Microsoft’s annual tech conference, Ignite 2000, took place last week. A host of announcements were made regarding Microsoft’s various products. However, since most of the workforce is working remotely, the center of attention was Microsoft Teams. Microsoft’s collaboration tool, Teams has grown exponentially since its launch in 2017. Teams is the leading collaboration tool in the market, with over 75 million daily active users. Built upon the pioneering design of Skype, Teams dials things up several notches in terms of features offered. With file sharing, co-authoring, app integrations, and helper bots, Teams has become the preferred collaboration tool for various organizations. The ongoing pandemic has ushered in a new age of remote collaboration. It has become more important than ever to have a collaboration tool that’s secure, reliable, and jam-packed with all the important collaborative features, and Teams is just that. A slew of new features and updates were announced for Teams at Ignite 2020. Let’s take a look at some of these announcements.
Microsoft’s new Together mode, which is tailor-made for the pandemic-era virtual meetings, was unveiled a couple of months ago. Microsoft uses its background blur and artificial intelligence technologies to crop participants’ visual feed and transposing them on top of a fun background. This allows all the participants to be on the same screen, creating a better collaborative experience. At Ignite 2020, Microsoft announced that they would be adding new backgrounds to be used in the together mode. Another exciting enhancement announced was the use of machine learning to automatically adjust the size of participants’ cropped video feed no matter how near or far they are to the webcam.
Microsoft has also unveiled a new feature to allow for a more dynamic presentation feature. With this feature, presenters can customize how they want their presentation to be visible to the other participants. Using machine learning and background blur technology, Teams now allows presenters’ video feeds to be transposed to the foreground of the content they are presenting in video conferences. This feature is bound to make virtual demonstrations and presentations more effective and efficient since participants won’t have to choose between watching the presenter or the slide deck.
Arguably the most highly anticipated of all the Microsoft Teams new features, Breakout Rooms will be available starting in October. Organizers will be able to divide participants into smaller groups for them to separately brainstorm or have discussions that aren’t of any relevance to the users in other groups. Organizers will be able to hop between different breakout rooms and broadcast announcements to all the breakout rooms. Once a group has concluded its discussion, the organizer can then close the room and return the participants to the main meeting. This feature will help users address different topics in the same meeting rather than having numerous different meetings.
This is another exciting feature that couldn’t have come sooner. Once a meeting is concluded, users will be able to access the meeting recording, transcripts, shared files, and chat history. This will help the participants who attended the meeting and the ones who couldn’t refamiliarize themselves with the content of a particular meeting. Users will be able to access the content through the Outlook calendar by selecting the event. Going forward, this recap data will automatically get uploaded to SharePoint, and users will be able to share them easily, even with external users.
In an effort to improve collaboration, Teams will now offer the Live Presentation feature. With this feature, presenters will be able to carry on at their own pace, while the audience will be able to go through the PowerPoint presentation at whatever pace they are comfortable with. Participants will be able to go through all the slides no matter what slide the presenter is on.
The Teams search is getting a major overhaul. The new search will be powered by Microsoft Search, like every other O365 application. Microsoft Search is an AI-based search that returns results based on their relevance to the users and based on users’ past interactions. Users will be able to search for other users, messages, and shared files quickly and more efficiently.
Even when the offices reopen, employees will have to take the necessary precautions when it comes to meetings. Ideally, meeting room devices are placed in the center of the meeting room, and it’s not ideal that different employees touch the device at a given time to change the setting. The Team meeting room devices will now come equipped with Cortana voice assistance and remote access via mobile applications. This will help users control the settings without touching the device. It will also help employees with disabilities interact with these devices with ease.
Since most of the workforce across the world are working remotely, the boundary between work and life is fading. Employees are logging more hours than an average regular workday, which can be stressful. Microsoft’s Workplace Analytics will provide employees their wellbeing and productivity insights. Users will be able to see how many hours they worked and their focus time. This feature will also provide options like Virtual Commute for users to unwind after work with the help of Headspace meditation.
Teams is also set to roll out various other features in the coming months. The UI will become more streamlined, and users will be able to see contacts, voicemails, and call history all in one place for quick access. Teams also unveiled the Collaborative Calling feature, which enterprises can use to connect call queues to a particular Teams channel for ticket management or service queuing. Cortana will be integrated with the Teams app to assist with speech to text. Users will also be able to send suggested replies like in Outlook O365. Teams has also announced the Team Template feature, which will allow enterprises to choose from a set of predefined channels and apps which they can customize based on their organization’s structure to quickly create Project-based teams.
A new enhancement will now allow up to 100 participants in interactive meetings while the maximum capacity for the view-only meetings has been increased to a whopping 20,000 participants.
This pandemic, for better or worse, has given a boost to the collaboration tools market. Enterprises who were on the fence about using a dedicated collaborative tool have realized that remote working is the way to go to ensure the least amount of impact on the business. Remote working will become a common workplace practice, even after this pandemic ends. Microsoft Teams’ new features make it one of the most feature-heavy collaboration tools in the market. These new features are focused on facilitating collaboration and increasing productivity by streamlining communication between members of a team.
The collaboration tools market is highly competitive, but features like Together mode, Dynamic layout, and Breakout Rooms set Teams apart from its competitors. However, this is just the beginning of the innovation in making these tools truly collaborative and making remote working easier and interesting. It’ll be fun to see what other updates Microsoft has in its pipeline to make Teams even better.
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