Microsoft Teams introduces 'Essentials' tier for small businesses

The tech giant appears to identify a gap in the collaboration software market with SMB-focused Teams tier

A screenshot showing a Microsoft Teams video call

Microsoft has launched a standalone tier of Microsoft Teams specifically aimed at small businesses.

Teams Essentials, which is available now, offers video meetings and chat features for the "lowest price in the market today", according to Microsoft.

The Essentials tier offers unlimited group meetings for up to 30 hours and can support up to 300 participants at a cost of $4 (£3) per user, per month. Each user will also have 10GB of cloud storage. On the free tier of Teams, users are only able to host 100 participants for 60 minutes at a time.

The service also includes "existing and new capabilities", some of which are already available in the free version of Teams, to meet the needs of small businesses, according to Microsoft. This includes a new Google Calendar integration, which Microsoft said will be available "soon", and in-meeting tools like meeting lobby, virtual backgrounds, Together mode, and live reactions.

Essentials will also have a "Small business group chat template", which is a collaboration hub where users can manage projects, assign tasks and create polls.

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"We know how difficult the past 20 months have been for small businesses. They've had to demonstrate extreme flexibility to adapt, often with limited access to tools and technology," said Jared Spataro, corporate vice president of Modern Work at Microsoft. "Teams Essentials is built specifically to meet the unique needs of small businesses, enabling them to thrive in this new era of work."

There are small business-focused tiers on other platforms but Microsoft appears to have found a way to undercut rivals by offering better value-for-money than competitor options. The "Pro" version of Zoom, for instance, comes at a monthly cost of £11.99 per user and only accommodates 100 participants per meeting. The video-conferencing giant has also launched an advertising pilot for it's free package as a way to find more revenue streams, rather than reducing the price on its middle-tier. Workplace from Meta (formally Facebook) offers a "Core" tier for the same price as Teams Essentials, but users need to opt for a number of "add-ons" to match the offerings available on the Microsoft service.

There is a free tier for Google Meets, but all participants need an account to join and the next tier is only available as part of a £7.99 monthly Workspace subscription.

Essentials is also being offered as a standalone service, with no need for users to subscribe to an Office 365 bundle. Invites can also be sent to anyone with an email address, so there is no need to sign in or install Teams to participate in meetings.

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