Written by Rob Quickenden, Cisilion’s Chief Strategy Officer
After being criticised for several months for playing catch up to Zoom, Microsoft has announced a host of new innovate features in Microsoft Teams that will make virtual interactions much more natural, more engaging, and ultimately, more human.
Microsoft say these new features offer three key benefits:
1. They will help you feel more connected with your team and reduce meeting fatigue.
2. They will make meetings more inclusive and engaging
3. They will help streamline work and save time
Microsoft say that it is all about “enabling people everywhere to collaborate, to stay connected, and to discover new ways to be productive from anywhere” and it’s all backed up by months of scientific research and analysis to how people have been working, the pressures and announces they have faced as people have and continue to spend more time in virtual meetings than physical ones.
Let’s start with the Official Microsoft promo video
1. Feel connected & reduce meeting fatigue
“Together Mode” is a new meeting experience that will help reduce fatigue during remote collaboration. This feature will place participants in a shared virtual background to make it feel like everyone is sitting in the same room/space with all other meeting participants.
Here, Microsoft is aiming to make your video meetings more engaging by helping us focus on the faces and body language of other attendees so that you can pick up the non-verbal cues that are vital for human interaction and something that is often absent from virtual meetings. According to Microsoft “Together mode with auditorium view” is already in private preview and will be rolled out to everyone by August 2020.
Also related to video aspect of meetings, the upcoming “Dynamic View” uses AI to dynamically personalise your video meeting view to suit your preferences and needs. Microsoft acknowledged that whilst the new “Together Mode” will offers a great new meeting experience, it’s not intended or suited for every meeting. With Dynamic View, users will be able to access new controls and get the ability to show shared content and specific participants side-by-side as well as have content and layout dynamically adapt to the meeting, number of attendees and content and other activities being drawn upon during the meeting.
Dynamic View will build on the other recent meetings enhancements, including the ability to see up to 49 participants (still rolling out) at once on a single screen, and virtual breakout rooms, which is coming later this calendar year.
Microsoft is bringing video filters into Teams to allow users to better customise their online appearance before joining a meeting with the help of common filters you are most likely used to on social media photo tools like Instagram etc. These filters are designed to subtly adjust lighting levels and soften the focus of your camera to make your video more “real”.
Reflect Messaging Extension
Also said to be coming in the next “few” weeks, Microsoft announced a new “Reflect messaging extension” is coming to Teams. Once installed (it’s an extension) Microsoft say it will make it easier for managers, team leaders, and teachers to track their teams’ performance, the status of a project, current events, or a change within the organisation for example. Note: IT admins will need to install the Reflect extension from GitHub, and then make it available to employees in their organisation in the message extension menu
Reflect Messaging will also provide the ability to add custom questions to create a poll-like experience for team members.
2. Make meetings more inclusive, engaging, & effective
Microsoft Teams will soon allow meeting participants to use emojis to share how they feel about the event. Emojis will appear on everyone’s screens, and the instant feedback experience will be similar to the Live feedback feature already available with PowerPoint Live presentations and in Skype Consumer as well as other popular Video Conferencing platforms such as Zoom. The latter will also be available in Microsoft Teams in the future, the company said today, while the Whiteboard app in Teams will be improved with faster load times, sticky notes, text, and drag and drop capabilities.
Microsoft also is said to be raising the maximum number of Teams meetings participants from 300 people (just rolled out) to 1,000.
Microsoft research suggests that during meetings, “chat has become a much more lively space for conversation and idea-sharing, and offers an option for people to participate in the discussion without having to jump in verbally. But it can be challenging to pay attention to video feeds, presentations, and chats all at the same time“. Currently, Teams users need to manually open a chat window to view the chat screen. This is set to change as Microsoft Teams meetings will soon get support for what they call chat bubbles, which will make chat messages appear on the screen for chat participants while they are in a meeting.
Speaker attribution for live captions and transcripts
Microsoft is also enhancing the live captions features for teams and making transcripts more accessible and fluid also making it easy for participants to see who is speaking. This is similar to what Cisco have done with WebEx in the latest update and it’s great to see this coming to Microsoft Teams later this year. Teams will also get support for more languages, as well as Live transcripts participants can download once the meeting has ended. speaker attribution
Interactive Meetings for 1,000 attendees
Microsoft will soon allow for interactive meetings for up to 1,000 participants to allow for large groups, to come together for meetings or classes. As an alternative to Live Events (which are for town hall and broadcast sessions), Teams will now also allow you to bring more people together to watch a presentation or discussion where Teams will soon support a view–only meeting experience for up to 20,000 participants.
Teams Whiteboard Updates
The Whiteboard feature in Teams will soon be updated with a host of new features making it more aligned to the Windows and iOS version of Whiteboard. This will include faster load times, sticky notes, text, and drag and drop capabilities and will also be optimised for users that don’t have access to a touchscreen device or Surface Hub to participate in whiteboarding sessions during Teams meetings.
3. Streamlining work & saving time
New Task App
Microsoft have announced a new Task app that will be available in late July/August. The Task app will give Teams users a tab within Teams that unifies all of their tasks and actions across Outlook, ToDo and Planner. In addition, it will support smart lists which will dynamically group things like “Tasks Assigned to me” and will unify tasks across different shared plans, whether you’re on desktop, web, or mobile.
Suggested replies will enable users to utilise quick “AI-generated” responses based on contextual understandings of previous messages. These will work in a similar way to the newly rolled out “auto-replies” in text messages or email, allowing users to reply with a single click to common responses without having to type out a full message in their response.
Microsoft Teams displays
Microsoft has also announced new extended partnerships with Yealink and Lenovo to bring what it calls the “Microsoft Teams display initiative”.
This will allow Teams users to make use of a centralised hardware offering that makes use of an ambient touchscreen coupled with a microphone and a camera to host meetings. Lenovo already have a product about to ship and yesterday announced an extended partnership with Yealink to bring new device categories into the mix later this year / early 2021.
Touchless Meeting Experiences
Whilst Teams already has support for touchless proximity join, Microsoft has announced a host more touchlessness for its meetings which will include voice commands for leaving a meeting, adding participants, muting and unmuting rooms, adjusting audio volume, turning cameras off and on as well as wirelessly casting to any Teams enabled device.
In conjunction with this, new companion features will be rolling out to the Teams mobile app to provide Teams Rooms remote control features that will allow users to be able to be conduct entire meetings, brainstorming sessions, and presentations without ever having to physically touch meeting room equipment with their hands!
Upcoming room remote for Microsoft Teams devices
Summary & Your Next Steps
This must be one of the biggest sets of updates announced by Microsoft and shows the commitment to driving innovation, inclusion and accessibility. Teams is the place where people everywhere come together to get work done and I’m seeing an explosive pace of deployment and adoption within my customers at Cisilion.
One thing is for sure, with all the innovation, new features and changes to Microsoft Teams, a solid and robust Adoption and Change Management programme is needed to ensure users are educated about the changes, given the opportunity to learn and test the new features and that IT and your Teams champions have the chance to help users embrace the new features.
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