How to create crisis communications app for Microsoft Teams

The world is currently facing one of it’s biggest challenges in modern era because of ongoing coronavirus outbreak. Many organisations has been forced to move to 100% remote working mode whenever possible and situation has been a real challenge for company communications also. The need for efficient communication is bigger than ever.

This blog is all about how to easily create an crisis communications app for Microsoft Teams without any coding needs to support your company crisis communications. The main idea is to create modern communication site to your Intranet to host information, news and other “crisis content” itself and then expose this information through customized Microsoft Teams App easily for all your company employees.

The high level steps required for this approach

  • Allow “Apps Studio” Teams App usage from Teams Admin Center if needed
  • Add “App Studio” for yourself as an Teams application
  • Provision or produce a crisis management communication site
  • Create a separate COVID-19 Teams App with App Studio
  • Add App to Teams App catalog and deploy app to Teams left trail automatically through Teams Setup Policy
  1. Allow Apps Studio Teams App usage from Teams Admin Center if needed

It may be the Teams administrators or ICT department has blocked your access to Microsoft App Studio. If you go to Teams App catalog, search for App Studio and got no results then this is the case. If you can find the app you can ignore this step.

For Admins Teams allows quite dedicated control of which users can use and which apps so next thing is to check (or ask your Teams Admins to check) Teams Apps settings from Teams Admin Center

Make sure in ‘Manage apps’ the App Studio is and allowed application. and from Organisation wide app settings it’s already good to check your company allows usage of custom apps.

In ‘Permission Policies’ you can setup different app policies for different user groups in Teams. For desired user group – for all employees (Global policy by default) or only for professional Teams users for example (create and apply custom policy for this) – make sure App Studio is listed as allowed app.

  1. Add App Studio for yourself as an application

After Administrator has allowed you the usage of App studio you are ready to use it. So find it from Teams App catalog and add it as personal app. You will probably wan’t to add and pin it to your Teams left rail apps.

  1. Provision and/or produce (or find existing ) crisis management communication site

Now your company probably already has a communication site on top of SharePoint Online to be used as crisis communication site. If not Microsoft offers a free template to provision modern communication site to start gathering crisis information into one place. Overall it could be beneficial to check different site and page layout options from SharePoint Lookbook to get ideas how to build a cool looking and easily accessible crisis site for your employees.

Check the template and if you have a Office365 tenant admin role/rights you are also able to provision this template site directly from the SharePoint Lookbook to your own tenant through provisioning engine.

  1. Create a separate COVID-19 Teams App with App Studio

Now we have all the basic bits and pieces in place to start creating our first very own Teams App through Teams App Studio. AS first step let’s access to app studio and start creating a new app from Manifest editor tab.

After this we have to enter very basic information related to our App. You can use given values or add more precise information if you feel so. I think the most important information is actually “Short Name” parameter of your app. This is name visible for end users and Teams left trail for example has very limited space for app name. If you use COVID-19 it will fit nicely to left trail and so on.

In App details section the couple of important things. As developer name it good to give either your own name or actual company name to make application more recognizable. Since we are nor officially publishing this app the partner information etc. can be left empty and app urls etc. can be fake urls or point to some general Terms of use page of your organisation. Adding a visual branding element and icon for application is important to make it recognizable so add icons with the correct size in place. I would prefer storing images as transparent png to make sure they looks good in every situation.

Now we will generate actual application. We are going to create an app with several tabs in place. So navigate to Tabs on left navigation and start adding tabs.

First Teams requires an configuration Url parameter for application and tab but it’s actually not so relevant so you can give basically any address you want. Make sure Scope you select is “Teams” and select “Runs the tab as and app page”

Now we can start adding the actual personal tabs and app content. Idea on this demo is to add tabs for each country in organisation to give them easy access to crisis communication in their own language so now add needed information for each tab

  • Name = Name of the tab visible in application
  • Entity ID = Any non reserved ID like 1000 (to start with)
  • Content URL = Link to communication site you want to expose for end users *
  • Website URL = Link to communication site you want to expose for end users

* To get Url work with Teams desktop client also in addition to browser you need to add following postfix to url where ‘dest’ parameter is actually depending of your actual site URL: https://<your tenant>

Also make sure all organisation users have read access to these sites exposed.

The end result for me is to have separate tabs for all country organisations we have in our company

To finalize the setup of application and functionality of Teams client app we still have to setup domains and permissions. Put following settings in place:

  • AAD App ID: 00000003-0000-0ff1-ce00-000000000000
  • Single-Sign-On: https://<your tenant>
  1. Deploy App to Teams App catalog

Now you are ready to deploy and make newly created app available for anyone in your company.

In your App Studio left navigation access to step “Test and distribute”. Select download and you will get nice and clean zip package to save.

After this step you can exit from App Studio and access Teams App catalog from lower left corner of your Teams interface. Then select Upload a custom App and upload it for you whole organisation.

After this step the newly created app should be available in Teams app catalog as organisation app (Built for <your tenant name>) for every user in your organisation. They are able to add it themselves and pin it to left trail app if it is allowed in Teams policies of yours.

As an end result we have created a new custom Teams app with four separate tabs in place to deliver crisis communication information through Teams to different country organisations we have.

  1. Modify Teams Setup Policy to add app automatically to users Teams client left trail

Now you can’t be sure users are able to find or they have time to add important application with themselves to their Teams UI and navigation through instructions for process. It may be good idea to force addition of this crisis app to all users’ left navigation in Teams.

You are able to achieve this through Teams Setup Policies. So access a setup policy and select policy which applies all your employees (like global policy by default does). Now click “Add apps” and you should be able to see your custom uploaded app as selectable option. Notice it may take hours (2-24h to be exact) before your custom app is visible in application listing. After application is available add it to selected policy’s pinned apps in the order you want.

After policy comes effective (again it may take 2-24h) the end result should be all yours employees will get your crisis communication app on their left trail automatically and they are able to access crisis information really easily through Microsoft Teams interface.

Hope this gives your company a new ideas how to make sure users are easily able to access the crisis information (or any other information) which may be crucial to your organisation.