New Microsoft Teams features to redefine virtual meetings and collaboration

Thomas Lalor, Senior Consultant

Microsoft have announced some major new features coming to Microsoft Teams, focused on improving the virtual interactions that continue to be a defining aspect of many of our lives during the ongoing global COVID-19 response.

These new features have been directly guided by research that Microsoft has undertaken with experts in virtual reality, AI and productivity, and are intended to provide a more natural and engaging online meeting experience.

Even those of us who were very well versed in virtual meetings pre-pandemic are feeling the fatigue after months of daily video calls for just about everything – both inside and outside of work. These changes from Microsoft are aimed squarely at addressing that challenge and have the potential to make a real difference to the remote working experience.

At Engage Squared, we’re particularly excited to try out the innovative new Together mode, while the introduction of both dynamic view and chat bubbles will make an immediate impact on our day-to-day, making the many virtual presentations and workshops we run and attend that much more effective for both presenters and participants.

We also know that breakout rooms and live reactions have been highly anticipated by many of our clients – and their introduction will also close gaps in a last couple of areas that certain competing products still held over Teams.

Together mode

The most significant change comes with the introduction of ‘Together mode’ – an entirely new meeting experience which uses AI to display all meeting participants on a shared virtual background, as though you’re sitting in the same room with everyone else. The ability to see everyone’s faces, read body language and easily see who’s talking in a more realistic setting is set to make all kinds of meetings more engaging and less draining – from seeing how people are responding to your presentation to feeling part of the group in workshops and team discussions. At first glance it might seem like a bit of a gimmick, but it’s backed by some serious research and early reviews have been very positive, so we’re looking forward to try it out for ourselves soon!

Together mode has started rolling out and will be generally available to Teams users in August. For now, users will be placed in a virtual auditorium, but Microsoft have said that other views will be added in future to suit a range of meeting scenarios.

Dynamic view

Dynamic view is designed for meetings where you need to present or see content such as a slide deck or a document. It will dynamically optimise the display of the shared content alongside video participants, but also give you a new level of control to personalise what you see, such as specific participants side-by-side with the shared content.

At Engage Squared we’ve adapted well to delivering engaging presentations entirely online, but we know it’s a challenge for participants to find a balance between focusing on the presenter and the slides. This update should make that a lot easier and put more control back into the hands of people attending the meeting.

Large gallery view and breakout rooms

Both these features were first announced last month, but are worth mentioning again here, since the latest announcements build on these earlier ones, and they are set to address two of the biggest ‘gaps’ we hear our clients tell us they are missing in Teams (while long being available in a certain well-known competing product!).

Large gallery view will allow you to see up to 49 people on video at the same time in a 7×7 grid view in meetings, while virtual breakout rooms provide the ability to split off a meeting into smaller groups before bringing everyone back together – perfect for interactive workshops or brainstorming sessions.

Video filters, Reflect messaging extension

Building on the success of virtual backgrounds, video filters are set to make the foreground better too – adjusting lighting levels and softening camera focus to adjust your appearance in calls and meetings.

And the Reflect messaging extension for Teams provides a poll-type experience to allow managers to easily check in with team members, using suggested or custom questions – whether that’s around general wellbeing, or a specific topic, project or event.

Other meetings announcements

These updates are aimed at improving the inclusiveness, engagement and effectiveness of Teams meetings:

  • Live reactions: respond to what’s happening in a meeting using emojis that appear to all participants, without interrupting the flow of the meeting. This type of feature will be familiar to anyone who’s viewed a Facebook or Instagram live video!
  • Chat bubbles: meeting chat messages which are currently tucked away in a sidebar chat window will now display on the screens of all participants, making it much easier to see what people are saying or asking, particularly as a presenter.
  • Speaker attribution for live captions and transcripts: Teams has had live captions for a while now, but soon will be adding speaker attribution to show who is speaking, both in the live captions, and in meeting transcripts coming later this year.
  • Meeting capacity up to 1,000 participants: Teams meetings will soon support up to 1,000 interactive participants (up from the current limit of 250) – plus a view-only meeting experience for up to 20,000 participants.
  • Whiteboard updates: Whiteboard in Teams is already a super powerful tool for visual collaboration in meetings, and will soon benefit from faster load times, as well as sticky notes, text, and drag and drop capabilities making it more useful for more people.

And finally, a few announcements focused on productivity in Teams:

  • Tasks app: announced previously but rolling out this month, Tasks in Teams brings all your tasks from To Do, Planner, and Outlook into a single view in Teams. View and manage your personal and team tasks all in one place, and add the Tasks app as a tab in your channels. As a project-focused company we’re big users of the different task management tools in the Microsoft 365 suite at Engage Squared, so being able to bring these all together will make a real difference for keeping track of actions and staying on top of our work.
  • Suggested replies: building on functionality now available in lots of email clients, respond to a message with a single tap of an AI-suggested reply (like “Thank you” or “Yes I do”).
  • Cortana in Teams: the Cortana intelligent voice assistant will soon be coming to the Teams mobile app, allowing you to use voice commands to complete actions like calling a colleague, joining a meeting, sending a chat message or sending a file.

This is a big suite of announcements from Microsoft, some of which have been on people’s wish lists for quite a while, and others which have the potential to genuinely shake up the way we virtually meet and collaborate. They are yet another reflection of the significant investment Microsoft continues to make in Teams, accelerated by the sudden but ongoing rise in uptake of the technology for work and education.

More questions?

Reach out to us if you have any questions or want to chat about how you can get the most out of Microsoft Teams for your organisation. To learn more about the announcements, check out the following resources:

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