This July, Microsoft announced a set of new features in Microsoft Teams that will make virtual interactions more natural, more engaging, and ultimately, more human. It’s all part of a redesigned Teams experience that capitalises on some of the promises Microsoft has been making for the last few years.
Microsoft have said the company has spent much of the last few months rethinking the way in which video meetings were conducted. At a time when people are conducting more virtual meetings than ever, their research has shown that many of us feel less connected since moving to remote work, and experience more fatigue during video meetings than during in-person collaboration.
Several features play into this aspect of the Microsoft Teams updates, including together mode, dynamic views, chat bubbles, and even live reactions.
A great example of one of these new features is Together mode that places participants in a virtual auditorium. Together mode is a new meeting experience in Teams that uses AI segmentation technology to digitally place participants in a shared background, making it feel like you’re sitting in the same room with everyone else in the meeting or class. The result may appear a bit surreal, but it’s a way to fit more virtual participants onscreen at one time. Together mode will roll out in August, Microsoft said, and new backdrops will be added over time.
Teams will begin adding video filters to adjust lighting levels algorithmically and create other effects, enhancing the way you look on camera. Before joining a meeting, you’ll be able to use the filters to subtly adjust lighting levels and soften the focus of the camera to customise your appearance.
A set of enhancements Microsoft call dynamic view will give you more control over how you see shared content and other participants in a meeting. Dynamic view builds on the meetings enhancements that Microsoft announced in June, which include large gallery view (rolling out in August), where you can see video of up to 49 people in a meeting simultaneously, and virtual breakout rooms, which allow meeting organisers to split meeting participants into smaller groups for things like brainstorming sessions or workgroup discussions.
Interactive meetings for 1,000 participants
There are times when it’s important to bring large groups together for meetings or classes. For more interactive meetings - where attendees can chat, unmute to talk, and turn on their videos for real-time collaboration - Teams meetings are growing to support up to 1,000 participants. When you want to bring more people together to watch a presentation or discussion, Teams will be able to support a view-only meeting experience for up to 20,000 participants.
We all know that the chat window in Teams has become a sort of side channel to carry on the conversation without interrupting the presenter. Here, Teams is introducing something new: chat bubbles, with small snippets of text that will appear over your head if you want to chime in with a supportive comment or question. If that’s too distracting, Microsoft has also added live reactions, Microsoft’s name for emojis that participants can trigger and can bubble up from their window.
Non-verbal cues like smiles and head nods can be difficult to notice in online meetings, making it challenging for presenters to gauge audience reactions and for participants in large meetings to share a sentiment without interrupting the meeting flow. Soon, you will be able to react during a meeting using emojis that will appear to all participants.
Microsoft is adding the suggested replies that have become common in Google’s Gmail and Microsoft Outlook, where you’ll be able to tap a quick bubble with a “Will do!” or “Can we talk about this?” in response to the content of a previous message. Teams will add an internal Tasks app, which pulls together similar features from Outlook and Microsoft To-Do, providing a unified dashboard within Teams of things you need to get done.
Live transcripts and speaker attribution
Microsoft has also said for a while now that transcription and translation are a key part of the collaborative office experience. Live transcripts, coming later this year, provide another way to follow along with what has been said and who said it. After a meeting, the transcript file is automatically saved in a tab as a part of the meeting. Speaker attribution, where Teams automatically highlights the speaker, will also arrive soon, Microsoft said.
Reflect messaging extension
Microsoft’s research shows that employee well-being is more important to productivity than ever. Creating an emotionally supportive environment is key to keeping people healthy, happy, and focused. The new Reflect messaging extension gives managers, leaders and teachers an easy way to check in with how their team are feeling - either in general, or about a specific topic like work-life balance, the status of a project, current events, or a change within the organisation. Once installed, the extension provides suggested check-in questions and the ability to add custom questions that team members can respond to in a poll-like experience.
Microsoft Whiteboard updates
Visual collaboration tools can make meetings and teaching environments more effective and inclusive. Whiteboard in Teams will soon be updated with new features including faster load times, sticky notes, text, and drag and drop capabilities. These features enable team members who don’t have access to a touchscreen or Surface Hub to participate in whiteboarding sessions during Teams meetings.
Coming soon to the Teams mobile app, Cortana uses AI and the Microsoft Graph to provide voice assistance in Teams. To stay connected to your team even when you have your hands full, you can ask Cortana to make a call, join a meeting, send chat messages, share files, and more. Cortana will be available in the Teams mobile app on iOS and Android in the coming weeks for Microsoft 365 Enterprise users.
All these features reflect on Microsoft’s vision for the future of work: where everyone is able to contribute and do their best work; where they can move fluidly between experiences, apps, and devices; where AI lends a helping hand to streamline tasks, provide short cuts, and save time; and where technology contributes to wellbeing and doesn’t detract from it.
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