Microsoft announced Wednesday that companies can now buy a standalone version of Teams — one of its most important products and a major player in work messaging and video chat, alongside Slack and Zoom. The product, called Microsoft Teams Essentials, aims to give small or medium-sized businesses a communication hub that costs less than its competitors'.
Microsoft will charge small businesses $4 per user per month for Microsoft Teams Essentials, while Zoom’s cheapest paid plan is $14.99 per user per month and Slack’s is $6.67 per user each month, when billed annually. The free version of Microsoft Teams still exists, as do the various other Microsoft 365 plans that include Teams. Teams Essentials offers longer meeting times, larger group meetings and more cloud storage.
Teams is a high-priority product for Microsoft, particularly as the pandemic made online workplace communication indispensable. It’s also the most dominant workplace messaging app, at least by the numbers. The company announced 145 million daily active users in April 2021. This is almost double the number of users Teams tallied in April 2020. During Microsoft’s Build conference in May, the company announced new features encouraging deeper integrations and more innovative apps within Teams. One major and recent integration is with Workplace from Meta (formerly Facebook), which allows users to see content from Teams on Workplace and vice versa. The intention is to keep as much work inside Teams as possible, like so many productivity tools designed to be that elusive all-in-one workspace.
Teams Essentials isn’t necessarily linked to the all-in-one vision, but it brings Microsoft’s products to a potentially new demographic: smaller enterprises that can’t afford a full Microsoft suite but need a way to hold more secure, substantial meetings. VP Jared Spataro said in a blog post that the product is meant for businesses from “restaurants to retailers,” but also for “nonprofits, religious organizations and community groups.”Outside of longer, bigger meetings and more cloud storage, Teams Essentials has the same features as the free version of Teams: its basic ones like ongoing chat and its fun ones like the ability to make your own memes. Despite Teams’ prevalence in the workplace, some workers have issues with it, taking to Reddit to voice frustrations about bugginess or usability. But if it’s the cheapest option for small businesses, it might not matter.