Microsoft Teams Is Launching a Range of New Remote Collaboration Tools
COVID-19 has caused a paradigm shift in many workplaces, and most of us are still adjusting to the massive changes. After months of research into how people are collaborating and the current shortfalls in our tools, Microsoft is launching a host of upgrades to Teams.
These aim to make it easier to work together online, improve the responsiveness of our communication, and help workplaces make the most out of remote work, both now and in the future. Among the upgrades are features that intend to reduce fatigue from online meetings, and increase the feeling of connection that’s so hard to recreate from home.
Grid view has expanded to 7×7
Collaboration in larger groups is one of the biggest challenges in the new normal, especially when you can’t see every participant at the same time. This problem has been significant for educators, who may have been stuck with only being able to see a maximum of 9 people at a time, rather than the whole of their classes. This disparity makes it more difficult for teachers to gauge the reactions of participants, and impossible to see whether the entire group is focused on the content.
As part of the Microsoft Teams upgrade, the traditional 3×3 grid view will be boosted to 7×7, meaning that 49 participants can be accommodated on the one screen. Not only will this be plenty for most classroom sizes, but it allows much larger face-to-face workplace meetings as well.
Another feature that will help those in both learning and work scenarios is the newly announced Breakout Rooms, set to launch sometime in Spring. Breakout Rooms allow the meeting organiser or the teacher to split up conference calls into smaller groups, enabling them to brainstorm and collaborate in smaller collectives.
This feature can approximate task delegation in a physical workplace. For example, you could launch an online meeting, brief the collective on the task you are trying to accomplish, then break the participants down into subgroups that are each focused on separate tasks.
These smaller groups could then work on their specific problems in Breakout Rooms. After a set period, you could all come back to the main conference call and discuss the solutions to each aspect.
Have you noticed that virtual meetings can be far more exhausting than normal ones? Have you found it harder to connect or engage with each other when you aren’t in the same room? Despite years of research, these problems hadn’t been properly addressed, perhaps because the effectiveness of digital meetings was less important in the pre-coronavirus world.
In response to how prevalent these problems have become, Microsoft has launched Together mode, a video-conferencing tool that makes the participants look like they are all in the same location, instead of in separate grids that show their immediate surroundings.
Together mode uses AI segmentation technology to put every participant in the same shared background, such as a conference room, library or an auditorium. Any participant can choose to use Together mode, and it aims to make meetings seem more natural, as well as to help participants feel more connected to their teams.
The new dynamic view offers a set of enhancements that give you control over online meetings, letting you choose how you see other participants and shared content. Dynamic view uses AI and your set preferences to personalise conferences according to your needs. One example is the ability to see specific participants and shared content alongside each other, allowing you to gauge a person’s reaction as you discuss the piece at hand.
Filters have jumped from your social media and camera apps, straight to Microsoft Teams. The new range of video filters will allow you to customise your appearance, adjust the focus, and alter the lighting levels.
When you are in a video call with more than just a few others, it can be difficult to gauge each person’s reaction to what you are saying. In a physical meeting, it’s easy enough to look around the room and gauge each individual’s expressions, as well as the collective feel of the group.
These cues are much harder to pick up on over a conference call, so Microsoft Teams’ new live reaction feature allows participants to respond in real-time with emojis. These will show up for all participants, giving them another form of feedback.
Sometimes, participants in a call may be prompted by something a speaker said and want to run with the idea without disturbing the person’s flow. Chat features are an excellent outlet that allows them to send messages while the speaker continues. However, it can be challenging to pay attention to both the message feed and the presenter at the same time.
To address this, Teams will be changing its chat feature from a window that participants need to manually open, into chat bubbles on the surface of the screen that are much easier to access. This will facilitate these important messages, without distracting participants too much from the speaker.
Another important tool is the Tasks app, which grants Teams users a unified view of tasks from Planner, Outlook and Microsoft To Do. It includes smart lists, which can centralise tasks from different areas, making it easier to stay on top of things. It’s a more cohesive upgrade to the Planner app, with seamless integration across mobile, desktop and the web.
Adapting to the new normal isn’t just about innovative techniques and collaborative software. This new work style also gives rise to the need for different hardware. Microsoft Teams displays brings together all of the helpful Teams features into the one device. Teams chat, calls, calendar, meetings and files are all collected together on a hands-free device, run by Cortana.
This allows you to keep your main task active on your computer, but still stay up-to-date with all of the goings on from your team. This means no more switching screens and other time-sucking distractions, without having to be completely cut off. The first Microsoft Teams display device is the Lenovo ThinkSmart View, which is already available in Australia.
Making the most of the new Microsoft Teams tools
Some of these tools have already launched, while the rest are expected to come out before the end of the year. Although these are stressful times that have certainly complicated how we work, we have to adapt to the new reality.
Taking advantage of the latest tools and upgrades puts you in the best position to be more effective and productive, helping your organisation push toward long-term success in these uncertain times. If you want to get the most out of Microsoft Teams at your workplace, contact us at Rodin via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us on 1300 138 761.