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This handy GIF shows how to add a guest in Microsoft Teams. (Microsoft Photo)

As Microsoft continues to navigate the competitive landscape of collaboration tools, its Teams program is now being used by 125,000 organizations, up from 50,000 at its official launch in March.

The company disclosed the latest figure this morning as it also introduced a new Guest Access feature on Teams, giving organizations a way to bring in freelancers or consultants on a project and show them everything they need to know, and nothing more. Larry Waldman, a program manager for Teams, told GeekWire that guest access has been among the most frequent and long-standing requests from customers.

“We knew we needed it because people in companies work with folks outside their companies very regularly,” Waldman said. “That’s something we heard feedback on even as we were developing Teams.”

Microsoft Teams Program Manager Larry Waldman. (Microsoft Photo)

The Guest Access feature is designed to make it easy to include people from outside an organization in key conversations about projects. An administrator can control what the guest has access to, such as important documents as well as specific projects or team conversation threads, while restricting access to other functions of the company on Teams. This ensures that people from outside the organization aren’t seeing things they shouldn’t, while also keeping the lines of communication and collaboration open.

Anyone with an Azure Active Directory account can be added through Teams Guest Access, and Microsoft is working on broadening that out to include all Microsoft Accounts.

Microsoft Teams is included at no extra charge in business editions of Office 365 subscription service and is available in 181 markets around the world. As part of the larger Office package — which boasts more than 100 million monthly active users — the growth potential is there for Teams. The company doesn’t expect the tool to immediately take over the competitive enterprise collaboration market, which includes some of the world’s most powerful tech giants, such as Amazon, Google and Facebook, as well as upstart Slack, but Microsoft wants to set Office apart as the go-to program for enterprises.

“We don’t think there’s any one size fits all collaboration tool; it’s really about positioning 365 as the universal tool kit for collaboration,” Waldman said.

A survey of IT pros earlier this year conducted by Austin-based IT network Spiceworks found that use of Teams is expected to take off in coming years, while adoption of competing tools Google Hangouts and Slack should only expected to rise slightly in that same period. Should those trends bear out, the study predicts that Teams will be the second most popular chat app in the workplace by the end of 2018, trailing only another Microsoft program, Skype for Business.

GeekWire got a demonstration of Teams earlier this year and learned about how it borrows familiar elements from other popular apps and services to reduce the product’s learning curve. The goal is to become the digital equivalent of the open office space by combining pretty much everything there is to do at work — chatting, having meetings, collaborating on documents, sending cute animal GIFs — all into one place.

Waldman told GeekWire he is surprised by the demand and engagement in Teams. That led to extensive feedback, giving the Teams team a steady stream of ideas for new features.

Between the announcement of the preview version of Teams last November and its release in March, Microsoft added more than 100 new features, with more coming all the time. Waldman said the biggest challenge during his time working on Teams for close to three years has been drilling down on the right feature ideas, as the potential is there to go in any number of directions.

“There’s so much opportunity for innovation, and so many ideas we have and so many things we think we can do to both further differentiate 365 as the tool kit and position Teams as this next generation collaboration hub,” Waldman said. “Pruning the ideas and picking exactly what we’re going to deliver and doing it at enterprise scale has been the most difficult thing that I have been involved with.”

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