Remote working during the coronavirus pandemic resulted in a rapid expansion of Microsoft Teams’ user base — up to 75 million daily users! Ever since, Microsoft has been working hard on a slew of new features for its collaboration tool, expected to launch at an unspecified date later this year.
So, what upgrades do they have in the pipeline?
The big one is called “Together Mode.” Using artificial intelligence segmentation, this feature cuts out a user’s face and upper body from their video feed, and places them in a shared background like an auditorium or a coffee shop. It can group up to 49 people at the same time, re-creating the experience of talking to a room full of people.
In a blog post, Microsoft explained that Together Mode is intended to make interaction feel natural and comfortable by letting you focus on people’s faces and body language. “It’s great for meetings in which multiple people will speak, such as brainstorms or roundtable discussions, because it makes it easier for participants to understand who is talking.” According to a demo video, Together Mode will run on the most updated version of Microsoft Teams. When starting a call, you simply need to click the three dots on the toolbar at the top left of the screen, to switch mode. Below is a snapshot of this feature in action.
Microsoft Teams is also overhauling how users can organise and display their screen during a live meeting. It is called Dynamic View and it also runs on AI. What it does is let you view shared content on the screen and choose which participants to show in the foreground and which to push to the background. If a specific participant wants to speak, they can raise their hand and the AI will recognise and highlight them.
Large Gallery View is also going to be a big part of the new Microsoft Teams. It is a feature that needs to be turned on in the settings to expand the normal 3 x 3 view. Once activated, the tool will sort streams according to the number of participants (it only works if more than ten participants are connected). So if you have fifteen participants, Teams will dynamically arrange them as three video feeds in five rows. If more people join, and the number goes up to, say twenty, Teams will readjust the view as five video feeds in four rows.
Teams also plan to roll out Live Reactions, enabling you to drop in emojis others can see during a meeting (it is also available as a feedback tool in PowerPoint Live Presentations); Chat Bubbles, which pops up on the screen; Video Filters to adjust lighting and focus on backgrounds and subjects in the video feed; and Live captions with speaker Attribution that shows live and transcripted dialogue along the name of the speaker.
Other features to look out for are:
Check-in questions for employee productivity and wellbeing
Interactive meetings for 1,000 participants
Microsoft Whiteboard updates with faster load times, sticky notes, text, and drag and drop capabilities
Suggested replies in Teams chats
Cortana in Teams
Microsoft Teams displays for home offices
Touchless meeting experiences for Surface Hub.
As we continue to work and study from home thanks to better fibre and wireless internet, Microsoft is putting a big emphasis on conducting more effective video conferencing, which is now critical for business everywhere.
The company concluded: “These features offer three key benefits for people at work and in education. First, they help you feel more connected with your team and reduce meeting fatigue. Second, they make meetings more inclusive and engaging. And third, they help streamline your work and save time. It’s all about enabling people everywhere to collaborate, to stay connected, and to discover new ways to be productive from anywhere.”