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Free Microsoft Teams for communities: getting started

simonwaight profile image Simon Waight Originally published at blog.siliconvalve.com on ・5 min read

Many moons ago when I joined the Azure Sydney User Group as an organiser we had a website. Over time the site remain unloved and was eventually decommissioned in favour of just hosting the group on Meetup.

As demand for the group and its content has grown over the last few years, and with the removal of features on Meetup such as file storage, the group organisers have been looking for a way to share content and provide an online location for the community to connect.

We had been considering running a public website again, but to be honest there’s a fair amount of moving parts to that (even with static website hosting) that present more of overhead than any of the organisers had time to take on. It also doesn’t give a space for community members to connect with one another in the same space.

Our next step was to consider using Microsoft Teams as it ticks a bunch of boxes:

  • We can host all our active community members at once giving them a place to chat and connect
  • Members can connect regardless of platform they’re on (Teams has Web, Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android apps)
  • Any community member can invite people to join, but joining must be approved by an admin, which avoids issues with spam bots
  • We can upload files and share with anyone – inside or outside the Team
  • We can host virtual meetups on the platform (this is on the to-do list at time of writing)
  • Over time we can easily add / remove group admins as folks move through the community
  • Automation of some tasks can be delivered by building or installing Power Automate Flows and Bots.

In the rest of this post I’ll walk you through how to go about setting up Teams. I used an existing Outlook.com address that the Azure Sydney User Group already has, but nothing stops you signing up using a Gmail, Yahoo! or other email address.

As a first step you can go to the Teams promotional page and scroll to the “Compare Teams plans” section and then click the “Sign up for free” button (shown below).

Microsoft Teams - Signup step 1 - Click the 'Sign up for free' button

.. and now enter the email address you want to be the main admin email for this new Team – remember any email address is fine!

Microsoft Teams - Signup step 2 - Enter admin email address

IMPORTANT!!

On the next screen make sure to select “For work”. If you don’t select this now there is no going back and you won’t get the features a community uses.

IMPORTANT!!

Microsoft Teams - Signup step 3 - IMPORTANT: Select 'For work'

As I’m using an Outlook.com address I’m prompted to sign-in. I suspect at this point if you aren’t using a “Microsoft Account” (hotmail / outlook / live) then you will either log into your provider of choice or be asked to set a password for Teams (happy if someone wishes to correct me and I’ll update the post).

Microsoft Teams - Signup step 4 - Log into account

Almost done! The next screen allows us to confirm a few final details – the Company Name should be that of your User Group (for those who are interested this field is used to generate Azure Active Directory and SharePoint Online tenant names as well – it will be truncated at 27 characters, minus spaces so beware! This means the Azure User Group’s tenant name is “microsoftazuresydneyusergro”).

At time of writing Microsoft has changed how free tenants are being provisioned in order to meet its commitments to customers during COVID-19. As we’re using this for community use means we aren’t overly concerned about where the tenant lives.

Microsoft Teams - Signup step 5 - Enter final details

Then the platform kicks off creating of our Teams account…

Microsoft Teams - Signup step 6 - Create account

… and then automatically sets everything up …

Microsoft Teams - Signup step 7 - Setting up Teams

After a few minutes we now have our Teams environment ready to go! We can choose to download the Teams client at this point (recommended if you’re an admin!) or can simply use the web application in a browser.

Microsoft Teams - Signup step 8 - Download Teams client

Then we’re provided with the invite link we can share with anyone who wants to join.

Microsoft Teams - Signup step 9 - Invite link

Now we have a Teams environment we can do some more work to configure it to suit our needs. For the Azure Sydney User Group we’re going with the following initial layout for Teams and Channels.

Configuring a Team for an open community

In order to ensure people connect in the right way we can make a few tweaks to the standard Teams settings to ensure control of what changes guests and members can make. Anyone who is made a Team Owner can manage these settings.

You open Team Settings by clicking on the three dots next to the team and then selecting ‘Settings’ on the page that loads.

Access Teams Settings using the three dots

Once loaded we changed the settings as follows – mostly to stop ad-hoc changes to the structure of Teams as we’ve defined it and in order to avoid notification spam as people communicate in the Channels.

Teams Settings pane

In my next post on Teams as a community hub I will take a look at how you can use Teams as a way to share files (presentations, videos, etc) with your community members – both privately and publicly.

Happy Days!

😎

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Simon Waight

@simonwaight

Programmer who loves playing with the new toys, particularly in the cloud space! 🌩

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