanced use cases, organizing information and communication while leveraging integrated applications.
A few Firms have gone so far as to centralize Firm and client document management, manage workflow and all internal communications through Teams. This has allowed them to eliminate redundant systems reducing those costs and simplifying data governance to some degree. Some Firms even use Teams as a window into other SaaS applications and/or the data within those applications by using native integrations, APIs, data analytics and visualization tools. The use cases for Teams are seemingly only limited by one’s imagination.
In speaking with Firms about their journeys to Team’s adoption, I have discovered some use cases that are very common and a couple that stood out to me as unique. Either way, each use case adds value for the Firms who use them and as such I will endeavor to detail some of that value here. While you can get started immediately with Teams, I would like to note that at some point early in a Firm’s adoption of Teams, it is important to consider taxonomy, security, and other data governance requirements in your planning.
Use Case - Functional Departments
Many Firms start with creating Teams for each functional department. This follows a natural organizational structure for Firms and allows affords each department some flexibility in determining how they are going to use their Team. It also allows for natural ownership over each of these Teams which is an important role as Teams is a Firm collaboration tool that extends past the boundaries and capacity of IT to manage alone.
Each functional Team generally has an owner or small group of owners who determine the structure and rules of engagement around that Team. For example, HR may decide to keep their policies, procedures, and forms as the “source of truth” for those Firm documents. Since each Team has a SharePoint site behind it, all the document management features of SharePoint are available. Features such as lists, folders, document version control and site and list permissions make Teams a great place to manage these vital Firm documents.
Marketing may choose to keep files such as Firm templates their Team while leveraging the calendar features to track Firm networking and marketing events. The way they manage their Teams layout and permissions are likely to be quite different than the requirements HR has. IT may manage their hardware and software rollout projects through Teams with the “Tasks by Planner and To Do” app that allows them to create, assign and track tasks. Each Functional Group will have different needs and leverage different tools. As they each figure out how best to move forward with their Team, they can all also learn from each other and share successes which as we know – ultimately drives more adoption.
Use Case - Client Engagements
Another common use case is Teams for client engagements. Some Firms are using Teams for internal collaboration only on client work while others are including the clients in those teams. Some firms have conducted their entire engagement in Teams, keeping a call open with the client as if they were sitting in the same room. In either case, the client team can use tools like Lists inside of the Team to track open PBC items as well as collaborate in MS Office apps like Excel. (Word to the wise, use the “Open in Desktop” button in Teams when collaborating in Office apps – it is life changing if you have been trying to collaborate in the online versions!)
It is important to consider security and data governance around all the information collected during the client engagement lifecycle and stored in a Team. While I cannot detail all those considerations here, I will emphasize the need for Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) in your Microsoft Tenant if you are going to have clients collaborate in Teams with you. Having worked as a CIO for a public accounting firm with the responsibility of securing Firm and client data, I will venture to say that you should really do that anyway if you have not already. The more data you move to the Microsoft 365 environment – the more risk you create there, and MFA is an essential component in reducing that risk.
The Firms using Teams for client engagements have found that it is very popular with both the engagement teams and the clients themselves. The feedback is that communication is much easier, and it has improved the client experience overall which is a goal so many of us share.
Use Case – Software Team
Several Firms I have talked with have set up a Team for Firm Software. Channels are set up for either an application such as CCH Axcess Tax or a group of related software such as Tax Software which may include tax planning software, fixed asset software and tax research software along with the Firm’s tax software. Either way it is set up, this Team gives users a place to go to learn about updates, tips and tricks, internal resources and Firm procedures for each major application or group of applications. These channels can be populated by IT, Firm training professionals, Software Champions and even end users.
Using Teams in this way can quickly cross pollinate knowledge in a way that is easily consumed and universally accessible. This is one of those use cases that makes us work smarter as an industry and can drive adoption across many applications.
Some firms set up a similar Team just for the IT group. This allows IT to have a consistent thread around maintaining different applications. This gives the team a history of the applications maintenance, a natural knowledgebase for each application and it helps new IT professionals get acquainted with each application. I recommend including an “About” wiki for each channel to help newcomers get the lay of the land in an “on-demand” style.
Use Case - Team for Teams
Some Firms have set up a Team for Teams. As with all Microsoft 365 tools, Teams is updated at an alarming rate, maybe more so for Teams. Useful tools, features and integrations are baked right into the hosted platform, and it can be difficult to keep up with all of them. Assigning a resource to update the “New Features” channel with articles and videos on the latest features will help disseminate that throughout the Firm more easily.
Use Case - Project Management
There are many projects to be managed in a CPA firm and the folks managing them are often doing so as a secondary function to their day job. These professionals are often overloaded with planning, meeting and communication needs and tools. You can set up a Team to manage a cross functional project like Lean Six Sigma project to streamline 1040 Tax workflow. This Team can include channels for Planning, Budget, Analytics, Reviews, and Feedback. You can add apps to track key metrics, like PowerBI, request team feedback with survey apps and pin a team charter as a Word Doc. You can meet, chat, take notes, and assign action items all in the project team.
Use Case - New Hires
Creating a Team for new hires as a resource has a plethora of advantages. A new hire Team can lay information out so that it makes sense to someone who does not know the Firm’s culture, vernacular or even their own job yet. This Team can connect new hires to common resources for their role. You can manage the onboarding process including tasks for new hire managers, IT and HR. You can schedule follow ups and new hire experience reviews. You can track onboarding policy and procedure reviews with e-signature built in for signing off on those activities. Teams, through SharePoint, allows you to link to documents in other SharePoint and Team sites. This cuts down on redundancy while allowing for a focused experience for the new hire.
If you are just getting started with Teams or are well into your journey of adoption, remember that different people need different tools and can be innovative about how they use them. Getting the most out of Teams requires a bit of a balancing act between good data governance and creating an innovative space for a successful digital teamwork experience.