Choose Microsoft Teams as a Real Replacement for Your Phones 

A little over a year ago, the Interplay team was looking at whether we should continue maintaining our very nice (but expensive) phone system in house or whether we should consider moving to a cloud-based phone system. We knew Microsoft was working on Teams phone capabilities, but we didn’t know how far they had to go to make it a real replacement for a traditional PBX.

Hint: PBX stands for “private branch exchange.” AKA the traditional in-office phone system you’re used to. 

We did some research and decided to dump our PBX system for Microsoft Teams. Overall, this change has worked out really well for us and some of our clients expressed interest in switching to Teams too. 

We cautioned our clients to wait until Microsoft had “hard phones” ready (they didn’t when we switched, which was annoying). Now, it looks like Microsoft may have finally finished the full Teams hard phone feature set… and that means it’s time to talk about replacing your office phones with Microsoft Teams

We know a lot of you have been chomping at the bit for this setup, so if you’d prefer to just get started right away instead of reading a blog post – we hear you. Go ahead and call us up for personalized info. (We’ll answer on our new Teams phones!) 

Wait – What Is Microsoft Teams? 

Microsoft Teams is like the Swiss Army knife of business communications. If you aren’t using it yet, you’re missing out. Most people know that it does videoconferencing like Skype or Zoom, but it does a lot more. 

Teams is a:

  • Collaboration platform
  • Document storage system
  • Business process integrator
  • Phone and videoconferencing system 

Using Teams as a phone system replacement overall would probably be less expensive for your business than maintaining a PBX phone system, and now with the options of hard phones, headset hookups to laptops or Bluetooth (with some phones), and using Teams on staff cell phones, Teams has become both flexible and affordable. It’s a win-win. 

But those hard phones sure were a hurdle. 

The Current State of Microsoft Teams Phones

One of the biggest problems with switching to Teams for some of our clients was the lack of good Teams-compatible phones on the market. Polycom promised to bring a phone out for a long time and failed to meet their delivery dates multiple times. Some other manufacturers (such as Yealink and Crestron) brought out phones with very rudimentary feature sets.

To Microsoft’s credit (and detriment), it turns out Microsoft essentially now controls the hard phone app itself across vendors; they produce one core “Teams Phone” piece of software that runs on phones from multiple vendors. Up until very recently, that software was extremely basic. 

With Microsoft’s original hard phone app, you could

  • Make and receive calls
  • Change your status
  • Look people up in the directory

That’s about it. Simple things like speed dial were nowhere to be found.

Interplay purchased two different Teams phones as a test as well as a “Teams Display” system (more on that later), and we have been working with all of these for the past few months while waiting for Microsoft to update their software. 

We can finally say that the software has now been updated (yay!) and it’s introduced some new really important features that will make working with Teams phones more enjoyable:

  • A favorites section (AKA speed dial! Yes!) 

The favorites section comes up automatically when you start the phone and includes your Speed Dials. You can configure Speed Dials in your Teams application on Windows or Mobile – and you can breathe a sigh of relief while you’re at it. 

  • Status indicators for your Speed Dials 

Not only is it easier to call your coworkers now, you can also tell at a glance if they are free or in a meeting or out of the office. Useful stuff, folks. 

  • Better usability

With a Bluetooth-enabled link between your Teams phone and the Teams application on your desktop to keep them in sync, your hard phone stays automatically unlocked while you’re working. So important. 

On the back end, Microsoft has done an admirable job creating new systems for policy management and firmware updates for Teams phones. 

For example: 

  • You can now set a policy that requires the phone to be locked after a specified idle time.
  • You can also automatically schedule firmware updates for any Teams phone, regardless of the vendor (vendors are now required to distribute their firmware updates in a standardized way so that Microsoft can push them from the Teams Office 365 portal) 

Microsoft revved the updated software a few weeks ago, and now it’s pretty polished and complete. We would definitely say it’s ready to go. Some of the newer features allow your team to pass calls from a Teams phone or Teams Display to your PC or mobile device and back, as needed. That’s helpful. 

Teams Phones vs. Teams Displays

Earlier, we had mentioned that Interplay bought both Teams phones and Teams Displays – and those Teams Displays are pretty cool

Lenovo is the first vendor to come out with this new type of device (theirs is called the “ThinkSmart View”). It costs ~$300 (a little bit more than a typical desk phone) and it includes

  • A camera
  • A touchscreen
  • Bluetooth integration for a headset

If you’ve been waiting for real Teams desktop hard phones or an integrated touchscreen phone display for Teams, we believe you now have options for migrating away from a different system.

How Teams Worked Out for Us 

When we switched to Teams as a phone system, the hard phones weren’t really available. That meant we had to find some great headsets for our staff to use. (In case you’re curious, we’re pretty darn pleased with the Plantronics Blackwire headsets we chose. They have excellent fidelity and noise correction.) 

While we’ve had some minor annoyances, we’ve found that Teams has been reliable and has worked just as well (if not better) than our old hardware-based phone system

Teams included most of the major features we needed (such as automated attendant and even call queues for no added cost), and we were optimistic that Microsoft would fill in the details later (which they did). 

It was pretty daunting to make the leap from traditional, tried-and-true PBX, but we honestly never looked back once we made the decision. We gotta say: we recommend Microsoft Teams as a replacement to your in-office phone system. 

Need a Hand? Interplay Helps You Sort Out Your Phone Options

Our offices had great results with Teams as a phone system. Your mileage may vary. That’s why it’s super important to investigate all your options when you’re making a big change in your IT systems

We can help with that. 

For 20 years now, the friendly, fun, and fantastic IT experts at Interplay have been helping Seattle business leaders like you get the most out of tech solutions. 

Unlike some of the other Managed Services Providers (MSPs) out there, we’re not looking to make you upgrade all your systems for the privilege of working with us – we’re happy to meet you where you’re at and get your systems working great. (Sometimes you do need an upgrade though, so don’t be mad if we suggest you stop using Windows XP.) 

When you’re ready to get started looking into your options, just give us a holler. We’ll be here and we’re always happy to talk tech. 


Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels